Letter: Acquiring Copywriting Skills Requires More Than Just 'Training'

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As a copywriter for longer than I care to mention, I was taken aback by the headline of Chris Marlow's piece ("Train Your Copywriting Staff Properly," July 19). The headline was effective because it stopped me in my tracks.

On the other hand, I believe the word "train" is out of date and condescending to any wordsmith, regardless of vintage or level of skill. Honestly, is this the 1920s or something? Are you telling me that copywriting is little different than the order window at Burger King?

Maybe it is, in some brute formula of profits made per liter of oxygen consumed, but what about in terms of responsibility? If a fast-food worker has a bad day, it could mean some irritated customers and some loss of repeat business. Yes, that's bad. But I would like to offer that if a copywriter or a designer cohort has a bad day, it could mean a warehouse stuck with items that haven't sold. Phones don't ring. Web sites stare back at you. More than bad, it's sad. I can weep instantly just thinking about it.

Also, no matter how good the copy is, we scribes rely on the good sense of merchandisers to pick the right stuff to sell and list managers to pick the right folks to mail to. Be careful when you isolate any one component of a successful catalog, sister! We also lean on professional designers to help our customers read sales copy, understand it - and act upon it by opening their wallets, activating their credit cards and ordering.

Here's some of Adam & Eve's "training": Our marketing team reviews catalog sales results by page, placement and profit per square inch. True, you'd think these fun items could "sell themselves," but over the years we've discovered at least a dozen ways on how NOT to sell. We also review test results as a team, copywriters included. This data is the voice of our customer - it humbles you very quickly.

If the headline and tone of the article had just used some of today's groovy and hip business jargon, like "Grow Profits Through Your Copywriter," or "Energized Copy Equals Increased Sales," "Find the Pot O' Gold in Your Copywriter," etc., then you would have caught the attention of not only frustrated owners and managers, but also those faced with the challenge of putting those little words that make sense onto catalog pages and brochures.

I think any time I read a piece like this about "TRAINING," I'm thinking "does this consultant honestly believe employees are like chimps just waiting for the right flavor of banana to be thrown at them?" It's kind of a turn-off. It comes across as "Dilbert-esque." We're all adults here, and we all want to make money. Encourage creativity, temper it with consistency and brand image, but more importantly, advocate KNOWING YOUR CUSTOMER. Some of the details, like copywriting, will sort themselves out in the process.

Tony Madejczyk, Copywriter, Adam & Eve, Hillsborough, NC


Editor's note: Chris' original headline was "5 Reasons to Hire an Expert to Train Your Copywriting Staff," but it didn't fit because of space limitations.

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