Why English Majors Sometimes Make Shitty Copywriters

Ok, I should qualify my headline before I get pelted with diplomas and mortarboards. I’ve met some fantastic copywriters/ English majors. Many are better than me.

But, there seems to be this perception in the world of business and marketing-cost-cutting that you don’t need to hire a copywriter or a blogger. You can just get an English major to do it. Which is just fucking nonsense.

A diploma in English doesn’t automatically make you a copywriter or a blogger. It’s a skill that needs to be learned, and practiced, and honed through savage client feedback.

Just because you’re a math major doesn’t mean you’re out-of-the-box ready to be an accountant. You need to learn the ins and outs of tax laws and how to help me hide my cock-fighting debts.

If you’re about to hand your copywriting to a fresh English major, here’s what you need to know.

“We’ll Just Get Kevin to Do it”

The reality is that most companies don’t see the value of paying for someone to write until they’ve been burned by shitty writing. And that burn often comes from trying to get someone in-house to do it.

I’ve witnessed this at every marketing agency I’ve ever worked for. The client will often try getting someone in-house to write a website or blog for them because they don’t see the value in paying us to do it.

“It’s Ok, we’ve got an English major named Kevin on staff. We’ll just get Kevin to do it.”

“Does Kevin have any experience copywriting?”
“No.”

“Ok, Kevin may suck. He probably sucks. But we’ll see.”

Poor Kevin’s spelling, grammar, and sentence structure are probably air tight, but he has no idea how to write for search engine optimization (SEO) or conversion rate optimization (CRO). These are very particular skills.

I don’t mean to shit all over Kevin, he’s probably a good guy. Sorry, Kev.

You might also see English or English Lit majors selling copywriting services on Fiverr or whatever. Sorry, guys. That degree isn’t going to help you do this job.

The end result is often a hot mess that a professional copywriter has to fix later.

“He’s Got a Masters. I Think He Can Handle a Website”

I’ve also encountered a number of people who think that because they, or someone else on staff, has a Masters degree they can “handle” a copywriting project.

I guess the assumption is whatever writing they did in school is chess and this wee little copywriting project is Connect Four.

They may not even have a Masters in English. It could be a Masters in any-god-damn-thing. I worked with a company who handed their website copy to someone with a Masters in Theatre Arts. Fucking Theatre!

Here’s the problem. In most cases, they’re coming from the world of academic writing. And academic writing is terrible. I’m not the only one who feels that way. I respect academic writing. It’s hard as hell. But it’s also hard as hell to read.

Academic writing has zero interest in capturing the reader’s attention or getting to the goddamn point as quickly as possible. This is the essence of copywriting.

What Background or Degree Should a Copywriter Have?

Despite the huge focus on quality content in the world of marketing, there are few places you can actually study copywriting. It is very much a job where you learn from experience, and copywriters come from all sorts of backgrounds.

I came from a journalism background, but ended up at an ad agency when I realized I’d make a terrible reporter.

J-school grads often find themselves ending up in copywriting gigs. They’re used to having to craft punchy headlines with a strong lead, while working with a finite amount of space, and absurd deadlines.

A lot of entry-level copywriter jobs will ask for a English or journalism background. When I was in school, my newswriting professor actually told the class one day, “Half of you will end up being copywriters and bloggers anyways.”

He added, “Except you, Ryan. You’re shit.”

Yeah, well, who’s laughing now, Professor Barns? Eight subscribers can’t be wrong, motherfucker!

A lot of copywriters also have a creative writing background, which is helpful. Storytelling is a big part of copywriting, although you don’t get to have nearly as much fun as you’d like.

You will actually find that most copywriters are also working on a screenplay or novel on the side… Am I? Maybe… Ok, ok it’s a Die Hard franchise reboot set in the medieval times. I call it “Thy Hard.” Minimal interest so far.

This is the part where you light me up in the comments section or direct message me to say I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. I look forward to English majors tearing me a new one in really efficient ways.

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