To be a great writer, I honestly believe that you have to go through the growing pains of being bad. Not in terms of poor grammar, but clumsy sentence structure. Not necessarily by misuse in definition, but in overuse of euphemism. And not by virtue of errors in comprehension, but rather, gaps in translation.
Am I really that stupid or is he really that smart? Go to any number of websites and read the “Who We Are” company introduction/overview pages. The pumped-up, self-inflated importance found in some copy is truly blimp-worthy. You can choose to write as a vehicle to validate your intelligence, but if your copy is so complicated that only you and the IT guy understand it, my suggestion is to start over.
There is no doubt that writing for a living can be akin to walking on a tightrope. But you can’t write narrowly to only that which your client, creative director, or account executive wants to read. Compose with facts and statements grounded in truth, and you’ll build consensus across the board.
- The focus group of “one.” Effective copy cannot be written unless the target audience is defined first. While it follows that a specific demographic group should be that target, copywriters know that isn’t necessarily the case. Great copy is often shot down by creative directors and others, who are programmed to react rather than read. Before your copy can be a hit with a group, it has to be a hit with the first person in the decision chain.
- Don’t “show off” to those who “sign off.” The biggest risk here is that if you write only to prove your understanding of a subject to the individual who knows it inside and out, he or she might approve your copy. Then, only you and the “forensic scientist” behind the business will know what the heck you’re talking about. It doesn’t do customers any good. And, ultimately, it won’t do you any good.
- “Obfuscation” in place of “explanation.” As a writer, you have to act as the arbitrator between certain “ego-centric” clients who believe they are legitimate “game-changers” in every possible respect and their customers, who merely want a great product at a competitive price. Often, this means ferreting through input that’s often very self-serving in nature. If it’s only true in spirit, it’s not true in reality.
Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Gerald Northup has written professionally in the fields of advertising, marketing, social media, and corporate communications since the early ’90s. For a look at his blog posts and social media articles, as well as TV, radio, print, and website samples from his online portfolio, visit gnorthup1979.wix.com/44words.
Jerry is also a talented guitarist, an avid tennis player, and a lifelong student of linguistics.
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