Journalists don't necessarily make good copywriters. I know - I was one. I wanted to share some tips and tricks I learned on Jackie Barrie’s copywriting course for freelance journalists.
Apologies for the headline.
I grabbed it from Portent’s strangely addictive content idea generator, something I learned about on Jackie’s course.
Jackie is a copywriter and author. She also travels the world, training recruiters to write better job ads, and journalists to add copywriting to their skill set.
1.) Don’t write like a journalist
Journalistic language is about getting to the point, unless you’re the New York Times, in which case it’s about seeing if you can fit a Russian novel into your bloody lede.
Either way, it can be dull.
(The exception is tabloid subeditors, who are famous within the industry for their witty wordplay.)
2.) “Writing without waffle”
The words Jackie lives by.
Finding an engaging way to sell brands, products and services is part of the game. It’s about more than just creativity - it also requires a straight-talking attitude and an ability to quickly understand and summarise complex topics. And ultimately, to sell stuff.
In her own words:
“Most people are too close to their own business to be able to write clearly about it.”
3.) “It is difficult to produce good creative work without a good creative brief.”
In other words, set homework for your client. This is your job, not theirs. Anyone who has ever tried to write copy after receiving an incoherent brief will understand the value of this conversation.
“I ask at least 20 discovery questions early on in the process,” Jackie says.
She starts by finding out exactly what the business does, who their clients are, who their competitors are, and why anyone should buy from them.
The reason this is important, she says, is that it helps her understand her client’s needs as well as ensuring that both parties are invested in the process.
4.) The power lies with the reader
In journalism, your reader has already clicked on your story or opened your book. You are the authority. In copywriting your copy doesn’t have an established readership.
“To engage with the reader, it’s important to avoid using top-down language,” says Jackie.
Avoid writing "I", “we”, “our” and “us”. Use “you” and “ your” instead.
5.) Pay peanuts and you get monkeys
As the advertising guru David Ogilvy wrote: “No manufacturer ever got rich by underpaying his agency. Pay peanuts and you get monkeys.”
The world of quality copywriting is very different from what you might find on content mills and other sites that pay by the word.
“Writing content for SEO is not writing for people, it’s writing for machines,” says Jackie.
Writing to fill word counts is very different from trying to follow a clearly structured brief.
Not that the writers are to blame, but content mills are unlikely to generate the results you're looking for.
If you’re a business wanting quality copy that converts, you’re unlikely to find it at a content mill.
6.) Take a deposit before you start work
Freelancers in the journalism world often find themselves chasing unpaid invoices and fuming over late payment.
In copywriting, you should be asking for a 50% deposit before starting work.
Plenty of businesses expect a deposit before starting work.
Copywriters should too.
“This is the part journalists love,” she says.
For more about how to price yourself as a copywriter, it’s worth reading the ProCopywriters' Network page about suggested rates and Andy Maslen’s blog.