Copywriting is one of several important creative functions that enable us to provide an exacting standard of service to our clients. For those unfamiliar with what copywriting is, we’ve asked guest blogger, freelance copywriter Julian Williams, to shed a little light on this rather mysterious art form.
For me, the best description of copywriting is the translation of complex propositions into simplified, motivational communications. Copywriters are in effect hidden salespeople who make the literal connection between seller and buyer, in the buyer’s own language.
Simply, copywriters write the words that feature in advertising. From press, TV and radio advertising through articles, blogs, brochures, leaflets and websites to sales collateral, video scripts and speeches, everything written is generally a copywriter’s responsibility. Copywriters are also involved in the concept and headlining stages of the advertising process.
Although there are now dedicated training courses for copywriters, and many job advertisements flag up the requirement of a degree, it’s not absolutely necessary to have gone through the process of further education. What is required is an aptitude for writing, a tangential command of the English language, an ability to look from the outside in and a thirst for research.
As a teenager I wrote articles for my local newspaper. At college I started a magazine and my first work experience was as a marketing executive where I originated and edited a company news bulletin plus wrote my first pieces of advertising copy. I also spent a couple of years in PR writing press releases but I wasn’t happy there. The revelation came when I discovered that advertising agencies employed copywriters, and I wanted to be in on that action.
I’d kept everything I’d written in a ring binder, right back to the teenage newspaper articles. This wasn’t a portfolio per se but it was enough to pique the interest of an agency creative director who gave me a copy test.
The test subject was a village primary school which was to be closed and turned into a job centre. My task was to represent both sides of an argument – the mothers protesting about their children having to go to the next town for their education and the value of a job centre for the village’s unemployed – expressed as placard headlines and poster advertising. It was great fun and a perfect introduction to the way a copywriter needs to think. I thankfully passed.
Within an advertising agency, copywriters (words) are teamed up with art directors (pictures) and together they work on advertising briefs in conjunction with account handlers, media planners and all of the other departments that go to make up an agency. Starting from scratch on a new brief is exciting, and working on pitches late into the night is part and parcel of the job with its own rewards – especially when a pitch is won.
Everyone has their own tale to tell about how they became a freelance copywriter. Mine is not dissimilar to the majority and that is, after a certain age and armed with many years experience, the opportunity to be my own boss plus work on a wider range of projects for a more diverse range of agencies became very attractive. The biggest difference is not having a regular, guaranteed income which can be quite hairy at times but it does get the adrenaline flowing!
The rewards and satisfaction of being a freelance copywriter are akin to those of an in-house copywriter. That is, learning different markets, products and target audiences and angling the copywriting to meet that criteria. It doesn’t get any better than working with professional agencies like iThinkMedia to produce high profile work for a range of clients.
Everything is fluid and whilst freelance has its advantages, most freelancers (myself included) are open to all options. I guess for me, the holy grail is to work on a retained basis for an agency although returning to full-time agency life will always remain a possibility.
I always assumed other copywriters found copywriting easy and it was just me who sometimes sweated it out. That is, until I found out otherwise, although difficult isn’t the right word. The fact is, if copywriting is done well it’s a challenge and, no matter how many years of experience I’ve accrued, the challenge is always there and always to be enjoyed.
An age old question and if I said I didn’t value industry awards then I’d be lying. I’ve won some over the years too which is nice because copywriting is competitive and it feels good to win. However, at no point have I deliberately set out to win awards at the expense of the client or brief, which always come first.
Having learnt on the job, my mentors are the inspirational people I’ve worked for. People like Nicholas Mendes who taught me the basic and timeless lesson of story structure. Others include Creative Directors Richard Davies, Sandy Bradley and Ken Wheat who not only gave me my first ad. agency job but patiently introduced me to the wider art of copywriting.
There’s a horrid catch 22 when starting out in copywriting. Basically, you need examples of work to get work but haven’t any work examples to show. The trick is to keep copies of absolutely everything you’ve written. If you’ve gone through a copywriting course then use your assignments. I didn’t so I kept a portfolio of all my newspaper articles from teenage years and added to it every time I wrote something. Anything to demonstrate an ability to write will do for starters but if it has an advertising angle then all the better…
Be different, think differently but always abide by the commercial aspects of any given brief. Be creative but keep a level head, research and learn everything you can about the gulf between a seller and a buyer – then bring the two together. Keep up with trends and indulge in people-watching. Ask yourself, what makes folk tick? What inspires or motivates them to buy? Above all, don’t copy. That’s not what “copy” means in copywriting.
Bit of a busman’s holiday to be honest. I write film, theatre and radio scripts in the hope that one day something will be produced. I’ve written over a dozen scripts so far and each one is a step nearer my goal. And when things get too intense? I enjoy taking my dog Tess for a walk where, incidentally, some of my best ideas come from.
As a copywriter, Julian has worked for advertising and PR agencies in London, Manchester and Birmingham. Now a freelance, he draws on this experience to provide an impassioned copywriting service to agencies and clients throughout the UK and English-speaking Europe.