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Thursday, June 17, 2004

So, you're a copywriter...

OK, I'm not in a ranting or raving mood today (not yet, anyway) but I just remembered something I wanted to write about from this morning. It's this weird belief that just about anyone can be a copywriter. Allow me to illustrate:

CASUAL FRIEND: So, what do you do these days anyway?
ME: Oh, I'm a Copywriter.
CASUAL FRIEND: You write copy for an ad agency?
ME: Uhm, yeah. That's what copywriters generally do.
CASUAL FRIEND: Hey, I got an A2 in English for SPM and I wrote an article for the school yearbook. It never got published but I bet I could be a copywriter too!
ME: (blank stare of shock at amazing display of stupidity)

By that same logic, since I can do some math, I must be qualified to be an International Banker! I have experience in pills, which means I'm practically certified to do medicine! Oh, why bother with false modesty. I'm Bumi, therefore I should be appointed CEO of a large GLC and paid RM750000 a month.

I'm not actually pissed off at the moment. I am when dumb shmucks make abovementioned remarks but right now I am actually pretty calm. I seethe sometimes but it takes a lot to get me to lose my cool. God, I hope I'm not doing permanent damage to my heart or something...

Anyway, back to my rant about people who want to be copywriters. Some facts: there aren't many of us around. Most people in advertising would rather work in the PR Department, Graphic Design and Multimedia, Account Management, Events or even (heaven forbid) Administration. For every 5 graphic designers there's usually only one copywriter. If we're lucky, we'll actually have a senior copywriter, a copywriter and a junior copywriter on the company payroll, all of whom have to report to a creative director. This is the case in big agencies where they also have like 50 people working in graphics. Most copywriters aren't even actual copywriters. Since we're such a rare breed, copywriters are often drafted from other departments. Hell, even my graphic designers think they can write copy. Why not? If a thousand monkeys typed on a thousand typewriters for a thousand years, isn't it possible that one of them will churn out the entire works of Shakespeare? (failing which, a Malay novella?) A copywriter is part philosopher-poet, part diplomat, part talentless hack, part salesman and part jack-of-all-trades. Don't even try to figure that out, it's just an allegory I thought of just a few moments ago. Most copywriters are actually (a) short film directors trying to pay bills (b) scriptwriters trying to pay bills (c) writers trying to pay bills (d) singers/poets trying to pay bills (e) thespians trying to pay bills and (f) wannabe creative directors trying to earn street cred while attempting to pay bills. Being a copywriter is a thankless job. In short, it sucks. You're like totally outnumbered in the agency. If you're lucky, the creative director was a former copywriter (better at playing office politics than writing copy) and you might be able to learn something from your tenure at Ahmad and Atan Advertising Agency. And yes, you have to write copy even when you're feeling totally uninspired. It's called deadlines. The ability to make total crap sound actually passable is one of the many talents required of a copywriter. Oh, and let's not forget the wonderful 'rewrite, rewrite and rewrite'. All writers, even the humble spat-upon practicants of the art of copy writing, must abide by this adage 'write what you know; failing which, know what you write'. Research is the bread and water of every good copywriter. I'm not even that good a copywriter but I scan through articles and news headlines on the internet when I wake up, read the Sun on the LRT on my way to work, read magazines and newspapers at work to find out what's 'hot' today, read advertising and self-help books on my way home and before I head to bed, I read more news and articles on the internet (oh, and I have to read at least a chapter of a novel to wind down the day while I'm laying on my bed waiting for the sweet ambrosia of unconsciousness to embrace me). But hell, some copywriters think they can get away by just playing PS2 games, smoking a lot of weed and drinking pitchers of cheap beer. These are the sort of copywriters who come up with 'Tom Yam Chicken' for KFC and all those crappy ads for oxygen-producing air-conditioners. But hell, some people like 'Celcom In-Play'. What the hell do I know?

And yes, at the risk of blowing my own horn, there is that small matter of me having been a published writer for about 15 years now. However, if you do want to be a copywriter and you don't have (a) talent or (b) experience, get yourself a degree in advertising or english. Oh, and take creative writing courses.

Why don't I have a degree in anything? Because the only subjects I could stomach were comparative religions, psychology, philosophy and writing, none of which were considered feasible majors (i.e. who makes money from a degree in philosophy?). And my interest in psychology is purely academic... I have no ambitions of becoming a shrink.

Anyway, this post probably established my rep as a blow-hard elitist asshole so I'll end it right here. And remember, people, funny and punchy comes after heavy editing. Unless you're Stephen King. Wait, I just proved my point.

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