I know there are some number of young writers who read this bloggo, which I take as a deep complement and also a statement about the situation your generation finds yourselves in. I am not a role model. I am a neurotic mess of caffeine- and sugar-induced hysteria.
But I guess that’s better than the hero of my youth, Hunter Thompson. He was a psychotic amalgamation of prescription and recreation drugs, coated in nicotine and hard liquor. Oh, Hunter, you were hilarious. And brilliant. And fucking terrible.
Anyway, I know a lot of these blogs are pointed toward people already in the industry, but once in a while I like to write a bit for those of you looking into doing this for a living (God help you).
If I could give you one piece of advice that would improve your copywriting career and make you far more competitive, it would be to really learn how to be a journalist. There are certain superpowers we Journos are imbued with though our Jedi training that really come in handy when you’re trying to sell stuff or segment audiences or what have you.
The Differences Between Journalists and Copywriters
First of all, let’s define our parameters. Obviously, this isn’t going to be totally complete, both because I’m a lazy fuck and because that would just be nearly impossible. Journalists and copywriters are very different when it comes to the foundations each builds their education upon.
A copywriter’s primary pillar is persuasion. They are taught from the get-go how to manipulate the emotions of their audiences. There’s a reason some of the most influential writers of the 20th century happened to also be copywriters. They can paint with pain points. It’s kind of impressive, really.
A journalist’s primarily pillar is balance. No, stop laughing right now. Stop it. In a perfect world, journalists are unbiased and exist outside the story, or at least they approach stories with balance in mind. It can be tough to present both sides of an argument that’s obviously stupid and should be handled my way, but hey, that’s the job.
Although these foundation issues are worlds apart, they share something in common: they require that the writer understand, on a deep and fundamental level, their audience and material.
Copywriters and marketers get more education in business; journalists get more education in research. Both ultimately become masters at telling stories, even if they tell them differently.
Hey, Look, Examples!
Let’s say that your business wants to bring a new product to the market. It’s a whistling electric kettle, why not? If you presented the problem to both types of writers (in a perfect world where they were wholly exclusive), this is sorta what you’d get:
“Life is full of distractions. Between the kids needing help with breakfast in the morning and your husband losing his keys for the fourth time this week, it’s easy to forget you’ve put the kettle on. Modern electric kettles are great for consistency and convenience, but it’s hard to know when they’ve properly heated your water. Why not start the day right with a kettle that whistles when it’s ready to serve up that first amazing cuppa?”
“Acme industries has announced an innovative electric kettle that they say will change how tea lovers make their tea forever. Instead of simply boiling quietly, which can sometimes lead to significant evaporation if an electric kettle is set and then forgotten, Acme’s kettle emits an audible whistle, much like a traditional stove top teapot.”
You see what I mean? As someone who wears both hats (HELLO!), I feel that I’m — well, not uniquely because I’m far from the only journalist who had to learn how to copywrite in order to feed my eating and having electricity addiction — I feel that I’m positioned to see further than either a pure journo or a pure copywriter can. I see that horizon and these worlds are absolutely convergent.
Achieving Ultimate Journo-Copywriter Status
If you want to be a writer in this modern era, if that’s the ember that burns in your black, black soul, my best advice is to go to school for journalism and minor in marketing. Had I to do it over again, that’s the only change I would have made. They’re two sides of a whole. Journalism gives us the outlook and the framework and copywriting the passion and ferocity.
From where I’m sitting, it looks like it’s going to be a long time before copywriters are extinct. Even though THEY continue to threaten us with bots who can do our jobs, the truth is that the right turn of phrase and the proper sentence pacing is (for now) a rare human ability. Writing is like singing, but in your head and also there’s no music.
Alexa’s an amazing pal, but she’s not got that spark. Maybe one day, but that day is not today.
This is where I tell you to go fuck off or something, but today I’m going to offer this up instead: be a journalist in your youth and mature into a copywriter. The pay from copywriting is way better, but the experience of handling news ethically is invaluable.