Doesn’t matter that your written communication is private. Doesn’t matter that you trust your recipient. “Private” documents/emails/texts/instant messages find their way into the public. So…
Never mock, insult or ridicule friends, colleagues, supervisors — anyone — in writing.
Mistakes happen, like this one, where a private communication can end a career.
People often ask me, “Is it difficult to become the copywriter for a corporation, government agency, charity, or other type of organization? Can anyone become a working copywriter?”
By “copywriter,” they mean the employee who writes the organization’s website text, press releases, presentations, memos, form letters, newsletter articles, advertisements, brochures, employee manuals, and all of the other materials that need to be written in the organization’s voice?
Short answer: Yes. Anyone can become a working copywriter. And breaking in is not as difficult as you might think, if you’re a strong writer.
But you’ll also need several other, less obvious skills. It might surprise you, but these skills will be just as important to your writing career as your ability to write.
One of the reasons I got into the corporate writing game was that I was shy. I thought if I could be a good enough writer, then my employers would gladly give me a desk in the basement of the office and I would work alone, away from the crowd. Big mistake. The keys to success as a corporate writer are similar to success in other professional fields — building relationships, becoming part of your team. You can’t do those things from a desk in the basement.
So you’re the best press release writer in public relations history? Glad to hear it! But if that’s your only writing skill, you’re going to have trouble as a working copywriter. If you can’t shift gears quickly — often within 10 minutes of finishing your press release draft — and write an executive bio or brochure, you won’t make it in the corporate writing field. You can’t be good at just one type of writing — you’ll need to be great at just about every type. (Except poetry. You can usually let your poetry muscles atrophy.)
You’re going to have your work trampled, verbally spat upon (and, in the worst cases, actually spat upon) by colleagues and superiors. Writers are, by nature, sensitive people. But you’ve got to separate yourself from your corporate writing work. Your colleagues are not criticizing you personally — only the work. If you can’t see the distinction, you’ll burn out quickly as a corporate writer.
This is especially true if you want to work as a freelance writer for several clients. You’ll need to determine how many hours each project takes you, how you should bill for your time, and how to say no to a bad project.
The ability to check your own preferences.
Often you’ll have to write about products or services or people that you’re not excited about personally. Sometimes you’ll have to write for things you’d never buy for yourself. But as a corporate writer you’re there to serve a corporate interest. And you’ll have to write about that item like you were its biggest fan. Otherwise you’re not doing the product, your employer or yourself justice. It’s even a bit unethical to write with less enthusiasm than you’re capable of, just because you’re not a personal fan of the item.
Not turned off or scared away yet? Great! Go for it – and please tell me about your progress.
Do what you say you’re going to do.
In the preface to his great book, The Great Money Binge, longtime Wall Street Journal editor George Melloan writes that “it felt like light-years since”… well, it doesn’t matter what. Our takeaway here is that a light-year is not an amount of time; it’s a specific distance (namely, about six trillion miles).
My new theory: You can tell a lot about what a culture values by what it sells and what it gives away for free.
I’ve been playing around with iTunes lately, and something very disturbing just hit me: On iTunes U, you can download thousands of hours of actual lectures from Harvard/Yale/MIT/Stanford professors… all subjects, all free.
But the song “F**k You” by Cee Lo will set you back $1.29.
Not a good sign.