May 27, 2014

Why Professional Copywriters Don’t Need A University Degree

B2B Sales

Having a uni degree, regardless of what it is, is pretty much table stakes for any professional job including, for some reason, creative roles.

Professional copywriters

I've got one myself, a Communications (read: arts) degree majoring in Journalism and Copywriting. I've got a 'portfolio' of sorts lying around somewhere full of articles on local parking issues, trees being cut down and concept ads for new beers created without a budget, time limit or logistical regards of any kind.

Now, design-based degrees are of use as you have to learn the tools of the trade, but copy-based degrees are pretty much useless and my beef falls into two categories.

1. Copy-based degrees aren't based in reality

The first is the obvious one - they aren't based in reality. Rather than give ridiculous open briefs for fun projects, they should be testing a range of writing competencies across more challenging tasks.

This will make the student a more useful asset. They will be able to apply creativity across more than just short form advertising copy, which will allow them to also make an impact in corporate settings by understanding technical writing - not to mention digital writing and the difficult task of creating compelling eDMs, two jobs that are massively important and can generally translate into bigger salaries.

Companies can utilise this resource by providing universities with real life briefs - exposing the students to wider ranges of tasks and also giving them a much needed dose of reality so that when they leave and (maybe) get jobs they understand what they will be dealing with, not having romantic notions of sitting around spitballing ideas for multi-million dollar clients straight off the bat.

2. Teachers need to be sourced from the industry

My second beef is the people who teach them. During round two of my uni career, having a crack at a postgrad Comms course, my teacher was an absurdly qualified woman with tales of studying at Oxford and Cambridge amongst other places. A pretty impressive resume with just one flaw - she'd never actually had a job.

So while Comms theories were being thrown around there was no consideration given to how they work in the real world and not even a basis for her to do this. Until the teachers of these courses are sourced from the industry (luckily, this is happening more and more) there will still be a lack of understanding on what are the important skills to pass along.

Good copywriters don't baffle and confuse their readers

What rankled a copywriter like me even further (and, granted, the ego attached to my work enhanced this) was the insistence that work be delivered in truly incomprehensible uni style - essays with intros, main bodies, conclusions and ridiculous joining words like ergo, therefore and hence.

This kind of writing in the real world would simply annoy a time poor client, not to mention completely baffle and confuse a reader - in short, the exact things that we communicators are meant to avoid at all costs.

I simply don't buy the well trotted out line that having a degree shows application. My undergrad took 6 years - a testament to a lack of application if there ever was one.

Advice for aspiring writers

For any aspiring writers my advice would be to shelve the uni degree for now. Sample different types of writing and do what you can to get some real life experience, even if this is working for free for a variety of businesses.

When you are sure this is what you want to do, see if there is a complementary degree that will give your writing a stronger focus. For example studying business will be helpful to understand what it is you are actually writing about, making your communications a lot more powerful.

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