What is copywriting? Copywriting is the business of writing text for advertising or marketing products or services. Copy, or sales copy, is text designed to convince readers to purchase products or take particular action. Creating it often involves constraints of space, vocabulary, and style.
Copywriters may be the most widely read writers on the planet, but also the least recognized. Advertising and marketing copy is ubiquitous. It’s found on project packaging, in media taglines, as part of product logos, in advertising jingles, and as the text of advertisements or marketing brochures themselves. None of it comes with the author’s byline, though.
Copywriting requires a very highly attuned sense of audience and language. Copywriters must be masters of concision and persuasion, crafting influential phrases or ad copy in very limited space.
Just Do It … Got Milk? … Where’s the Beef? … Think Different … Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.
A well-written slogan or tagline creates an indelible association that readers just can’t get out of their head. And as the examples above prove, the impression they leave can stick around for decades even after entirely new campaigns are launched. Advertising copy might well be the original meme—designed to live in the popular consciousness and influence people.
What is Creative Copywriting Used For?
Writing something that fits into a limited amount of space, conveys a specific message, and conforms to standards of branding and taste is an inherently creative exercise. And that kind of skill is a must-have for any marketing-driven company. Creative copywriting is used for:
Copy isn’t used only for commercial products or services, however. Advertising and influence campaigns are also used in diverse fields such as:
Copywriters are involved with many kinds of commercial and non-commercial writing projects.
The wide scope of uses makes the answer to the question, what is a copywriter, a very broad one.
What Is a Copywriter?
Broadly speaking, copywriters do what it takes to craft text to serve specific purposes. The assignments they get are often project-based, with a clear objective and deadline.
On a typical project, a copywriter is likely to receive a specific briefing for writing copy. That assignment will probably include:
The copywriter will then research the necessary details for the assignment, reviewing similar text, brainstorming different approaches to take, and writing drafts.
What Is a Junior Copywriter?
On big copywriting teams or in advertising or marketing agencies, there may be a hierarchy to the copywriters involved on a project. The junior copywriter is traditionally a newer member of the team, with less experience. The job is sometimes seen as a kind of apprenticeship. It can offer an opportunity to learn from professionals while developing the skills needed to eventually become a lead copywriter.
But the junior copywriter has dues to pay first. They are likely to be the ones out getting coffee and bagels before brainstorming meetings. They probably are responsible for printing off examples and project briefs, and may do a lot of the work in putting together boilerplate for project proposals. They are frequently assigned to do research, assembling audience demographics or competitor reports.
As they take on more responsibility and earn more trust, junior copywriters might become responsible for breaking down projects or specifications for the team. They will eventually start working on copy of their own, drafting text and revising it as directed by senior copywriters. Eventually, the junior copywriter will become a senior themselves… and the cycle starts again.
Copywriting is usually an iterative process. That means meetings with clients, doing draft reviews, and revising text based on feedback. Copywriters learn to incorporate perspectives outside their own to give each piece a style and tone unique to the client’s requirements.
It’s a challenging profession, and one that demands a combination of discipline and imagination every day.
What Is a Copywriter’s Job in Different Specialty Fields?
Although the basic tasks in a copywriter’s job description are pretty standard, there are so many different specialties in the field that the average day can be pretty different from niche to niche. These are some of the most common copywriting specializations and how they differ from one another:
What Is Ad Copywriting?
Almost every advertisement you see, whether it’s a television commercial, a newspaper or magazine ad, or a flyer plastered on your windshield, has text on it. Ad copywriters craft that text to catch your attention, advocate for the product, and convert you to a customer.
All that has to happen in very limited space, sometimes only a line or two. It has to include vital information about how the product will meet your needs and where you can buy it. And it must fit in with supporting imagery, often chosen by the client or other creatives.
What Is SEO Copywriting?
Search Engine Optimization is the art of getting web pages to rank high in the search results of internet search engines, delivering exactly what people are looking for based on the search queries they plug in. SEO copywriting revolves around meeting the criteria that web indexes like Google or Bing use to rank search results. SEO copywriters use keyword placement and other recommended best practices to build website text that comes in as high as possible in search results based on the intent behind the words and phrases people search for.
On top of that goal, the text also has to fulfill other client goals, such as providing product information or converting visitors into customers. SEO copywriting is constantly evolving with changes in search ranking algorithms, ensuring constant demand in this field.
What Is Direct Response Copywriting?
The next time an ad flashes up on your screen screaming about a limited time offer (Act Now!) you are reading the work of a direct response copywriter. Direct response marketing attempts to create an immediate sale from each advertisement. It’s a high-stakes effort that requires the most persuasive writing in the business.
The kind of skill required to put together effective direct response copy commands top dollar in copywriting circles.
What Is UX Copywriting?
User experience copywriters write the text that people don’t consciously think about when interacting with apps or websites—button labels, menubar headers, help pop-ups, footers, and other kinds of microcopy that inform and guide users. UX copywriting is enormously detail-oriented. Big design meetings may be held over the slight difference in meaning between two word options on a menu button. But UX copywriters aim to provide an intuitive, positive user experience for each user of a device, application, or website with carefully crafted text.
What Is Copywriting in Marketing?
