Interview With Suze St Maur, By Jackie Barrie, Copywriter, Trainer & Author At Comms Plus
Q. How did you get into copywriting?
Utterly incapable of anything else apart from writing. Started as a journalist, did my apprenticeship on a local newspaper (whose editor eventually went on to edit a major daily “red top” and was a great teacher) … then took what was then (1970s) an admired advertising writing course, got sent out on placement to a London agency who took me on full time once I graduated. Enjoyed that but was far too bolshie to be an employee for long, so after a couple of other staff jobs in London agencies went freelance while still in my 20s and, surprisingly, made it.
Q. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your career?
Speaking from the viewpoint of a scriptwriter in corporate video (although this is probably relevant within other promotional media too) the biggest change has been the evolution of the technology required to produce “professional standard” material. In the 1980s and early 1990s, to create a reasonable corporate video would cost anywhere from £10K to £40 and more.
Today, using current technology, you can produce a video of the same quality and standard for about one-tenth of that. What has happened to those of us providing “human” input, is that what was in the past considered a reasonable fee for researching and writing a 15 minute video script – usually costed at 10-15 percent of overall budget … has now, in many cases, overtaken the overall budget of the whole damned caboodle. Result? Clients, if faced with a script fee of £1,000 for a video that costs about £2,000 to make all up, are – understandably – going to burst out laughing.
So in these circumstances how do you justify a fair fee for “human” input? Or do you simply tell the client to sort out some words themselves, so keeping script fees reasonable but risking a mediocre, amateurish result? Professional writers may well be willing to work for rather less than they used to earn due to these circumstances. But those of us who value our contribution more (and are valued more, thank God) have moved on to other things. Where does this leave corporate video?
Q. What’s the best line you’ve ever written?
Advertising/marketing: “Features smell – benefits sell.” Not pretty, I know, but has gathered a lot of followers worldwide…
Q. What do you specialise in?
Helping other people get the best results from their business and social writing. This happens as a result of my coaching them, my editing their material, or if necessary my ghostwriting for them.
Q. What are you working on at the moment?
Promoting my “blogsite,” HowToWriteBetter – my small niche site which is gaining an increasing audience – currently approaching 1,000 page views per day. Also I’m working as Associate Editor on BirdsOnTheBlog, the largest multi-author blog outside the USA and in the Forbes top 100 women’s websites for two years running. And beyond that, am working for clients who need writing/editing help, as usual. Oh yes, and preparing three more of my own books for publication!
Q. What are your predictions for the future of copywriting?
What are my predictions for writing of any kind? Good one. Happily I assume that whatever technology can throw at us, it will be a long, long time before an electronic device can come up with cracking headlines and compelling body copy. Until then, we copywriters have a chance of survival.
Q. What makes a good brief?
A client – or project manager – who can see the wood for the trees and ask not what “we want to say,” but “what do we need to achieve.”
Q. Biggest frustration about being a copywriter?
People who think they don’t need professional help, particularly as nowadays graphics, video, audio and all that are so cheap … so why do “we” need to pay someone to write for us? (NB: because technology can’t create words that sell.)
Q. What is your top tip to Fresh Business Thinking readers?
Think before you write, because if you don’t know what you think, you can’t write it down.
Q. US or UK spellings?
Frankly? US. They will come to dominate the English language online.
Q. What are your views on txt spk?
ROFL … I h8 it and wish it wd fk rit off.
Canadian born Suzan “Suze” St Maur has worked as an advertising copywriter, script and speechwriter since the 1970s, as well as researching and writing nearly 30 published nonfiction books – with several more in the pipeline. Topics are an eclectic mix ranging mainly from business and marketing, but also some on weddings, green living, jokes, jewelry, health and safety, and of course – writing. Suze also edits other people’s nonfiction books as well as coaching them through the writing and publishing process. She lives near Milton Keynes, UK, with her student/musician son and numerous rescued pets. For more information go to HowToWriteBetter.net or Google “Suzan St Maur”.
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