I have a confession to make: I’m new to copywriting and some days, it can be a real bear.
I’ve always been a writer, but in the past, my writing has been campaign or issue-oriented. So, what does that mean in plain English? It means that instead of working for a vast stable of clients in various sectors and lines of work as I do now, I represented just one organization. I would draft op-eds, reports, blog posts, talking points, etc. around a fairly concrete set of policy issues or a mission statement.
To be sure, writing for nonprofit groups about the implications of slashing import taxes or why the World Bank’s should shift its energy lending portfolio to clean energy technologies is complex. And it entailed a steep learning curve and an ability to absorb new information quickly and apply it strategically. While the issues evolved and shifted over time, in that type of work, it was possible to pinpoint the issues and dive deep to build your knowledge base to be able to write effectively. You had to become an expert on the subject matter and the path to doing so was relatively straightforward.
I find that working as a copywriter, on the other hand, is kind of like wearing every hat in Busy Town. On some days, I need to be an expert in cargo shipping, drafting kicky social media posts about desiccants. On other days, my writing needs to reach insiders in the mortgage industry, explaining why a certain type of software will make their jobs easier and more effective. And while I may consider myself a Renaissance woman, I am no expert in lending or cargo shipping.
This begs the question: How does one write on a topic as an expert voice when they are anything but an expert?
The following are a few tips that have helped me find my footing and navigate the shifting landscape of copywriting:
Seek out what’s in front of your nose:
In this day and age, it is rare for a company to not have a website or at least, an online presence. Learn about the client and what they do, written in their own words. Beyond helping to build your knowledge base on a subject, it can also help you to understand their preferred style, tone, and it can give you an idea of the image they are trying to project.
Make Google your bestie:
More accurately, get up close and personal with Google News. Search recent news stories about your client or their products. You can better understand the landscape in which they operate and just how they or their product fits in to the puzzle. It can also be helpful for you to understand what others are saying about them/their products.
Better yet, set up Google Alerts for your clients:
You can decide how frequently you’d like to receive these in your inbox, skimming the headlines when you have downtime. You can fairly painlessly keep up to date, hopefully cutting down research time in the future.
Get wild with Wikipedia:
If you’re still struggling to understand just how an industry operates or why a certain type of knee joint is considered revolutionary, look it up in an online encyclopedia, such as Wikipedia. Technology is your friend. We no longer have to search card catalogs and page through a set of World Book volumes to find but a paragraph of explanation. You’ve got a whole world at your fingertips with Wikipedia.
Do your best to absorb their style guides:
Full disclosure – I still struggle with this. When one juggles several clients, it’s easy for the intricacies of who like the serial comma, who spells out “percent,” and who spells “decisionmaking” as just one word. It is, no doubt, a daunting task to try to memorize it all, but the more you and your client work together, the more this will become second nature to you. And, the more your writing will seamlessly meet your client’s needs.
Fake it ‘til you make it:
As is the case when facing most other challenges in life, confidence is everything. Have faith in your abilities and walk into each new assignment with bravery. You’ve got this.
This post was written by Becky Harris Sullivan, a writer at Dragonfly Editorial.