Copywriters aren’t telepaths

Why is it that PR people still expect copywriters to write their press releases for them?

I don’t have a big problem with it generally but sometimes you just know the account manager is being plain old lazy. No matter how quick you are at getting up to speed or how insightful or well-trained you are, you will inevitably be too far from the account to really offer valuable input.

It’s strange. People seem to treat copywriters as if we’re telepathic. They think that we should just know all about their account through some weird osmosis. They think we find writing somehow ‘easy’. We don’t: we just do it better than them, but the information-gathering stage is just as hard, in fact harder for us because we really have to read around a subject to familiarise ourselves with it.

There is generally a tremendous amount of knowledge about an account that goes into producing a press release for it. I’d say it’s the return of the old nutshell about commonsense: it takes a lot of knowledge to acquire it. There’s nothing common about it at all.

And apart from anything, isn’t a press release a core PR competency, not a core copywriting competency?

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5 thoughts on “Copywriters aren’t telepaths

  1. I think I disagree.

    In my view, strong news writing is the biggest challenge facing media relations people. Releases end up too wordy, off the mark or just plain dull. The longer pieces often suit the essay style of writing that people without journalistic training tend to exhibit.

    I’m all for ex-journalists writing the news, or at least helping out with finding the best angle. Am I confused about what a ‘copywriter’ is?

  2. I’m not arguing against that, and you have actually identified the gap in my case there: I should have been more specific and said that *for the accounts I work on*, I have no problem at all writing the releases.

    But I’m still approached by people on other accounts who expect me to write something on a subject matter that really should be their area of expertise, in a limited time span.

    So whereas I can advise on the most newsworthy angle and a possible plan of attack, when it comes to bringing together the extra background information it really should be up to them to pull their finger out. I regularly find that people just dump a load of information on me and when I ask them what their own account’s messaging is, they don’t know. So I can’t really tie my work in to anything. It’s the classic situation of “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” ie if you can write about anything, you may as well write about nothing.

    In other words I can act as consultant, editor and proofer but it bugs me when I’m asked to be a telepath.

    You’re right in that good, strong writing news to happen across the board, and in fact that’s why I was employed. But I can’t help but feel that often, people are lazy and/or just don’t realise what they’re really asking us to do.

    It was just a venting post more than anything. When Copywriters Go Bad, that sort of thing.

    Thanks for the comment though, your cloggerblog is now on my blogroll (and possibly in the next PowerPR table!)

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