When I worked and lived in London there was a particular restaurant we used to eat at for the fish. It always tasted like it had jumped from the sea straight onto the grill and then onto our plates. (Well, it couldn’t jump onto the plate because it had just been grilled but you get my meaning.)
We were talking to the chef one day and she said, “you just have to get absolutely the best ingredients and then do the least possible to mess them up”.
Which is a bit like copywriting. Here’s what I mean.
Sourcing your ingredients
Another chef I knew used to get up at four o’clock a couple of times a week to visit the local fish market. Forget wholesalers or food suppliers, he wanted to buy direct. He got the best fish, which he would select individually, and the best price.
OK, so we don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn, but we do need to put in the hours researching our subject. Gathering our ingredients, in other words. Chefs know where to find the best meat, the freshest vegetables, the most unusual spices and herbs. We have to dig, too, looking for the facts about our product, our prospect and the market in which we operate.
Without the best ingredients, we can’t create the best copy.
Doing the least possible to mess them up
Eat in a second-rate restaurant, especially one overseen by a chef whose talent is exceeded by their ambition, and you’ll be treated to perfectly OK ingredients that have been ruined. Creamy sauces, rococo garnishes, too many frills and furbelows.
Having sourced our ingredients, we need to treat them carefully. No overcooking allowed and certainly no unnecessary decoration. In practical terms that means avoiding clever-clever headlines, unnecessary adjectives, superlatives and exclamation marks.
Add one brilliant touch
You don’t get your Michelin star for being merely a good griller of fish. You need to be able to produce something that delights your customers. So while you don’t mess your fillet of hake around, you might serve it with a broth of lemon, chili, garlic and fresh clams.
As a copywriter, that translates into taking your raw ingredients and confecting a powerful structure to hold them together – like a story. Or using a tone of voice so easy on the ear that your prospect is lulled by the smoothness of your copy into buying.
The halibut is ready, the capers have been simmered in sherry vinegar. But we’re not going to send that plate out with drips of oil round the rim are we? No. We’re going to wipe it clean. And move that sprig of tarragon a couple of centimetres to the left.
Likewise, we’re going to print our copy out before we say goodbye. Proofread it. Read it aloud. Spend time adjusting that final sentence just so before we upload or sign off the proofs.
And I’m telling you this because
Copywriting is a rounded process, like cooking. You need to prepare, gathering everything you need together in one place. You need the skill and the awareness of what you’re doing to assemble the raw ingredients into a pleasing dish without ruining the flavour.
You need to add a finishing touch that lifts your copy above the mass of hackwork flying around.
And you need to present it attractively, using the best typefaces, colour combinations and graphics, not to mention checking the spelling, grammar and punctuation. Then, just then, you might get your first Michelin star.