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How to become a copywriter

A diamond is forever. A Mars a day. Have a break… These iconic phrases and thousands like them are all in a day’s work for a copywriter.

If your school’s next catchphrase is never far from your lips, you've got a knack for persuasion, and you’re fascinated by what makes people tick, then you might just be the next Don Draper...

Madmen gif

Copywriters create the text ("copy") for advertising campaigns online, in print, on TV and at the movies. In this article, we’ll explore:

  • What does a copywriter do?
  • What skills and qualifications a copywriter needs.
  • How to become a copywriter.

'A wordsmith with a knack for persuasion and an interest in psychology? Consider copywriting'

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What is a copywriter?

A copywriter is someone who writes text (“copy”) for advertising and marketing purposes – in other words, to sell a product. Copywriters must build trust in a brand and its products, tell compelling stories, and encourage potential customers to take action.

Copywriters are different from journalists, who report on news and events, and content writers, who write articles for websites.

Copywriters work for:

  • Agencies which run ad campaigns for other companies.
  • Companies, writing their own marketing materials.
  • Themselves, as self-employed freelance copywriters.

What does a copywriter do?

Copywriters write for a variety of audiences on a range of different media – including the internet (“online” or “digital”), print, TV and the movies. Copywriters must understand their audience and its needs in order to write in a way which inspires them to take action. They may have a background in journalism or even psychology, and sometimes have experience in market research.

Creative agency

Copywriters work together with designers, project managers,

and others on advertising and marketing campaigns

Copywriters are adept at writing in language which chimes with their audience, and use their expertise to create:

  • Powerful headlines, slogans and email subject lines.
  • Compelling stories, examples and case studies.
  • Catchy slogans which strike a chord with the audience – think “Have a break, have a Kit-Kat” (the best tend to last several decades).

But what does a copywriter do all day? The things a copywriter might create text for include:

  • Billboard advertisements.
  • Dialogue (speech) for a TV or online commercial.
  • Advertorials (adverts which are presented like informative articles).
  • Ad text.
  • Marketing emails.

As well as simply writing text, they have to carry out background work and admin, including:

  • Understanding client briefs and planning out the workload.
  • Coming up with ideas for advertising campaigns, and presenting these ideas to those in charge.
  • Doing “market research” into the needs, interests and profiles of the people they’re selling to (the “market” or “target audience”).
  • Working with other members of the team, including project managers, graphic designers and artists, and scriptwriters.
  • Monitoring the results of campaigns, and making changes to improve outcomes.

What skills do I need?

You need:

  • A knack for understanding people’s motivations.
  • Excellent written communication skills, including the ability to write for different audiences.
  • Research skills.
  • Good time management and the ability to work efficiently to deadlines.
  • An understanding of writing for different media (online, print, TV), platforms (social media, billboard, magazines) and audiences of different ages and backgrounds.
  • The ability to write to a strict word limit.
  • The ability to quickly pick up new techniques and learn about new audiences and unfamiliar platforms and media.

In a nutshell, you’ve got to be like Kanye:

Kanye West gif

What qualifications do I need?

Strictly speaking, copywriters don’t need any formal qualifications, just the ability to write well and pick up the tricks of the trade quickly.

However, you may be able to hone and develop your writing ability by taking GCSEs and A-levels in essay-based subjects such as English literature and language or history. Subjects like this will give you plenty of writing experience and also teach you how to do research and write persuasively.

Subjects like psychology will help you to understand people’s thought and decision-making processes, which you can use to inform your copy.

A degree in a humanities or social sciences subject will help you develop your writing, persuasion and research skills further. Psychology is another popular choice for anyone looking to pursue a career in marketing. There are plenty of marketing degrees out there, some of which include work placements. Apprenticeships in copywriting and marketing are also available.

How to become a copywriter

So you’ve got a flair for writing and the qualifications to back it up. How do you develop this into a career?

Student journalism

Journalism at school or university is a great way to build

experience to add to your portfolio

Experience is key, but luckily there are lots of ways you can gain experience to supplement your studies – and you can start right now:

  • Write for your school or university newspaper.
  • Start your own blog or website.
  • Collect your work together in an online portfolio. You can do this on your blog or website if you have one, or on a free portfolio platform such as Clippings.me or Journo Porfolio.
  • Get some paid work through a crowdsourcing platform like Upwork.com, Copify.com or Freelancer.com (these don’t always pay well but could be a good way to gain experience for money during your studies).
  • Apply for an agency job when you leave school or graduate.
  • Look out for copywriting apprenticeships when you leave school – they’re quite new but they are out there for the eagle-eyed. Search the Find An Apprenticeship site to see what’s what.

Armed with a little experience, you can develop your copywriting career in a number of ways:

  • Agency
  • In-house
  • Freelance

For many copywriters, freelancing is the dream! It means working for lots of clients (customers), and it can often be quite lucrative. You’ll need to be hard working to get business, and will probably need quite a bit of experience on your portfolio to gain clients.

If you want to freelance:

Freelancer close up
For many copywriters, freelancing is the dream

Working for an agency can be a good first step if you’d ultimately like to freelance. With an agency, you’ll gain lots of experience with different clients in different agencies, and will develop skills like time management and balancing your workload against competing deadlines. This will make for a rich portfolio.

You can then start taking on freelance work in your free time to build up a list of clients you can approach for work when you go freelance full time.

To view information about recommended rates, legal stuff and the fair treatment of freelance copywriters, Google the Professional Copywriters Network (PCN).

How much do copywriters earn?

According to the website Pay Scale, the average salary for a copywriter working in the UK is around £23,250. The National Career Service says that senior copywriters can earn up to £80,000.

You will usually work during normal office hours, but may have to work extra when deadlines are approaching.

According to the PCN, freelance copywriters earn an average of £39,850 per year. Inexperienced copywriters will often earn much less. Remember that freelancers don’t earn a salary – instead, they charge a day rate or project fee, or a mixture of both. Freelancers are generally in charge of their own time, but you’ll have to deliver to deadlines and may often end up working long hours.

So, we’ve answered the questions “What is a copywriter?” and “What does a copywriter do?”, and hopefully given you a clearer idea of how to become a copywriter. To learn more about jobs in advertising or marketing, check out our Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations Career Zone.

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Image credits

Lead image via Freepik, Don Draper gif via Giphy, Agency via Wikimedia Commons, Student journalist via Flickr, Writer close up via Pixabay