The interesting evolution of copywriting. It's older than you think!
There is a certain level of peculiarity that comes with being a copywriter that goes beyond simply being a writer or working in marketing. Of course, I’m completely biased but it feels like a strange set of skills that I’ve stolen from history and that I’m disguising under new tech. Do you ever get that feeling about your job? I can imagine visual artists, doctors and yoga teachers might feel similar or at least understand what I’m getting at.
Advertising copywriting has existed since Babylonian times and the first printed material is said to have come into the world in 1477, promoting the sale of a prayer book.
The history of copywriting dates back to when the first printed papers were distributed on the street. The actual word “copywriting” means the act of writing words to sell products. The copywriter is the person who does this, often found in ad agencies or at home as a freelancer.
The job of a copywriter began by creating ads on a large poster made of paper with a feather dipped ink (how deliciously antiquated and time consuming). These posters were fixed to walls and poles in the bigger cities of Europe. Centuries ago there were no printing processes to make duplicates, so each page was painstakingly handcrafted. Creating such ads was more of an art and it sounds incredibly meditative to me.
Eventually, they evolved to printed pamphlets and brochures and became much smaller in size as printing in its new evolution was a complicated and lengthy process, so the smaller the item, the faster it was.
Once mass printing processes were perfected, around 1605, newspapers could be mass produced and hawked on street corners. The first English paper was produced in 1664, called the Oxford Gazette (now known as the London Gazette). It was when the larger format newspapers were published that advertisements began to appear on one full page or several ads were dispersed throughout the pages. What a glorious time that must have been for copywriters as there wasn’t quite the saturated market, you could have more effect on people and their purchasing or social decisions.
The beginning of freelancing
It has been suggested that the first person to work as an official independent copywriter was John Emory Powers (thanks dude). He lived from 1837 to 1919 and was the first person to have this job fulltime and instead of working for a newspaper, he worked for the popular department stores of Lord & Taylor and Wanamaker’s. These stores recognised the importance of creating excellent ads that would stand out in newspapers and magazines. He created six ads a week. I’d like that kind of work load!
He is deemed the ‘father of modern creative advertising’ by creating one of the most controversial ads of the era, in his signature straight talking style, that ended up selling out stock in a number of hours. Truth telling was his gimmick and it seemed to work!
‘Suddenly, everything I'd seen in direct mail and all the ads I'd seen made sense. Give people a reason why they should buy a product,' Clayton Makepeace.
The value of copywriting
The value of copywriting was finally recognised around the 1800s. The copywriter would make advertisements that would capture the attention of consumers. For the Wanamaker's store, they quickly doubled their yearly revenues.
Where advertising used to be more of a gamble and a risk taking venture from the thirties to the sixties, today it is one that is unavoidable and if you don’t include it in your marketing plan you are already behind your competitors. In 2017, there was a global advertising spend of approximately $688 billion (in AUD). That is off the charts!
‘The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time,’ Thomas Jefferson.
One of the most prominent and influential copywriters of the past century was Robert Collier, who started the direct mail phenomenon in the thirties, utilising emotional connecting and psychological techniques. He later became a bestselling and famous new age and self development author.
It wasn’t really until recently that training and education became formalised for copywriting, perhaps with exception of on the job training and mentoring.
Copywriting doesn’t last long
Copywriting is almost instantly obsolete, which is bizarre considering how much time, skill and sheer effort goes into it. It’s even more bizarre to think how influential that copywriting is. I could craft a content article or digital ad today that could affect hundreds of people enough to buy a product or a service that could change their life or, at the very, least change perspective on the way they had previously viewed something.
With real time feedback and digital analytics, copywriters and content marketers have instantaneous feedback and can tell whether the copy is working more than ever and campaign cycles are much quicker. So now we have to be faster and more accurate and create something that gets results within a 24-48 hour cycle. No pressure!
Today’s modern copywriter does more than simply write copy for newspaper or magazine ads. With ecommerce growing at a rate of at least seventeen per cent per year and content marketing becoming a universal marketing tactic employed by ninety per cent of businesses worldwide, a copywriter now has to be proficient in writing for the web with a sound knowledge of SEO best practices. Copywriters may also write copy for book jackets, food and product packaging, name floral bouquets (I actually did this once), write about technology trends in healthcare (done this too), write meta data descriptions for sunglasses (yes, tick this one off the list), write media releases about musicians and authors (uh huh…) and so it goes.
