Copywriting, and the job of the copywriter, was much easier to understand 150 years ago. Back then, when print newspapers were the only form of advertisements, copywriters wrote ads, and that’s all they did. Now, copywriters do much more.
Copywriting is the practice of using written language to influence, persuade and sell. Copywriters create the text and phrases used in marketing, including advertising elements in print, radio, video, and billboards.
It may surprise you to discover that one of the earliest copywriting greats was P.T. Barnum. The ads he wrote and published in local newspapers brought overflow crowds to his circus and made him a very wealthy man.
Copywriting: Turning Words into Wealth.
Some people might say copywriting is just clear communication. It does have to be clearly understood, of course, but there is much more to it than that.
Copywriting is a powerful skillset. Without exception, every aspect of commercial persuasive communication is dependent on copywriting and copywriters.
Copywriting is Everywhere.
In the 21st Century, copywriting is not just about ads. It’s in every detail of our lives. The words you read on a box of cereal were written by a copywriter.
The words on a menu are copy, so are the words in a catalog, on a coupon and the back of a novel.
Compelling copy is written to persuade, to teach you about the product or service, get you excited for it, and inspire you to buy it.
You would have to live an extraordinarily reclusive and isolated life to avoid being influenced by copywriting.
A copywriter created the ads you find in magazines, the billboards along the road, banners on websites, radio advertising, video commercials on YouTube and television.
For better or worse, copywriting is a significant element of modern life.
All of us have been persuaded to make a purchase because of ad copy. You may have gotten a direct-mail letter that inspired us to purchase a magazine subscription or join a local fitness center.
Or, perhaps an email persuaded you to visit a website where you made a purchase.
The catalogs we get each Christmas season are all the product of copywriting.
Every day, persuasive copy is used to promote an infinite array of products, services, and offers. And, every word of it was created by a copywriter.
Copywriting is used to promote charities and fundraisers too.
Copywriting also promotes people like celebrities and politicians.
And, believe it or not, copywriting even sells ideas such as civil rights.
Copywriting vs. Copyright.
Copywriting and copyright are two different animals.
Copyright is a legal “right. It is the “right” to claim ownership of original work, like a book, song, image or screenplay. In the United States, copyright is noted by the symbol ©.
Copywriting, on the other hand, is a form of writing.
For a more detailed discussion about the difference between copyright and copywrite, read What is Copywriting vs Copyrighting?
Where are All the Copywriters?
In North America, it is estimated that about a third of all copywriters are self-employed freelancers.
As of 2010, nearly 40,000 copywriters held staff positions in US advertising, marketing, and public relations firms.
Although no one is counting, it is thought that most copywriters are employed in the marketing and public relations departments of corporations and non-profits.
Copywriting and Business Writing.
There are several reasons why you might confuse copywriting with business writing.
However, generally speaking, copywriting is the sales process in print, and business writing is about communicating business information.
Business writing might include a proposal, an article for a company newsletter, a staff memo, or specific product documents.
Copywriting skills translate well into business writing. It’s not unusual for a copywriter to also do business writing. A skillful copywriter will usually also be a knowledgeable business writer.
However, the opposite is not as common. A good business writer does not necessarily make a good copywriter.
Effective business writing includes organizational skills, logic, and clear communications. It is more focused only on conveying information.
Copywriting requires the same skills as business writing, plus much more.
Effective copywriting also quickly engages the reader emotionally and moves them to either accept a belief or to do something, like making a purchase.
Who are Copywriters?
If you’re in your home or at work, look around, and you’ll probably see something written by a copywriter.
It might be a newspaper ad, a billboard, a brochure, an email, or a website.
Who wrote it?
It might have been written by a veteran copywriter in a top New York marketing agency. Or, maybe a manager in a corporate marketing department wrote it.
Or, perhaps a small ad agency owner wrote it, or a freelance copywriter in a farm town in the Midwest.
The truth is any of them could have written it.
Copywriters who work for advertising, marketing, and public relations firms often create the massive campaigns we see in popular magazines and on television or the internet.
Smaller agencies will typically have only one or two copywriters employed. Larger agencies will often have large teams of copywriters headed by a director of copywriting.
