Why hire a copywriter? They know nothing!

green-gorilla-suit

 

Why do experts ask copywriters to write for them?

A recruitment agency, a private equity house, two schools and a pair of care homes recently asked me to write copy for them.

Were they mad?

I knew next to nothing about recruitment, private equity, prep schools or care homes until I wrote copy about them.

Yet my clients seemed quite sane.

Is there something valuable a non-expert brings to a team of people who know their business inside out? Why would they hire a copywriter?

Have a go at this little test: Monkey business . (Thanks to Sarah Hyndman in Why Fonts Matter for the link. )

You see what you expect

Here I have to acknowledge a piece by Oliver Burkeman in yesterday’s Guardian. He writes that people tend to see what they’re expecting – and are blind to anything else. This is so extreme that even radiologists don’t spot the miniature gorillas that someone has sneakily added to CT scans, so focussed are they on spotting the anomalies they usually find.

Businesses are no different. They know what they do inside out. They think about their services all day and every day. They know what their priorities are. They know what the challenges are. But it’s often incredibly hard for them to sift through all this knowledge and to spot the gorillas.

I see the gorillas

Take the care homes I wrote for. In the notes that the brand agency gave me, the homes’ key selling points were ‘nursing’ and ‘old-fashioned values’. So far so minimalist as far as information goes. And frankly, so uninspiring.

It turned out that the care homes had something very special. Because they are side by side, and one specialises in providing light-touch care for relatively well older people, and the other gives much more intensive care with 24-hour nursing, they can offer an older person a home for the rest of their life. No more fear of being booted out of a retirement flat after one fall too many. No more worry about where to go if you develop dementia.

How did I find this out? By going to visit the care homes, talking to the managers, watching them get on with their day-to-day business, asking lots of questions, and listening. I do a lot of listening.

I also ask a lot of “I’m sorry if this is a stupid question” questions.

And all the time I’m looking out for the things you can only spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

That’s why people hire a copywriter

We can write neat sentences. And we spot gorillas.