If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about being a copywriter, it’s that your dreams of being a creative mastermind will crumble to dust (probably).
Before anyone jumps down my throat claiming that ‘if I don’t like it, I shouldn’t be doing it’ I don’t mean to say the job itself isn’t rewarding or good fun, it’s just important to understand the roles and expectations you have once you choose this career path.
1. Copywriting doesn’t mean you can write in your own style 24/7
One of the myths about being a copywriter or a ghostwriter is that you’re allowed complete creative freedom, similar to what you’d be doing when writing your own blog, novel, short story, Facebook status, whatever.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.
Being a copywriter means you have to adhere to the language and style of the client or service you’re writing for. For example, if my client was a surgical institution, I would have to follow the codes and conventions of medical writing. I can’t just put my ‘own spin’ on a topic as serious as medicine or surgery. Have a look below at the two different closing statements you might find on a surgical website and try to figure out which is more appropriate…
Style 1: If you have any concerns about your surgery, or who will be performing it, you can always call the *SURGERY NAME* helpline on 0800 917 4922. Or, if you’d like a consultation with one of our top surgeons, feel free to fill out our contact form and we shall get back to you as soon as possible.
Style 2. If you’re super scared of surgery, don’t be, surgery is easy! Our team of awesome surgeons are wicked, nice and friendly! If you’d like a chat, why not give one of us a call? We’re really chilled here at *SURGERY NAME* and we can talk about your not-so-scary surgery over a pint or two. Hope to see you soon!
…See what I mean?
While both make the same point, style 1 is definitely more appropriate for someone looking to have surgery. Serious topics need to be taken seriously, regardless if you think that style 2 would make surgery seem ‘more chilled.’
Stick to the style of your client, don’t try and be a maverick.
2. Your life is now made up of research
Think all of that university research was behind you? Think again.
If you didn’t experience three or four years of university joy, well, you’re in for a bit of a gut-punch because knowing how to research effectively is absolutely essential if you’re in the copywriting business.
This isn’t simply a case of Googling something and dragging off 1,000+ words of Wikipedia text. You’ll need to formulate research plans, select appropriate research methods (surveys, experiments, case studies), find reliable sources (NOT WIKIPEDIA) reference your work and even call or interview people if the information is not easily found on the web.
3. A copywriter rarely does fun stuff
Who’da thought a masters degree in English and Creative Writing would see you writing 85 landing pages on toilets?
In short, the content you’ll be writing will have to reflect the client’s services. So, if you’re writing for a drainage company, you’re going to have a tough time making those landing pages seem fun and interesting. Why? Because the client (most of the time) will require keywords for their services to rank and unfortunately, your creativity and artistic word powers won’t pull any traffic to the article. It is simply a case of optimising the keywords and search terms in order to drive traffic to your client’s site.
If you have clients who’s services are genuinely interesting (media, sport, gaming, fashion, health, lifestyle etc) then you’re going to have a good time writing content. If not, strap in, you might be in for a bumpy ride.
4. Got an opinion? Unlucky, copywriters can’t have one
…Okay maybe that sounded a bit brutal, so let me explain.
Of course your opinion as a writer matters, it’s what makes you who you are, it separates you from the competition! However, that isn’t the job of a copywriter.
Don’t get me wrong, as a copywriter it is your job to come up with fresh, engaging content that is going to get people talking and buying into whatever you’re selling or promoting. The harsh truth is that when you do come up with an awesome campaign idea, write a wicked script and throw out a catchy headline, chances are you’ll be kicked to the curb more than being offered a congratulatory hug.
Yes, it’s infuriating, yes it’s somewhat patronising but your job is effectively done.
While this may all sound as if being a copywriter is a fairly low-rewarding job, it isn’t. Copywriters supply the foundations of what are fantastic ideas. We inject the emotion, the drive and the spirit of a concept. Then, brand managers, producers and other people start dipping their hands in, which is where you might be pushed away. It all depends on the company you’re working with, you might be kicked to the curb more often than not, or you might be invited in!
Also, don’t be disheartened if the client completely rewrites your copy, it’s just the way it goes! They can’t come up with the idea but they sure as hell can rip it to shreds until it looks nothing like what you wrote…
You can throw your stapler at the director, you can kick the shins of the marketing manager but at the end of the day, you’re the word nerd. So, let the ‘bigger’ people think they’re pulling all the strings because deep down, they all know it was your idea.
