Why I hate the word “copywriter.”
Before I get into the business of being a copywriter that hates the word copywriter, let me paint a picture for you…
My son is obsessed with animals. His favorite is the cheetah. So, when we were at Disney and I saw another kid buying a big spotted cat (a soft toy, not the real thing), I said, “Nice cheetah.” The kid looked horrified, threw his fists down to his sides and yelled in my face, “It’s a leopard.”
Can you imagine how a leopard feels every time some snot-nosed honey badger taunts it for not running so well? I hear ya, leopard! That’s how I felt when a CFO made a comment about my writing not being very “technical” and questioned whether it should “who” or “that” based on his tenth grade English class. I wanted to scream, “Did your read what I wrote? How did it make you feel?”
(Incidentally, it can be either who or that *micdrop).
I’m a writer.
I have been a writer for as long as I have had a title of any kind. I write copy for companies, so that makes me a copywriter, except I cringe every time I hear the phrase. Because the word means different things to different people. In the past, I’ve been asked if I manage lawsuits defending trademarks (that would be a copyright attorney, not a copywriter), I’ve been tasked with reading through documents to check for spelling and grammatical errors, which is the job of a copy editor. I could be a copy editor, but it’s not a service I offer. I write copy that connects with people. I write copy that engages people. I write copy that persuades people. I write copy that motivates people.
That’s why I hate the word “Copywriter.”
Some of my mentors, like Jo at Copyhackers.com, and some of the world’s leading copywriters, like Copyblogger and Kate Toon, are constantly defending their right to use slang and conversational style, even as they are considered copywriters.
When other people introduce me as a copywriter, as in “Rebecca will be joining our project as the copywriter,” I think, “I’m screwed.” When a client thinks of me as a copywriter, they think I am here to write grammatically perfect, corporate script. They think I will deliver written marketing messages that are exactly the same nonsense as the competitors, but with better grammar and bigger words. Corporate writing feels like metal in my mouth and it is not the way I write.
I write for context. I tell stories. I listen to the things that a company does and I search for the stories. And there are always stories. Even the most boring companies have amazing stories. Then I figure out who their ideal clients are and I translate those stories into things that mean something to them. I strategize the marketing story, I figure out which words make sense for the person looking for this service and I tell the story.
You could call me a storyteller and that would be 70% accurate.
You could call me an SEO writer and that would be 80% accurate.
You could call me a content writer and that would be 90% accurate.
You could call me a writer and that would be 100% accurate.
But if you read my work solely for grammar, you are wasting your time. You might find some mistakes, but you’ll miss the whole point of the exercise. You won’t be entertained, you won’t be engaged and you won’t be interested. By being considered a copywriter, I automatically fail in my job.
So, the next time you meet a copywriter, make sure you don’t mistake him for a copy editor. And next time you meet a leopard, don’t ask him to run. He might not be as fast as a cheetah, he’s still a better killer than you.
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