NOT AN EXPERT? YOU CAN STILL WRITE LIKE ONE.
Updated: Nov 11, 2018
Copywriters aren’t experts. Many copywriters are talented, creative wordsmiths who can cram five long pages into five succinct words. They make you laugh, they make you think and they make you share social posts about nacho-filled sausage links that simply cannot be edible. But they are not experts.
For better or for worse, most copywriters don’t have the opportunity to become experts in a field before writing about it. Gaining expertise takes years (and if you don’t believe that, I urge you to ask your clients). Because of this, the copywriter who takes the time to learn every single thing about casing nacho-filled sausage links before writing a tweet will run into two issues. First, she’ll totally miss her EOD due date. Second, she’ll discover the product has already been recalled, thrown off the shelves and banished to the same mysterious vault as the original Four Loko. The client? They’ve stopped sending checks a long, long time ago.
So, you’re a copywriter and you’re tasked with writing a blogpost, or a landing page or a video script about a complex subject that you know nothing about. Perhaps you’re writing about credit scores, or home buying or even ridiculously expensive luxury hot tubs. Your due date is nearing, as is the last sip of your second cup of coffee. What do you do?
YOU REACH OUT TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE.
Say you’re writing about a new credit card, and you’re not sure which benefits to prioritize on the FAQ page. Well, do you know who does? I’ll give you a hint: it’s the person who tasked you with the project in the first place. As a copywriter, it’s invaluable to have a relationship with either the client, or an account director who is willing to ask the client all of your many, many questions. Really, this is in everybody’s best interest. The client wants copy to be great, and so does the account director who will receive the uncensored, frighteningly direct feedback you’re lucky enough to miss out on.
YOU ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS.
Having questions doesn’t make you dumb. On the contrary, only a foolish copywriter would say “No, this 5-minute call is all I need to start the project. Who needs a brief anyway?” Always. Ask. Questions. Here are some starters: 1. Do you have any resources I could review? 2. What’s the biggest takeaway? 3. What do you hope this project accomplishes? 4. What’s the budget? 5. Is there anything you’d like me to avoid? Before you come up with headlines, come up with questions—no ifs, ands or buts about it.
YOU LEARN, AND YOU DO IT FAST.
Advertising is a fast-paced industry, and you need to be fast to keep up too. Not just with your writing, but with your learning. Gather your resources, read, ask questions, do your research. If you know someone who could answer a question quickly, ask them rather than taking an hour to Google it. Be efficient, and don’t be afraid to ask your coworkers for help. You’ll be able to return the favor soon enough—whether it’s by proofing an especially important email, condensing copy to fit a new layout or simply doing the dishes (let’s be honest, it’s probably your turn anyway).
YOU HANG ONTO THAT CONFUSION.
More than likely, you’re writing for audiences who aren’t experts either. Because of this, you have a particular advantage that even the client doesn’t have: you can very clearly remember what it’s like to be in the audience’s shoes.
Let’s say you’re writing a video script about choosing the right retirement plan. You’ve been reviewing jargon-filled documents, frequenting forums and trying not to let frustration win. Well, guess what? That’s exactly how the audience feels. So when they click “play,” make sure they see something that’s refreshingly helpful. Always remember where the audience stands before writing to them. Add empathy, simplify content as much as possible and tell them what you wish someone had told you from the get-go. It’s simple. Or at least it will be for the viewer, and that’s all that really matters anyway.
So no, you’re not an expert. That’s okay, you don’t need to be one. All you need to do is sound like one—you know, minus all that jargon nonsense. Basically, just don’t go calling sausage “saussiche.” Your audience probably won’t know what that means, and it won’t make those processed links sound any more appetizing. I promise.