Preparing for your first copywriting assignment
Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing advice for those looking to learn basic copywriting in preparation for working on freelance assignments.
From client liaison, to writing, to draft editing, I’ll take you through the copywriting process, using material adapted from my book 100 Copywriting Tips for Designers.
Keep posted to this blog, and you’ll see how easy it is to integrate copywriting into your freelance design service, just as other successful freelancers have done.
Most people think you need to be a good writer to be a copywriter. However, when you start out your actual writing skills will probably account for around 20% of your success.
More important than writing skills are your questioning skills. Ask your client the right questions and you’ll leave your briefing meeting with a clear understanding of the product's sales message. Know your sales message, and your job is half done; you just write it in plain English.
A sales message is the one thing about the product that customers will find most appealing. In short, it is your ‘reason-to-buy’.
Agree a persuasive message with your client and your copy is likely to be effective—even without stylistic frills, clever turns-of-phrases, or lashings of wit.
Of course, to be a great cpywriter, you need to have an engaging style, and that can take years of practice to develop. But you don't need to be a born Shakespeare to write ad-copy that fulfils its basic job: to sell.
The fact of the matter is: even the most well-written advertising copy is useless if the writer hasn’t communicated a clear reason why the reader should buy the product.
The importance of the client meeting
Quite often, copywriter clients have no idea what their product's sales message should be. Even more often, clients have assumed a sales message that hasn't been properly challenged and deconstructed.
It is therefore the copywriter's first task to extract as much information as possible, and to evaluate this information in order to establish a clear, relevant, and sellable message with the client.
The time you spend with your client is crucial. Only your client knows what customers like most about the product. Only your client understands what the brand means to customers, and how it should be presented in marketing communications. And of course, only your client knows what the aims of your copy are.
But... Your client is unlikely to tell you everything you need to know unprompted. You need to ask the right questions before and during your client meeting, so you can make good use of your time together.
Here is a quick checklist of discussion objectives for your meeting:
Understand the product.
Remember that you are not an expert on the product, so don’t be afraid of asking questions that may appear overly simple. You may stumble upon false assumptions or unique aspects of the product that your client has failed to recognize.
Understand your audience.
Identify the general demographic of your typical reader (e.g. age, gender, occupation, etc), as well as psychological demographic and any behavioral commonalities (daily routine, ways of using the product, etc).
Know the purpose of your copy.
Before you start writing, you need to be clear on the aim of the promotion so you know what kind of action you are asking the reader to take.
Understand how the item will it be read.
Identify the context in which your copy will be read. This knowledge may be useful when you think about the length, tone, and presentation of your copy.
Find out what marketing strategies the item responds to.
Although unlikely to inform your copy directly, you should be aware of your client’s business goals, as this knowledge will help you to communicate with your client more effectively as you discuss the sales message.
Find out what has worked in the past.
Take a few minutes to go through past publicity with your client to find out what has worked and what hasn’t. If the target audience responded well to a particular type of product message, there may be no point in reinventing the wheel.
Make a features and benefits table with your client.
If you only take one set of notes away from your client meeting, make sure it’s a complete list of product features and corresponding benefits.
Gather case study examples, facts, statistics, interesting stories, and testimonials.
You’ll need concrete facts to back up all your points when you come round to writing your copy.
Agree on a USP.
A Unique Selling Point (USP) is an appealing aspect of the product that is only true of that product. As you discuss the product’s features and benefits, make a point of enquiring whether they are unique.
Agree on a sales message.
What is the one thing about the product that the target demographic will find most appealing?
In my next entry, we’ll look at how you can connect with your audience through your prose – one of the key secrets of writing persuasive, sellable copy.
© Shaun Crowley 2007
Shaun Crowley has worked as a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant. He currently works as a communications manager for a major UK publishing company and is the author of The Freelance Designer's Self-Marketing Handbook and 100 Copywriting Tips for Designers and Other Freelance Artists.