Niceties first! Happy 2016, but I’d like to take you back to a situation I faced just before Christmas 2015 when attending an interview for a copywriting gig. It taught me a lesson about how some clients perceive copywriters. Here goes…

Here’s a bit of context… The gig was for a local [that’s Wolverhampton to you] marketing and sales firm based in the city centre, a pretty decent gig in terms of pay and the project. The client was looking for a series of sales emails to distribute to various contacts with, and I quote, “language that sells.”

I turned up for the interview, on a Saturday morning bizarrely, and here’s when things got interesting. I was in a boardroom with eight (8) other copywriters. That’s right, at the same time, a situation I’d never found myself in before when trying to land a copywriting gig.

An unusual set of circumstances you might agree [you might not, so correct me if you’ve faced a similar situation]. We were greeted by the Company Director, Bernard Matthews [not his real name for those of you wondering and yes, the turkey drumstick man was the first name that popped into my head].

‘Bernard’ elaborated a little more on the email I’d received, and clearly several others had too, telling us about the project and why he’d specifically requested “language that sells.” Blah, blah, blah “burnt by copywriters in the past,” he went on and then he said something that offended me a little. No scrap that it offended me a lot.

I’ve heard a lot said about copywriters, some of which has been aimed at me personally, but Bernard’s statement hit me right between the eyes – “Copywriters can’t sell…” He *paused* for effect then added… “With the written word, unless they can sell face-to-face.”


According to some, copywriters can’t sell unless they’ve sold face-to-face.

In my head, I scoffed. Outwardly, I bit my tongue. Then it happened, Bernard proceeded to pull the only pen in the boardroom from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He approaches the first interviewee at the table, puts the pen before her and says “sell me the pen in 20 words or less.”

Put on the spot, she begins to describe the pen. “It’s a biro with a black lid and black ink.” Bernard stops her dead, “thanks, you won’t be needed for this project, you may leave.” The rest of us are stunned, I’m the fourth person round the table and persons two and three are quickly dismissed.

The pen is put before me “sell me the pen in 20 words or less,” Bernard repeats. Thankfully, I’d seen a similar exercise at a sales copy training course several years ago, so I simply repeated what I’d seen on that day.

I stood up and left the boardroom, taking the pen with me. I went out to the main office area, retrieved a piece of blank paper and returned to the boardroom. I put the piece of paper in front of Bernard and said:

“You can’t leave the room until you write about your family. Need a pen? This one’s yours for a fiver.”      

It might have been a bit more than 20 words on the day, I’m paraphrasing, but the point is I suddenly understood Bernard’s stance that copywriters can’t sell unless they can sell face-to-face.

Why does Bernard think copywriters can’t sell?

Maybe he’s right. If I couldn’t sell him the pen face-to-face, one-on-one, how could I expect to sell with the written word alone to millions of faceless people?

Following the exercise, Bernard explained why he’d carried it out. He’d tried so many copywriters who had failed to grasp his idea of what differentiates a good copywriter from a great copywriter. He wanted to find out if a copywriter could practice what they preach, in person, as well as they could with the written word.

Bernard thinks that if copywriters can’t sell in person they’re not going to be much use selling with copy, particularly for sales emails. Does he have a point? The only counterargument that I have is that copywriters do sell, especially themselves, when trying to land a gig.

In case you’re wondering, Bernard did buy the pen from me. I find out at the end of this month [January 2016] if I got the gig. Here’s hoping, after all that.

Until next time,


On another note: if you’re looking for a copywriter who has had his eyes opened to how you might perceive a copywriter, I’m your man. I’m at your service. Contact me.