“See those blue circles on the window?” I said to my friend over coffee at the swimming pool cafe. “Those are manifestation dots. They’re needed by law in public places to stop us from walking into large windows.”
“Writing about glass then?” she replied.
Stick with me, kids – the conversational possibilities are endless. Copywriters are either the world’s best or most irritating dinner party guests. Our knowledge bank of “random stuff”, built up over years of working on a variety of projects, means we can generally find something to talk about.
I’ve discussed the problems of psittacosis in pet parrots with great empathy (never owned one); waxed lyrical about the types of portaloo available these days; and when there were problems with our local water supply, I become positively overheated about the benefits of dosage pumps.
But of course, I’m not really an expert at all – and does that matter? Well, Winchester Cathedral copy and I get on pretty well because my background is in heritage (and as you may have noticed, I have a bit of a thing for the Middle Ages). My first proper copy job was for an HR company; as I’ve been an HR manager, the background for that job was easy-peasy and a lovely starting place for my new life as a freelancer. Oil rig insurance? That was a different matter…
New clients ask if I’ve written about or have any prior knowledge of their particular product or service. Sometimes I have, frequently I know a bit in a vague, everyday sort of way, occasionally I know nothing whatsoever about it (ahem, oil rig insurance). But it really doesn’t matter. I always ask clients for as much information as they can give me right at the start of a project; and I always ask them to check each draft for technical accuracy. They are the experts, not me; the copywriter is there to capture and communicate the information in the best way possible.
Not having a background in a subject can be key. Sometimes it takes a layman to explain things to a layman, which is perhaps why I write a lot of web copy for engineers, contractors and various specialist builders and suppliers. Their customers are rarely experts and don’t want to encounter a wall of technical terms, acronyms and a whole new (frankly bizarre-sounding) vocabulary. Likewise, we all hate being talked down to, and the “informing-without-patronising” tone is one I’m often asked to write in.
By the end of a project, my brain is buzzing from the sheer joy of learning about new stuff. Do I remember it? The honest answer is yes I do, but not in huge detail. When a project is over, I retain enough information to enlighten/entertain/bore my friends; but my focus has moved on to the next job, and I’ll be immersing myself in that topic.
But I love the term “manifestation dots”. And you never know, one day I could find myself searching for small-talk with the owner of very large windows…