When I tell people I’m a copywriter, I’m usually met with either a blank stare until I elaborate, or the question “oh, like…legal stuff?” It’s a career that’s hidden deep within the marketing machine, but the copywriter is still a crucial part of the process. I’m biased however, being one myself. Unfortunately my Questions Kids Ask books from childhood never covered what one of these strange creatures looks like, so if you haven’t heard of a copywriter before and want to know more, or you’re considering the career yourself, here is a little insight into the field:
What is a copywriter anyway?
A lot of people assume a copywriter has something to do with copyright, the legal right to a piece of created work, but in fact the two are very different. A copywriter, in essence, writes copy: copy being the words that appear on just about anything. From the words on a website, to the words on product packaging, a copywriter could be hired for any word-related creation. We’re the ones who know our semicolons from our similes, and know how to make people want the things a brand is selling.
What kind of projects do copywriters work on?
This is such a wide area to cover. I’ve met copywriters that write features for magazines and long, in-depth industry articles. I’ve also met some who exclusively write for medical journals and publications. A copywriter might specialise in one field or topic, i.e. technology or finance, or they might specialise in one type of copy, i.e. product packaging or website copy. Since copywriters are essentially wordsmiths for hire, they can get involved in pretty much any area of a business that needs text. I’ve worked on projects such as website copy, blogs, product packaging, catalogue copy, in-store graphics, marketing collateral, social media, magazine advertorials, email campaigns, event speeches, and more – if it has words on it, it’s likely been done by a copywriter.
What kind of clients do copywriters work with?
It’s that ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question again. Most businesses, whether service-based, product-based, charity, small startup or large multinational corporation, will undoubtedly use at least a few words on their products and marketing materials. Even the notorious Apple, who can pretty much get by now just by putting their logo on a white canvas, will likely employ some copywriters to decide which words should go where, and even when not to use any words at all to make the message strongest.
I’ve worked with a beauty brand, fashion brands, a fitness app, sales teams, restaurants, an interior design company, travel publications, engineering services, and many more obscure and wonderful businesses. Once again, if a brand needs words, they will more than likely employ a copywriter, either on a freelance basis or as a member of staff.
What skills does a copywriter need to have?
Arguably a copywriter needs to have a plethora of additional skills in order to actually make money from it, but that’s a whole other article. At its core, the role of a copywriter is built on being a strong writer, with excellent spelling and grammar skills. It helps if, like me, you’re obsessed with spelling to the point that you find word fails excruciatingly painful. For example, the American spelling ‘Mom, what’s a copywriter?’ is a much more widely known phrase than the English spelling ‘Mum’, so I went with it for the sake of style, but don’t think the decision won’t keep me up for the next three nights.
A copywriter also acts as a salesperson, so understanding the marketing machine, why people buy, and each client’s target audience, is really important when it comes to writing effective copy that drives sales.
What education does a copywriter need to have?
There are copywriters working at all levels, some with an English degree, some who have changed career after working for a brand, like I did, and some who have no formal experience at all. There’s no one avenue into the role of a copywriter, but there is a lot of honing your craft involved. I can recommend City Lit London’s Copywriting course if anyone wants a brief taster of how to be a copywriter.
Some advice for any aspiring copywriters…
If you want to become a copywriter but you have (hypothetically) no experience, then the first thing to do is start writing as much as you can, as often as you can. If you haven’t written for brands before, pick some of your favourites and give it a try on your own, even if no one is paying you to. Read any copy you can get your hands on, dissect it, identify where it has been positioned and ask yourself why.
You’ll also want to build up a portfolio of past writing samples and testimonials from happy clients who like your work. It’s a sore subject for some, but I believe there are benefits to carrying out a little unpaid work (within reason) in order to build up your portfolio; offer to intern for a startup, contribute blog posts to a website that you like, whatever you need to do to get those clippings and have some work to show potential clients in future. It’s a good idea to save and take screenshots of everything you’re working on as you complete each project, to make sure you have everything you need when you start piecing together your portfolio.
If you want to research more about being a copywriter, my go-to resources are:
Copyblogger – a great site for professional and aspiring copywriters.
Andy Maslen – One of the best copywriters in the industry, with several books written on the field.
Hot Copy Podcast – I love listening to this podcast, as it’s a fantastic insight into the day-to-day lives of professional copywriters, hosted by Australian copywriters Belinda Weaver and Kate Toon.
Photo by Lauren Peng via Unsplash Lauren Peng