Copywriters are the wordsmiths on a creative team. When advertisers have something they want to share with the world—perhaps a new product is launching or a brand or charity is taking a stance on a global issue—and it’s the copywriter’s job to tell the public in the most effective and memorable way. A copywriter could take a two page brief and turn it into a single line that stays with you forever. You’ll see their work on billboards, in magazines, on TV and online. The words of a copywriter are literally all around us, and we’re absorbing them constantly in the things we see and read. To be a copywriter, you’ll need to be able to come up with fresh ideas constantly, think on your feet, be an expert storyteller, and have a way with words. So how do you get started? We spoke to five copywriters to give us their tips on how to make a career out of words.
Writing is a copywriter’s craft. Yes, additional skills are needed to analyze briefs and turn big concepts into quotable sentences, but mastering the art of writing should be your initial goal. As with any art, this means practice. Charlotte Hugh, Senior Creative/Copywriter at Dark Horses says, “Whether it's a blog, your Twitter account or a journal—writing something every day is the best way to practice. Establishing your own tone of voice will help you understand how to build others.”
Similarly, Raminder Samra, Creative/Copywriter at Adam&EveDDB says, “For me it was all about practise, so find a mentor you can show your work to and keep up to date on the latest bits of work out there.” Take ten minutes everyday to write something, even if it’s just a few scribbles in a notebook or on the Notes app on your phone. Once you have your own voice, it’ll be all that much easier to help brands find theirs.
Olivia Downing, Copywriter at TBWA\MCR stresses that to be a good writer you also have to be a reader. She says, “I'm always amazed at how many students come to me to talk about becoming copywriters, and all they read is advertising books. Read beyond advertising. Read other genres. Read old books. Read new books. Read high-brow. Read trashy mags. Read packaging. Become obsessed with reading. Trying to be a copywriter and not being widely read, is like trying to be an Olympic sprinter when you've only just started walking.”
Downing says reading allows you to expand your mind and see how other people use language to convey thoughts, that you can then use as tools in your own creative arsenal. So, in the words of RuPaul: 'Reading is Essential'.
Don’t worry about perfection
Copywriting is meant to inspire, engage and enlighten people. It’s all about big ideas and conveying meaning creatively. It doesn’t matter how well-written your words are if the meaning behind them is lost. In this sense, it’s more important to focus on the idea than form perfect sentences. Hugh says, “I wish I knew earlier that grammar guidelines and grammar rules are very different things. Often a 'grammatically correct' sentence doesn't read as a person would speak. So don't worry about the grammar police too much—just think about how people actually talk and that's where the best writing comes from.”
Similarly, Downing says, “Ideas have to come first and foremost. If you start thinking about perfecting the words first, you'll restrict those creative juices. Allow yourself the time to think disruptively and come up with a great idea, then spend your time crafting the words: not the other way round.” To practice generating ideas, write and crack your own briefs. Perhaps a brand you like just created a new product — what words would you use to introduce it to people?
Hone your editing skills
To be a good copywriter, you’ll need to be able to convey meaning in as few words as possible. Once you’ve honed those writing and ideating skills, it’s time to start practising your editing skills. Ellen Ling, who cut her teeth on the content team at D&AD and is now a freelance Senior Copywriter says, “It takes a lot of honing and instinct, and you never stop refining. The best advice I have for anyone wanting to achieve copywriting genius is to start editing the hell out of your words. Be ruthless until what you write really sings. Keep that side of your process up and before long every page will be a song sheet.”
A simple editing exercise is to take a paragraph from the morning news and see how many words you can cut. Edit, precis, and see if the remaining words still convey the same meaning.
Find your thing
As with any job, having expertise in a certain area will always get you far. To this extent, Ruxandra Drilea, Senior Copywriter at Publicis Italy recommends finding your thing, saying, “Your thing is your area of expertise, it’s your niche, it’s the thing people ask you about or associate you with. It could be that you can write books for children on the side, that you’re a hilarious writer that could easily do stand-up, that you're a theatre kid who can write musicals or that you’re so into TikTok that you create new trends. It doesn’t have to be about writing if you want to be a writer, but it will help you write better.”
Drilea goes on to say, “What I love about finding ‘your thing’ is the process of it, you get to become the jack of many trades and the master of one. It also allows you to sell yourself better in the future and build your portfolio around it. So if someone’s looking for a sports expert that could easily write with the enthusiasm of a commentator on the next World Cup brief, they know where to find you.” Find your thing by having hobbies outside of work. Get out there and explore, the more you connect with the world, the better you’ll be at generating ideas and lines.
Just get your foot in the door
When you’re just starting out, do anything you can to get your foot in the door at an agency. This may mean taking a different role to the one you actually want— but once you’re in you’ll have the opportunity to prove yourself. Downing says she banged on every door and “annoyed people endlessly” until she got a role at an ad agency as an account person. She says, “It was through sheer force of will and a sprinkling of luck that I was clearly so passionate about writing, that the creative director gave me a chance to be a copywriter. That was 7 years ago, and I've been doing it ever since.”