Angela Boshoff Hundal, Founder, Head of Copy and Creative Director at Scribe tells us why the art of copywriting should be embraced, rather than dismissed
“The value of carefully constructed and expertly crafted written language seems to have shrunk, which means that we’re all seeing (and getting) more and more emails, push notifications, SMS messages, marketing collateral and other written content containing atrocious spelling, shocking grammar and bad vocabulary.”
“You creative types are so misunderstood,” a man at a dinner party once said to me when I revealed that I was a copywriter. “What is it exactly that copywriters do again?”
It’s a fair question, and I don’t think he was being nasty or sarcastic when he asked it. He did look genuinely perplexed, which is why I didn’t mind explaining to him – and the rest of the dinner guests, who had all turned towards me like flowers to the sun – what exactly a copywriter does. “It’s simple really,” I said, smiling as broadly as I could. “We write copy for a living.”
“Ah!” a woman exclaimed, evidently enlightened. “What are you working on at the moment?”
“Are you working on any books?” someone piped up.
“Scripts?” another asked.
“Not at the moment…” I responded, deflated.
“Oh,” came the reply. The silence was awkward. You could almost hear their inner chatter: I thought copywriting was more exciting than that. What happens next?
Look, I know it’s hard for some people to get their heads around. I’m doing a job that they may never even have thought existed until they met me. What’s so special about copywriters anyway? I mean, everyone can write, right? Wrong. The truth is, people who go around claiming everyone can write are the same ones that send text messages like “c u l8r” or write sentences like “your the best writer”. They would breezily pop an apostrophe in the word banana’s and not see what they’ve done wrong. Apostrophic bananas are a copywriting catastrophe. (As is using the word ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ in the sentence above.) These are the sorts of typos that keep copywriters – or protectors of the written word, as I like to call them – up at night. Our fear of errors makes us read and reread an article five times and then once backwards (that is an actual proofreading technique, by the way) to make sure we haven’t used hyphens instead of en-dashes, or that we’ve not drafted our copy with incomplete comparisons or in passive voice. Not sure what I’m on about? That’s okay. It’s probably because you’re not a writer.
One of the hardest parts of my job is getting people – even very experienced professionals with fancy degrees – to wrap their heads around the fact that copywriting is a skill that took time to learn, or that it requires hard work and dedication to pull off. Many don’t realise that someone had to sit down and write whatever it is that they read that morning, from the words on their shampoo bottle to the cooking instructions on the back of the packet of oats. Hopefully, a writer even crafted the text message that popped up to alert above-mentioned people to the fact that the driver from the chauffeur-driven car service was downstairs to take them to work. Those words were created with conviction and determination. It took time, effort and probably rather a lot of coffee.
Aside from knowing our semicolons from our umlauts, copywriters are crucial to helping develop a brand’s style and tone of voice. That’s just one of the reasons why we like to be included in a project from the very beginning, instead of being squished in right at the end like the last passenger on the Tokyo subway train at rush hour. Our input is valuable and can impact the way people view and interact with a business on a direct level. Yet many companies still aren’t quite convinced of our worth. I have a theory: I believe that because the modern world is a very visual place, many businesses are bias towards the visual arts (which are VERY important, make no mistake), which means they might overlook copywriting a little. While most corporations wouldn’t ask one of their existing employees to “quickly design something”, many believe that they can get someone to bash out a bit of copy because they don’t think – or maybe they don’t know – that writing requires the same amount of skill. A writer shouldn’t be expected to just “quickly-write-something-up-because-it’s-short-and-won’t-take-time”. If I had a Dirham for every time I heard that statement I’d be a very rich woman.
On the topic of money, it’s a sad fact that many are quick to judge even a reasonable copywriting fee. If you’re someone who thinks that the cost of good writing is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad writing. A 2013 Global Lingo study revealed that people take spelling very seriously, with three quarters (74%) of web users paying attention to the quality of spelling and grammar on company websites, and more than half (59%) of people saying they would avoid doing business with a company that made obvious spelling or grammar mistakes.
Once upon a time, bad spelling and poor grammar would have been intolerable, but the lazy everyday communication that’s come about as a result of the hectic lives we lead seems to be spilling over into corporate communication, too. The value of carefully constructed and expertly crafted written language seems to have shrunk, which means that we’re all seeing (and getting) more and more emails, push notifications, SMS messages, marketing collateral and other written content containing atrocious spelling, shocking grammar and bad vocabulary.
So, fellow protectors of the written word, it’s up to us to teach one and all about the value of our work. If people don’t get it, we need to hammer away at our keyboards until they do. So, Montblancs at the ready and laptops open. Let’s use the power of well-crafted copy for the good of us all.