The first line of the brief for this piece was “the job title ‘copywriter’ still exists”. Now, there’s a provocative way to reassess your own place in the world. Rather like saying to a dodo “apparently birds who can’t fly are still a thing”.
Yes, we are still breathing, still eeking out a living and I would say more relevant than ever. But more of that later.
My route to earning the doomed title “copywriter” began at university in that I read English. But this was not what got me a job. Reading English at Oxbridge and then deciding to quit after a year is what got me the job.
It was this apparently unreasonable behaviour which caught the attention of my first creative director, the very wonderful Tom Reddy, when I turned up for the interview.
I didn’t even know what an advertising agency was. I thought the television companies made the TV ads and the newspapers made the print ads. (“Digital” wasn’t a thing quite yet).
I personally don’t care what writers have done before their paths lead them to the world of marketing. In my first agency, the copywriters were variously a teacher, a civil servant, a philosophy graduate, a man newly released from a psychiatric clinic, a writer who had once worked in “that, there London” and me.
Their different backgrounds gave them different perspectives and that is highly valuable to a creative director. I have never wanted a department filled with sausage machine products from advertising courses. (If you do enlist on an advertising course, make sure you supplement this with reading and writing from as many other sectors as possible. You will be a more interesting and versatile writer.)
I also think it’s important that any writer works across as many different media as possible just to get the different rhythms and atmospheres which you find whether you are online, on the big screen or on the radio. Words can fly freely between all the channels but you need to sculpt them accordingly.
Learn rhythm. It is the most underestimated part of your craft. Rhythm is what turns your writing into speaking. It gives your words a beat and a cadence which the listener or the reader can tune in to. Whether it is a tweet or a manifesto, rhythm is the glue or, to completely fuck about with my metaphors, the river which carries the message along.
Write for radio. It is quite simply the best medium for writers as the words and the sounds have to be the pictures as well.
And consider a career in the design Industry. I have spent the majority of my time in advertising at the usual suspects like BMP/DDB and Saatchi & Saatchi. I loved my time in advertising. The rush you experience when you know you have had a good idea is hard to beat. And the fantastic variety of people you meet and the rainbow of talents they have is probably unequalled in any other industry.
But now I work with words in a new way which brings different rewards.
I still write big ideas, scripts, manifestos and the like but I also deal with fresh demands on my ability to use language. Writing a brand into life. Painting it into existence with a tone of voice and a philosophy and an attitude like introducing a character in a novel. Then seeing how this brand/character speaks online, on podcasts and on-pack.
And here is one of my favourite new creative disciplines – naming. When I left university I was in the habit of trying to find 2,000 words every week. Now, occasionally, I have to find one. And that is so much harder and ironically has proved to be the biggest test of my knowledge of the language.
Come up with one word with which to christen this brand/product which will give it the potential to be noticed, investigated, believed in and eventually loved. To give it the potential to have a story people will want to listen to. To be a name that you will hear in conversations on social media or in the pub. One word.
So that’s why ‘copywriters still exist’. Because words are more searingly powerful than ever.
They can express emotions like the most intricate brush strokes compared to emojis throwing a bucket of paint at a wall.
Words are rightly the only portable language currency. You don’t need any reference to talk or write. You can share pictures but they don’t stay with you like a shared story.
Stories are still what binds brands and consumers and what secures that long-term relationship.
And, quite simply, no-one tells stories like writers.
Paul Domenet is communications creative director of UK design agency Free the Birds