A worthy copywriter is also responsible for helping websites achieve good SEO rankings involving strategic placement of common keywords that consumers are likely to be searching for, in amongst web copy and content articles without making it seem awkward and unreadable and like it’s been written by a drunk robot.
Despite the medium and shelf life of copywriting changing, there are still some rock solid facets of copywriting that haven’t changed over its lifetime. They are:
The Australian copywriter’s focus has undeniably shifted considerably from print to the internet (it has had to!) over the past decade but one thing is unchanging in my self interested eyes… copywriting will continue to be one of the best ways to promote businesses, organisations, services and products and is truly an artform that every marketing strategy can reap benefits from.
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This year has been a terrific whirlwind for Jones the Writer. More than sixty per cent of small business cease operating in their first three years, so the mere fact that I have replaced my income (from employment) has exceeded my expectations.
Other goals that I have met, include blogging quality content regularly, with the aim to knowledge share as much as possible. To make your life easier I have curated my top ten most viewed blog posts, according to my Google Analytics. Some of these were posted years ago but have had a resurgence in 2017.
My content articles are specifically written with practical advice in mind and the aim is that you should get at least one genuine takeaway (minimum) that you can implement straight away and improve your marketing. So, if you read all ten below, that’s AT LEAST TEN practical things you can do to uplevel your marketing immediately.
1. Social media day
Adelaide's infamous Social Media Day had a host of information to impart. From legal ramifications of social media to tracking who visits your website, this recap has it all. Read here.
2. Easy SEO actions you can do over a weekend
3. How is your business writing?
Writing well to promote your business is crucial to its success. In a digital era of fast paced communications, you need to get your message "bang on" immediately or clients will drift elsewhere. Fix here.
4. Case study template
I'm not surprised that this free downloadable was a popular one! If you haven't already done so, download your template here.
5. Social media mistakes you need to stop
To be upfront, half of the reason this post performed well was due to the Facebook advertising I did in October as part of a campaign for my website. It's still one of my favourite posts, however.Stop these mistakes now.
6. Facebook's algorithm and how it works
If you're unclear how Facebook algorithm works, have a brief read here.
7. What you don't know about freelancers
I bet you didn't know that freelancers actually care about our clients and really want them to succeed and we'll probably go above and beyond to help make that happen. This was a surprise wildcard post and gives you an insight into how freelancers really think.
8. Facebook marketing mistakes
Easy to make (and yet easier to avoid) Facebook marketing mistakes. Find out what they are here.
9. Your marketing demographics
This is definitely one of the most useful content posts I have written. Identifying your target demographic audience is really important and the initial investment can end up saving time and costs. Identify your own demographics here.
10. Content marketing planning
Creating content with purpose can be challenging but incredibly rewarding, both emotionally and financially. Read more about content marketing here.
Even if you implement one new practical tip per day, you could have your marketing flourishing and well on track by Christmas time. I'm always interested to see how businesses are thriving, so be sure to let me know via commenting below or sending me an email on how these posts have helped you.
PS. I use Harpoon to track all my time, invoice clients, forecast my budget and record all my expenses. If you're in business for yourself, I recommend giving it a whirl.
It's a Jones-iversary!
The 31 October was exactly a year since I took the plunge and made my copywriting business, Jones the Writer, fulltime (after playing with it on the side for more than six years). Happy Jones day (and Halloween) to me!
I was working in a job that was near perfect for me. I was surrounded by writers all day, I worked in marketing in a role that I partially created to suit my strengths, it was a fun role, a relaxed and flexible working environment and everyone supported my writing because that was the aim of the organisation. o leaving was not only a huge risk but a confusing time.
I didn't really know if it was the right decision for me but I felt so compelled to and my client load just kept increasing, so a lot of it made sense. One evening I encouraged myself to make a firm decision and I asked the beach I was walking on to tell me what I should do and a dolphin literally shot up out of the water and tumbled forward. So that was a sign enough for me!