And, at a small agency, staff members share responsibilities. An account executive may also be the copywriter.
Sometimes, the media company, whether it is radio, television, internet or print, may have an in-house copywriter.
Local radio stations and newspapers typically also create their own copy with in-house writers.
Sometimes a company or non-profit will assign copywriting responsibilities to someone within the organization.
If a company needs a description written for a new product, someone in its marketing department will probably be asked to write it.
Meet the Freelance Copywriter.
A lot of copy is written by freelancers. Freelancers are independent contractors hired by agencies and businesses to write for specific projects.
They are paid per project and typically work from home, although, they might on occasion, work at the business that hires them.
Other Names for Copywriters.
In the real world, someone who writes ad copy may not have the word “copywriter” in their job description or on their business card.
Probably most people who write copy are actually not called copywriters.
They might have titles and job descriptions like the following:
- Marketing Writer
- Multimedia Writer
- Newsletter Writer
- Public Relations Writer
- Corporate Scriptwriter
Within a company, copywriting may be an additional duty for an employee with a different title, such as:
- Product Manager
- Marketing Intern
- Marketing Coordinator
- Director of Publicity
- Communications Director
Other writers, both corporate and freelance, may include copywriting in their job description and services, such as:
- Ghost Writers
- Technical Writers
- Business Writers
- Newsletter Writers
The Art of Persuasion.
Copywriting is persuasion in print.
Anytime someone tries to persuade another through the written word, they are a copywriter. It might be a job resume or a message to a friend trying to get them to do something.
If you’ve ever written a classified ad on Craig’s List, you’ve written ad copy, or at least attempted it.
Copywriting Isn’t Magic.
Perhaps because some copywriters earn Rockstar incomes or because of the hype of expensive copywriting courses, many believe copywriting requires literary genius.
More than anything, copywriting requires the ability to string words together to convey a message. It also helps to have enough discipline to stick with a project until it’s done.
Copywriting isn’t magic. It’s a craft.
Anyone of average intelligence can master the techniques, formats, and skills needed to be an effective copywriter.
Most people who have at least modest writing ability and discipline can become copywriters.
Copywriters Often Work Alone.
Although copywriters are often part of a team that includes designers, illustrators, and project managers, they typically work alone.
The most successful copywriters are self-motivated and productive without supervision.
Copywriters Wear Many Hats.
A bit of ad copy is like the tip of an iceberg.
Most of the work the copywriter did isn’t seen. She was only able to craft her message after much preparation and rewriting.
It typically takes a lot of research, refinement, and testing before ad copy is its best.
Although copywriters have many of the same skills as other writers, their core skills and focus are most closely aligned with businesspeople.
This is why good copywriting is so valuable. Perhaps more than any other person, a good copywriter can boost the company’s profit.
What is Good Copywriting?
The ultimate test of a copywriting piece is how well it performs. It’s been said, you can’t argue with success. In a nutshell, good copywriting achieves its objective.
Good copywriting has ten characteristics.
- It has an attention-grabbing headline that draws the reader in.
- It tells a story that emotionally engages the reader.
- It promises the reader a benefit.
- It shows how the offered product or service satisfies a desire or solves a problem for the reader.
- It is written in a friendly tone.
- It uses sincere and straightforward language.
- It has an engaging flow that leads the reader smoothly through the copy from beginning to end.
- It triggers an emotional response and inspires the reader to act in a specific way.
- It’s well polished and free of distracting typos or errors.
- It uses layout and graphic elements to complement the core message.
The Best Copywriting Guide.
Copywriting is a simple and mostly mechanical process. To learn everything you need to know about copywriting, read The Best Copywriting Guide.
Maybe Copywriting Isn’t for You.
Some writers would prefer to stay home and never deal with people. Many writers have a rich inner life and prefer solitude or the company of only a few friends or pets.
For these people, copywriting may not be a good career choice because it typically involves interacting with clients. First, you have to go out into the world and find clients. Then, there’s the negotiation of fees.
Not to mention the pressure of deadlines.
If you would prefer to make a career of writing without dealing with people, blogging might be a better career choice. You can make just as much blogging as you can writing copy.
To learn more about blogging as a career, read The Easiest Writing Career.