As well as having the ability to write wording to market a product or service for a business, a creative copywriter can think conceptually about how to ‘sell’ that product or service in an original, imaginative and attention-grabbing way – whether for print or online.
A copywriter provides words. A creative copywriter provides words and ideas that help accelerate the commercial impact of communications.
A creative copywriter is a strategic thinker
Creative copywriting isn’t just about getting information in. It’s about getting information out – in an interesting way. It’s not just about writing but about thinking. And thinking differently. Sometimes you have to zig when others zag; but not just for the sake of it. This is business after all. Whatever is different about the ad or web page has to be down to whatever is different about the product.
Why is the product unique? Why should I choose it above and beyond any other similar brand? Who is the target audience? As a creative copywriter, you never stop interrogating the brief, the account handler or the client to discover that USP (unique selling proposition).
Creative copy is inspiring to read and has a voice that makes a brand stand up and stand out. But it’s about more than having a way with words. It’s about being original with an idea and tapping into people’s hearts and heads. It’s about having a headline that makes people look twice and copy that makes people want to read end to end.
A creative copywriter is an artist
In the days portrayed in ‘Mad Men’, copywriters would sit on one floor of a building and pen their bon mots and persuasive punches then send them off to the art department to do their visual wizardry.
As much as I love designers, in my experience they tend to work separately to a copywriter. Designers will bring the look to life whereas an art director will work with a copywriter and bring the idea to life. As Jim Durfee said, ‘A strong idea, simply presented, is far more effective than a weak idea strongly presented.’
Freelance creative copywriters often work by themselves. The ability to draw or use Photoshop isn’t essential, but you do need to think visually. I can’t even draw matchstick men so if I’m presenting ads, a TV commercial or a video script, I’ll often pull together a mood board of photos to give a feel for look and direction.
Sometimes the strongest ads don’t even have a visual at all – but they do have a powerful idea, such as the famous, award-winning and long running campaign for The Economist.
A creative copywriter is an editor
My old art director, James Spence, and I used to say ‘Gag in. Gag out.’ You need a great beginning, the practical stuff in the middle, and then an inspiring ending which not only ties back to the headline or opener but also makes people think ‘Wow, I must buy that/do that/call them/follow them.’ If you need to be inspired – and who doesn’t from time to time 🙂 – you may like to check out these v handy books that Tristan Cardwell, another copywriter, and I recommended in a recent blog on how to become a freelance copywriter.
The very best copy comes about through drafting and crafting and pruning. It’s not about adding lots of fancy adjectives or writing a mini novel. It’s about getting to the point quickly and avoiding puns and clichés (well, 99% of the time). It’s about reading what you’ve done and not being afraid to start again (you can’t beat the overnight test). To get the best work, you have to recognise when to get rid of the bad work.
So, what isn’t a creative copywriter…?
Understanding the type of copywriter or writer you need for your business is essential, so I’ve provided a brief guide to the various differences. For detailed advice on choosing the right way to market your business, see Marketing Communication Channels – Where Is As Important As How.
What’s the difference between a creative copywriter and a creative writer?
Many copywriters have a burning desire to be an author instead (not me) with a Booker Prize-worthy novel inside them. And some now are (Fay Weldon, Salman Rushdie).
Whereas a creative writer can let their imagination run wild in a poem, short story or novel, a creative copywriter can only let their imagination run wild within the confines of a client’s brief. That’s why copywriters need a first rate planner to write the creative brief and a brave client to sign it off. (Don’t have a creative brief to work from? Feel free to download my free client brief template.)
What’s the difference between a copywriter and a content writer?
Once upon a time (i.e. when I started out), copywriters wrote press ads and brochures and direct mail and TV and radio scripts. Now copywriters write Facebook posts and Tweets and blogs and e-newsletters and lots of other lovely e-things. And websites. As a freelance copywriter, the Internet has opened up a glorious wealth of opportunities.
A good content writer should also be a good creative copywriter. And a good creative copywriter should also be a good content writer. (What will be an eye catching headline? How can I develop a fresh tone of voice for this brand? How can I thread in key words cleverly without the copy looking like an SEO shopping list? How can I add value by writing punchy meta tags and engaging Google descriptors?).
What’s the difference between a copywriter and an SEO copywriter?
My heart often sinks when I’m asked to churn out large amounts of content or blogs for the purposes of SEO. As much as a client may say they want quality articles, they’re never prepared to pay for quality writing.
An SEO copywriter needs to understand the difference made by H1 and H2 headers, by keyword stuffing and by meta tags and meta descriptors. It’s a fairly technical area compared to advertising copywriting but a good all-rounder should be perfectly capable of writing for search engine optimisation .
Google ranks each website by the page, not the website as a whole, so it’s important for every article and blog to be well written, well optimised and of a decent length. For tips on this, and handy links, you may like to read this piece on how to choose SEO keywords.
What’s the difference between a copywriter and a journalist?
A journalist will find an angle for a news story and write up all the good points – and the bad ones. (Because of this very reason, I once had to take over from a journalist who’d started a brochure on Portugal and nearly caused the client a heart attack.) A press article may also include interviews or quotes.
Journalists tend to charge by the word while copywriters charge by the hour, the day or the project (which, in my view, is always preferable). They’ll write for a mass audience too, while a copywriter will write for a specific audience.
What’s the difference between a copywriter and a PR writer?
A PR writer provides information about a product or service (usually if being launched) or a person in a positive light with a newsworthy angle. I’m sometimes asked to write press releases – and have done so – but it’s a definite skill set that also requires something crucial: having journalist contacts. Yes, you can have a press release with the boilerplate and editor’s notes – but there’s zilch point unless it can get into the press.
What’s the difference between a copywriter and a creative copywriter?
Written by Caroline Gibson, creative freelance copywriter, who’s always happy to write copy for print and online (as you can tell from the copywriting portfolio) but cowers at the thought of writing a novel.
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