The Marketing Doctor

A Tale of Two Queens named Elizabeth

Drayton Bird“I think John’s piece is extraordinarily good. I yield to no-one in my admiration for John’s explanation of why you have to pay good money for decent copy.”

Drayton Bird, Direct Marketer, Drayton Bird Associates, UK 

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“Why is copywriting so !@#$%& expensive?
 And why does it take so !@#$%& long?”

 By John Counsel

Two Elizabeths
Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II

No professional copywriter simply sits down, opens a creative faucet and dashes off a spellbinding piece of copy. There are no magic formulæ, no silver bullets. Otherwise all ads would look or sound the same, everyone would buy everything advertised (whether they need them or not), copywriters would all be multi-millionaires,  anyone could become a successful copywriter and punitive laws would have to be passed to regulate them to protect innocent, defenceless consumers.

Successful copywriting — that produces measurable, desirable results for the client — is the product of time, effort, skill, talent, know-how, experience, expertise, creativity, psychology, marketing savvy, science, art, an occasional dash of voodoo, plus copious quantities of blood, sweat and tears. And stress.

The copywriter’s dilemma is well illustrated by a story told of the late Norman Hartnell, milliner to England’s Queen Elizabeth II for decades, who was once asked by a society matron to create a fascinator — a lightweight frippery that replaces a full-blown hat — for her to wear to a Royal Ascot race meeting to be attended by the Queen. 

Hartnell wove a stunning concoction through her hair using a yard of satin ribbon. The matron and other admiring salon patrons were ecstatic over the exquisite result. 

But when told that the fee was 100 guineas, the lady complained bitterly that it only took an hour and a yard of satin ribbon.

Without a word, the great Hartnell deftly stripped the ribbon from the woman’s hair, handed it to her and proclaimed “There, madam… that will be five shillings.”

For anyone inclined to a similar view of professional copywriting, here is our equivalent of Hartnell’s single yard of ribbon. Use it freely to create your own persuasive, results-winning copy…

~@#$%&*()+-=.,…/!?“”‘’:;™£€¥¢ – — fifl°†™®©æœ

There are several factors that contribute to the cost of copywriting, including…

  • Research — market research, product research, client research, regulatory research, accuracy, legal, fact checking, etc. (We can’t pluck factual data from thin air.)
  • Strategy development — marketing strategy, buying psychology, communications strategy. Enhancement, maintenance and contingency strategies.
  • Creative direction.
  • Conceptual development.
  • Structural development.
  • Implementation: first draft through to the final draft.
  • Fine-tuning the strategies and implementation.
  • Technical: syntax, grammar, spelling — check and correct.
  • Emotional Response: semantic analysis and evaluation — fine-tune and enhance.
  • Layout and aesthetics — editing to suit.
  • Client approval — ensure that changes requested are for legitimate strategic, creative, technical or regulatory reasons, not merely personal taste.

Other factors include the copywriter’s experience, expertise, knowledge, skills, gifts, talents and abilities… which can prevent problems, expedite delivery and enhance results. 

And, of course, time.

Few professional copywriters charge for all the time spent on producing the finished copy, although it is obviously a factor, especially in cases where clients require changes due either to omissions during briefings or changes in circumstances, or to personal likes and dislikes (the most problematic because they’re based on emotion, not objective, rational reason).

A copywriter’s skill, professional experience, expertise, industry knowledge and contacts can help reduce the total amount of time required, while leveraging the results achieved. 

So a balance needs to be found.

In the USA, particularly, top copywriters in direct response advertising often base their fees on royalties so that their remuneration is commensurate with the success of their work in delivering measurable, profitable, ongoing sales for their clients.

(This only works if accurate and reliable measurement and tracking of sales are possible.)

One of the most famous pieces of advertising copy was written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, by Dr Samuel Johnson, to promote the sale of Thrale’s brewery… which went on to become the most successful brewery in London for more than a century:

“We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the
potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice.”

That single, succinct sentence illustrates perfectly what great copy is about. What it doesn’t reveal is how long — or how hard — the writer worked to perfect it!

©1989-2014 John Counsel. All rights reserved. No reproduction without prior written permission from the copyright owner.