To flourish or perish? How copywriters must adapt in the 21st Century.
March 1, 2010
A blogger and freelance copywriter I follow on Twitter sent me the following question:
This is such an exciting time to be in advertising and I love all the opportunities we have to craft messages that reach consumers in new/personal ways. With the new emphasis on technology and strategy, how do you think copywriters have to adapt in order to further their careers in the industry? Obviously words will always be necessary, but do you think (our) new digital colleagues are going to see earlier and faster success and development (than us)?
What follows are my best answers to that question. Some of them are trend-based and others ideas I believe will never change. I don’t profess to know more or less than any given copywriter but, hey, I was asked…
First off, let’s explore what the asker means by “new digital colleagues.” I think she’s referring to designers with a visual acumen for mining the digital space. In other words: the modern art director. The evolution from general AD to digital AD is relatively easy to chart (though certainly not easy to do). One either learns how to create in this space or enters the business doing so already. Understanding modern tools like flash, Photoshop and the like comes…or it doesn’t.
Maybe the path for copywriters is more ambiguous. We scribes are understandably insecure. After all, we put words together. Words don’t change. They stay the same forever. So old-fashioned. Recently, a well-regarded media blogger suggested copywriting soon wouldn’t even be a profession. As I was saying, we get nervous. What’s a girl to do?
From a copywriter’s POV, mastering new technology is not critical but having an intuitive sense of what it can do is. With agencies and clients clamoring to figure social media out, let alone exploit it, the pressure inevitably falls on copywriters and art directors. The brief screams: Make it happen! The woman who sent me the above question uses social media in her daily life. She has a great blog and website. Clearly, her question is more than just about “getting digital.” She wants to know how to make a living.
We all do. Having a grip on the digital landscape is merely the price of entry. Relevancy is mandatory for anyone in our industry.
“Okay, I’m relevant. Now what?”
Start with your “book.” (Should we even call it that anymore?) Evolve your best existing work from traditional mass media to newer forms. Instead of press and television, think holistically -about screens, about walls, about spaces. Obvious? You’d be surprised. A majority of portfolios I see are still comprised primarily with TV, print and outdoor, sometimes a few banners thrown in. Where is the new thinking? And that, of course, means integration.
As discussed in an earlier post, social and outdoor media have much in common. They both go where people work and play. They both instigate conversations. My advise: Start thinking of your ‘book’ as a ‘virulent’ combination of out-of-home, social, and other guerilla-like components. Do this well and you will have a modern portfolio. Do it really well and you will always have work.
A word about talent. One either has talent or they don’t. Unfortunately, talent cannot be calibrated. There is no SAT. Therefore, we rely on portfolios, award counts and other dubious barometers. If you are lacking in talent you will have to rely on your wits, which, to be fair, has gotten some of us very, very far.
I’ve saved my best advice for last. It was given to me and, with some modifications; I’m giving it to you:
1) A writer writes. Keep a journal. Start a blog. Tweet. And when you are not writing…
2) Read. Be it ads, novels, screenplays, the back of a cereal box. Read voraciously.
3) Learn how to edit your work. Banish every unnecessary word. Write sparingly. Hemingway spent hours crafting perfect sentences, mostly by cutting. A master of the short story, he would have appreciated Twitter. He would have been an excellent copywriter.
4) Finally, Smile. Regardless of all the gloom and doom, this is still one of the best jobs on earth.