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When we write job advertisements for copywriters I am always amazed at how many applicants we receive from so many different walks of life. There is a wonderful appeal to working in a role that doesn’t require dressing up for the part. I actually saw one advert the other day that said “work from home in your pyjama’s”. Is it really that easy, or appealing, to earn money spitting out lines of text for pet food companies? I decided to delve deeper into this world and asked a couple of successful copywriters how they made their mark.
Header images: Born Into; Optical Itzak 2; Estonian Jewellery; John Lewis/The Boy who Wanted to Touch the Moon; John Power/VJ Mix
Original publication: Desktop Magazine 2007
Republished with permission
www.desktopmag.com.au
Lets first look at what a copywriter actually does. There are loads of different types of copy (the text that features in any form of advertising) – from ten words on the back of a beer bottle, a hundred words in a glossy magazine advert, a thousand words in an informative brochure to ten thousand words in a trade article and of course everything inbetween. Copy can be intended for publication on printed leaflets, magazines, and on the web. There is even a growing call for copy in SMS adverts and TVC spillers that require the entire contents of an advertorial to be condensed to a couple of grunts and well placed voice overs. Copy can make or break a campaign. The visuals can tell a great story but without the copy the audience can miss the point of the whole exercise.

Copywriter checklist

First things first. When writing copy do you have a testimonial check – any delighted customers who are genuine and willing to add their name to what you write. Do you have a bonus – to encourage prospects to act now. Is it simple – can the average person (most adverts aim at 11 year olds) understand your message and know how to act. Have you done a padding check – unnecessary words are the scoundrels of editors. Have you done an interest check – do you want to keep reading. Is your copy highlighted in appropriated places, does it have a headline that is of significant benefit or of considerable curiosity. Does your copy create sufficient desire to help close a deal. Where do I sign? Does your ad or copy have a competitive advantage build in. Have you done a patience check – do you really think its good two days after you have written it?

Can anyone write great copy? Probably everyone has in them one or two well thought out or serendipidous lines – but that’s not going to pay the rent or have the next great campaign knocking on your door. A good copywriter needs to be able to research, write, structure and perfect a perfect piece of advertising. So where do those skills come from?

Education

Most copywriters study journalism first. Why? It probably seems like the right thing to do. Start with the more “serious” of the arts, and if it doesn’t quite all fit into place for you maybe fall back into copywriting. This isn’t really how it works in the real world. The two are obviously related crafts, but the tools employed are quite different – except the computer and keyboard part of course.

Courses abound in making you into a copywriter. There are study at home courses, online courses, university based courses and lots of on the ground learn as you go type courses for you to join. Some of these are just copy in their own right. Some are a great step up to a rewarding career. How do you know you are getting the right start?

First you need to look at your own background. Copywriting, like all forms of writing, stems from something inside you. Do you have something to say. Can you draw on these experiences or feelings to portray something bigger than yourself. Do you just need some tools to help you along to put pen to paper – or do you need a comprehensive degree.

Copywriting as a Career choice

Two people I have really enjoyed working with over a number of years are Andrew TIjs and Thomas Hunter. Both just happen to be copywriters. I asked them why they do it, and how it all started:

Andrew Tijs: journalist, copywriter

I snuck into copywriting through the more respectable side door of journalism, by being willing enough to put my hand up for anything on offer. That meant a lot of research, and whether in journalism or copywriting, you're selling something; a concept, a personality, an innovative new pooper-scooper. Nobody is born omnipotent and writers are only held up as oracles because they've put the effort in to learn about what they now seem to be an authority on. It might only take the slightest turn of phrase or an insightful factoid for copy to strike the audience effectively. But the most enjoyment I derive from copywriting is nailing that tone, communicating with the audience in a credible manner, and getting a tickle when I stumble over just the right turn of phrase that will sell the concept. Or the pooper-scooper.

Thomas Hunter: editor, journalist, copywriter, online producer

At the risk of sounding corny (the copywriter's worst sin) I got into writing because there wasn't anything else I'd be happy doing for 40+ hours a week. After a false start on another career (don't ask), I went back to school to study writing at tertiary level. I completed a Diploma of Arts in professional writing and editing, which, fortuitously, introduced me to someone who knew someone else who needed some restaurant reviews written (ah yes, networking. it really works). Long story short, now I've written everything from ads for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games to articles on the failings of government policy. And for me, that's what makes professional writing such a pleasure -- no two jobs are the same, and all demand some form of creativity. There might be copywriters out there who are touched by genius, but you'll find most keep their jobs by using more mundane skills, like meeting deadlines, writing strictly to brief, and fostering good relationships with bosses or whoever commissions them. If you find yourself a bit short on genius (and let's face it, who doesn't?), persistence and a willingness to rewrite something until you get it right is a fine substitute.

Copywriting can offer you the career of your dreams, or a freelance interlude to other things in your life. It’s the personal experiences that bring copy to life for others. If you have ever thought of putting your thoughts down on paper then this might be the career for you. For a corporate job you will probably need to hone your skills to more than just your immediate experience. Can you write something that will speak to others .. if you can give us a call.

Terri Dentry is an independent film journalist, animation producer, and the Director of thinkRED film & media in Melbourne, Australia.

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