If the way to get to Carnegie Hall is practice, that must be true for copywriters too, right? Not quite. Instead of focusing on writing, writing, writing, and churning out ads every hour of every day, copywriters should adopt a different technique instead.
Why “More” Doesn’t Mean “Better”
They (whoever “they” is) say that for writers to improve, they need to write. Journalists need to crank out stories, fiction writers need to put in time, and nonfiction writers need to sit down and pound the keys on that Churchill biography.
But just “writing” isn’t going to improve anyone. A mediocre novelist isn’t going to shed mediocrity just because he or she spends lots of time writing. All they’ll end up with is a lot of mediocre output.
The same holds for copywriting: Sitting down and writing ad after ad isn’t going to make you any better of a copywriter. Your level of skill isn’t going to increase just by writing more ads. (On top of the fact that you can’t write ads in a vacuum anyway; you need a creative brief to write them from!)
And the advice some “experts” give to hand copy sales letters or other types of ads is total B-S.
The Key to Writing Good Copy
What does help you improve is applying some critical analysis. And, I’d suggest that even before you try to apply that critical analysis to yourself, you apply it to other ads.
You need to start looking at the copy that you come across each day: the emails in your inbox, the direct mails in your mailbox, the ads in your newspapers and magazines, the copy and banner ads on websites. Look at it all.
Then, ask yourself questions to evaluate whether or not it’s good copy. Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean that it’s any good. Does it make the benefit to consumer clear? Is it taking the right tone with its target audience and using the right words to reach them, is the brand’s style clear, and is the call to action clear?
You’ll come across some good copy, and you’ll come across some terrible copy. But here’s where your opportunity to improve comes in: Take those bad ads and rewrite them.
Now, obviously, you don’t have a creative brief to work with. Instead, you’ll have to infer the key points (benefit to consumer, business goal, desired action, etc.) and do a little research on the company to understand their branding. But analyzing a piece, and then improving on it is exactly how you can learn to do the same thing to your own work—and, of course, make your own work better to begin with.
In copywriting, it’s not “practice makes perfect,” it’s “careful analysis and studied revisions” that make you improve. If you take the time to do this even once a week, you’ll see marked improvement in your work—and so will your bosses and clients.
Want More Inspiration? Start a Swipe File
A “swipe file” is your personal collection of ads you’ve liked—things that have struck you as really clever, creative, innovative and/or effective. These may be ads torn from a magazine, a piece direct mail you received at home, a photo shot you took of a billboard, and more. These comprise your swipe file.
Keeping a swipe file is a great practice for copywriters for two big reasons. First, it helps you slow down and look at the ads you see. Second, it makes you think critically about them: What’s effective or creative and why?
Have you tried rewriting published copy yet? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on October 12, 2023