6 Common Misconceptions About Copywriters: Why Your Brand Needs Agency Wordsmiths
By Caroline Stringfellow, Copywriter
Armed with three internships and four years of studying the ins and outs of copywriting, I eagerly and passionately stepped into the role. In my extensive, eighteen-month-long career writing for a modern multidisciplinary advertising agency, I’ve learned a lot. As prepared as I was, there were still many aspects that my classes and internships didn’t cover, which I was about to quickly realize. I’m sharing my findings to help companies understand the value that professional copywriters provide.
The following epiphanies clarify common, and my own, misconceptions about professional copywriters. I hope my learnings empower you to consider partnering with an agency and utilizing their trained copywriters’ crucial and specialized skills.
Misconception #1: Everyone can write.
Not everyone is a writer, and that’s okay. I don’t want to alarm you, nor do I want to give you this news to humble all of the aspiring authors on your staff. I’m delivering this message because you are missing a key player on your team who honestly belongs on the starting lineup. You wouldn’t ask a wide receiver to block the opposing team when they came to the field with a strong offense; you would send your best lineman out to stop them.
So what can the lineman (a trained copywriter) contribute to the play that the rest of your team, as talented as they may be, would likely drop the ball trying to complete?
Professional copywriters have three essential things: natural ability, stylistic training and practice. Some people can instinctively write beautiful words but haven’t learned the rules of writing. Others have studied the nuances of technical writing, graduated from grammar, mastered metaphor and excelled at alliteration, but lack the innate ability to transform key messages into impactful, action-inspiring, pithy narratives.
Can those with natural ability properly use the right literary devices at the right time? And can those who are too technical break fundamental rules to achieve specific goals? With the right experience and opportunity, absolutely. Trained copywriters are masters of both.
Misconception #2: Everyone knows what a copywriter is.
I’ll admit, I’m in the “everyone” camp on this one. I thought I knew exactly what my responsibilities would be as a professional copywriter, but as it turns out, I’ve just begun to realize the depths of my duties.
Part creative, part calculated and completely intentional, copywriting is storytelling that successfully reaches the right audience, motivating them to feel, think, or do a specific thing.
Copywriters are directors of the brand story. We create emotional connections between the audience and the client, through memorable narrative, undeniable truth and persuasive plot development. Beyond our wordsmithing responsibilities, we are also researchers, strategists, conceptual thinkers, idea developers, storytellers and collaborators. Copywriters are not simply people writing words to fill a page
We consider the audience’s habits, interests, lifestyle, demographics and influences to conceptualize what they need. Then, we craft a big picture concept with the team. What would compel the audience to act? How can we meet their needs? What platform are they most likely to consume and how can we optimize it to make the message resonate with them to the degree that it elicits the response we’re striving for?
There’s an element of psychology involved, challenging writers to step out of their own minds to imagine they had someone else’s. We call this portion strategy – helping develop a plan that speaks to the right people at the right time using proven tactics. Copywriters start here.
Misconception #3: A copywriter’s job is to put words on paper to sell things.
Copywriters don’t just sell. We bring ideas to life that speak to users wherever they are in the marketing funnel: awareness, consideration, conversion or retention. We write with a richer purpose: to inspire, to connect, to inform. Whether introducing a new opportunity, raising awareness for an experience or event, or sharing a resource that would enable them to complete tasks more easily or faster, our goal is to connect our audience with opportunities to improve their lives.
Public Service Announcements (PSA) are a great example of copywriters using their skills to raise awareness and enlighten the public with impactful news and information. For example, amid the pandemic, we crafted and shared several phases of PSAs on behalf of state departments, alerting Tennesseeans of new COVID-19 safety precautions.
Copywriting is the art of building an authentic brand story, using multiple channels that work together to inspire an audience to respond in a particular way. It’s about connection, truth and capturing attention. Good copywriting will entertain, raise awareness and be memorable, sometimes in as few as three words.
Misconception #4: Copywriters are content writers.
All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. In other words, copywriters make good content writers, but not all content writers are copywriters. Content writers produce entertaining media for viewers’ pleasure and consumption. Copywriters create content that drives action. The response piece is key, as inspiring brand interactions is both our purpose and our goal when we develop the idea.
Content writers write for the Now, in the moment capturing, responding to or initiating conversations about what’s happening right then. This is a great tool to stay relevant on social media, connect with younger audiences and keep up with trends. It is not, however, the copywriter’s primary focus.
