What Makes A Good Copywriter?

In my twenty seven years of copywriting, I have worked in a number of top advertising agencies in Johannesburg and worked alongside many good copywriters. What is clear is that those copywriters who continuously produce good work are those who are truly passionate about their craft and who love writing. (In fact, I’ve never met a decent advertising copywriter who doesn’t have a draft novel in a drawer somewhere). A good copywriter doesn’t just bash out copy: he or she crafts it, hones it, re-looks it and writes it over and over again until one hundred percent happy with it.

Many a night have I tossed and turned through the early hours because a paragraph or a sentence in an ad I’ve written doesn’t read well. Whilst this may come across as being obsessive, it’s the reality – and I can only put it down to my being demanding on myself. Maybe too demanding. But this is the kind of passion I’m talking about.

I have always believed that copy not good enough for me is not good enough to present to a client. And I know a number of copywriters in Johannesburg who think the same.

“Copy not good enough for me is not good enough to present to a client”

Unfortunately, there are others who churn out copy like there is no tomorrow and, come what may, the first draft is – to their mind – always good enough. One can see this from a mile away; there are typographical errors, the copy doesn’t flow, it doesn’t read well, it rambles on and on – and most times, there is insufficent “sell”.

And copywriting is all about selling. Be it hard sell or soft sell, we write copy to either reinforce behavior or change behaviour and whatever the product or service, it is the task of an adverting copywriter to do this. It doesn’t matter if it’s a brand of peanut butter, the latest make of cellphone, a ticket to a Lady Gaga concert or a drive to use less electricity, advertising copy must be persuasive and written in a way that communicates the goals of the brief succinctly.

This takes experience, and a junior or lightweight copywriter may find the task difficult.
The heavyweight copywriter will find it easier. We’ve written so many ads over the years, for so many different products or services, it becomes second nature.

As a rule of thumb, a copywriter should always be to the point. Brevity is the new guideline. Today, people do not have the time to wade through long copy. (Which is a pity as paging through advertising award annuals of the 1980s – in my opinion, the decade that produced the best advertising of all time – great newspaper or magazine advertisements were made greater through intriguing, informative and well-structured writing, much of it lengthy. The copy in these ads worked a charm; sucking the reader in through a terrific headline and absorbing him or her through body copy that was superbly written. These were the heady days of David Ogilvy and other gifted copywriters).

These days, we see more and more ads with a visual communicating what long body copy used to. We see short snappy headlines. And maybe a paragraph or two of copy at best. All the more important therefore to have this work as hard as it can.

Due to the internet, consumers these days suffer from information overload. There are just so many advertising messages one can input on any given day.

That is not to say that I don’t write long copy ads from time to time. Some products and services need to be explained in detail. So there are no hard and fast rules here: as copywriters, we have a gut feel for what and how we need to write.

Long copy or short: the recipe for successful copywriting is to write with passion – regardless of whether you’re writing a TV ad, a script for a radio commercial, a newspaper ad, a billboard, a website or a brochure.

Back to my headline: What makes a good copywriter? Two things: passion and experience. The first is inbred; the second, unfortunately only gained over time.


About the Author: Gerard Kavonic

Gerard Kavonic

Being the only one at the coalface requires that I get my hands dirty. I’m a hands-on operator, involved in all processes: the briefing, the strategising, the conceptualising, the copywriting, the art directing, the quoting, the media co-ordinating, the client servicing, the door-opening, the coffee-making, yes, even the invoicing. Truth be told, we’re good. Even though I’d have to say so myself.

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1 reply
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