I caught the response to Chris Marlow’s copywriting training article (Letters, Aug. 2). While your reader, Tony Madejczyk, was appalled that Chris referred to it as training – like these people are animals to train – I do have to say that in most in-house creative departments, and in more agencies than we would fathom, the basic skill level of the copywriters on staff is meager at best.
As experienced professional creatives, we want to see writing (and design) as something that can be honed via nurturing, encouragement, understanding of market needs and desires, and teaching them how to dig in and put themselves in the customer’s shoes. But more often than not, copywriters today don’t have the most basic skills (understanding of feature vs. benefit, for example) to make even the most basic copy compelling. And they lack the passion to discover the excitement and salesmanship of great copy.
These writers often start out young and cheap to hire, and many don’t have copywriting courses under their belt – they were marketing majors or business majors or – gasp! – programmers. They go into environments where there is no mentor to do what Tony suggests should be done. They have projects thrown at them with no brief and little information about the customer – and they don’t know how to get it. Their work starts out mediocre and is made worse via the stream of comments and requests and suggestions from a hundred managers above them who don’t know squat about direct marketing.
These young writers soon become the head writer in their department via seniority, not skill. You see the work of these writers every day in your mailbox. This past year, I may have gotten two, maybe three pieces total that I thought were worthy of postage. And companies wonder why their response rates are so low. It’s not because the public isn’t reading anymore, folks – it’s because they are getting dreck in their mailbox.
I thank my lucky stars every day that I was blessed with some of the finest mentors in the industry, who spent time to work with me early on. But as a whole, I can say that the best creatives out there sought out mentoring and had a good basic skill set to start with. They also read, read, read; take courses; and go to conferences. They are chronic learners.
The bottom line is that great copy comes from four things, and all are needed: basic training, sincere mentoring, a love of learning and a passion for the job that can come only from working with a great creative and marketing team. This is a rare combination these days.
Carol Worthington-Levy, Partner, Creative Services Lenser,