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Writing the future: six tips for copywriters

Louise Sheeran

It’s an exciting – and a daunting – time for copywriters. Mr. President’s Laura Jordan Bambach spelled it out for us nicely. Creative agencies are breaking out of their traditional roles, tackling bigger world problems and more diverse business challenges. But as client budgets shrink, copywriting (among other creative specialisms) risks being undervalued or forgotten.

However, the message of the day was very much that if writers stay open, flexible and passionate about our craft, then the opportunities to make an impact are immense. Below are six nuggets of advice I took from the day on how to stay focused and optimistic as a copywriter.

1. Get your creative juices flowing first thing

It’s easy to get bogged down by research and tangled up in track changes. But it’s important to reset our brains and reconnect with our love of words from time to time. Wordtree’s Liz Doig suggests spending a few quiet minutes at the start of each working day writing from the heart without thinking too hard about the results. Look at or listen to something that inspires you and use it to springboard a stream-of-consciousness creative writing exercise. You may be surprised by what you come out with – and you might find some gems to use in your client work.

2. Let go of old gripes

Much as I would love to be Peggy Olson, toying with ideas in my sweet private office then dazzling important men in suits with my clever taglines, the industry has moved on. Clients want ideas yesterday. Mobile and social channels have transformed the way we all think, work and play. Laura Jordan Bambach says copywriters have got to get up to speed with technology, make space for our contribution and adapt our craft to new areas. Some of the most powerful campaigns don’t contain any words at all; that doesn't mean there wasn’t a copywriter behind the scenes, losing sleep over every tiny detail.

3. Have fun with Twitter

It’s not “just social media” – it’s an essential tool in establishing a brand and building a dedicated fanbase. But mastering those 140 characters doesn’t come naturally to all of us. David Levin of That Lot is living proof that brands win hearts and minds on Twitter by being quick-witted, topical and a little bit cheeky. He runs the Twitter accounts for a host of different brands including The Apprentice, Have I Got News For You and Virgin Media. His advice: talk the way your audience talks. Jump into conversations and put your own spin on things. Establish a recurring format to anchor your presence in the sea of noise. And don’t overthink it; you can always perform a “discreet delete” if your latest Tweet bombs.

4. Tap up the classics

You could take a course on how to write great sales copy. Or you could curl up with the works of Sophocles, a volume of romantic poetry or a great speech by Emmeline Pankhurst or Martin Luther King. I know which I’d prefer. Whether you’re persuading CIOs to trust your brand or convincing new parents to part with their cash, their basest instincts remain. Andy Maslen from Sunfish urges copywriters to learn from the greats how to engage their senses and appeal to their emotions.

5. Be rude

People swear in speech, in emails, on TV, in music – everywhere but in marketing. Why is that? Marketing is bound by special conventions and you’ll be hard pushed to find a client who’s happy to litter their adverts with expletives. But, says Velocity’s Doug Kessler, that’s precisely the reason to do it. Swearing is surprising: it grabs attention. It signals confidence. It resonates with like-minded people. And it’s funny (when it’s done right). It doesn’t have to be crass – sometimes the suggestion can be more effective than the real thing. Just look at Air Asia’s “Phuket I’ll go,” French Connection’s FCUK and Sofa King’s “Sofa King Low”. These examples work because they’re so unexpected.

6. Make every word count

We’re always being told that audiences have shorter attention spans so it’s best to keep words to a minimum. Blame the internet. But one thing will never change: if your writing is interesting, people will read it. Yes, short-form content can be effective and exciting. But, says Andy Maslen, readers only switch off from long-form content when it’s full of nonsense. Really get to know your audience, push back on waffle and pare things down to the truly delicious points – then you’ll keep them hooked. That, my friend, is the long and short of it.

So, there you have it. Yes, clients are more demanding than ever, technology is evolving and marketing is changing. But if we tackle these challenges head on and roll with the punches, copywriters will continue to make an impact.

Score one for the word nerds.