Why are so many copywriters shy about showing their work?

by
April 1, 2016

 

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How do you judge a novelist?  You read their books.

How do you judge a chef?  You eat their food.

How do you judge a band?  You listen to their music.

How do you judge a graphic designer?  You look at their portfolio.

I mean, how else are you going to do it?  You could listen to what they say about themselves.  But you know it has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt –because they are guaranteed to big themselves up.

It’s the same with copywriters.  Are you going to judge them based on what they tell you about themselves, or on the work they show?  Unless you are particularly naïve you’ll go straight for the work.

Caveat Emptor

So why is it that so many copywriters omit to include any examples of completed projects on their websites?  I suggest it’s either because they don’t have any.  Or because the work is shit.

Personally I’m proud of my work.  I give every job my best and even if it’s not particularly pretty, glamorous or impressive I’m keen to show it off.  That’s why you’ll find over 30 case studies on my website with examples of the work, an outline of the problem I was asked to tackle and a bit about the thinking employed in arriving at the solution.

A campaign for protective pads that prolong the life of the prongs on forklift trucks wasn’t the world’s most inspiring brief – but I still managed to do something attention grabbing.  And if you can get a bit of sex, drugs and rock & roll into ads about inward investment for the Welsh Government then that’s a result in my book.

What you won’t find on my website is guff about how passionate I am about the craft of copywriting, how I just love words and the prizes I got in junior school for my early story telling skills.

How times have changed

Back in the 1980s I spent 18 months dragging my portfolio (literally – it was bloody heavy) around the top ad agencies in London.  When I was persistent enough to find myself face to face with a creative director there might be a bit of chit chat, then they’d go “let’s have a look at the work then.”

As they flipped the pages I was expected to be silent.  The thinking was that the work had to speak for itself (that’s how the target audience was going to experienced it, so if a commentary was required it was obviously inadequate).  They might ask some questions, but it was definitely a case of “don’t speak unless you are spoken to.”  Babbling on about how much I loved language was the quickest way to get shown the door, probably with a boot up the backside.

Get unreal

The employment landscape has changed and now that we’re in the “gig economy”.  “Real jobs” are somehow out of fashion as people float from one short term assignment to another.

So have “real job titles” gone the same way?  Is the term “copywriter” something you can apply to yourself as and when you fancy a writing gig?  Is it OK to “fake it till you make it”?  In a world where perception is everything does merely saying something with conviction make it true?

Bollocks.  If you want to call yourself a copywriter, show the work.  No excuses, no exceptions, no bull.

Postcript

I’m adding this a couple of months after I posted the article above.  I came across a copywriter who has password protected their portfolio, claiming that this is “In the interests of my clients”  WTF?  The copy they have written is confidential?  It’s so bad it might damage the client’s brand?  I’m tempted to give you the link to their site, but that would make my comments personal – better that I keep them general.  Don’t want to point the finger at anyone in particular, but it’s just a new twist on how to avoid being judged on the work.  Given that I didn’t request the password I’ll have to judge them on their Bio page, which goes like this:

“I write things. Songs, sonnets, essays, love letters to dead authors, messages for the great beyond — and copy, too. I usually write in all caps and in pencil, but a highlighter will do in a pinch. Or lipstick.  Words are my medium, and I like to put them together to think huge. I have a wild imagination when it comes to dreaming up big ideas for brands—or even the small but potent kind. No matter the size of your project, I’d love to help you make it hum.”  They even have their own strapline:  “stay celestial”.

Nb, this copywriter is not the same one in the photo at top of article.  That means there are TWO celestial/stellar copywriters out there, somewhere  – “beam my briefs up Scottie”.

 

Photo credit: ichstudios