Or how to put yourself off copywriting (for life?) in 14 extremely tedious and not very relevant lessons
As those of you who’ve been here for a while will know, I quite enjoy writing. I’m fairly good at it. And, as a sensible freelancer, I’m always trying to think of ways that I can offer more value to my clients while also broadening my skills base, just in case they ever do manage to perfect machine translation.
So a while back I signed up for the College of Media and Publishing’s Copwriting course. And when I say “a while back”, I really do mean a long time ago. Like, years.
In fact, so many years that when I got together in 2020 with a handful of fellow translators to set up an accountability group so we could finally finish the course (all right, I hadn’t even done one assignment, but I would)… it turned out that I had to pay a supplement of £50 to restart the course again.
And everything went downhill from there, really. What follows is, I admit, a fairly harsh review. YMMV. Maybe it’s just me. You might love it. I ended up with a Distinction, so I do feel a tad ungrateful – which is one of the reasons it’s taken me almost a year to decide to write this – but on the other hand as a copywriting course retailing at anything up to £500* I just feel that it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.
Firstly, it’s not really a course aimed at people like me. As a freelance translator, I’m already pretty au fait with a lot of the general stuff the course covers. Grammar, online glossaries, terminology, proofreading your work? Tick. Formatting? Yup. Writing effective headings? Well, maybe not from scratch, but I often have to turn headings in French or Swedish into snappy equivalents in English. Writing press releases? Ditto.
Secondly, it’s not really a course that teaches you copywriting. Yes, I know. You’d think that, in a copywriting course, that would be pretty basic. Instead – and I can kind of see why, but there must be a better way to do it than this – it teaches you to come up with fictional briefs and then write copy to fit them.
For example, an exercise might ask you to come up with a magazine for which you’d write an article about a company’s product. All/some of which could be fictional. And to my mind, that’s just so vast an assignment that I don’t even know where to start. So each time we had to do something like this, I ended up making up the entire thing. Which just made it an exercise in creative writing, rather than copywriting.
Thirdly, it’s incredibly dull. Each lesson consists, as you’d expect, of study notes concluding with an assignment. But there are up to 44 pages of study notes (yes, FORTY-FOUR). That was for the social media assignment, which took absolutely ages because you had to do umpteen different tasks (including creating a blog if you didn’t already have one, and writing at least two posts – which seems like an inefficient way to teach someone about blogging).
Fourthly, it’s not very well written. I began to expect the recurring use of “But”, followed by a comma, at the start of sentences, but I never stopped gritting my teeth about it. Surely if you’re teaching any kind of writing, you need to get the basic grammar right?
Fifthly, some of the marking is a bit dubious. I had one assignment marked as a B because I’d failed to include notes to the fictional newspaper editor. When I pointed out that I had, in fact, included these notes, but the tutor simply hadn’t scrolled to the bottom of the assignment, my mark remained a B.
And finally, it’s not up-to-date. As I mentioned above, one of the assignments involved creating a blog. Now, you can argue that blogging is still relevant for companies in 2022. But you can’t deny that Twitter no longer has a 140 character limit. In fact it hasn’t since 2017! I did point this out in my submission, but I stuck to 140 characters anyway because I guessed that if I’d gone with the current 280 character limit I’d probably have been marked down. In any case, I’d have had to write another 140 characters of this depressing stuff, and by that point I was just desperate to get the damned thing finished.
In fact, if it hadn’t been for that accountability group I mentioned at the start of this post, I’d never have done it. (Thank you all – you know who you are!) Other members deprived themselves of chocolate when they didn’t submit assignments on time. One member notably strode through the entire course, finishing it in what felt to me like seconds but was probably a much more reasonable few months. Meanwhile, I found the entire thing so soul-grindingly awful that I needed to bring in the nuclear option on repeated occasions: I threatened myself with having to make a 50€ donation to Nigel Farage’s latest party. It never failed. Nigel, you’re a mean-minded, self-serving arsehole and you’ve single-handedly made racism acceptable in the UK again and condemned ordinary young people to suffering under the British government for their entire lives, instead of escaping as I was fortunate enough to do… but at least you helped me get through this dreary desert of a course.
I should perhaps point out here that I’m not incapable of appreciating online courses. In May I finished “Proofreading 1” from the CIEP, the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading, and I’m on target to finish “Proofreading 2” in the next week. And they’re wonderful. Challenging, instructive, high-level, well-written and constructed… In other words, a lot of fun, and absolutely worth the price. In fact, I have to stop myself thinking “Oh, I could just do a little bit more of the next assignment” so I can actually get some work done. I’m really looking forward to being able to announce my qualification as a full Member of the CIEP.
But the College of Media and Publishing’s copywriting course has had exactly the opposite effect. I’ve done copywriting for clients in the past. I’ll continue to do it for existing clients who ask for it. But I won’t be looking for new outlets for my copywriting skills. I’ve even left ProCopywriters, a network I joined a few years ago, and whose conference I attended and found to be extremely enjoyable. I’m not sure why the course had such an extreme negative effect on me – maybe it was having to admit over and over for a whole year, in yet another Friday accountability thread, that I still hadn’t done the next assignment?
In any case, as I’ve said above you may feel different about it. It may teach you all you ever wanted to know about copywriting and fill you with enthusiasm for the profession. Personally, I wasn’t lovin’ it.
*If you do decide to do this course, make sure you sign up during one of the CMP’s frequent special offers. You can usually get it for less than half the RRP.