The 6 diplomatic skills that make me a better copywriter
At first glance, a copywriter and a diplomat sound like two very different careers. One involves living overseas, managing ministerial visits and negotiating trade agreements. The other, sitting alone in a home office in activewear and ugg boots.
But after 4 years, I’ve realised that what makes me a great copywriter are the skills I honed as a diplomat.
To start with, most of the work happens sitting at a desk staring at a computer. Sure, there were glamorous and fun parts of being a diplomat (and yes, I drank a few G&Ts and went to balls). But like any job, most of the work was at my desk, planning, researching and writing.
A diplomat is all about showcasing and selling the best of Australia. And as a copywriter, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the businesses I’m working for.
In this blog, I’m sharing the 7 skills that made me a good diplomat and make me a great copywriter.
1. Collaboration and building relationships
So much of being a diplomat is bringing people together to reach a solution or achieve an outcome. Overseas, I collaborated with embassy colleagues, business, foreign diplomats and local counterparts. We solved tricky disputes about allowing Australian products into the country, and organised ministerial visits. The best results happened when I built strong relationships to collaborate, negotiate and get us all singing from the same song sheet. And a big part of developing those relationships was being honest and building trust.
As I copywriter, the best copy comes from strong relationships and mutual understanding. Good copy needs collaboration. I’ve always joked I’m not a mind reader. That’s why I need my clients to tell me about their business and, to be honest, when something I’ve written isn’t right. I’ll always provide tactful, straightforward advice with no fluff and no filler. And you can trust me to tell me about your business plans and aspirations.
Being a team player isn’t just about collaborating with my clients. Some copywriting projects involve other service providers, like web developers and graphic designers. By working together, we can get the best outcomes for our client.
2. Planning, organisation and attention to detail
As a diplomat, attention to detail was non-negotiable. Whether it was planning the Governor General’s visit to Vietnam, trade negotiations or communicating with the host government. Successfully delivering a program of events that included science shows in 3 cities, and performance by Bangarra for large numbers of VIPs involved careful planning, and more than a few sleepless nights
In the early years of my career, a diplomat was sent home because they hadn’t checked the details. They got the minister’s arrival time wrong, so there was no car and no-one from the Embassy waiting. A big fail. So I spent 15 years of my career, making sure that I didn’t leave a minister or anyone else sitting waiting at an airport.
Attention to detail is also important as a copywriter. One small word or one small piece of messaging could change the whole result in the project. As diplomats, we always got others people to check our work. It’s always good to have a second set of eyes, and that’s why I always use proofreader.
Planning and organisation skills help me deliver client projects on time and on budget. At the start of each project, I set out a detailed structure, providing clear pricing, instructions, and timelines.
3. I’m a people person
One thing I loved most about being a diplomat was the variety of people I met. From visiting Australian artists to business people, politicians and local school kids. I’ve judged kids’ art competitions, organised Australia music performances at orphanages, visited gold mines and opened yeast factories.
Diplomacy is about building connections and relationships, which is something I’m good at that. In Canberra, that meant building relationships with people in other departments and organisations. Overseas, I worked with other embassies or the host country to resolve many issues.
I appreciate cultural and language differences. I understand that experiences and histories shape people’s beliefs and approaches.
As a copywriter, I pride myself on being approachable. I am welcoming, friendly, fair and inclusive, so what you see is what you get. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in or where you’re from. I’m confident we can work together on your content to get it right. Meeting new people was one reason I loved being a diplomat. It’s also why I love being a copywriter.
4. I’m an excellent communicator
Whether it was communicating in a foreign language or speaking to a foreign government about a technical subject, clear, concise language was key.
To negotiate successfully, you need to mirror the language of the person you’re negotiating with. And that ability to listen allows me to help business find their voice and connect with customers. My strong listening and analytical skills ensure a strong working relationship. This means that I’ll craft your messaging, so it genuinely feels like you.
One of the first skills I learned as a diplomat was writing concise ministerial briefings. This involved careful word choice and succinct sentences, so it was easy to read and communicate.
Making speeches in a foreign language is also a good way to test your skills in clear, inclusive language. Even if I was speaking English, I needed to avoid complicated or superfluous words. This was even more important if I was using a translator. Clear, concise language made it easy to translate and reduced the risk of misunderstanding.
As a copywriter, I write straight-talking, structured copy without fluff and filler, so you get your message across.
5. A curious knowledge seeker
I am a super curious person. Whether that’s keeping my copywriting, digital marketing and business skills up to date, or learning about your industry, I love learning.
Overseas, one of the main jobs of a diplomat is sending reports home about different issues. This would involve interviewing government officials, academics, and reading articles. Then I’d need to work out what was relevant and what wasn’t. Then I’d need to develop an engaging story that would compel the reader to read it. It was important to know who the audience was and the goal of the report. Copywriting is the same. I need to know who I’m writing for and what I want them to do.
One thing I loved about my diplomatic career was the number of different subjects I worked on. In Vietnam, I covered a range of issues, including agriculture, mining, finance, and education. Besides my trade responsibilities, I managed the Embassy’s media and cultural program. This included running a year-long program across Vietnam to celebrate 40 years of diplomatic relations.
To succeed, I needed to research, quickly digest information and be adaptable. These are all skills that help me work with a variety of copywriting clients in different industries.
6. Putting my own views aside
As a diplomat, I was often writing reports, articles and speeches that I’d get no credit for. I was writing on behalf of the ambassador, an official, or a minister. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have a ‘by line’ because it wasn’t my messaging.
Being a copywriter is the same.
It’s not about what I think or how I want to write. It’s about you as the client, your message, your voice, and your clients. So whether I agree is irrelevant. Now, most of the time, I’ll try to put my shoes myself in the shoes of your client. That’s why I enjoy writing for lots of different industries. I see myself as a client, and I use that opportunity to learn more about the product or service and the benefits. When I’m writing, I’m writing for you and your voice.
When something doesn’t sound quite right, or you don’t quite like it, you need to tell your copywriter. What word would you use instead of saying, “it doesn’t sound like me”? That’s why at the beginning, I like to get together on a video call that I record. That way, I have a recording of your voice so I can hear how you talk about your product or service. It’s super valuable because the way you talk about your it is often different to how you write about it.
Grey hairs = experience
So, as you can see, there are a few skills from my diplomatic life that have translated to being a copywriter.
But it’s more than that.
Apart from my diplomatic experience, there’s also life experience. Not only do you get t 15 years of diplomatic experience. But 20+ years of work experience provides me with valuable skills and perspective.
With my grey hair comes great knowledge (!) gained through a varied career in government and in businesses of all sizes.
For you, that means there’s no problem I haven’t seen and solved before.