Yes, there is such a thing as a ‘good’ copywriter

Spoiler: it has hardly anything to do with writing

Here’s something I wholeheartedly believe: the ‘writing’ part of a successful copywriting project is only about 20% of the job. And while, yes, every ‘good’ copywriter needs to be able to write — and write well — a good writer does not a good copywriter make.

So, if you’re hiring a copywriter, looking for a copywriting partner or you simply want to argue with me, let’s run through the things that I look for when evaluating whether a writer will be a good fit for Heydays. I think you’ll find it helpful.

1. They put clients at ease

This one is huge. I can’t tell you how important it is that clients feel comfortable with their copywriter. If clients don’t feel like they can open up, spill secrets and share generously with their writer, then the resulting copy will be mediocre at best. Often, our really, really good work comes from an offhanded comment or a seemingly unrelated story that comes out in the briefing process.

Good copywriters get it: the briefing process can be really uncomfortable. Even the most self-assured of clients will ask for a list of questions ahead of time, so they can prepare intelligent answers. So, good copywriters know how to get the client to relax, laugh and turn the briefing process into a breeze.

2. They ask the right questions

We come to briefing sessions with a standard set of questions. We usually get through two or three before the meeting takes a sharp left turn into uncharted territory. An okay copywriter will try and steer the ship back on course, back to their prepared questions, so they can get a comprehensive brief and tick all their boxes.

A good copywriter will recognise that uncharted territory is, oftentimes, where we’ll find gold. The briefing questions will be set aside and we’ll start digging deeper. (Related: this is why journalists often make the best copywriters!)

3. They have a thick skin

Writing is so, so personal. For copywriters, yes. But often for clients as well. Words are powerful, and words can be triggering too. My writing has provoked severe emotional reactions — both positive and negative!

With all this said, sometimes feedback genuinely is personal. So, we need to be able to cop it, take it on — without ego — and fix it up where we need to. It’s really hard. It really gets to you sometimes. But, good copywriters don’t let it keep them down. They just keep going!

4. They give themselves a chance to get inspired

One of my favourite books about art and creativity is Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist. It’s so good. It reminded me that ideas are never original — even the masters took a truckload of inspiration from those who came before. In Austin’s words, good artists study, credit, remix, mash up and transform.

A good copywriter is always willing to pinch good ideas from other artists. But this means you need to actually be around art. Go to shows. Visit galleries. Work with creative people. Look at beautiful things. READ. Oh my goodness, they need to be reading — and reading a lot! If your copywriter is sitting in a soulless little office, staring at a screen all day, they’re not soaking in the inspiration they’ll need to do a really good job. It’s just a fact.

5. Their writing has been challenged

There are a lot of trained writers out there. Like, a lot. Many of them have fancy degrees. Others have fancy titles, like ‘Chief Wordsmith’. I’ve interviewed a lot of them. And given a lot of them trials to test their capabilities.

The ones that last are the ones that are prepared to have their writing challenged. Often. Mercilessly. It’s a brutal process, but it’s often the only way that a trained writer will become a good copywriter. They’ve had others tell them that their ideas don’t make sense. They’ve had feedback that their writing was boring. Or waffely. Or completely unsuitable for the target audience.

And they’ve gone back to the drawing board and started again. And again. And again.

Until, one day, they become ‘good’.