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Would the real copywriter please stand up?

In a world of SEO (dead or not) and the immediacy of content-to-consumer needed, there seems to be more copy needed than copywriters out there. Never fear, for an article titled How to get high-performance sales copy without hiring a copywriter hit the blogosphere recently.
Information like this is priceless and will change the future for Laquisha, the envelope filling entrepreneur, Donathan's Christmas present opening startup or aunty Martha who believes that her smoked haddock air freshener range is going to make a mint. It's easy, you see? This white paper on our profession by Christina Gillick says that readers make good writers, so if you read a lot, you can do your own copywriting.

Everyone's a writer

I arrived at the New Zealand Chiefs Super 15 practice. They asked what I was doing there before I explained that I'd watched a few games on the telly, was a fan of the scrum and always fancied being the guy they throw in the air in the lineout. Naturally, they showed me to my locker right away, kitted me out with my costume and we won the tournament. Hoorah! Anyone can do it, right?

Not really. So would you sit down at the latest iMac complete with state-of-the-art spectroradiometers and design your own corporate identity? Quickly go and read a lot so that you could write you own objective-driven copy or sew yourself a tuxedo for that promotion-to-CEO gala dinner? You could certainly try - everyone loves a guy with a sense of humour.

I can count on my hands the amount of times I have read something and said "Holy shitballs Mom! I wish I'd written that!" - yet it would take you more than a day to count all the people in our industry who are calling themselves writers. Then try vetting them... that should blow your hair back.

I Googled one Christina Gillick and found a lovely picture of her lying under the tree with her laptop, working - obviously. It was titled: "Christina Gillick enjoying the writer's life at her quiet country home in Texas."

They must do things differently in Texas because, let's be honest, writing is anything but quiet-time. It's as deadline-driven as any job and usually involves at least nine other voices in your own head before the first word has hit the page. But I'm down when it comes to helpful tips, so anytime I have to produce any high-performance sales copy, I'm heading for a tree in Texas.

Supply and demand

Fact is, more and more people are looking for (competent) content generators. However - and whether it comes down to a budget or the urgency pandemic - the entry barrier at many agencies into these roles is not exactly up there with the bar exam. And if you believe that these agency roles are no science, then you may be part of the problem - there's no avoiding the fact that writing decent, engaging copy is not for everyone.

Someone who kinda sorta maybe enjoyed English in High School isn't necessarily the right talent for this work. What should be important to agency owners and clients alike is not necessarily finding someone with a Masters in English, but someone who has a natural talent mixed with an undeniable passion for their craft and a body of work that demonstrates such. There's your candidate.

Has copywriting lost its heart?

Not entirely. But very often, the diluted skill-set in a room that determines the direction of a brand forgets the importance of stories. We all need stories that prompt us to feel something, and be inspired or motived by. Whether these are seen on TV, heard on radio, watched in a taxi or at the rank, interpreted across a series of billboards and reinforced with what we engaged with online once we got to the office, seen in a double page spread, advertorial, blog or TTL campaign - people need something to latch on to.

What good is content that popped up first on your search but did absolutely nothing for you after that? And to tell stories by mastering his craft, a writer needs to be able to see something different about the world around him; to understand that the resonant power of writing is in the magic of how 26 letters are arranged together and that there is nothing coincidental about this.

There really are no sneaky tricks, nor are there quick fixes. If you want copy that moves and motivates while delivering on the brief, find a talented, passionate writer that loves to write. That's all there is to it. Failing that, you could be master of all (none) and use Google to teach you how to do it all yourself. While you're at it, you can learn how to remove warts, how to design a poster, how to be a good wife, how to become a vampire, how to strategic plan and how to find the best tree to lie under when needing to produce high-performance sales copy.

The list is long, how much time do you have?
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About Dylan Balkind

