Speak to any two copywriters and you will find that each had a different route into the profession. Some are professional writers by background; others come from marketing or from working for businesses where they found themselves given the role of writing the advertising ‘copy’.
In my case, I went from nurse to copywriter… perhaps not such an obvious progression.
There is no set path into copywriting. It is a career in which anybody could flourish if they have the ability to write, a flair for creativity and a good understanding of people and of what makes good copy.
Many might ask though what a nursing background can bring to a copywriting role? This question is not unreasonable – after all, I would not necessarily want to hire someone with a background as a lawyer to rewire my house without knowing that they had the relevant skills!
One area I focus on in the copywriting I undertake is the health industry. Medical knowledge here is an obvious advantage, but much more than specialist understanding is required to be a skilled copywriter.
Here are a few of the juicy skills that nursing has given me over the years which I now transfer to my work as content and copywriter.
An Understanding of People
To write copy that will get results the copywriter must get below the surface of the reader. Copy that sells might hit an emotional or psychological response. It will understand practical or intellectual problems the reader might have and provide a solution.
Nursing has given me important experience to understand people and be able to communicate with them on any level. I have witnessed every human emotion and been privileged to be part of people’s lives at times of illness, loss, hope, tragedy and joy. I have a good understanding of people – what gets to them, what drives them and what really matters to them.
As a nurse, I learnt to get to the heart of what a person cares about to explain a concept and ensure a message hits home
One example of this is with the use of antibiotics. We have all seen the reports of the cut back on prescribing antibiotics. In practice, this can be a challenge. A parent with a sick child is worried and wants to see their child well again. This parent can be very concerned that their child needs (often unnecessary) antibiotic treatment. My work as a nurse frequently involved explaining to a parent why antibiotics were not issued, using messages that the parent understood emotionally. Explaining to an anxious mother about the science behind antibiotics resistance would not have the desired effect. Explaining to her that not prescribing unnecessarily now would prevent treatment resistance in her child in future, does hit home.
To be a copywriter it is advised that you picture one customer when working and write (or speak) directly to them. I have a vast library of potential readers to choose from in my mind; I have spoken to them before!
A nurse must be an expert in translation. This is not to say they must be bilingual in the traditional sense of the word, but they do need to be able to make medical information and concepts easily comprehensible to any member of the public.
Frequently, I have been in a room with a patient and a doctor as the doctor tries to explain something about the patient’s condition or treatment. I know well the blank or confused looks on a patient’s face and when it is necessary to ‘translate’ the messages they are being given into a language that they understand and can use.
This is a skill that a copywriter needs. Often the target reader or customer of a particular service or product will not and need not understand the technical or scientific information behind their potential purchase.
The copywriter needs to be able to establish what the reader does want and need to know and make this information comprehensible and actionable.
Understanding of Psychology
Also vital for any copywriter is an understanding of human psychology. This involves awareness of the human psyche and how we target messages to achieve a desired action from the reader. What are the factors that drive human behaviour?
I have a wide understanding of human psychology from previous medical studies. To understand the brain and pain versus pleasure systems; reward processes and why a person might act as they do is very useful in targeting copy now.
A Caring Nature
The ‘caring profession’ as it is often referred to; being a nurse involves a necessary natural tendency to care about people. Caring is also important in your copywriter.
A good copywriter, it is said, will write as if they are talking to their spouse or parent – someone they care about. The messages they write will be written with a natural desire to produce a good outcome for the reader and be heartfelt. In this way, the reader will feel that their forming a relationship with this business or brand is the right thing for them.
In medicine, it is vital to have a good understanding of ethical principles and ensure any work carried out meets them. Equally, as a copywriter, this is true.
Copywriting is a form of marketing and many might have misconceptions about the ethics behind some traditional marketing methods. A good copywriter though will only use ethical methods in their writing; ensuring the work is honest; written with compassion and with no possibility of resulting in harm.
Adept at Multitasking
A nurse must be able to multitask, yet at the same time focus on one job (the patient in front of them) as if they are the only thing that is important. This is a good skill to have as a busy copywriter.
You might be juggling 4 clients, dealing with messages from different sources and projects on a variety of topics. However, to ensure the best work standards, it is vital to have skills in ensuring the client feels that their job is your most important and when working on a particular project focusing on it as if there is no other work waiting.
Observing, Listening, Curiosity
Writing good copy for a specific audience involves really grasping an understanding of that client’s business and who their clients are. A copywriter, therefore, needs to be able to gently gather the information they need.
Curiosity is a great characteristic to have as a copywriter with a natural interest in others. As a nurse and naturally as a person I am good at listening and observing; quietly gathering relevant information and processing it to be used accordingly.
Anyone working with patients or their records must keep any information they come across about a patient confidential. Equally, this applies to copywriters.
Working with businesses or clients, it is vital to maintain an air of professionalism and confidentiality, as any nurse would. Ensuring clients feel safe in sharing potentially ‘secret’ information about their work will mean, as a copywriter, I have full insight and can write more effectively for them.
Both a nurse and a copywriter must also be able to work under pressure, learn fast and adapt to different tasks. Both must also have great skills in research. Two decades as a nurse has set me up well to meet these necessary attributes for copywriting now.
Sense of Humour!
Finally, it is perhaps most important that both nurse and copywriter have a good sense of humour – being able to see the lighter side of life is the key way to maintain sanity in either professions!
In summary, the skills and characteristics needed to be a nurse and a copywriter are not so different. A past career in nursing leaves me with valuable and transferable experience.
Changing careers after twenty years also ensured that I came to copywriting with renewed passion, motivation and drive for another adventure!
We all have skills and experiences from previous lives and now that our working lives are so much longer it is said that people do not need to ‘settle’ for one profession for life.
Always think outside the box about what path your life could take with the skills you already have – you won’t regret it!