5. Your work as a copywriter will always be edited (or even rewritten)
As the classic saying goes: “everyone is a copywriter” and being a copywriter, this is a saying that was old before it was new. When it comes to editing, everyone suddenly thinks they’re an expert in grammar. Of course, if there are any typos, misplaced words or punctuation errors, that’s completely fine, everyone is human!
However, it’s when people edit your work to the way they think it should sound in their opinion. That’s the key issue here, it is their opinion, not yours, their’s. Remember, you wrote it, it’s your work, your tone of voice (or the voice of the client you’re writing for), so don’t let someone with little to no experience start dissecting your work just because they would remove the word ‘plethora’ and replace it with ‘ample.’
It is important to remember that you’re also not in charge of everything as a copywriter. You’re not the manager, you’re not even the editor, you are the wordsmith, the idea box, the foundation of brilliance. So, don’t sulk when your words get changed. Sometimes it’s just better to allow them to change a word or two. Sure, it’s annoying, sure, it sounded better in your voice but that’s just part of the job.
6. The Copywriter is often forgotten about
Depending on the size and scope of the company you’re working for, you’ll find that even though you come up with a beautiful idea for an incredible campaign, you won’t be remembered as the architect because you’re one of 5,000 employees.
Fortunately, I work for a company with a big heart and I often get praised for my phenomenal ideas and general intellect (it helps that I’m also an incredible writer and person).
However, we’re talking about the average copywriter here, so buckle up for some more tears. I’ve drafted an accurate representation of what goes on in the majority of companies, let me introduce Jim the copywriter and Dan the idiot:
Jim: So, I’ve got this great idea, its going to revolutionise this campaign.
Dan: Who are you? Anyway, send it over, me and my team will have a read.
2 WEEKS LATER
Dan: We’re running with the idea, thanks Jack.
Jim: It’s Jim.
Dan: Sure, great.
2 MONTHS LATER
Jim: Any update on the campaign, Dan?
Dan: Who are you- oh, yeah we changed a few bits and now it’s up for an award.
Jim: Oh, that’s great! When will I be getting my invite to the awards ceremony?
Dan: Oh, er, you want to come?
Jim: It was my idea, wasn’t it?
Dan: But, we changed it?
Jim: Yeah, but without my input, you wouldn’t have won this awar-
Dan: Oh.. Yeah maybe. I guess we could sort of sneak you through the back doors? You could watch from the wings?
Jim… Thanks Dave.
Dan: It’s Dan.
Jim: Shut up.
So, that killer idea Jim had made it past the brutal feedback and the cutting and editing but Jim himself was left in the dusty corner of the writer’s room. Again, this is usually the case if you’re working for a big company with so many employees that you’re simply forgotten about.
Unless you’re writing for something that’s going straight onto a blog, newsletter or whatever it is, the likelihood is that your work will go through so many changes before the client actually sees it. By then, it might be unrecognisable and you’ll feel as if your brilliant mind isn’t being appreciated.
When it does eventually come around to receiving praise, it’s likely you’ve undertook several other projects by that time and they’ve completely forgotten about the fact you birthed that idea. So, when you go up to them and demand your name to be stenciled next to theirs on that award certificate, don’t be surprised if they ask ‘what did you do?’
Oh, nothing Dan, I just came up with the damn idea, that’s all.
7. As a copywriter, being humble has never been so hard
All’s fair in love and war, right?
Apart from in you’re a copywriter, nothing is fair.
I joke, being a copywriter has its advantages, you just have to work for a company that values your input and understands that you’re more than just a wordsmith. You’re the driving force behind the creative ideas and while you may not get praised for every ounce of work you do, if you work for a respectable company, you will receive your fair share of glory.
I’m sure much of this article sounds bitter and disrespectful of the role but it’s not, not really. You just need to know what you’re getting yourself into, that’s all. It’s a harsh reality for new copywriters and it’s important to understand that despite your genius, you may only be running on 40% a lot of the time.
However, when you do shine, you better make damn sure others know what you did and that you get in on a piece of that delicious success pie.