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For some reason, advertising—as a career—has fascinated people for as long as it has been around.
There are 1000s of movies and books featuring a protagonist who works in advertising.
Many people watch the Super Bowl each year solely for the commercial breaks.
At least some of you reading this article watched all seven seasons of Mad Men.
But even the most ardent fan of fictional copywriter Paul Kinsey might be left wondering –– what does a copywriter do, exactly?
It sounds cool. You might even want to consider a career in copywriting. But unless you have seen one at work, have a relative in the field, or have really gone overboard with your research, you probably don’t really know what copywriting is. They’re the people who come up with funny taglines, right?
In this article, we’ll go over the basics. What does a copywriter do, how much money do they make, what kinds of jobs can they get, and, maybe most importantly, how can you become one?
What does a copywriter do?
“Copy” is a slang term for text, used mostly in the advertising and journalism fields. It sounds like something created on an old Xerox machine, but actually, “copy” started out as the fancy latin word, “copiae,” which just means, “an abundance of writing.”
By that definition, when you ask, what does a copywriter do? I could just answer, “they write stuff,” and end this article here.
Of course I won’t.
Not only would that not really answer your question, it’s not exactly true. While all copywriters are––obviously––writers, not all writers are copywriters.
It may be a nuance, but it’s an important nuance. For example, you’ll probably never hear a novelist refer to themselves as writing “copy.” And a screenwriter writes scripts. Even social media writers are more likely to call their writing “content” than copy.
So….what is “copy” then, you ask?
Copy usually refers to writing that intends to sell you something. It drives leads, converts traffic, convinces the reader in some way to take action and eventually buy something.
So what does a copywriter do? Mostly, but not exclusively, copywriters work for ad agencies or on a freelance basis writing the text that appears in ads of all kinds: newspapers, emails, brochures, case studies, newsletters, commercials, postcards, websites, etc.
Typically, a day in the life of a copywriter, depending on their level and whether they work full-time for one company or as a freelance contractor, will look something like this:
- Attend concept meetings with a creative team to talk about long-term goals for a client, product or service.
- Brainstorm and weigh in on overall strategies.
- Come up with a list of concepts to submit to the team/client.
- Once a concept has been chosen, fill in with specific headlines and whatever body copy is needed for a variety of collateral materials.
- Work with artists to ensure the words fit within the overall design. There is only a specific space set aside for text, and sometimes headlines or body copy need to be reworked to look as good visually as they sound.
- Edit past writing or the writing of team members to make it shine. Being willing to take constructive criticism and make changes often is essential in this career.
Copywriters will also usually be involved in new client proposals, awards applications, company statements and other random writing projects that need to get done.
An entry-level copywriter might make $40-50,000 per year, but as you work your way up your earning potential increases. A copywriter at Apple makes around $90,000, and some freelance copywriters claim to make six figures from the comfort of their home.
7 Types of copywriters
While all copywriters are in some form of sales business, not all copywriters do the exact same thing. So if you are thinking about a career in copywriting and asking, “What does a copywriter do?”, we have to examine some of the different types of industries that hire copywriters, and what that looks like for each.
As mentioned above, advertising is probably the most common field to use copywriters. Here, you’ll write anything from an award-winning TV spot to a sales script. Whatever gets the job done. In an agency, you’ll likely work with a variety of products, which keeps it interesting.
Did you know that there is a whole industry of writers dedicated just to using certain keywords in articles to help websites rank higher on search engine pages? SEO copywriters have been around for as long as the internet has. SEO writing typically pays a little less than other fields, but writing articles can be faster, so it’s a popular freelance gig.
3. Web Design
Many web designers are wizards at coding and graphics, but may not be as capable when it comes to writing out the copy that goes on each page. They will often hire copywriters to create all of that content for them. Copywriting for the web can be tricky, as you have to figure out how to organize information in a way that makes sense.
Copywriters in the technical field are still writing ad copy, essentially, but for niche products that take a lot of expertise in order to explain well to the general public. A complicated piece of machinery, for example, needs a talented writer behind it to demystify and sell to the people who can really benefit from its features.
This is typically not the kind of writing that comes to mind when you think “what does a copywriter do?” It is very research heavy. Technical copywriters will most often have some kind of background in the industry they write for, and will become very specialized in their niche.