And here I am a year later, working with some of the most impressive brands including Alisa and Lysandra, Australian Institute of Business, Southern Cross Care, Rivergum Homes, Flinders University and so many more!
I want my next twelve months to be similar and I want my clients to have a lot of success. I also want to finish writing my second novel. Here... we... go!
In other exciting news, I have launched another creative project about my one true love: TELEVISION. Take a look at She Watched here.
There are many great reasons for hiring a specialist and outsourcing project work, particularly when it comes to copywriting. Here's the first few (stay tuned as they get updated):
1. It is a specialised skill
A copywriter is a specialist and copywriting isn’t journalism. It’s not an unbiased piece of content that provides you with direct news. It’s a marketing tool to help you widen your customers and sell the services and products that you bring to the world.
Sure, a lot of people may be able to write. They can even sound incredibly professional or quirky. But copywriting is a very specific skill in that it combines high level professional writing to speak directly to your target audience, for the medium intended.
Copywriting is a persuasive art, often disguised as being so subtle that readers don’t even know they are being sold to! This takes the mind of a magician.
Good copywriters know to how capture exactly what you want (or should be) saying and how to position your business almost instantly (well, okay… maybe after you have filled out the brief). This is one of their honed skills in their magic bag of tricks.
2. It saves you time
The time it takes for your staff members to write something, say a blog post or a media release or even to rewrite a whole new website, is time taken away from their core duties.
It can take around five hours to write one blog post, longer if your staff are not experienced. That’s essentially a day’s work on a blog post. Can any of your team afford to lose a day with their current work load?
Most people are already stretched thin in their job as it is, if you throw an extra task or project into the mix, something (either the employee’s wellbeing and/or other facets of their job responsibilities) will be negatively impacted.
Being overworked and over extended is an epidemic in this day and age. In fact, it can lead to costly mistakes at work and serious health issues. Nearly thirty per cent of workers feel that they are overworked.
‘Poor work–life outcomes are associated with poorer health, more use of prescription medications, more stress and more dissatisfaction with close personal relationships.’
You can start to alleviate some of this strain simply by outsourcing your copywriting and improving your bottom line. You may even find your employees’ performance improve.
‘In the 19th century, when organized [sic] labor first compelled factory owners to limit workdays to 10 (and then eight) hours, management was surprised to discover that output actually increased – and that expensive mistakes and accidents decreased.
3. It will be well written
Since '45% of marketers say blogging is the #1 most important piece of their content strategy,' (source) it's crucial that your blogging content well exceeds mediocre.
Not only will a professional copywriter make sure the copy is expertly written to sound intriguing enough to keep reading, whilst pushing a soft sell or direct sales techniques, but will incorporate fundamental writing practices.
‘A word after a word after a word is power,’ Margaret Atwood.
4. It will master your tone of voice
The art of copywriting comprises of absolutely “nailing” the voice of a company. Voice is a powerful way to give your brand a personality and once your brand is personalised, people will automatically and subconsciously connect to it. Words are often the first step or level of establishing a relationship with someone or something. And as your sales team will tell you, selling is all about relationships!
'47% of buyers viewed three to five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep,' (Demand Gen Report, 2016).
5. It will improve your SEO
Sterling copywriting will ensure you are super discoverable online by enhancing your copy with SEO best practices. SEO specialist copywriters will conscientiously keep abreast of Google’s ever changing algorithms and know how to write well and optimise your content.
Good grammar, clear formatting and the way the writing is structured (as well as internal and external links) will all enhance your SEO.
6. It will help with your content strategy
You know that you should be blog posting regularly to improve your SEO but you have no idea what to write about and what would make great content that will increase your search results. A decent SEO copywriter will be able to guide you in your content plan by suggesting blog topics and content ideas in alignment with your keyword research and marketing plan. Some may even have the skills necessary to do the SEO research necessary.
'Websites with a blog have tend to have 434% more indexed pages,' (source).
They’ll also guide you in the right direction in terms of which assets work for which purpose. Not sure whether you need a flyer or some email marketing? A copywriter will help you determine which medium will suit your purpose and audience.
