• Steve Ridley

A Fred Astaire of Words

Updated: Jun 2, 2020


Everyone can write and most people can dance a little if they try. But what separates an amateur dancer from a Fred Astaire? Experience. Focus. Precision. Timing. Dedication. Talent. It’s the same with writing. A skilled dancer or writer can make it look easy but it’s not.

Even for an experienced writer, every project is a challenge.

So, here are a few reasons why you should hire a copywriter rather than rely on the best amateur dancer you’ve got in-house:

1. You’ve got better things to do

Writing is a tough gig. You’re reading this because deep down you know that writing isn’t easy, right? If you’ve got better things to do, and you usually have, then you need a copywriter.

2. You’ve tried it and it’s harder than it looks

Remember the joke about someone who says they’re writing a novel and their friend says, ‘Me neither.’ What’s brilliant about that little pun (apart from the dodgy grammar) is that it gets to the nub of writing. Writing is not a walk in the park. Trust me, it's a very time-consuming activity to get right. Research, drafting, rewriting, editing and proofreading… if you don’t enjoy these things then leave it to a copywriter.

3. You can’t see the wood for the trees

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? A typo in the first sentence despite reading it five times. Then, you read back what you’ve written. For some reason, the product that’s been your life for the last five years isn’t singing off the page the way that you thought it would. You’re too close to it. Remember that your potential readers are under no obligation to read your stuff. A copywriter will address that, and you’ll be amazed at the difference.

4. Grammar is like maths

We all love maths, yes? Mathematicians and grammarians seem to be members of secret societies. Why should grammar matter when website visitors spend seconds reading something before deciding to stay or add to your bounce rate? And yet, most people want their writing to sound right and to be professional. These days you can achieve those things without invoking the ire of an Oxbridge don. If it works and it doesn’t detract from the story you’re telling it’s probably ok. But for maths, all I can say is thank goodness for Excel. For grammar, all I can say, rather immodestly, is thank goodness for copywriters.

5. You thought creating a headline was easy until you tried

Often, I get a client who tells me about their product and then says now give me a headline. They might even give me a couple of hours because it’s just a clever little phrase, isn’t it? Not if you brainstorm pages of ideas based on detailed research of the market. Not if you're skilled enough to boil it down into five words that create an immediate emotional connection that makes a reader stop and read on. It’s a time-consuming, deep-thinking, creative process that takes a lot of effort before the magic happens.

6. Do you self-diagnose an illness?

Well, not these days… you’d go to a qualified professional. So, why would you leave your writing to someone other than a professional? A copywriter will produce a creative brief, undertake research, act as a fresh pair of eyes, ask difficult questions and that’s before our eager fingers take up position over the keyboard.

7. Content?

Yes, thanks. No, I mean content. Apologies for the homograph there … copywriter’s joke. Another joke asks how did the bad content marketer get a job making butter? High churn rate. Silly, but there’s a serious point. It’s about managing content across multiple channels in this era of content marketing, and sales and marketing funnels. It’s not just the headline, the grammar, and the writing. It’s how they work in different formats. The skill is to customise writing across different media. You may have people who are capable of doing it, but they should be adding value to other parts of the business. That is… doing their day jobs.

8. Brochures, web copy, press releases, direct mail, video scripts, newsletters… life’s too short isn’t it?

When I wrote that you’ve got better things to do, I was thinking about a single piece of writing. But you might also be faced with content rage from frustrated internal departments who are demanding an updated website, new brochures, press releases, direct mail and so on. Just when you think you’re getting on top of it they’re demanding blogs, webinars, and video scripts. And everyone is a critic these days. Whatever it is I guarantee it’ll consume a lot more time than you anticipated.

9. Keeping it fresh

Being creative means generating new ideas. Ideas don’t just spring out of nowhere… well not that often. Creating emotional connections or empathy, using or stimulating imagination, fashioning headlines are all part of a copywriter’s toolkit. To achieve this and to keep it fresh a copywriter will brainstorm, play word association games, consume a thesaurus, devour books of idioms and tomes written by great advertising gurus of the past such as David Ogilvy or Gene Schwartz. As Thomas Edison once wrote, ‘Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.’

10. Psychology - it’s all in the mind

How we consume information has changed but the psychology of buying hasn’t. Humans have six primary emotions anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. It’s our emotions that cause us to act rather than our analytical abilities. When we’re communicating with someone, we need to know which emotional state we are appealing to. The same applies to business. Suffice to say that those who are successful connect with one of our emotional states. Many books have been written on the psychology of selling. So, either start reading or get a copywriter.

11. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

I’d love to say that this is one of my quotes, but it was by someone called Leonardo Da Vinci. Writers understand this quote because often we see writing that’s trying too hard to show how clever it is. You know the kind… long words, elaborate sentences, pompous tone and so on. It’s a skill to be able to take complexity and reduce it to simple easy to understand core messages. Try conveying complex information in a simple manner and in a way that customers would like to be spoken to. If you find that tough, then you need a copywriter.

12. Why are SEO and a monkey the same?

Long tails. To understand the joke, you need to know about long-tail key words. In the murky world of SEO, they are the holy grail for copywriters. Long-tail keywords are search terms that are longer than short or single word search terms. You might search for ‘wellington boots’ as a short-tail. A long-tail search might be ‘wellington boots with neoprene lining.’ If you offer wellington boots with neoprene lining, then to ensure success in a long-tail search you’d better make sure that this is clear in your web site copy. However, the days of just loading copy with keywords are over – Google’s algorithms are alert to this tactic, and it won’t help your Google ranking. The writing needs to be subtle and skilful which is what a copywriter does.

13. Once upon a time.

Business storytelling is the latest big thing. Present someone with facts and either their analytical side kicks in or they’ll leave your site. Stories appeal to our emotions. Sounds obvious? Have you ever smiled when reading a Product Description… granted you may have sighed once or twice? Well-written stories are interesting, memorable, stimulating and engaging. Very few people can write in a way that holds someone’s attention. And it’s not, repeat not about writing, ‘Once upon a time.’ Storytelling is an area that can be a disaster if not handled properly and writing stories is challenging for most people so use a professional.

14. Have I Told You Lately?

Copywriting is about creating and maintaining relationships. It’s not a linear process and hopefully, it has no end. It must be sustained over time and be revisited at regular intervals. When Van Morrison wrote his song, ‘Have I Told You Lately’ about long term relationships I’m 100% certain copywriting wasn’t on his mind. I doubt copywriting has ever been on his mind. But the title of his great song serves as a reminder to keep talking if you want a successful relationship. Sorry, Van.

15. The Fred Astaire of Words.

A favourite band of mine called Prefab Sprout wrote a song called ‘Paris Smith’ with the wonderful line, ‘… but I tried to be the Fed Astaire of words.’ This, of course, is a deliberate exaggeration for effect because Fred Astaire was one of the most recognisable and influential dancers of all time. But it’s a great line and I’m sure that all copywriters aspire to be the Fred Astaire of words. Copywriters love words like Fred Astaire loved dancing and like him, we never stop working at our craft.

If you want to talk to the Fred Astaire of Words or if you have any comments to make on this blog post, I’d love to hear from you.

Steve Ridley

Professional Copywriter

07752 207080

You can phone me on 07752 207080

or please use the Get in Touch Button.

I'm based in Cambridgeshire.

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