5. Public Relations
PR and marketing go hand in hand, but there are differences. A PR copywriter is more likely to pen a press release than a Facebook ad. PR writers need to have a good handle on the nuances of audience, since they often need to change voices when communicating with the various stakeholders of their clients.
6. Brand Identity
Those who have wondered “What does a copywriter do?” may not have considered that every brand has a strong writer, or team of writers, who have created their persona and voice.
Brand identity copywriters are still in the business of sales, but at a higher, more strategic level than the text on a banner ad. Creating a brand identity takes a lot of thought about the customers the business is trying to reach and the community they want to create.
7. Thought Leadership
Sometimes copywriters are selling an idea instead of a product. And sometimes they are using ideas to sell a product. Thought leadership is a fancy way to say experts in a field weighing in on what is happening, and what should be done in the future. And most of these experts have a copywriter in the wings, putting those thoughts to paper in a way that will sound good and contain the appropriate messaging.
What does a copywriter do compared to other writers?
We have already discussed the difference between “copy” and other types of text to some extent, but what is the fundamental difference between copywriters and their writing peers? What does a copywriter do, and how does that differ from other professional writers?
A copywriter thinks about their audience. So do other types of writers. A copywriter uses words carefully, just like all writers do. A copywriter needs to understand what they are writing about, which should always be part of the writing process.
But there are some unique things about copywriting that are helpful to know, whether you want to become a copywriter or are looking for a great writer to do some work for you.
A content writer takes knowledge from a subject expert or other resources and turns it into an informational article or snippet to be published. What does a copywriter do? A copywriter would take that same information and turn it into a call to action, asking the customer to call a number, click a button, or download a lead magnet.
A blogger writes long-form content: how-tos, product roundups, advice, lifestyle stories or whatever their niche may be. A blog is generally very personal and strives to be authentic. What does a copywriter do? Weave product information into genuine stories to create a club that everyone wants to be part of, so much so that they are willing to spend money to join.
An author tells stories. A copywriter uses those stories to point to a sales funnel.
A journalist discovers the truth. What does a copywriter do? They use only those elements of the truth that will inspire people and motivate them to become part of the story.
You get the point. Copywriters have individual styles and come in different forms, but they are all laser focused on making the sale.
How to become a copywriter
Ok, you’ve asked, “what does a copywriter do?”, and now that you know, you are starting to think that this might be the job for you. What’s next? How do you become a copywriter?
Copywriters need to know how to write (duh!). Especially in a world where AI is starting to churn out middle-school worthy essays and search engines have cracked down on poorly written articles, real writing talent is a hot commodity.
Some writers have college degrees, others do not. If you didn’t go to school for writing, advertising, or something similar, consider taking an online course to help you fine-tune your craft. What really matters is that you write a lot, get feedback, make changes, and create a strong portfolio.
You should also keep in mind that writers (of any kind) live and breathe deadlines. You have to be organized and detailed-oriented enough to turn in pieces on time, every time.
A good understanding of the marketing world is a bonus. Copywriting is not like academic writing, or a business proposal. You need to be able to say a lot with just a few words. You need to know the differences between web writing and direct mail. Think about shadowing someone in marketing for a day to really get your feet wet.
Finally, it helps for copywriters to have wit. Not every sales piece is funny, but understanding people and what they really want to read, then turning that into something enjoyable (and yes, often humorous) is essential in the world of sales.
Once you have fine-tuned your skills and have some great samples to show off, start looking for copywriting jobs. I always recommend that you first reach out to your personal network. Good writers are hard to find, so you may be surprised to learn that someone you know is willing to hire you. Then there are always job boards and referrals to help you win more clients.
In my experience, the best way to get copywriting jobs is just to write exceptional copy. People appreciate good writing, and, even if they aren’t a writer themselves, most clients can tell the difference between a mediocre job and a really strong block of text. They themselves will be moved by it.
Write great stuff, up your game with smart resources, and soon you will know firsthand the answer to the question, what does a copywriter do on a daily basis?
Is copywriting for you?
There is a lot more to copywriting than coming up with funny product names or writing endless email funnels. There are different types of copywriters, different industries who use them, beginners, experts and everything in between.
The common thread is that copywriters work every day with a strong goal in mind––get the audience to take action. The best copywriters use things like emotions, statistics, persuasion, relatability and humor to invite the audience in and leave them wanting more.
If this sounds like you, stop wondering, “what does a copywriter do?” Join the club and find out!
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