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A copywriter tells us what the work is really like — and what it takes to land a job

D&AD’s top-ranking Copywriter tells us why working in advertising can be a privilege and how her team pulled off the Black Pencil-winning The Lost Class

Illustration by Jael Umerah-Makelemi

MacKenzie Hart wrote the copy for D&AD’s Black Pencil-winning The Lost Class — a campaign across video and print that tricked two National Rifle Association reps into giving a graduation speech at a staged ceremony with 3,044 empty seats representing ‘The Lost Class’ — students who would have graduated in 2021 if they hadn’t been killed by a gun. The campaign from Leo Burnett won an impressive 12 Pencils and made Hart D&AD Awards 2022’s top-ranking copywriter.

Hart has worked with huge brands (Santander Bank) and nonprofits (RepresentUs) and has worked for agencies including Arnold Worldwide, Leo Burnett and Mischief. Here, she tells us how advertising has helped her make a difference with cause-led projects and why being a writer in the industry means she gets to take on different modes of creativity all the time. 

Take your passion and turn it your profession

I decided that I wanted to be in advertising before I knew I wanted to be a copywriter. When I started at Boston University (BU) I was undecided in my major but I had always liked advertising. I just always thought it was so interesting and fascinating and loved to watch commercials. I would always sit there and think to myself, “How did they come up with that?” I thought advertising must be such an interesting job.

As time went on I started to learn a bit more about the communications school and the advertising programme at BU and I felt I had found something that could be right for me. I started taking classes at the communications school in journalism, media and writing screenplays — I also took a photography class. I studied all sorts of different writing mediums and then that's when I decided advertising and copywriting was the right thing for me to do.

Confidence is a skill you can learn

I was living in Boston, where I was at college, and I got a copywriting internship during my Spring semester there at a small agency. I worked under this copy supervisor who was supportive of me. I had major impostor syndrome and I always felt like I didn't have any idea what I was doing, that I wouldn't be good enough to be a copywriter, and that I wouldn't be able to get the job that I wanted. I had such anxiety about it. This copy supervisor was like, “You're going to be amazing, you’re so good.” She really helped me to believe that I could do it, and I often think about that.

I had to wait for my first job as the agency I was interning at couldn’t afford to hire me. I stayed on as an intern and got a job as a cocktail waitress to support myself before finding an internship at Arnold Worldwide, that, over a summer, developed into a junior copywriting position.

I don't think there's ever been one big moment where I've had a confidence boost. It took a lot of little moments of success – little wins – to make me feel more confident in my abilities and make me really feel like I should be doing what I do.

The reality of being a copywriter

I work with an art director and we're given a brief, which I'm sure most aspiring copywriters would know. We're paired up as a team, and then we are supposed to conceptualise the idea of what we want to do together, and start creating right from there.

I help come up with the ideas with my partner, and write out the deck that we're going to show to our creative directors and our clients. From that point, every single written thing in the project will most likely be written by the copywriter — from the idea written out in bullet points to a TV treatment, to the script itself.

Copy can be anything from an idea to an activation; if a client wants to do a pop-up store, you're coming up with the title of the store, or you're writing the signage. Every day you are learning something new. One day, maybe you're writing social copy for Twitter and Facebook, and the next you’re writing a website. This variety is one of the things that makes this such an interesting and fun job.

Cause-led projects connect you with likeminded people

This job is such a privilege. To be able to use your creativity to try and invoke some change in the world and in the way people see things is something you can never take for granted. I think it's important for me to be able to do that and it’s something I'm passionate about. Last year, we got to work with this organisation called RepresentUs, which informs people of their rights as citizens and how they can use their vote to implement change. We collaborated on this project called Jerry's Partisan Pizza, which informed people about issues around gerrymandering (legal voter manipulation). It’s one of my favourite projects I have worked on.

The Lost Class: a masterclass in pulling off a project

This was the game-changing, multi award-winning project which saw pro-gun lobbyists addressing over three thousand empty chairs representing the ‘lost’ graduating class of children lost to school shootings in the United States. What I had learnt working on Jerry’s Partisan Pizza, I could apply to this highly complex and delicate operation.

I think there were multiple different points where we were like “Holy shit! This is going to be something else.” We had to keep the whole thing a secret, and there was a really small group of people that knew all the details, because if the speakers had found out before the day of the speeches it would have ruined everything. I think the moment that we realised we got away with it and how powerful it was, was when the campaign came out. We didn’t realise it was going to be a success until the very last minute. (Read more about how this project was made in the D&AD Annual with our interview with Leo Burnett’s Executive Creative Director Sam Shepherd and Head of Production Ashley Geisheker.)

D&AD’s new Foot in the Door series asks creatives to share their unique route into building a creative career. Read other interviews with designers, copywriters and photographers on how they built their careers here.

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