Vox pop – October 2009

Is it a good thing for copywriters to have their own distinctive writing style?

Jim Davies

We’re supposed to be these chameleon-like creatures, who can swallow our personalities and switch (tone of) voices like Alistair McGowan. Though we all have a natural writing style, some of us are better at getting into character than others.

Tom Lynham

I think we do whether we like it or not. Although our job description is to be chameleons and write in the clients’ tone of voice, we help them develop it, and bring everything about us to every job.

Richard Owsley

Well it rather defeats the whole object of brands having a tone of voice or verbal identity. Unless you write for only one client, that is.

Having said that, if you can develop a concise style of your own which comes across as warm, confident and contemporary, then you are probably much of the way towards having a decent all-purpose tone that’ll meet most requirements.

Chas Walton

Yes, every copywriter should have a distinctive style. That’s the brand.
But when it comes to the work, they adopt the style of the client. That’s the professionalism.

Giles Calver

Perhaps it is. I was listening to David Bailey talking about the photographer Irving Penn, who died recently, and he had a very distinctive style even though his work was commissioned by different magazines. Similarly, Annie Leibovitz has a style of her own, as did Norman Parkinson. It made me wonder whether a commercial writer could have a style. I guess the counter argument is that the style should reflect the brand and not the writer, otherwise all the arguments about brand differentiation are irrelevant.

John Fountain

I think most writers put a lot of themselves in their work. We all have our own ways of ‘chatting up’ our readers and I bet if we were all given the same brief with the same tone of voice guidelines, we’d still end up with different results.

Trouble is, make your writing too distinctive and you could become branded as a certain type of writer. I remember a guy who developed a very interesting machine gun writing technique – spraying short sentences about in rapid fire. It was punchy and high energy but in the end he was pigeon-holed and it limited his career.
So I’d say yes, be distinctive, but don’t make it so strong that you become categorised.

Heather Atchison

It can be. It certainly makes life easier when clients like your voice and want you to use it for their own writing. But you have to be able to suppress this and take on other styles when need be – otherwise the idea of distinctive verbal identities goes sailing out the window.

Margaret Oscar

Why would it be a bad thing? It demonstrates an ability to write distinctively and doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only writing style you can produce.

Mike Reed

It was only really when I was told I had a ‘style’ that I realised I did. Which shows how easy it is to be unaware of your own ‘brand’ – which of course is something that exists in other people’s heads more than your own.

Once the point came up – in the context of “I’m not sure your style really fits this client” – I got worried. Was I putting myself beyond certain jobs because people didn’t think I’d fit? What could I do about it?

The answer is: nothing. And that’s good.

Like any brand, each of us benefits from a clearly distinctive voice. Partly, we should practise what we preach, but also what we preach is right. Without a distinctive voice, we risk fading into the background. I believe clients feel more confident when the writer is more confident – confident enough to have his or her own voice.

And after all, if you have a strong style, all you’re doing is demonstrating your own offer at work. That’s what’s great about writing – everything you send out is a free sample. Any writer who doesn’t take a second or two to check whatever email, letter, tweet or scribbled comp slip they send out is playing fast and loose with their own product.

I’ve learnt not to worry about the adaptability question. If you’ve been working for a while, you should have enough work on file to prove your ability to adapt to different client tones. Even if you’re new to the game, you could always offer a sample para or two to reassure the client.

Sarah McCartney

It’s rare to get a copywriting job where you can be yourself. Mostly it’s inappropriate and immodest to think that your own style is more important than the brand whose owners are paying your fees. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. At Lush, we’re allowed to write the way we would speak to a customer, so whoever is doing the writing gets to put a lot of themselves into their writing. Every now and again, it’s great to write something that no-one would spot as mine just to make sure I haven’t disappeared up my own backside. A good copywriter ought to be like a good actor, able to step into a role and transform, become unrecognisable. Journalists and authors have the luxury of being paid for their style; bloggers can do it for nowt. If we take the client’s cash, we should show our own style only if that’s what they ask for.

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