Let me introduce myself. I’m, um, I’m, uh … Hmm. I had this a minute ago.
But suddenly I’m a different person. I’m wearing a different hat. I have different strengths and skills. It’s like I switched gears. The chains fall into a different combination of sprockets and I’m cruising along with an entirely different personality.
It happens all the time because, um, because, uh ... Oh! I remember now. My name is Barry. I’m a copywriter. This much I know.
An article titled, “50 Attributes of a Great Copywriter” gave me the idea for this one. It was an interesting read (and enormously popular), but it struck me as a bit bloated.
But it’s not my list, so I decided I’d have a different list -- not attributes, per se, but rather, personality traits, or types, or …
21 Interchangeable Characters
I’ve been doing this for 25 years. But what’s this? If you think my job as a writer focuses only on crafting sentences in an effort to persuade readers, you’re about to learn how wrong you are.
Doing the job well tasks you with playing a huge variety of roles.
Why? Why? But why? If you have kids, you’ve heard this series of questions many times. Children are naturally and endlessly curious creatures. Writers too long for the answer to “why.” It can be a frustrating quest, but when the answers surface, things begin to get clear. And clarity is key to the job of writing copy. Why? Because readers also need to know why.
Writing is an art form. And artists must be imperfectionists. You could always add more brush strokes, but unless you stop, no picture will ever be completed. It’s easy to keep layering. It’s hard to say “all done.” You must.
Great copywriters master the science of removal. It’s called editing. We must find the useless passages and take a scalpel to them.
Versatility is a job requirement. You have to read the audience and change voices, change stances, change forms. Sometimes we have to stand up to the podium and be formal. Sometimes we have to mingle and be likeable.
You want the congregation to put their faith in you? Brother and sisters, you better believe what you’re evangelizing. You answer to a higher power (the client). Say amen.
Anyone can be “on” now and then. But like a parent, we have to be on all the time. Consistency is all-important.
Raising your game as a copywriter calls for a degree of fearlessness. You have to be willing to wander into unknown territory.
You’re going to run into opposing points of view often. You have to learn to take some verbal jabs, welcome them, and then make a persuasive case for what you believe to be true.
Great copywriters must break rules.
We’re in the business of overcoming objections. The copywriter has to look at things from the other person’s point of view and come back with words that arouse a “want.” It’s called persuasion.
Your audience is like your classroom, so you come to realize you just make a mess of your lesson when it gets confusing. To be effective, you have to speak in the simplest possible terms, like a teacher.
Like a city planner, the job of copywriter calls for finding the flaws in the information you’re presented. You are often given garbage, but expected to build something smart. You have to enforce certain rules to make it work.
Copywriters must play nice with designers. It helps to think like one.
SEO. Grrr. Algorithms. Meta this and meta that. Structure. Parameters. Details, details. It’s not rocket science, but it is word science. And it’s not real fun, but you won’t rank if you’re ignorant to a world gone Google.
Here we have a favorite personality of the best copywriters: the ability to tell stories. Even in a list post such as this one, the elements of story -- time, place, characters, conflicts, and resolutions -- come into play.
However much great copywriters might love to talk, they must become world-class listeners. You have to ask a lot of questions. Probe. The number one skill of a great copywriter is the ability to understand the people you’re dealing with and what makes them tick.
Great writers read, and read, and read some more. Reading is how we train. We must soak up the wisdom and words of the worldly.
Desk jockeys need not apply. Writers must not only read, but venture out into the real world and socialize. You need to get a feel for humans at work and play and understand interaction from every angle.
Call it borrowing, swiping, or whatever allows you to lift jewels without a guilty conscience standing in the way. It’s very important to recognize valuable ideas and adapt them to the job at hand.
Great copywriters make adjustments all day, every day. We aim to help people feel good again.
Sometimes the job can get awfully serious. Put to pierce through, a great copywriter will find a way to lighten things up with a sense of humor.
There you have it, or them, or us. Great copywriters really do play a lot of roles. And this list is hardly complete. I could go on, but this’ll have to do for now.
Originally published Mar 26, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017