Marketing copywriting goes more toward building brands and product reputation than direct sales. Marketing copy increases awareness and shapes the business environment to encourage future sales, rather than looking for direct conversions.
Marketing copywriters have to be plugged in to their audience. They use demographic information and understanding of popular culture to cultivate an image that brand managers believe will enhance the popularity of the products or company overall.
The Skills Required To Be a Copywriter Are Constantly Evolving
Copywriting evolves as fast as consumer tastes change and the media market shifts. These days, that’s very quickly.
So a copywriter’s expertise has to extend to the websites, social media platforms, and short-form video trends that will be next to capture the attention of their audience.
Mastering new skills like scripting, search-engine optimization, and art and composition can be required for copywriters at almost any time.
Copywriters also have to be closely attuned to the culture and preferences of their audience. Their job is to write material that resonates with the wants and needs of potential buyers or users. Often, they will be trying to tap into a generational or culture pattern, where the subtext of their writing will carry influence beyond just the plain meaning of the words.
What Is a Copywriter’s Salary?
Every commercial corporation needs to sell in a competitive marketplace. Even many government and nonprofit organizations have a mission that requires a sort of salesmanship or information distribution that is right in line with the skills of copywriters.
That makes copywriting one of the most lucrative and most established of all possible writing jobs. How lucrative? It’s difficult to tease out the figures exactly—according to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), around 90 percent of writers are self-employed. There’s no way to tell exactly how many of those work in copywriting.
But there is a way to figure out what the baseline salary is for copywriters who are employed by ad and marketing agencies.
According to the BLS, the median salary for writers and authors working in the information industry, where ad and marketing firms are grouped, was $80,560 in 2021.
The top ten percent of those writers earned more than $133,580… a substantial return on a liberal arts degree.
What Is a Freelance Copywriter?
Skilled copywriters are always in high demand. At the same time, most businesses have a fairly limited amount of copy that they need. Ad copy amounts to only a few lines that can be used for months or more. Product brochures might be produced once a year. And a good marketing tagline can last for decades.
That means that full-time employment for copywriters may be the exception rather than the rule. While ad and marketing agencies get around this by employing copywriters and using them on projects for a range of clients, many businesses will instead hire freelance copywriters.
Freelancers effectively work as tiny one-person agencies, responsible for acquiring clients, managing relationships, filing taxes, and writing all the copy themselves. This is a lot of responsibility, but also offers unprecedented freedom, and an ability to set rates to match personal abilities.
Many freelancers develop expertise in a particular niche and work only within a certain industry or with a specific format of copywriting. But there are no limits in freelancing, so any copywriter can turn freelance gigs into the career they are looking for.
How To Become a Copywriter
Talent and skill are prized above all else in the copywriting world. Although, like other industries, advertising and marketing agencies have moved in the direction of preferring candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree, applicants are judged first on their portfolio.
While many copywriters are employed directly by marketing and advertising firms, many also work independently as freelancers. There is no barrier to entry, but without a clear work history and examples of actual work product, it can be a tough market to break into.
How To Become a Freelance Copywriter
Freelance copywriting takes all the same skills as becoming a copywriter for an agency or in-house copywriting team, plus individual business skills and motivation. Actually writing copy as a freelancer is no different than as an employee. All the challenges come from aspects such as:
- Running your own business
- Staying organized and engaged
- Lining up new clients
- Client communications
To be your own boss is well worth the extra effort for many copywriters. But it comes with risks and extra demands on your time.
But entrepreneurial copywriters have an edge over other kinds of freelancers. The process of selling your skills to new clients involves the use of those same skills. So polishing up your website to draw interest, writing a cold pitch e-mail, or posting ads aligns perfectly with your area of expertise. Put those skills together with some basic knowledge of taxes, licensing, and copyright, and you’re in business.
As a practical matter, anyone looking to become a copywriter today will want a college degree. The discipline and focus of a college program allows students to polish their skills and build up their portfolio of written work, both of which are key in finding copywriting jobs.
Despite the demand for the profession, it is rare to find a major devoted to copywriting. That means students have to look to related fields of study, including degrees in:
But maybe the best preparation for a copywriting career comes through degrees in creative writing.
How To Become a Copywriter With No Experience
Education is easily the best way to get your foot in the door as a copywriter with no experience. Although it’s possible to hustle and grind your way into the profession with native talent and determination, that’s an approach that is hit and miss.
Earning a degree, such as in creative writing, helps you get past the hurdle of breaking into the business in several ways:
A degree is something that all employers want to see on resumes that come in the door today.
Earning a Creative Writing Degree Offers a Way To Build Your Copywriting Skills
Although copywriting is a very distinctive discipline in non-fiction, a creative writing degree offers excellent training for the kind of demands found in writing ad copy.
Creativity is prized in copywriting. Although it’s not fiction, ad copy should be both inspired and inspiring.
That’s because the kinds of assignments and skills developed in creative writing courses mirror the sorts of challenges that copywriters face every day:
And, of course, the generally high level of polish and technical command of grammar and vocabulary are assets in any type of professional writing.
You need more than a degree to become a copywriter today. But creativity isn’t optional. While a creative writing degree doesn’t automatically make every graduate a creative person, it can fire the imagination and hone the creative skills of writers with the right mindset for copywriting.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job growth figures for Writers and Authors represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2022.