The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Marketing Medicine - Role of a Copywriter in an Ad Agency

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SG asks: What is the role of a copywriter in an Ad Agency?

Chris answers: The primary role of a copywriter is to write the words of an advertising message. To do this he or she needs to be well read, and able to write in a variety of tones and persona. They must understand the rules of grammar - not to follow them rigidly, but to know where they can disrupt them for more impact. Typically they are people who have always enjoyed writing creatively - short stories, radio plays, and poetry - and who have used that interest to build their confidence as a wordsmith.

You might more properly ask, 'what is the role of a copywriter in our society?' Not least because so few people really know how to write. And the sms and email plague is taking an increasing toll on their future ranks. The role of a copywriter is to persuade. His first task is to understand his audience, to visualise them and to grasp their existing position on the matter he is about to address. Once he understands this, he can assemble his arguments accordingly.

If he is writing about a fruit juice, he may understand that consumers really want tropical flavours. But he may also know that they are concerned about the provenance of the juice. Is the Company responsible; are its processes safe, does it make use of additives? How then does he begin his writing, how does he end it, and what information does he include? Set your average writer or business person this task and they will invariably list everything they can about the fruit juice. In the hope that some of it works. That's not copywriting, that's essay writing. And we all know how dull essays are. Both to write and to read.

Good copywriters are inquisitive people. They have the ability, as Ray Rubicam said, to completely surround and penetrate the selling problem. I prefer to say that they cut to the chase. In meetings they are unlikely to be distracted by corporate evasion or flummery. They press on to the heart of the matter.

Because unless they are rigorous in their analysis, they end up writing lines like ' Burpee Margarine, Now with Vitamin F. Simply the Best!!!!!' Note: the higher the number of exclamation marks at the end of a sentence, the lower the impact of the content therein. A good copywriter is a treasurer. We should seek them out and encourage them. They are an important part of Kenya's creative economy.

PA asks: We get many requests for donations and sponsorships. How can we deal with them professionally and fairly?

Chris responds: The reality of business life is that resources are finite. This means that however altruistic you are, you cannot help everyone. The starting point for any evaluation must be your brand positioning. If your brand is positioned as the must-have internet solution for technology-driven business, then donating fleets of Black Mamba bicycles is not a good fit.

Try to separate sponsorships from donations. With sponsorships you can be harder nosed about brand fit, and more demanding about return on investment. Your main challenge will be persuading the organisers to present the team or event in a way that truly reflects your brand.

This they may be reluctant to do, as they are of course very clever and had everything worked out long before you came along. With your money! When it comes to donations, try to pick fewer projects and do them better. Real altruism is about seeing a project though, not dabbling in it. Rhino Ark and its supporters are the best example of long-term commitment to environmental improvement I have seen in Kenya.

Chris Harrison is a marketing and advertising practitioner of 30 years' standing. From Nairobi, he leads Y&R's network in sub-Saharan Africa. He's ready to prescribe answers to your marketing questions, and you can consult him on Twitter @harrisoncj or at www.chrisharrison.biz

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