Empathy and blagging

When I have taught writing, I have often stressed the importance of empathy.

First comes the notion of empathising with the reader. What is it they want to get out of your communication. Facts? Entertainment? And if you are writing some sort of DM how can you make the experience of reading easy, and responding simple.

No writer can experience everything they have to write about. If you are writing fiction, you may have to inhabit a character of a different sex. And as a copywriter you will be constantly called on to write about things you have never experienced. Empathy is an essential tool, and I’ve found being a dismal hypochondriac, for example, surprisingly useful when I write direct to consumer healthcare material.

In the last couple of weeks I have been writing press ads for regions of France I’ve never been to. But empathy still proves a useful tool. For although I’ve never been to this particular region of France, what I can empathise with is the excitement people feel when contemplating a holiday. In doing this I can write copy that seems completely authentic, and of course this is what sells.

My most proud moment, in this respect, was in writing several brochures for Renault Trucks. As a lifelong non-driver, whose only experience of taking the wheel is in funfair dodgems, the account management team were careful to protect me from probing questions.

The feedback from the client, which I will always treasure, was that “This guy knows trucks.” Horrifically, however, after this I was invited to sit in the driving seat of one of their new trucks. Mercifully, after some blagging on my part, I was led away without having to reveal my laughable inability to drive. The Gods of copy were kind that day.

By Peter Kenny

I lead a double life. Identity #1. A writer of poems, comedy plays, dark fiction and the odd libretto. Identity #2: A marketing outlier, working with London creative agencies and my own clients as a copywriter and creative consultant.

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