Copywriters develop and execute big picture concepts and craft all of the supplemental elements that live under the long-term strategy’s umbrella. We consider the message’s evolution, how it may be perceived in the future and ways to make it flexible to create dynamic campaigns that evolve with our audience. Successful campaigns are able to extend, achieve more and adapt to the needs of the market, continually delivering results. Copywriting should grab the attention of your audience, inspire action and linger in their minds, beyond the ad’s runtime.
Misconception 5: Copywriters write headlines and emails.
Headlines and emails are my bread and butter, but where’s the fun in filling up on that and spoiling my appetite for the rest of the feast? Copywriters produce a myriad of written work, from articles to radio and television scripts, posters, billboards, direct mail, websites, emails and more. Short and long-form copy are a huge part of the role, but would be meaningless without a concept to drive them. Which is why we start with strategy, the main course establishing the flavors that the side dishes–supplementary deliverables–should compliment.
Copywriters are expected to think analytically, tactically and methodically. We have to anticipate our audience’s needs and circumstances months in advance, as we develop a plan that is original, interesting and well-received. I knew this position would allow me to be both strategic and creative, which was part of the appeal. What I’ve learned, is that we also must put on a number of other career hats including researcher, interviewer, visionary, SEO marketer, wireframing assistant, website developer, CMS content specialist and loader, editor, collaborator, concept tester, negotiator, listener and producer, to name a few.
One of the things I really like about the position is the variety of skills I get to use and continue to grow. It’s hard to get tired of doing something that is constantly changing and expanding. To do the job well, copywriters need to build an index of in-depth knowledge about the brands they work with, their industries and their customers. We discover new information, strengthen our intellect and become experts in all of the niche areas that relate to our clients.
Misconception 6: Writers lock themselves in a cave, write their crazy little hearts out, edit and then publish their work.
We may lock ourselves in caves for a portion of the process, but most of it is collaborative and involves strategic planning, research and regrouping with our directors, designers and account managers to refine the idea. Here is a glimpse into our working relationships with the other members of our team.
Copy & Design:
Advertising is a vehicle that can take brands from point A to point B efficiently, traditionally or chaotically–depending on how the parts work together. The first thing people notice is the body of the vehicle; its paint color, make and model, and shine will catch potential buyers’ eyes but as crucial as the design is, if the engine doesn’t work, it’s simply a piece of art or a prop. The essential component of advertising–intention–although it may not be as glamorous to look at, or prioritized as often, can only be achieved through written narrative. Between glossy designs and stunning composition lies the purpose of the piece.
What does the brand want to achieve? What do they want the consumer to experience from the ad? An emotion? A memory? A connection? Copywriters have the ability to elicit all of the above, within a single piece. The decisions that we make can accomplish all of the previously mentioned goals and inspire curiosity, provoke thought and drive action. Companies sometimes make the dangerous mistake of overlooking the engine and getting caught up in the design.
In our process, both teams get time at the beginning of a project to research the subject and brainstorm concepts for the campaign. We’ll then meet again to bounce ideas off of each other. Sometimes the designers’ vision inspires a copy strategy or conversely, the writers’ concept sparks the graphic direction. By repeatedly bouncing between independent ideation and team collaboration, we ensure that the visual message and communication harmonize to achieve a consistent tone and clear, comprehensive idea.
Copy & UX:
We’re both strategic, analytical and creative thinkers. Copy and User Experience use forethought, planning, pivoting and regrouping to achieve our goals. We collaboratively work on websites and apps and consider the ways people will be using the platform to anticipate their interactions and expectations. Both of us rely on research, understanding and innovating patterns to create smooth, clear, accessible experiences for the end user.
Copy & Content/Social:
Copywriters and content writers or social media creators work together to develop consistent messaging that captures attention. We both must know the audience very well and consider trends, relevant news, timing and other environmental factors that impact perception. Social Media specializes in the now, crafting the right content to reach a target audience, entertain them and cause them to feel, think or do something specific. Copywriters combine this thinking with our long-term, big picture focus to achieve shareable, relevant, interesting posts that are equally accurate in the moment and in the future.
Now you know what a copywriter is.
You should now have a much deeper grasp of what copywriters do, how they work with the rest of the company and their clients and the purpose they serve. There’s a lot more that goes into the strategic, collaborative and imperative role and a lot of value agency copywriters provide for the brands we work with. If you’re interested in learning more about what we can do to enhance your brand, establish meaningful relationships and efficiently inspire your audience to behave or think in a certain way, reach out to us at Designsensory. We’re here to help companies achieve more and we love using our unique training, conceptualization and creativity to elevate brands. Connect with us to take your company to the next level.
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