Marketers: Set your copywriter free

18th Nov 2016

Good copywriting elevates good brands into great brands.

According to the father of modern advertising Bill Bernbach, “It may well be that creativity is the last unfair advantage we're legally allowed to take over our competitors.”

Then doesn’t it follow that brands like yours have a responsibility to protect, nurture and encourage its copywriters? If copywriters do their job well, then your brand is better, stronger.

British copywriters have traditionally been regarded as the best in the world, winning more Cannes Lions awards than any other nation in proportion to its population.

Is British copywriting under threat?

Some years ago the judges at the DMA Awards felt that the standard of copywriting had slipped, with good or great campaigns let down by poor writing.

We thought we should do something about this, and decided to get to the bottom of the problem.

We had to ask the copywriters what was going on.

In the 1980s, the Soho agencies ruled the world. The ads were really good, often better than the programmes or the stories around them. It was also a much simpler time, with no headaches like the internet, social media, hashtags, adblocking, smartphones, click fraud, SEO or hipsters to contend with.

Creatives thrived under the limitations of what was on offer, except they didn’t see the media available then as limiting at all – it was just what was available.

Of course marketing and advertising has changed. Like a Snakes and Ladders board, technology has brought opportunities and pitfalls in abundance. The way brands use media has become more complicated and copywriting has in some cases been sidelined in favour of technological solutions.

This is a mistake. We don’t think technological solutions are invalid, but to substitute technology for creative will be a race to the bottom.

Last year the Grand Prix winner at the DMA Awards married the copywriting chops of old to cutting edge technology. The result was a tremendous campaign that did wonders for The Economist and Proximity.

Not all brands indulge copywriters to such a degree, to their detriment.

In order to find out what’s going on in the world of copywriting, we made a film comparing the copywriters of today to those of the past, the old guard at a tablecloth and fine dining affair, the young guns at a caff.

At the meal Tony Brignull, said to be the most-awarded copywriter in history, said: “Copywriting is dead”. Worrying for an industry founded on creativity.

The film was designed to make copywriters think about their trade, how it’s changed, and consider where it’s going. This was the first-ever census of British copywriters and more than 430 responded.

Together they expose the life of a working copywriter today.

The good news is that copywriters love their jobs and don’t want to do anything else.

The bad news is that they feel without a voice, caught between the client, the market research and the account manager.

Brands need copy to feed their blogs, their social feeds, their web pages and more. Copywriters see more competition from new writers. They also see clients, who asked them to write something in the first place, shoot everything down with tracked changes and niggles about being ‘on brand’.

Interestingly, the biggest single barrier to good work was the lack of good briefs, an elementary part of building good creative.

One of the copywriters who took the census summed-up what many feel:

“Copy is now content. It’s a dry reading of the brief masquerading as ‘storytelling’, a timid, overfamiliar voice that begs you to retweet and to like. Most copywriters are not writers. They borrow interest, use clichés, misuse slang and call their readers users. Very few voiceovers are exciting or even interesting. But copywriters are under enormous pressure to satisfy a constant need for ‘content’. Deadlines are shorter. Clients are risk averse. They don’t see the value of good, local writing. Copy needs to work across different languages and cultures. It’s bad; it can only get better,” he or she said.

The note of optimism at the end is something we want to cultivate. We at the DMA decided to start classes for existing copywriters, the Future Writers Labs, copywriting clubs around the country and the upcoming #writerscrawl festival.

And we’re not alone. Copywriter Vikki Ross founded the #copywritersunite meetings, and the brilliant Copy Cabana day (just reconfirmed for 2017) with Andy Maslen.

How much better would your brand’s creative be if the copywriters could bypass the bureaucracy and get work through? Copywriting is not a job anyone can do but a profession, and professional opinions count.

Without good creative, your strategy, your data, your ambitions won’t work.

Set your copywriter free.

If we have any advice, it would be to listen to your copywriter, give them the time and space to be better, and write focused briefs that help your brand get better and more creative answers.

Our copywriting festival, #writerscrawl ran from 14 to 18 November and we plan follow-up events. Check our events page and send your copywriter along. Your brand will benefit.

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