I took my first steps onto the corporate career ladder as a wide-eyed, energetic Personal Assistant and one of my daily tasks was to filter & action emails; responding where appropriate, flagging / forwarding / deleting as needed. It was fairly important that I honoured my boss and wasn’t responding to emails in a ludicrous tone. Can you imagine the 23 year old me replying to a VIP Client (as the Managing Director) like “OMFG, LOL! Cannot w8 for the meeting next Tuesday. Can totes confirm attendance. OK byeeee”. Needless to say, I probably wouldn’t have lasted long…
Instead of making a holy show of the person I was assisting, I instead immersed myself in their language, mannerisms and behaviour, which meant I could predict their responses, personal sense of humour and values. I was so adept at this, I quickly found I was trusted to carve out newsletters & internal communications on their behalf. I can’t lie, I got a kick out of it when I would hear feedback about how funny / honest / humble Director X was in their latest staff update. In my head I’d be squealing “that was me! I wrote that!”. Over the years I had so successfully honed my writing skills that people couldn’t even see the joins. Ultimately what it meant was that my own personal style was put on hold as I learned to write in another’s tone of voice.
It wasn’t until I started working as a Junior Marketing Specialist & Copywriter that I realised how valuable this experience had been. My Brand Manager wanted to know how the hell I was able to pick up their Brand’s Tone of Voice so perfectly. By a complete coincidence I had unwittingly made myself a hugely valuable resource to a marketing team; simply by carving out and practicing my craft over the years I had worked as a PA.
The aim in any career is to hone your craft or your expertise to such a level that you become irreplaceable; this is no different in the world of copywriting. Most brands or businesses you’ll want to work with will have a clearly-determined set of Brand Guidelines, often extending to a prescribed Tone of Voice. They have put time, thought, strategy and planning into the unique set of values and mannerisms that they, as a business, want to convey to their public.
A huge challenge these businesses face, however, lies in the fact that securing a copywriter who is both adept and compelling is not an easy feat. Stripping out personal style or identifiable idiosyncrasies is really hard as a writer…really hard. But, like anything, the more practice you have, the better you can become.
Here are six ways you can practice your art and sharpen your written tongue to become the ever-illusive copywriter of Richard Branson’s dreams.
1. Speech Write for Elvis
It’s the 2054 Met Gala Awards and the organisers have somehow re-animated Hollywood’s back catalogue of departed stars and it’s your chance to be their speech-writer.
This exercise challenges you to write a 3 minute speech for someone in the public eye. It can be someone you are intimately-familiar with or not.
You will need to do some research so get reading / listening to / watching interviews, flick through their auto-biography, or do what it takes to get a sense of who that person is. The trick here is to immerse yourself as much as possible and as quickly as possible from as many different sources that allow you to be able to identify and replicate their mannerisms and characteristics.
Once you’ve done this you can try your hand at writing a quick speech. What would they say? How would they say it? Would they be funny? Would they think they’re funnier than they are? Who are they speaking to?
Once you’ve done this…it’s time to do it all again! Move on to writing for another personality quickly, repeating the exercise of research / data gathering and cobbling it together into another personalised speech.
You might be surprised, it’s not an easy exercise, but if you want to be able to write for multiple brands or product lines you will need to be able to change your writing style quickly and imperceptibly.
2. Craft your own Marketing Campaign
If you are just starting out as a copywriter, or maybe you have ambitions in the discipline, this is going to be a perfect exercise for you.
Pick literally any brand, product or personality you can think of and create a multi-media, integrated marketing campaign for it.
Companies all have a slightly different dynamic but generally a copywriter will receive a briefing document designed by a marketing team. This will contain all the key campaign information like who they want to target, with what product / service etc. The copywriter will need to use this information to get to work carving out compelling campaign copy and a creative interpretation of the objectives.
