“Do you have a CSR writer with a background in chemical fertilisers?”
“I’m looking for an SEO expert with a working knowledge of nuclear physics.”
Requests like these aren’t unusual. And you have to wonder why. When Meryl Streep won the role of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, she didn’t have to prove a strong track record in playing British prime ministers. Based on that criterion, many TV impressionists would have beaten her to the casting couch. And she didn’t get the part in Mamma Mia! because of her singing and dancing credentials. There are plenty of hoofers who fit that bill better than her. No, she was chosen simply for her acting talent.
In this respect, copywriters are the same: we don’t need in-depth, specific experience. We just need to know how to communicate effectively. Yes, we do our research – but, like a method actor, we don’t need to know everything, or to have ‘been there’ before to convince and persuade.
Chemical fertiliser manufacturers have plenty of chemical fertiliser experts already. What they’re lacking is a communications expert.
Yet many clients still choose a copywriter for their sector knowledge – and this severely limits their options. If news reporters were chosen in the same way, coverage would be sadly lacking. For example, very few, if any, of the thousands of people who wrote about the trapped Chilean miners in 2010 were mining experts. They were journalists with no previous knowledge of the subject, and no one seemed to mind.
Ask for copywriting expertise – nothing else
Probably the most valuable copywriting skill is the ability to put oneself in the reader’s shoes – to bring an external (or audience) perspective, using language that’s easy to understand and likely to persuade. In most cases, the reader is not an expert in the subject they’re reading, so if the writer is, that essential outsider’s view is lost.
The sector-specialist writer is only useful when writing for other sector specialists. And, if their main strength is their knowledge of chemical fertilisers or nuclear physics, how strong is their ability to communicate going to be? Writing about the same subject day in, day out must dull their enthusiasm and creativity. Compare that with one who can – and often has to – turn their hand to virtually anything. It’s like the difference between Meryl Streep and a typecast soap actor.