Wednesday 14 May 2014

What to look for when hiring a copywriter

Going beyond the portfolio, is there anything else that reveals a copywriter’s ability to do the job? This blog shares some hard-earned experience.

I think it was Martin Amis who said you could tell if a writer had talent from the first paragraph. Well, the man knows about more than just crafting unlikeable protagonists. He’s right. It’s true.

Forget the CV, what’s their email saying?
We’re lucky enough to rank highly when people tap ‘copywriting agency’ into Google. This means we get a fair amount of speculative applications from writers – about five a week. Each one reveals their hand in the way they draft their covering email.

It’s not just their stylistic powers that become obvious. Their choice of what they think will encourage us to take an interest also tells us a lot about their ability to write persuasive copy. Why? Because it reveals their ability to judge what makes a compelling message.

Exclusive: journo struggles with copywriting
Writing ability and the talent for persuasion are not a package deal. Take journalists, for example. We receive requests for work from many of these fellow wordsmiths, yet many don’t have the instinct to persuade. It simply isn’t part of their job spec.

For this reason, they often find copywriting harder than they’d anticipated. After all, most copywriting is sales writing. It demands you put yourself in the position of the audience, figure out what they want, and then deliver it through words.

Employment history gems
So, if journalism isn't the best career to pluck your next copywriter from, what is? Well, the following jobs each suggest your writer might possess the skills you’re after.
  • They've had a sales they’re at least comfortable with the process of selling.
  • They've been a creative in an advertising they’re used to conceptual thinking.
  • They've held a senior marketing they know what clients are trying to achieve and how a piece of writing fits into the overall marketing plan.
  • They've been a they understand how to think about audiences and how to position brands.
  • They've been account they know how to extract a decent brief.
  • They've worked in digital agencies…so they’re up on new media.
  • They've done their time as a barista…so they can make a great pot of coffee when their turn comes around. 
Then there’s the foolproof option
Finding one copywriter with more than one or two of these qualities is a tricky endeavour. And that’s where copywriting agencies come in. We can bring writers from several backgrounds to the table or simply select the one we think is best suited to the brief. And, don't worry, they’ll all have passed the ‘Amis test’.

(In our office it's still 2009, so we've just started a company Twitter profile. Follow us @BBCopywriting. We solemnly swear not to do any word of the day tweets.)

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