For this exercise you could start by creating a new a campaign tagline or a message, or if you need a springboard just use one that already exists. Use this concept to shape some consistent messaging reflected through all possible media from TV, radio, outdoor, social media, email etc. Here’s your chance to start thinking about how you would exploit all opportunities within each different channel. Email; what is your subject line and how do you want to speak to people who open your mail? What is your call to action? Radio; how do you expand on your campaign copy to entertain or drive cut through? TV; what is the best way to translate your writing visually? Website; someone has clicked your ad (woohoo!) and they are on your landing page…what now?! Corporate Blog; are there any article titles you think could be relevant to the campaign?
As a copywriter, you may or may not be asked to write for all possible channels, but this exercise is a really valuable way to start thinking about the opportunities and limitations you will face for each. What works for radio won’t work for twitter, so get creative!
3. Rewrite a Shitty Email
Any of my fellow nerds who love the art of writing, marketing, campaign strategy or customer experience will know this pain. You see an email pop up from a brand or business who you generally love hearing from…but this email is different. Either it’s lazily-written, has inappropriate language, typo’s or is just a bit shit. It’s so disappointing, isn’t it?!
Take out your digital red pen and get to work on it. Afterall if you – the target audience – aren’t compelled then it just isn’t compelling! What would you do differently? For example, what’s the salutation? Something as simple as a misplaced “Hey There!” can be disastrous to a brand’s identity. Copywriting and Brand Management go hand-in-hand, so if you think there are grounds for improvement then see it as your practice ground.
If you’re up for the exposure, why not share your thoughts on LinkedIn? Summarise the thinking behind your critical observations and ask for feedback from your network. If it’s a disaster, you will learn something and if you hit the nail on the head, you may just get noticed by a hiring Marketing Manager. That sounds win-win to me!
4. Start a Blog
A blog is a stunningly useful device where you can collect and communicate your work. If you are just starting out and want to keep it on the DL, then you don’t have to publicise it until you are ready. When the time comes and you’re going for that perfect copywriting job, you’ll be thankful to have all your work and efforts supremely easy to access with just one click. The aim is always to make it as easy as possible for a prospective employer to like you, so sorting through reams of paper isn’t ideal.
Make sure you use a hosting service like WordPress that offers strong analytics tools. This data is your key to learn so much about your writing. For example, based on how people interact with your blog, you’ll see what pieces are being read most, what title choices are being clicked, the copy length that works well, your style etc. This is a cheap investment with huge potential for reward.
5. Experience a World Of Voices
This is less of a creative exercise and more of a piece of advice. If you want to start writing copy, you need to start identifying how businesses are speaking. We are living in a golden age of disparate voices, all trying to stand out and resonate with their target market. There is such an array of media options out there now that brands have had to learn how to leverage the cunning art of subtlety to drive cut through.
Take this example – HubSpot and BMW walk into a bar…who do you think orders an independent craft ale, asks for the WIFI code and kicks back on a giant beanbag?! The language we use conveys intimate details about who we are and the values we hold. This post from UX Collective has an awesome summary of some of the best examples.
Try to hunt down as many language styles or guidelines as possible and compare them to the words or expressions used in their creative interpretations. Through this you will begin to make connections of how different styles are applied in a practical way.
6. Get Out There!
The best way to start, is just to get out and start. Think about how you would go about approaching businesses or organisations who might benefit from a shake up in the words they use. This could mean sticking your head into some local, smaller businesses and offering your time either for free or for a nominal charge while you learn your craft. Your first few jobs might be low-paid, but if you play your cards right you will have the benefit of a Client testimonial and an item for your portfolio.
Good luck with your creative exploits!
Tamara is the self-proclaimed Unqualified Blogger. She is a freelance Copywriter and Marketing Communications / Brand Strategist and Creative Generalist. She is available for speech writing, tattoo conventions and karaoke parties or would love to work with you on your latest marketing or creative challenges. Stay in touch on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or Contact her directly.