Copywriting buyers beware

7 March 2012

A few years back, when my house was worth more than its Lego equivalent and I used to count some bankers as personal friends, copywriting was a good game to be in.

You could work with some great clients — in my first year alone, 2003-04, I hitched up with Hitachi, Portakabin and Center Parcs — and be fairly sure the work would keep rolling in.

You could also sit back and admire the output of your competitors, secure in the knowledge that there was enough copywriting work to go round and we all had our own little niches.

Then came the credit crunch. Followed swiftly by an explosion in what has become known as ‘web content’.

Let me say right now that if you’re in the market for ‘content’, you’ve got the wrong man. I write carefully crafted, market-oriented copy, the creation of which sometimes hurts my brain. If it’s content you need, you’ll want a Bombay word farm.

But it’s the effects of the economic downturn that have made copywriting a particularly painful industry to be in.

In 2007, you could advertise on Google Adwords alongside competent professionals to whom you’d be happy to lose out now and then. These days, it’s different. Oh yes. Everyone’s a freelance copywriter.

Can’t write? Can’t spell? Spent two years as a marketing generalist and got kicked out? Done a two-bit online course? You’re in, buddy.

This website I found today is typical:

’T*********** is a new breed of freelance copywriting, using a fresh and contemporary writing style, offering cost affective copy for...’ (Go on, Google it. It doesn’t get any better.)

Cost ‘affective’? If this is the new breed, I’m going celibate.

Check out your copywriter carefully. Credentials in the form of experience are everything. A good number of years spent in an ad agency or client side (I worked eight years as an in-house copywriter at Marconi) are essential. A career start in journalism, just so’s your copywriter might have some clue about how to construct an English sentence, is also helpful (I was an in-house journalist at the British Medical Association for four years).

If you want me to tell you the eight freelance copywriters I would trust with your project, feel free to email me. Suffice it to say, they were all around in 2007.

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