Before I sink my teeth into this post, I feel that it’s appropriate to add a disclaimer. Not something official that warns you from opening this in the office (#notNSFW), but something that is purely for the purpose of protecting my opinion, based on research and experience. So, first things first – disclaimer: all research performed was done so within the confines of my office, with members of my team during a recent recruitment drive.
Now that I’ve made it clear that this research is subject to one particular office, and conducted during one particular recruitment drive, we can get on with establishing the point of this one particular post. Firstly, I’d love for you to think about the job description entitled ‘copywriter’; think of the roles and responsibilities that this title would dictate, and think of the type of qualification(s) and the skillset that this title would require. Now that you’ve formulated an idea of what it is that a copywriter does, and the extent of the qualifications that he or she would need, we can establish what it is that is right and what it is that is wrong. And yes, I am not above telling you whether or not your opinion is incorrect because, believe it or not, there is a chance that your perception may be unfitting to the role. Understand that my banter is said in jest – my aim is not to please or offend, but rather to ask one specific question: what has become of the copywriter?
In an effort to grow our team, we embarked on a recruitment exercise in which we had hoped to find a writer (or two) who would add to our existing pool of skills. Little did we know that our six-week recruitment drive would turn into an eight-month challenge (yes, it is still running). While we were lucky enough to find a handful of good eggs – which would make it no further than to the second round of interviews – we struggled to find writers whose skillset, writing ability and experience ticked off all of our criteria. You see, what we were searching for was not difficult; we were not looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We simply required a qualified individual who could string together a sentence without error, who could keep up with the busy schedule (hello, sunrise… from my desk), and who wouldn’t lie to us during the interview process. However, our search for this illusive being brought little success. In an effort to mollify ourselves, and the urgency of hiring a new copywriter, we agreed to some introspection. What we found came as no surprise at all – we searched through job ads, through surveys and articles, and found that we were asking for out-of-the-ordinary when it comes to copywriter recruitment. Yet, we came to the following conclusion: at some point, the copywriter – in all his or her verbose glory – disappeared.
We realise that many copywriters have moved onto greener pastures – perhaps they’ve written novels, moved up the industry ladder or would rather work from the comfort of their own home, but surely there are a number of aspiring writers and talented wordsmiths meandering their way through agency life? I understand that there are many young South Africans who aspire to one day fill the pages of a novel, win awards for their talent and who would like nothing better than to live out their days publishing gem after gem, only for the satisfaction of living out their passion. However, these aspiring writers have to start somewhere, and why can’t that somewhere not be in a creative agency that is looking for people who eat, sleep and breathe their writing? In the same sentence, I would like to admit that it drives us crazy (read: inconsolably mad) when we have applicants who brag about their writing experience that can only equate to the short pieces of PR writing that they have to their name and a badly written, grammarless blog. While there are many young creatives who are born with a natural talent to write, we have received many applications from people who can’t, although they do feel passionate about the vocation.
From our research, it is apparent that there has been an unfortunate miscommunication about what it is that copywriters do and the requirements that go with the title. In an effort to assist aspiring writers, and those who hope to apply for a writing position, take a look at our list of tips:
1. Just because you love to use words, doesn’t mean that you can write
While being able to count doesn’t make you a mathematician, the love for words doesn’t make you a writer. Although it may sound harsh, a passion for writing does not always indicate a talent for it, and the role of a copywriter is to produce work of a high standard. Not only does a copywriter need to be able to produce a high standard of work, but they also need to know how to write to best suit the needs of a client. While you may not be cut out for a job as a copywriter, we encourage you to keep writing, to embrace it and to enjoy it, regardless of what others may think.
2. Running a blog doesn’t make you a copywriter
If I had R1 for every time that we received an application from someone who based their experience on their personal blog, I would be booking a holiday to Grabouw. While there are many well-written and successful local blogs, we seem to have found the quota of those that aren’t. Although it is a commendable feat to run and write for your own blog, it is important to remember that there is always some sort of watchdog when it comes to copywriting – someone will always edit or proofread your work, and if it is apparent that you cannot do adequate research, or correct your spelling and grammar errors, you may want to rethink your decision to pursue a career in copywriting.
3. You need a relevant qualification
While there are many things that irk us about how people perceive the role of a copywriter, there is nothing more offensive than the assumption that we’re unqualified. If you plan on pursuing a career in copywriting, it is important to remember that a relevant qualification is necessary. Whether you choose to study English, journalism, literature or linguistics, it is important to ensure that your degree is relevant to the type of skills that you will need when you’re building your career. From experience, applying for a copywriting position with a BCom degree will not get you very far.
4. Grammar is a real thing
‘There, their, and they’re’ really do matter in the realm of copywriting. While grammar and spelling can be learnt (or enforced), it is important to ensure that you understand the basics of grammar, and that you are sure of your spelling. Experienced copywriters are not able to spend their time correcting your work or running through the basics of the English language. It is also important to ensure that you get these two elements correct on your CV and cover letter before you send it off to a potential employer.
While it may seem like a tough industry into which you hope to break, the life of a copywriter can be extremely satisfying. However, you need to ensure that you have the right foundation with which to create success. After all, no one wants to get themselves caught in the type of situation where they have to “use caution when hunting pedestrians using walk trails”.