So, You Want To Be A Copywriter?
Writing advertising copy might look simpler than conventional forms of writing. It just looks that way, though. In fact, with a limited amount of space to make your pitch and a persuasive intent, it may prove one of the hardest to master. You don’t just need to be a good writer to have success in copywriting — you need to learn how to generate interest, change minds, motivate prospects and, finally, push the sale to completion.
Two Types of Ads
There are two general types of advertising material copywriters do. These are:
Brand awareness. The purpose of these types of material is to create buzz and awareness for the brand. The goal is to gain mindshare among the target demographic, rather than create measurable sales numbers. Often, this is run by bigger ad agencies and design firms who work on a fairly large budget.
Direct-response. This works very differently from brand awareness, as the goal is to generate a response of some kind. The better the response, the more effective the copy. These are the kinds of ads you see where you’re encouraged to send in a coupon, call an agent for your “free estimate” or click on a website link to subscribe.
General Types of Copywriting Jobs
Like every other field in the world, there is no one-size-fits-all type of copywriter. Yes, there are a whole bunch of ways you could go when delving into this line of work.
In-house copywriter. These are copywriters employed by companies who aren’t in the advertising game, but are large enough to have their own marketing department. Rarely will copywriters in this position do direct-response ads, with most of their output focused on helping shape a brand’s image and tone, producing material for the company’s brochures, newsletters and e-commerce websites. This, plus the fact that you only ever work for one client, will severely limit your experience. On the flipside, it allows you to get intimate with a brand, having a real effect on its development going forward.
Agency copywriter. These people work in-house for companies in the advertising business, including PR agencies, marketing firms, design studios, and more. The job, generally, entails producing material for the outfit’s clients, regardless of what their needs might be. Since you work under a company’s umbrella, your sole concern will be to produce quality work, with none of the day-to-day doldrums freelance copywriters have to deal with.
Advertising copywriter. When people think “copywriter,” this is the work they immediately imagine, since advertisements are what we naturally associate with sales and marketing. Writing advertisements can be divided into two general groups:
- Short-copy. This includes such writing as slogans, print ads, billboard one-liners and other small pieces of text used in advertisements. While it sounds simple, it’s also one of the most elaborate — ad copywriters can spend hours upon hours refining and testing a 6-word slogan. When the space is limited, after all, you only get a limited chance to make a real impression. Short-copy work usually involves a copywriter working in conjunction with a designer or an art director. For the most part, a copywriter who works in short-copy needs to be more of a creative wordsmith than a crafty writer.
- Long-copy. This is, simply, advertising that involves a hefty amount of text. Ever seen those “sponsored news” or “sponsored section” on newspapers and magazines? That’s an example of those. Sales letters and long-form landing pages are also good examples of this type. Compared to short-copy advertising, where high-level creative types usually rule, copywriters who write long-form are more traditional writers well-versed in the craft.
Freelance copywriter. Basically, take whatever other copywriters do, then add the hassles of running a one-man business into the job description and this is what you get. Aside from crafting text for clients, you’ll also take care of everything business-related, from finding new clients to closing deals to collecting on invoices.
Web copywriter. This is a general term that has been assigned to most people who write material for websites. The writing work involved is similar — they do both brand awareness material (e.g. blogs for a product, shilling for a brand with an opinion piece) and direct-sales copy (e.g. landing pages for Adwords ads, long-form sales letters). The big difference is the medium, so web copywriters will usually need some basic knowledge of web design and usability principles, apart from some amount of technical know-how.
SEO copywriter. The web is one massive pile of content. As such, knowing how to make content that stands out from the heap is a much-valued skill and that’s where SEO copywriters set themselves apart. Whether producing landing pages, home page copy or deep content, they specialize in materials that play to the whims of search engine algorithms. SEO copywriters need a broad range of skills — not only do they need to “sell” and “market” like regular copywriters, they need to have a strong grasp of the ever-changing relevancy algorithms search engines use to rank content, too.
Still Want To Be A Copywriter?
Of course, you do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be this far down into the feature. Above, we listed the kinds of work you can get into as a copywriter. Here, we look at what you should be doing right now to get into the field.
Depending on your background, you may or may not be ready for copywriting work. Our best suggestion is to try out the field now, applying as an entry-level copywriter for an ad agency, a design studio or a marketing firm. If you’re interested in SEO copywriting, try to get a gig with an SEO outfit or an internet marketing company.
If this is your first time applying for a copywriting job, you’re going to need a proper portfolio. Since you don’t have previous work to show off, your best recourse is to write SPEC ads, that is, non-commissioned advertisements that show off your creative chops. The idea is to show potential employers how you would do a specific copywriting task if you were put in the project.
Writing your SPEC ads is also a good opportunity to learn the ropes of copywriting. Pick up a good book on the subject and write at least one SPEC ad for each type of copy you find. That way, you’ll have a sample (or more) each for press releases, sales letters, landing pages, short-copy advertisements and so on.