Copywriters, Beware: Clark Kent and Lois Lane Journalists are Coming after Your Jobs

Copywriters, Beware:  Clark Kent and Lois Lane Journalists are Coming after Your Jobs

If you’re a copywriter worthy of the title, you disdain clichés, truisms and hackneyed phrases of all kinds.  Here are two you should really hate — and heed:

“Count your blessings” and “Watch your back”

Those two tired phrases could keep you awake at night – and unemployed during the day.

Even though content has been ruled king, copywriters won’t necessarily hold court in the palace.  Another breed of writers – journalists – are rushing toward the drawbridge, and these dragon-slayers may kill some of your jobs.

The war of wordsmiths is on. Copywriters who want to win need to prepare for the threat.  Yes, website owners need content, but they don’t necessarily need you to provide it.

As some 79 percent of organizations shift to branded content and the clamor for story-driven content grows, copywriter need to prepare to fight reporters for long-term, high-paying assignments.

From Death to Drivel

Google’s animal-themed algorithms – Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird – are making the term “quality content” meaningful and creating universal demand for words that matter.  The days of keyword-fueled drivel have been declared dead.  There are some 634 million websites in the world and if just 1 percent of their owners wanted to improve their content, there would be 6 million projects up for copywriters to grab.

Those are promising numbers, especially for copywriters who saw their talents diminish in value and their paychecks shrink in the past decade.

“The standards for what’s considered ‘copy’ and therefore, ‘copywriter’ dropped lower than Congress’s approval ratings,” said Mike Pascale, who entered the copywriter freelance fray when the economic downturn eliminated his job at a national ad agency.

Pascale is guardedly optimistic that demand for high-quality writing will improve the fortunes of seasoned copywriters.  In recent years, he claims that 20-year-industry veterans have endured cutthroat competition from “English-as-a-second (or third) language writers, college graduates (plus current students looking for tuition/beer money), stay-at-home spouses with a dream, occasional hobbyists and the ethically bereft article mills (firms paying literally $3 to $5 per hour to anyone or thing that can rub two words together.)”

The Rebirth of Serious Writing

Other copywriters see hope for their profession.

Google’s changing algorithms emphasize the need for fresh, rich content, and that means “copywriters are safe, needed now more than ever,” said Mihaela Lica Butler, a former military reporter who is now a public relations consultant at Pamil Visions.

And as James Chartrand states and proves at Men With Pens, the way to a better website is to write better copy.

So, if Google wants (and business owners need) better copy, and copywriters can provide it, why should copywriters worry about journalists taking their jobs?

Because they already are.

Nick Santangelo, a digital copywriter, says publishers in the games industry turn to veteran freelance journalists for product reviews and give permanent, lucrative jobs to game media journalists because they’re “in tune with the industry, its major players and its consumers.”

Recently, the editor of a trade magazine Santangelo regularly writes for reassigned Santangelo’s article work to a laid-off auto journalist.

“It was certainly a letdown for me, but it’s hard to be upset over it given the journalist’s deeper experience writing auto reviews.  With the ubiquity of ad blockers killing online media outlets’ advertising revenue, which leads to shrinking budgets for journalist salaries, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that this sort of thing is also happening in other industries,” Santangelo said in an interview.

Storytelling vs. Storyselling

David Zweifler, head of marketing communications at Trading Screen, was a reporter for a financial newswire in the 1990s before turning to marketing in the new millennium.  He says most of his reporter friends have made similar transitions and more will seek marketing jobs as print journalism jobs disappear.

And, as the need for branded content grows – eMarketer estimates companies will spend $118.4 billion on content marketing, video and social media in 2013 – demand for people with journalism skills will increase.

“The skill set of the specialized copywriter with technical expertise or advertising training is still valued,” Zweifler said in an interview.  “However, most of the content marketing (and almost all of the most effective content marketing) is focused on reportage.  And I do think reporters have a big advantage producing that type of content.”

A Content Marketing Institute study found that 68 percent of consumers spend time reading content from a brand they are interested in.  But, as much as consumers crave objective information, companies demand that their content marketing efforts produce sales.

Some copywriters say that journalists have some advantages when it comes to telling a story, but copywriters are better at selling them and are therefore more crucial to a company’s bottom line.

“A journalist will tell a story very differently than a copywriter will,” said Joanna Wiebe, founder of Copy Hackers.  “As demand for great content grows online, there’s equal demand for the right person to create the appropriate content,” she added.  “For businesses that want to give audiences what they want but, at the same time, want to get a lead, a subscriber or a sale out of their content production and distribution efforts, copywriters will be critically involved in content creation.”

Thursday Bram, owner of Hyper Modern Writing, says she writes blogs, ebooks and other material compatible with her journalism background but assigns landing pages and product descriptions to a copywriter.

And she often recommends copywriters over journalists to clients on a budget. “Having a great sales page is often more important than having a great email newsletter or the other formats that fall into brand journalism,” Bram said in an interview.

The Price of Perception

The more than two dozen reporters and copywriters interviewed for this post focused almost exclusively on skill sets and mindsets:

Is a journalist better equipped than a copywriter to produce blogs?  Can anyone but a copywriter convert a lead into a sale?  Are journalists too egotistical to give up their bylines?  Does a copywriter have the integrity to stand up to a client’s dishonest demands?

These are all good questions, and some have been answered here.

But another, more salient factor is client perception.  Copywriters and journalists can argue among themselves about who are better matched to the changing demands in content.

The best jobs will go to writers who business owners and chief marketing officers think provide greater value in content marketing and brand journalism.

Based on client perception, journalists are more likely to reign supreme in the content kingdom.  As more companies become publishers and look for people to fill the traditional publishing slots of editors and reporters, it’s natural for them to look to journalists to fill the roles.

But do companies really want journalists taking control of their brands?  Wouldn’t they prefer copywriters who can appear objective but manage to deftly insert a sales element into their work?

These are the questions copywriters who aspire to the content throne should be addressing with potential clients.  And answering with all the persuasiveness they can muster.

Otherwise, they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of the moat, watching a not-so mild-mannered Clark Kent pull up the drawbridge and a gloating Lois Lane pocket the keys to the kingdom.

Post by Katherine Kotaw

Katherine Kotaw began her career in journalism, working for national newspapers and magazines before becoming a copywriter at a New York ad agency. Today, she tells -- and sells-- stories as the CEO of KOTAW Content Marketing Agency with her team members in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Milan. To stay informed about today’s digital marketing challenges, circle Katherine on Google+ or follow her on Twitter.