Why Piegonholing writers is shortsighted

Posted by Sara Hawthorn

Writing for a living isn’t the glamorous dreamy career that’s often romanticised in films and books.  Rarely do you get to cherry pick the most delicious of projects or stare dreamily out at a picturesque view whilst paragraphs of award-worthy copy flow endlessly from your fingertips. However, that doesn’t mean the average life of a copywriter shouldn’t be looked on with some merit.

Recently, I came across a job posting for a large company in the north west of England who were looking for copywriters. They were crystal clear about what they didn’t want:

“We don’t want the kind of person who writes pamphlets for heating and insulation companies… We’re talking about an agency-proven, funny, clever, charming individual with a surfeit of talent.”

What. The. …

Let me tell you something about copywriters who write pamphlets for heating and insulation companies: writing something inspiring, something that makes people actually read all the way to the bottom and, even more importantly, want to purchase, a heating or insulation product is bloody hard work.

Frankly, it’s a heck of a lot easier to write about something most people are already interested in. And, ‘agency-proven’? I’ve been in full-service agencies for years, I have a track record of getting coverage for clients, of managing junior members of staff and of delivering some damn fine copy, if I do say so myself.  But because I’ve been worked in a niche sector I’m therefore not high-brow or, even more insulting, talented enough?  This statement of requirement also implies that if you write for the unimaginable horror that is heating and insulation companies you are therefore not charming, clever, or funny.

Far from being lost for words on this overwhelmingly wounding decree, here are a few thoughts on why their thinking is so far off the mark:

 

1. Give me 800 words about mineral wool. Stat.

Go on then, 800 educational, insightful words on the merits and benefits of mineral wool insulation. And not some twaddle nicked from Wikipedia. Writing about a specialist product doesn’t just take research; the writer needs to know the right questions to ask and needs to be able to understand the target audience in a very short space of time. Writing about something so particular requires a high level of writing ability in order to keep the copy structured, focussed and authoritative – that takes talent, ingenuity and creativity.

 

2. Keep the fires stoked

What’s that, your client wants another five articles on why their product is ideal for commercial heating systems? How do you keep feeling inspired and delivering consistently powerful copy on such narrow topics? Working in dedicated sectors means the you develop an important ability to absorb industry relevant information, if you can get your head around the inner workings of a combination boiler or a solar PV system as well as the mountain of building regs, government schemes and innovations surrounding this type of equipment then facing down a brief on a popular, consumer product is laughable. Knowing if a certain piece of legislation is about to be launched or understanding that latest research paper on commercial boilers will give you that edge. Knowing how to incorporate it effectively, not shoehorn it in as some desperate hook, takes an initiative and talent you can use anywhere, to any agency, any sector and any product or service.

 

 3. You end up with Super Powers

Ok, not quite. But being a good writer takes more than just a way with words. If you can’t accurately represent your client – their approach, values, branding, tone of voice – then all the pretty words used to describe their products aren’t going to leave the client satisfied. They want to know that you get them and what they’re trying to do. This is much more difficult in an unusual or specialist sector, there are often additional technical aspects to consider, knowing intimate details about their competitors, and I’ve already mentioned factors like legislation.  Writers who can seamlessly slip into all these different shoes day in day out are not to be underestimated. Remember, our powers can be used for evil as well as good.

Why pigenholing writers is shortsighted

Just because a writer may have a leaning towards a particular area doesn’t make him or her a one quill wonder. The true skill of a writer is delivering quality copy regardless of topic, pigeonholing someone for working in what are often income-steady industries does them a disservice and is an exceedingly blinkered approach. This company might want a charming individual but the problem with charm is that it can blind you to what’s really good and the right choice for you. I mean, haven’t they seen Frozen?