Creative Corner: Journalism v. Copywriting

by Andy Edelstein on April 9, 2012

Having spent much of my career on Madison Avenue, it always gives me pause when a law firm hires a journalist to write a marketing piece.

Nothing against journalists, mind you. I am a dedicated fan of the press in all its forms, and I admire and applaud the standards good journalists strive to uphold. It’s just that when it comes to marketing, other standards apply.

As the competition for legal services grows increasingly intense, every piece of communication that comes out of your marketing department is—overtly or covertly—charged with selling your firm.

That’s not what journalism does. Journalists are objective—objectivity is their creed, it’s what makes them so important to society. Their job is to be impartial, to report a story from all sides, to refrain from bias.

But objectivity is not what marketing is about. Copywriters are trained to tell only the good news. Their job is to show your firm in its best light, blemish-free. They have no obligation to show anything but your good side.

In other words, copywriters don’t report, they promote. And while they’re certainly capable of great subtlety in the ways they promote, no audience they target is under any illusion about motives.

Yes, there are times when the line between the two disciplines is thin. When, for example, you hold a thought leadership panel and want it written up, there is a temptation to treat the envisioned piece as journalism.

But think about it. If your firm’s name is going on the piece, it is, by definition, marketing—not journalism. Even if you adhere to the strictest journalistic standards, you will not be seen as objective. It will be assumed you have an agenda. So why try to dress it up as journalism, when it’s not?

Andy Edelstein is a copywriter specializing in law firm advertising and marketing communications. He can be reached at andrew.edelstein@verizon.net

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