Business writing: what do you get when you cross a copywriter with a wordsmith?

Writers, writers, everywhere and not a name to call them (clue: they all write for business).

Business writing: what do you get when you cross a copywriter with a wordsmith?

Many of our colleagues have been playing around with ideas of what we should call ourselves given this new species we have become.

10-20 years ago, the different types of non-technical commercial writing were clearly defined and easy for everyone to understand. They all worked in comparative isolation…

We had copywriters who wrote advertising concepts and copy for press ads, TV and radio commercials, promotional literature, etc.

We had journalists who wrote editorial news and feature articles for publications and broadcast stations.

We had PR writers who wrote press releases and other promotional communications in pseudo-editorial style.

We had corporate scriptwriters who wrote scripts for promotional, motivational, training and other business-related video programmes.

We had corporate speechwriters who wrote speeches for politicians, captains of industry, public sector gurus, etc.

We had bloggers who for some time were regarded as different from writers, probably because many early ones were truly bad at writing

So where have these writers gone?

They haven’t: they have just made some changes to their portfolios, and their brands.

Now, we’ve started to use a rather sensible umbrella title for what we do – we’re business writers.

In his recent article, Can We Still Call Ourselves Copywriters on, Australian copywriter Steve Williss of WriteMind laments, “As a freelancer, I find myself having to do way more that just create concepts, or headlines and copy for a press ad, or a script for a TV or radio spot. There is so much of the written word outside of what I was used to as an in-house advertising practitioner.”

We’ve just had to get over it and get on with it

HTWB Steve Williss

Steve Williss

“Fortunately,” Steve continues, “I’ve been able to adapt how I write which is absolutely crucial if you want to make a good living as a freelancer.” 

So have I, and so have many thousands of our colleagues. After all, although we do tend to specialise in one type or another, the true area in which we all specialise – and which is the most challenging – is in business writing itself.

Despite the way we express clients’ messages differing depending on the medium, the most important skill and common denominator of all types of business writer is to understand the client’s objectives, the audience to be targeted (and its needs/drives/issues), and how to join those two up in perfect harmony. 

In other words, first catch your buffalo: get the message structure right before you share it and only start articulating it when that’s done. And that applies for almost every form of business communication there is, whether it’s a formal White Paper about financial services or a mobile ad for chewing gum.

Our online media jambalaya, a.k.a business writing today

The coming of the internet largely vaporised the conventional business writing roles and has made us new-age business writers multi-skill better than a stay-at-home parent with 5 kids under 6 yrs old. Boo hoo, to those who are uncomfortable with that, although we all were to start with as no doubt Steve Williss would agree.

If I’m honest, I have always enjoyed working across the different genres of business writing even before I needed to. And I have to laugh now when I find I’m able to use, for example, skills I learned when writing and producing corporate videos years ago now, when clients today want something a bit more professional-looking than a point-and-squirt DIY video for their website.

Or when another client sets up a DIY event with a PA system and can’t figure out why the speakers are screaming like banshees when they talk into the microphone (I worked as a conference writer/producer for several years, too.)

Niche? What niche?

It’s ironic – or perhaps fitting! – that we business writers have gone in precisely the opposite direction of everyone else in the digital age. Unlike our more technical colleagues who “niche” i.e. specialise right up to the ninth place of decimal, we have broadened our toolboxes to include not only our original range of business writing tools, but also to include a bunch of new ones, as well.

As Steve Williss points out, many of our colleagues have been playing around with ideas of what we should call ourselves given this new species we have become. “There are some rather interesting and creative alternatives to the title of ‘copywriter’ including Copy Director, Creative Writer, Wordsmith, Word Guru, Creative Thinker, Idea Starter, Advertising Creative, Copy Creative, Written Communicator, Copiest, Copy Doctor, Word Fiend, Text Wrangler, Sentence Specialist etc etc. A colleague once referred to himself as an Idea Merchant which I thought was rather good. I had briefly considered changing my title to the relatively simple ‘Communicator.’”

Well, as it turns out, Steve is happy to remain as a copywriter, and I take his point: “from my perspective, I think referring to myself as a ‘copywriter’ is a safe bet at the moment. And while I’m happy to write for any kind of media, I’ll keep hanging in there in the vain hope that long copy becomes fashionable again.”

Good luck with that one, Steve – I’ll just stick to being a business writer. After all, that’s what I have always been…

How do you think the writer’s role in business has changed in recent years?

Please share your views!

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