The secret to content success? Don’t specialise

Drayton Bird has had a long and successful marketing career – can his advice on avoiding specialism really be true?

“Drayton Bird knows more about direct marketing than anyone in the world.”

So says advertising legend David Ogilvy (on whom there’s more here). And it’s a fair shout – his book Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing has been the UK’s bestseller on the subject every year since 1982.

On his website,, he invites people to ask him anything.

Recently a commenter posted these simple questions:

In copywriting, what qualities put you above the rest?

In other words, why did you succeed where others failed?

What made the difference?

His reply, inevitably, took the form of an engaging and easy-to-read list with lots to learn for content marketers.

Study, write, edit

One highlight is Bird’s clear desire to work hard and keep learning.

He writes: “The minute you stop learning, the minute you think you know it all, you’re on to a loser.” He advises to study not only the art of writing, but also the context of what you’re writing about and why it’s important – “the history, business, investment” for example.

Another standout is the importance of editing. He says: “I edit anything important several times.”

Never assume you’ve mastered the finished product after just one or two runs at it. There will always be things you’ve missed, angles left uncovered. Thinking clearly about copy means looking at it with fresh eyes on numerous occasions.

Don’t specialise

But perhaps the most interesting pearl of wisdom is number five on Bird’s list:

“I do not specialise. I try to write in any medium to persuade anyone in any country, rich or poor, clever or stupid to do anything, regardless of price or commitment.”

Can this really be true? As content marketers, the importance of expertise in writing for an audience is engrained in our thinking.

But content marketers have a duty to make content engaging enough to attract as wide an audience as possible. Or do they? What’s best – broad strokes or a focused target?

If you’re writing about a niche subject (say, the rate of cement imports into the UK), should you open up the topic to a wider question on UK imports – or do a deep-dive for an already-engaged audience?

And there’s a question of who to commission for the task. It would seem a misstep to commission someone with no knowledge of the cement industry for the task.

Expert writers

The answer, and the point I suspect Bird is alluding to, is that writing expertise can be as important – if not more so – than subject matter expertise. It’s often harder to find great writers than it is to find subject experts and if the content isn’t engaging it simply won’t be read,

One secret to great copy is remaining inquisitive about the subject – something that’s more difficult for those entrenched in it every day than it is for those coming to it fresh.

In that sense, the secret for content success is less Bird’s slightly self-effacing ‘don’t specialise’ comment and more ‘stay interested’.

Number seven in his list probably says it best:

“I am childish and curious. The minute you lose your sense of wonder, you start to die mentally and emotionally.”

Matching the writer to the audience

So next time you are commissioning a piece, give some consideration to fitting the best writer to the brief. If you need an article that makes a topic more accessible or a subject more easily understood, then consider choosing someone other than an expert in the field – so long as you know they are a brilliant writer. They’ll bring a new outlook to the subject and inject some vigour that may otherwise be lacking.

Content Cloud is a platform for finding both great writers and subject experts. There are 800 experienced, vetted content creators ready for commissioning – all with personal profiles and examples of their work. That means you can find the perfect person for the task in hand – and our editorial experts are on hand to guide you in your choice. Learn more here.

For any enquiries about Content Cloud and the wider work we do at Progressive Content, feel free to drop me a note.

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