Why Copywriters and Journalists Just Can’t Get Along

04 Sep 2009


Versatile writers are hard to find. For a long time I was surprised when I’d get great journalism samples from a writer, but the minute I put them on a copywriting project, it was a total flop – and vice versa. But I’ve finally discovered the disconnect: the real reason that some writers have such a hard time, fundamentally, switching between these two genres. The reason is that organization-wise, journalism is the opposite of copywriting.

Let me explain…

The purpose of journalistic writing is NOT to tell the reader everything – at least not right away. You want to tease. You want to raise questions in the readers mind. You want them to keep reading to find out what you mean by your headline, or to discover the solution to the problem that you posed in your intro. In journalism, you want to create intrigue.

The purpose of copywriting is opposite. You want to get your biggest baddest benefit for your product upfront, in the reader’s face, no holds barred. You want to lead with a benefit that the reader needs to have. You don’t want secrets. You don’t want intrigue. And you certainly don’t want to depend on the reader actually reading your copy.

To help clarify what I mean, following are a couple of examples of the right and wrong ways to start a journalistic article vs. a copywriting piece.

Good and Bad Journalism:

Wrong: When I arrived at my guest house, a special turn-down present of olive oils, vinegars, and recipes nestled in my down pillows. It was signed by Chef Eric Francis.

Why is this bad? You’ve given the reader all the information they need in these lines. It doesn’t raise any questions. It doesn’t compel them to read on. Basically, it’s boring.

So how do you fix it? I mean, after all, how exciting can writing about some resort be? Try something like this…

Right: Chef Eric Francis gifts a signature keepsake to all of Calistoga’s visitors – and it’s not served with dinner.

See? Now the reader wants to find out what the keepsake might be. This technique works with fiction too, but what it doesn’t work with is, you guessed it: Copywriting!


Good and Bad Copywriting:

Wrong: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But it shouldn’t cost you millions to manage your brand.

Here, the writer is obviously attempting to raise curiosity in the reader, much you like you might do with a journalistic piece. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do in good copywriting. In good copywriting you do not want to waste time trying to tease readers along. I believe it was Bob Bly who said that when a reader comes across a curiosity headline he will read it if he has time; when he comes across a benefit-oriented headline, he will make the time to read it. That mantra goes for copywriting intros as well. You need to lead with your best benefit. First. Always.

So…the right way to start this ad would be something like:

Right: CRS staging sets are more affordable than traditional, bulky sets, and they can be customized, shipped, and ready on site within five working days.

Now, if you were looking for a staging set, wouldn’t you be interested?

The Writers For Hire, Inc. 
At The Writers For Hire, you are hiring not just one copywriter, but a streamlined team of experienced writing professionals. We've perfected our unique cooperative writing model, so you'll have the advantage of receiving a fine-tuned final draft that has been reviewed by several editors.

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