If there’s one thing that bugs me about the copywriting market is the lack of a standard measurement that copywriters need to meet in order to call themselves copywriters. Maybe it’s the scientific part of me that says you should be able to measure just about anything. Or maybe it’s just the onslaught of new “copywriters” I’ve seen online who I honestly don’t think deserve that title.
Think about any other profession, even real estate, you need to take license exams or complete some course that allows you to attach a title to your name. But for copywriting, you can take that name at will.
Now I’m not going to pretend as though I have no self-interest in requiring this benchmark. I want the industry to recognize some standard and so customers can cut through the confusion and know the quality of a copywriter they are working with. But more so, I see the industry being watered down by title bearers without much qualification, if any at all.
Now my suggested requirement may go against the very spirit of entrepreneurship. Most entrepreneurs think that formal education or any ‘false standard’ should not define your success. In fact, most business people will boast of their accomplishments without having attended college.
But this is not just about education although it is. I would even go as far as suggesting a core set of books that copywriters should at least read before they carry a member card. Now for sure, different copywriters would want to include different books, but so do different schools for the same course and sometimes the same educational institution for the same course.
Okay, so along with the basic course requirement how would I measure a copywriter? I’ve seen many different elements suggested and so I’ll like to investigate each one at a time and then suggest the benchmark I would use.
1. Conversion rates. Some would suggest that a copywriter should be measured by the conversion rate of the sales letters he or she writes. The only problem here is that I’ve seen some high conversion rates achieved by sloppy sales letters all because of the market these letters targeted.
For example, markets that generally take “advantage” of the natural “lust” of the human heart normally do very well. This (for me) would include dating, gambling, pornography, sex, ‘get rich quick schemes’ and items that border on the illegal. If a copywriter does well at selling a drug addict cocaine, that’s nothing to cheer about.
2. Writing for famous clients. Many copywriters present as proof for their superior skills the fact that they have written for famous gurus. While I cannot blame them for flying these flags, many times these letters are used as a first draft and even chosen because of the low fees. That’s right. Top gurus often go the low fee route and then adjust the copy themselves. So copywriting clientele is no proof either.
3. Top Trainer or Coach. If a copywriter was taught by a famous coach then it could be assumed that this would recommend them to be gifted by association. Who wouldn’t want to be taught golf by Tiger Woods? But again having an excellent teacher doesn’t make you an excellent student.
4. Length of time STUDYING copywriting. In this business of writing if you simply study about writing without actually practicing, then you’ll remain a novice. You have to be in the trenches fighting the battle with many scars to prove your involvement and results to show for it. I’ll prefer a gauge of the number of pages of copy written than the total length of time studying copywriting.
5. Amount of money earned. “Million dollar Producer”, “My Copy Sold Billions”-these are the usual advertising blurbs we see advertising copywriting services. Now I don’t personally have anything against making a lot of money, but this is often a gauge of one’s business skills and the market you write for rather than your raw abilities. In other words, if you are ‘lucky’ enough to write for a big company with huge mailings, then it’s highly probable the profit will reflect the company rather than the writer.
And one successful piece of copy written for the ‘right’ company can earn you a “dollar amount title” that may not reflect your skills or experience.
So what is the solution? How do you measure one copywriter against the other? Can I write for the same product and same market and try and beat the control of another writer to prove myself better? Maybe this will be a fair measure, except that I should allow the control writer to try and beat my new control. You must admit that time changes markets and the same letter would get different results over time-hence the need to have the old control writer update his copy.
It seems that we are still at the very point we started, but we have made some progress since we have eliminated some options. I’m suggesting that your copywriting skills cannot be measured by conversion rates, famous clients, gifted teacher, length of time studying the discipline or money earned.
So what’s left after this?
I would suggest that a copywriter should be measured by the results of writing for a NEW product to be introduced to a market where the need is NOT already very obvious and in which the product creator had little or no previous credibility with the market. When such a sales letter is judged against the result of other letters written for the same market and product, then you have a safe standard to judge your skills.
Now this may seem like a hypothetical situation and indeed it may be. But introducing a new product to market is where the tire really meets the road. Of course there is no 100% new concept, but there was a time when the PC was “new”. So were the personal video recorder (VCR) and many other modern inventions. And this is why I have such high respect for the early copywriters who had no swipe files to refer to except those filed between their ears.
So write me a new letter for a new product for a new market and if you knock the ball out of the park I’ll be in the stands cheering you on.