Even the person who can sell ice to Eskimos needs have a way of letting the world know. Words. They're wonderful warriors with the potential for worry. Use a writer who takes his passion seriously. Here's more about me and mine: | Twitter @DylanBalkind
Carl Judas Piek
Instead of complaining why not ensure all work and copywriting be of the highest caliber and thereby set yourself apart from the dregs of the bloggers/pseudo-writers whom you have animosity toward?
Posted on 6 Aug 2013 11:41
Dominique Masson
Excellent piece!
Posted on 6 Aug 2013 17:38
Barbara Mowatt
I'm standing UP! I am tired of reworking/rewriting copy that a "copy writer" has produced (and been paid for). I'm happy to share my expertise (at a reasonable fee, of course). Apply forthwith.
Posted on 6 Aug 2013 17:58
Brandon Faber
Cracking piece there mate. The "story" is everything.
Posted on 6 Aug 2013 20:48
Carmen Brander
You sound grumpy. I got bored, found a tree ...
Posted on 7 Aug 2013 16:46
Neil Gillett
Well said Sir - too true.
Posted on 8 Aug 2013 09:29
Frank Gainsford
Thanx for a great article on copy-writing. I blog about #SEO and something I call #FUFISM or functional User Friendly Integrated Social media, and after reading your article I think I need to write about where your copy-writer fits into the mix as one of the more vital components of your total marketing package.To get the best SEO results one does need to do all the related things, and the copy-writer does need to be given the list of key words which your entire team will be using as the core for their work, along with the purpose, aims and objectives of the campaign.this same set of key words need to be used in 1)your web site2)your blog3) your FB business Page4) your G+ business page5) your pinterest pins6) other social media7) your offline marketing in A) the news papers B) your radio advertising C) your other print media advertising like flyers and pamphlets D) your TV advertising if your budget allows E) your e-mail campaigns F) any other advertising you do.Often you will have different copy writers for your web site, your blog, your print media adverts and each different social media platform, so it is imperative that these different copy-writers meet on a social level and discuss your campaigns social flavor as well as the purpose, aims and objectives of each separate component of your total marketing package.My blog on SEO and FUFISM is at which is supported by a G+ page at If you visit these pages you will get an understanding of how important it is that each component of your campaign is integrated into the campaign as a whole, and that every person who is working on your campaign understand their place in the campaign as well as the value that others add, and how to maximize the impact of what others are doing in each specific campaign, through their personal efforts within the other words apply the FUFISM approach to marketing, where your copy writer is one of the key players, as this person sets the stage for your target audience to be entertained and educated as well as ensuring that your desired call to action statement is activated through non obtrusive and end user pleasing methods.not easy... so you need a good copy-writer or if you are a big brand and have different copy writers for different platforms a team of copywriters who work together in a co-ordinated and happy team.
Posted on 13 Aug 2013 12:27
Simon Roche
The reason and the cause for the paucity of decent copy emerging nowadays is not the writers (who are mostly bloody awful thinkers and writers who think Juvenal is a young perpetrator and Demosthenes a cleaning liquid, yet consider Barry O genuinely eloquent) is their employers. It staggers me weekly the extent to which ad bosses, editors, et al simply cannot apprehend vapidity. I am not suggesting that everyone should be world-class! But even if you are young, hip, happening, and down with it, and obliged to write colloquially, you should still HAVE to score points for rich thought and eloquence after a sort. And if your boss is declaring you the winner by keeping you employed, then it is HIS fault.That effing tattoo, gorgeous as it is, is NOT indicative by itself of anything but itself and, well, you. It is NOT tantamount to intellectual capacity on matters beyond you.The CRAP I read, notwithstanding the writer's perhaps low LSM, or youth culture-oriented, or even semi-literate, audience, is pointless. Surely there is still a bloody idea worth comprehending and expressing regardless of whether it is to do with a cold-drink, murder, forthcoming symposium, ministerial faux pas, or a cheap tee-shirt at PEP?I have one word to compellingly advance my argument incontrovertibly. Store. No matter how many times a twenty-three year old agency copy-writer tries to "hiply" shove that piece of septic tank (Yank)-speak down my throat, I - like 99.9 per cent of South Africans - still say to my sons "Shall we go to the shops?" More to the point, that's what they say to me, and what their mates say to them.My mother almost prevails here: I don't have anything nice to say, so I shan't... Alright then, if I must. I want to strangle when I contemplate the sheer daftness of present SA copy-writing, given that one word so indisputably epitomises that, BY EMPIRICAL DEFINITION, THEY (DEMONSTRABLY) CANNOT WRITE, OR THINK, AT ALL, IF THEY DON"T KNOW WHAT WORDS ARE USED TO EXPRESS THE MOST MUNDANE THOUGHTS (such as shopping) IN THEIR OWN MILIEU.Even my laaitjies and their skating mates, of every cultural shade, urban, privileged, and overly self-conscious of their necessary assimilation into a homogeneous neo-American culture simply do not say "Store".You over-groomed nincompoops (employers)! Using brand marketing surveys is dolicocephalic, man. It is pseudo-science, not because I say so, but because the use of the word store in the questionnaire template sent to you by Proctor and Gamble U.S.A. does NOT mean that Mrs Marietjie Maartens of Ysterplaat used that word in the bloody interview in Century City on Saturday morning outside the Ster Kinekor.Who is the person who employs these okes? That's the cretin with whom I want to have a drink, not the actual blank-faced Mac Air owners who write the copy while wearing a Che Guevara tee-shirt in sympathy with universal proletarian aspirations of peace. He's a harmless idiot too stupid to read about the massacres of villagers in S America for the stated sake of making a revolutionary point, only. Ignore him. Rather bring me the "groot wit baas" who gets paid +R80k p.m. to nod sage approval at copy bereft of anything profound, and written in utterly non-vernacular language (albeit masquerading as colloquial). THINK for your salaries, you over-posed pithecanthropes! Honestly.Let English rot if you must, but for pity's sake you have a pecunially-inspired obligation to ensure that your serfs communicate ideas resonant, at least, to their audiences. And that means that on some pre-conscious level they (the audiences) should be absorbing an actually-profound idea, even if the subject is Coke, or takkies. After all, if they aren't impressed by an actual idea beyond the most transient language, they won't come back. And the you'll be writing articles in Biz Community, conveniently relayed to your company website, internal newsletter, or bosses in Athens/Georgia, bewailing the difficulty of retaining customers. No? Not?
Posted on 14 Aug 2013 22:57