If you’ve a way with words, the world deserves to know — Alistair King
by Sabrina Forbes. Each year, as more students graduate from South Africa’s creative schools, the disparate number of marketing vs copywriter graduates continues to be alarming. Alistair King, King James Group co-founder and group CCO and MarkLives #AgencyLeaders2019 Most-Admired Creative Leader in South Africa, doesn’t buy that copywriting’s no longer needed, and he’s set out to remedy that through launching a new copy test.
Up until the early 1990s, the standard way to get a job as a copywriter in an advertising agency was to submit a copy test, and variants of the same question were used by agencies worldwide to invite budding copywriters to apply. Today, very few know this test ever existed and even fewer know exactly what a copywriter does.
Besides the copy test slowly moving into obscurity, advertising schools also happened, says King; these offer students the opportunity to leave with a portfolio of work as long as they are paid and creativity here is moulded, drafted, and curated by lecturers. In his opinion, students are left with portfolios don’t really show their true skills — there’s a clash between those who want to be a copywriter and those who can afford to study for it.
Looking at copywriting as a rare skill that was in trouble, as well as the need to transform the industry, King first met with other industry leaders such as Ahmed Tilly (outgoing FCB Joburg CCO) and Xolisa Dyeshana (Joe Public United CCO) and, after approaching the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) with their concerns, they raised enough money for 20 pure copywriting bursaries. These commenced in January 2019 at the AAA School of Advertising in Johannesburg.
Now, King has reinvented the copy test for our era. Launching today, Monday, 16 March 2020 — which just so happens to be his birthday — You Have A Way With Words (@thecopytest) is intended to be channel-neutral and reflect South African viewpoints, challenges and perspectives.
The copy test covers everything from poetry and music to digital, social media, and long-form copy, while trying to capture the full diversity of our industry, cultures and heritage. Copywriters are presented with 18 questions, inspired by old copy tests and/or by what King has picked up on during his career, of which only seven need to be completed for submission. All questions are available in 11 official languages and responses in any are welcome.
The website is meant to be a ‘living, breathing entity’, meaning copywriters may update their answers and/or respond more questions all the time (each ‘portfolio’ will be entirely gender-, age-, and race-neutral). It will also host educational and informative video series from industry creatives on specific components and things they’ve learnt in the trade.
King also plans to create a unique rating system and he’s calling upon leaders from around the world to choose their favourite copywriters to be featured in a leaderboard.
“In my mind, writers are essential. People who use words to persuade are at the heart of humanity,” he says, naming Graham Warsop (of The Jupiter Drawing Room fame), Fran Luckin (Grey Africa CCO), and Brett Morris (Nahana Communications Group GCEO and GCCO) as having been part of strong copywriter/art-director partnerships at some of the greatest South African agencies of our time.
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Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.