7. It will save you money
‘I have been working on this for weeks but I just can’t get it to sound right,’ is one of the most frequent comments I get when new clients hire me. And just like above where I have outlined how hiring a writer can save you copious amounts of time, saving time always equals saving money.
Having a copywriter on staff can be costly process, especially if you only need them for project work.
8. It will give you a whole lot more than you expect
This may not be the case with every copywriter but often they can have a generous skillset. For example, I have been a publicist, project coordinator and marketing manager so I can bring a lot more than “just” words to the table. I know how the media thinks and responds, so I can write really effective media releases and I have a deep understanding of concepts like “sales funnel” and lead gen and customer journey map, when clients throw those terms my way.
Additionally, I am a trained yoga teacher, have studied creative writing, psychology and philosophy at university and professional writing psychology at TAFE. Besides meaning that I’m an education junkie, this suggests that I am fascinated by the human mind and have a profound understanding of how people work, making it easier to communicate directly with them. I appreciate the personal and emotional facets of where people want their money to go, even at a corporate and government level.
I’ve also written a marketing book, a novel, a book of short stories and a book of poetry (and another two books on the way) and everything I learn in the process of writing those mammoth projects are brought into my client work.
You may also like... What to expect when you're expecting copywriting.
'As a solo business owner, you often face stress alone. Here are seven techniques to help you master that stress when things get tense. '
Check out my article on Flying Solo that includes tips and techniques to stay calm when it comes to stress in business.
Let me know what you think below!
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A copywriter is a professional writer that will write your marketing material (whether that be for your website, blog posts, brochures, social media marketing, enewsletters, media releases, adverts and a whole range of things). A copywriter is an expert in writing and will pen persuasive words in a way that is potent for your marketing plan.
Why hire a copywriter?
I’m going to be straight up here: almost everybody thinks they can write. This isn’t the truth. Let’s get real about this so you don’t do your business a disservice. An exceptional copywriter can position your business, services and products as memorable and leading the way, outshining your competitors and as something that people just MUST HAVE. With the art of the persuasive word, professionally written copy can increase sales.
The beauty of a copywriter is that they are able to step back from you and see the best in what you offer and know how to tell the world about it. Often, you can be too close to your own offerings to effectively describe what you do.
Copywriters are more than just writers. I come from a marketing background, so I know how to effectively promote something – whether it’s yoga classes, property or balsa wood – directly to your potential or existing customers, influence their decisions. I also have a genuine understanding of SEO, making you more easily discoverable online.
An awesome copywriter can make anything – and everything – sound thrilling.
Perhaps best of all, in my view, a copywriter will write with great grammar and spelling, giving you more credibility and readability. If the first contact new customers have with you is a poorly written website or Facebook page, how can they expect you to be professional when delivering your services? Go on – choose three websites at random and you will easily be able to tell which has been professionally written and which has been written in haste by the business owner.
Although this may not be the case for all copywriters (and is certainly not a requirement), I am also an award winning creative writer (having written many short stories, poems and a novel), so the art of storytelling is in my veins. And as customers become more and more saturated by content these days, they are craving authenticity and genuine storytelling. See also: how to keep your content crispy.
Most of what we are commissioned to write is written to sell. We believe in and live the “art of the sell” using only so much as our words.
When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it “creative”. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product,’ David Ogilvy.
This may vary mildly depending on what you want written but the most likely process will go like this:
Then you can relax as I squirrel away for a time and work on the copy to the deadline we’ve agreed upon. This is the “go time” for me and where I spend hours researching, taking notes, writing and rewriting, proofreading and editing and maybe, just maybe, watching Netflix (some of my best ideas have come from television shows!)
You’ll be emailed the work (usually in a Word document) to review. I offer a revision with all quotes but I rarely, if ever, have to do it but I want you to know that the option is there because there’s no point with you being unhappy with the copy.
Then you can do whatever you need to do with the writing – upload it to your website, email merger, letterhead, social media platforms. It's then time to enjoy the benefits of meticulously crafted copy.
Now be honest, that was a lot less painful than you thought, right? Certainly a lot less painful than agonising for weeks or months over writing your homepage or blog posts. There we have it – the mysteries of working with a copywriter solved! If you have any more questions, drop a comment below or send me an email.
‘Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling,’ William Bernbach.