Confession of a copywriter

by
September 8, 2013

2807290411_919045023dI have an admission to make.  Unlike so many other copywriters, designers and people in marketing, I’m not passionate about what I do.

Shock horror!  You mean you don’t care?

No, nothing could be further from the truth.  I just care about the stuff that matters.

Feel good factors

I find it satisfying when I manage to solve a particularly tricky creative problem.  I get a real sense of achievement out of successfully crafting an elegant brand story for a home page.  Opening a magazine and seeing one my ads always gives me a kick.  It’s a great feeling when a client is especially happy with something I’ve done for them.

Show me the money

I’m also very pleased when I get paid.  Because, you know what…I’m doing it largely for the money.  I’m not in the fortunate position, like some of my neighbours, to have retired in my mid-50s on a final salary pension.  I also find that little things, like a house, furniture, a car, food and drink, clothes, electrical appliances, somewhat hard to give up – and they don’t come cheap.  If this occupation didn’t pay then I’d have to do something else.

It’s work Jim, but not as some people know it

I’m very grateful, even on a bad day, that I don’t have to commute for hours for the pleasure of working in a cubicle, in a big office, reporting to an idiot and being force-fed the company’s values and mission.  I’ve done some crap jobs, like telesales, house removals, working on a market stall, feeding walnuts into a hopper (all day) at a food packaging company, and copywriting is a positive delight by comparison.  I feel incredibly lucky to be able to earn a reasonable living, working from home, doing something that’s mentally stimulating.

But passionate?  No.

Excuse me while I emote

This, it would seem, puts me in a minority.  Yesterday on LinkedIn I saw a post inviting members of that particular group to visit a design company’s new website and give feedback.  The “About” page was headed “We’re passionate about making digital work brilliantly for our clients.” And is followed by “We’re a team who live and breathe what we do for a living.”  Blimey, get a life!

They are not alone.  Here’s a short list of others whose web pages and profiles express the same degree of intense evangelical zeal (I’ve not named names for obvious reasons.  Namely that I’m a coward!):

  • “We are a creative team of experienced web professionals, passionate about developing the right internet solutions for our clients.”  Bradford on Avon.
  • “She is a passionate advocate of quality in brand communication”.  Client Director at a leading copywriting agency
  • “Highly passionate about creativity”.  Brand and marketing expert in London.
  • “A passionately creative graphic designer”.   Freelancer in Bath.
  • “Jim’s passion is for innovation”.  Web design company founder, Bath.
  • “We are an amalgamation of designers, developers and optimisation specialists, each with a passion for all areas of web.”   Bath, again – passionate kind of place.
  • “Bristol creative website design and development agency with a passion for great design and user experience”.
  • “A marketing communications professional based in Bristol with a thirst for knowledge, a passion for copywriting…”
  •  “A passionate Creative, Graphic Artist and firebrand Designer…”  (the initial caps are theirs, not mine)
  • “A passionate and professional graphic design and website design company based in Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset, UK”.  Creative passion in Burnham-on-Sea…have you ever been there?!.
  • “We are so passionate about inspiring and helping others, both through business and in our community.”  Marketing and brand consultancy.

You get the general idea – I could fill an almost infinite number of pages with the list of designers, writers and marketers who are blissed out about their occupation.  And that’s not including all those of my colleagues with a heartfelt “love of words”.

What’s all this about then?

In the book “Willing Slaves: how the overwork culture is ruling our lives” Guardian journalist Madeleine Bunting documents the ways in which work in the UK is becoming more demanding.

She explores the fact that we work the longest hours in Europe.  Then she identifies the trend of “work intensification” – the way workers are being pressured to achieve more in less time, and so are coerced into putting in greater effort.  Then she focuses on a wholly new phenomenon that’s emerging: “emotional labour”.

Emotional labour?  Yes.  The growth of the service economy means it’s no longer enough to physically do your job – you have to put your heart and soul into it too.  Companies are now striving to differentiate themselves from competitors by offering better service – one that provides customers with a more satisfying emotional experience.  And that means workers have to get really good at reaching out to customers, establishing emotional empathy with them, and building relationships.  If you work for a big organisation you must become an enthusiastic ambassador who lives the brand values.  And if you run your own small consultancy, or are a freelancer, you are the brand.  You better be wearing your heart on your sleeve when you show up for work!

Bunting cites an academic paper, “Emotions and Aesthetics for work and labour” by M. Noon and P.Blyton where the authors comment that “The truly remarkable thing about emotion work is its sheer ordinariness, the extent to which it has permeated most forms of work and to which it is deemed natural.”  Selling your soul, as well as your services, has become the norm.  But is it healthy?

Bunting notes that this has forced workers to become alienated from their own feelings.  She quotes from “The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feelings” by Arlie Russell Hochschild: “When the product – the thing to be engineered, mass produced…is a smile, a feeling, or a relationship, it comes to belong more to the organisation and less to the self.”

Unto thine own self be true

So, all these people who claim to be so passionate about their work – do they really feel that way? Or are they merely behaving in the way that’s now expected of them?  Meekly selling their souls so they can pay the bills at the end of the month?  And kidding themselves that this is what it takes to do a great job?

Methinks they doth protest too much

I think, far from being passionate, that they are screwed up.  They’ve got to a point where they are totally confused about what they are supposed to be doing.

The product, for a copywriter, designer, or marketing person, is not their feelings, served up on a plate.  It’s an ad, a web page, a poster, a blog post, a sales letter, a brochure, an exhibition stand, a case study, a video, that works.

When I’m working I’m actually pretty grumpy.  I don’t enjoy the process of solving problems.  It’s hard!  I’m obsessed, withdrawn, preoccupied and snappy.  That’s not because I don’t care about what I’m doing – quite the opposite.  It’s because I hate mediocrity – “average is the best of the worst, the worst of the best, and the cream of the crap”.

But when I’ve finished I cheer up.  Because I’ve usually produced something I’m proud of.

So I’ve got a question for all those practitioners who offer their feelings in the place of credentials – where’s the work? Spare me the professions of passion and show me the portfolio, the proof you can actually solve a real business problem.  That’s the thing so conspicuously missing from their websites – example of what they are proud to have produced.

This makes me suspect the reason they are so eager heave their hearts into their mouths at every opportunity is simple – it’s all they’ve got.