Thursday, February 24, 2011...6:41 pm

Does being a journalist help you get work as a copywriter?

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Over at LinkedIn (the Facebook for suits), Dan Santy has opened up a forum question on whether it’s better to have a journalism or a marketing background if you want to go into copywriting.

While those well versed in marketing know how to sell, any good journalist should be able to turn anything that comes their way into clear, interesting copy, no matter how boring or complicated it may first seem. Any thoughts?

It’s certainly worth arguing. I’ve written about my brief foray into corporate writing, and I always urge journalists and journalism students to define the work they do as widely as possible – writing is writing, whether it’s an advertising feature, a press release or a hard news story. Mark Potts discusses it much better here.

But copywriting isn’t for everyone. As I note on LinkedIn, copywriting is a specific skill in itself, and having a facility in journalistic writing doesn’t mean you will necessarily be able to turn your hand to it. It has different rhythms and different goals.

Yes – it aims to communicate. But there are many forms of communication, with many different goals. And even if the core skill is transferrable, not everyone will be able to make the transfer work.

There are also different levels of copywriting – from longer formats (sponsored features, case studies) which are much more like feature journalism, to what is really advertising copywriting (“Go to work on an egg”).

The longer-form type is probably easiest to adapt to – but you do need to lose a lot of that journalistic attitude that says that any change the marketing department wants to make is, by definition, wrong.

In theory, a strong background in sub-editing should make it easier to move into shorter-form copywriting, as the ability to write punchy headlines and captions etc lends itself to that. But you still have to realign the focus of your writing, in a way that I suspect a lot of journalists would balk at.

Does being a journalist help you get work as a copywriter? I wonder if the reverse is true – maybe being a copywriter would help you become a better journalist.

Anyone with a view on this should get over to LinkedIn and join the discussion. You’ll sort of be networking while you do, so that might be an incentive…

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