A copywriter is the person who comes up with the ideas and words (or "copy") that get an advertising or promotional message across clearly and effectively. Traditionally, a copywriter's job was to create the text for advertisements, promotional brochures, and other public relations communications. As digital media has expanded, copywriters may also focus on writing copy that promotes a product or a website generally. Some web writers who produce more general copy that is not ultimately promotional, however, may be called content writers.
Nature of the Work
Copywriters usually work as part of a team to develop promotional materials designed to sell a product, service, person, or idea. It helps to be skilled with language and very familiar with the industry of the product they are promoting; someone who works for a confectionery company, for example, should know the terminology and be familiar with the products made by the company's competitors. Knowledge of existing ad campaigns, including historic campaigns produced by an employer, is also useful, as it can help a copywriter set a new tone or direction while avoiding past mistakes.
During a typical project, the copywriter works closely with the client and other creative team members to generate ideas. An art director supervises the process and directs the visual side of the campaign. From those brainstorming sessions comes a working script which will set the tone for the other elements that will set the tone for other modes of information that may be used in conjunction with the copy, including video, music, narration, and acting. Considerations that the creative team should keep in mind include the company’s reputation and mission, the nature of the product, and what kind of message the company wants to send in its advertising. A shoe company, for example, might want a quirky, fun advertisement, while a cancer treatment center might prefer more serious copy.
Choosing Just the Right Word
Careful word choice is important in this field, as is an attention to detail. Copywriters should have a broad vocabulary that allows them to choose precisely the words they want, whether they are writing copy for a merchandising card that will be used in stores or producing a summary in an annual report. Selecting just the right turn of phrase for a slogan can take days or even weeks in some cases. They copywriter should remain sensitive to social and cultural trends to avoid causing offense or confusing readers with bad phrasing.
Copywriters may develop eye-catching slogans, copy for billboards and advertisements, and detailed scripts for radio and television appearances. Some may write write press releases, annual reports, and other informational documents. This can involve working with people like accountants and analysts to turn dry statistics into interesting and informative reading material for shareholders and members of the public.
Working Under Pressure
Many times, a copywriter works under tight space or timing constraints, so a degree of creativity and the ability to think under pressure is a helpful trait. Clients can also be very demanding and expect constant communication on the progress of a project. Good verbal communication is useful for copywriters and their teams so they can work smoothly and efficiently, both together and with clients.
Education and Experience Requirements
A good copywriter usually has a strong background in English and/or journalism. High school students with an interest in this field may want to consider working for the school newspaper and taking writing electives. In college, majors like journalism, advertising, or English are all good choices for career development. To get more experience, students may want work at a college newspaper or magazine and pursue internships with advertising firms and other companies that use copywriters.
A college degree is not required to become a copywriter, but it can be useful. Entry-level positions may pay slightly more for applicants with college degrees because of their higher skill level, and college can provide an opportunity to gain experience and to network, which may be helpful later in a copywriter's career. Experience is key for most positions; many well-paid jobs require at least three to five years of experience at a large copywriting firm. Knowledge of digital media can also be a helpful skill to cultivate for people interested in pursuing careers in this area.
Positions in advertising agencies can offer steady pay and mentoring, along with opportunities for advancement over time. A copywriter working for a high-end professional advertising agency can do quite well financially, particularly in a lead role. Copywriters can also work in the advertising department of a specific company, handling particular product lines or brands. Others work as freelancers and independent contractors who provide services when needed, which can offer flexibility in terms of hours and pay.
Career development doesn’t have to stop with becoming a copywriter. Many people who hone their writing skills as copywriters move on to journalism, writing books, editing, and other jobs. Some notable writers including Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Sayers, and Don DeLillo got started in copywriting.