Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Working as a Copywriter Abroad


As some of you know, by trade, I am a copywriter and I've worked for ad agencies on two continents. Working internationally can be a challenge for anyone–copywriters included. Here are a few things to consider when working abroad as a copywriter:

1. Sense of humor. As an American and generally sarcastic person, I like a good dose of, well, sarcasm. But in many cultures, Swiss included, sarcasm just doesn't translate. There are a few exceptions. One of my favorite ads in Switzerland right now is a billboard in the Zurich Airport for IWC, a Swiss watch company based in Schaffhausen. This ad, I am almost 100% certain, was written by an English copywriter (see image above). Airports, in general, are filled with ads in English. And you can usually tell which ones were written by native speakers and which ones weren't.

2. Lost in translation. Not only is sarcasm lost in translation, but when writing headlines and copy, a copywriter with international experience knows to avoid most plays on words or phrases like "cute as a button." This just won't translate well to French, German, Italian, Romansch and who knows what else. I avoid the phrase "cute as a button" on principle, but one of the hallmarks of a good copywriter is that they can play with words and phrases. But a copywriter working in an international environment must often reconsider their cleverness.

3. The which English question. Most American or British writers consider their English standard English. But not in an international environment. In Switzerland, some companies and brands use American English and some use British English. To work as a copywriter abroad, it helps to know the differences between English and English.

4. Flexibility. When I worked for an American ad agency, we had an entire department devoted to proofreading and editing. As a copywriter, I just came up with ideas, wrote scripts and copy, and other people proofed the stuff before it was ever seen by a client. But when you're working as an English copywriter abroad, you are most likely all these departments in one. You don't just write copy. You fix bad English translations (often harder than writing something from scratch). You edit. You proofread. You translate. The scope of the job is much wider.

Have you worked as a copywriter abroad? If so, what has your experience been like?

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