what a copywriter does and does not do

11 replies
Hi there, I'm considering pursuing an education in advertising with a focus on either becoming a content writer or copywriter.

My question pertains mainly to copywriting- I was wondering whether a copywriter's job involves some expertise in graphic design/ html skills (in addition to just writing?)

Is the copywriter responsible for ever designing the visual look of an ad, or just catchy slogans and compelling content?

Also- could anyone direct me to a good educational resource or program for trying to design my own copy (for practice)? (I've heard it's recommended to practice on brands you follow or enjoy)

Thanks and I apologize for the block of text!
#copywriter
  • Profile picture of the author RogozRazvan
    There are two primary schools of advertising.

    There is the Madison Avenue style of advertising which focuses on “catchy slogans” and winning prizes. And there is the DR (direct response) copywriting which focuses on getting results.

    The first one is used generally for brand awareness and it is very “creative” while the second is based on metrics, like conversion, leads generated, ROI, etc.

    If you want to go for the MA style, then simply coming up with some creative ideas is enough. Even if these rarely get results (there was a quote, I don’t know who said it, but it was in Ogilvy on Advertising “Half of our advertising budget generates sales and half do not. The problem we don’t know which one is what”), you don’t really need to specialize.

    If you want to go the DR route, then you need to understand the science of conversion. This means that there are some approaches that work better than others and some formulas for coming up with them. It is not 100% a fixed science but it is at least 70%. Your copy in this case does not need to be creative, it needs to sell the damn product.

    In the end it comes down where you want to work. I suggest that you focus only on conversion since this is the biggest bang for the dollar. If you can sell, you can always hire someone else to do the design or the implementation. If you will join a big agency, there are dedicated assets for these roles.

    In any field, you need to ask yourself what generates money. What generates the biggest results. In DR copywriting these are:
    1. Research.
    2. Being a master of persuasion.
    3. Good copywriting skills.
    4. Good writing skills.

    … generally in this order.

    In an MA style, I don’t really know but I assume that creative skills are more important than research and persuasion skills.

    Another quote that I like is “You can turn a salesman into a good copywriter but you can’t turn an English major into a salesman” (I don’t think it is 100% accurate but you get the point).

    So to answer your question - focus on what makes the copy sell, at least in the DR field. In the MA field, focus on making your ideas seem cute and interesting, even if generally this means wasting your client’s money.

    If you don’t believe me, look at some commercials on TV. While they may build brand awareness, some of them have zero persuasion power.

    Best regards,
    Razvan Rogoz

    PS: While it is useful to have multiple skills, even for the sake of it, a jack of all trades is a master of none.
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  • Profile picture of the author BudaBrit
    I'm sorry Rogzan, but that's being entirely flippant.

    True, there's a lot of advertising that doesn't work. There's also a lot of advertising that seriously works.

    The most important thing you can do as an advertising copywriter is research. It's the same. You need to know your audience and know your product. In exactly the same way as DR.

    Just like DR, you're fighting to get yourself seen/heard. That requires creative thinking. For both. It's no good having metrics and nothing else, that doesn't sell in DR. You have to find your hook. Exactly like advertising.

    Yet the difference is the medium.

    Ad copywriting allows much more scope for creative application of great ideas. You get to think much more about how your concept works on every level. It's not just about a catchy phrase.

    Accept the two are different applications of the same idea. Don't be flippant of one just because it's not your cup of tea.
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  • Profile picture of the author RogozRazvan
    BudaBrit - my view on MA advertising is entirely subjective and based on anecdotal information. Since I have NEVER been in this field, I do not know exactly the life of such a copywriter. However, as you may already have seen, my advice on DR copywriting is valid and can be useful to the topic's creator.
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    • Profile picture of the author BudaBrit
      Originally Posted by RogozRazvan View Post

      BudaBrit - my view on MA advertising is entirely subjective and based on anecdotal information. Since I have NEVER been in this field, I do not know exactly the life of such a copywriter. However, as you may already have seen, my advice on DR copywriting is valid and can be useful to the topic's creator.
      So why talk about it so, then?

      I don't doubt your DR skills. Mine are lacking somewhat, although I still want to polish them I don't have much chance to use them right now.
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    • Profile picture of the author angiecolee
      Originally Posted by RogozRazvan View Post

      BudaBrit - my view on MA advertising is entirely subjective and based on anecdotal information. Since I have NEVER been in this field, I do not know exactly the life of such a copywriter. However, as you may already have seen, my advice on DR copywriting is valid and can be useful to the topic's creator.
      As a pro MA style copywriter, I second Buda.

      Granted I'm in-house, so I focus exclusively on one company. But we're ALWAYS asking what the customers want. I'm skilled in those "creative idea" generating areas you mentioned. I'm also obsessive about incorporating direct response principles in my work wherever possible.

      I propose email tests all the time. We email almost 2.5M people... why wouldn't we test and optimize?

      I write direct mail pieces that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sale, as well as print ads completely custom tailored to the market and the magazine/paper itself. All of those things are creative, sure. But we can also track them.
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      Aspiring copywriters: if you need 1:1 advice from an experienced copy chief, head over to my Phone a Friend page.

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  • Scott,

    Originally Posted by scottmcelwee View Post

    Hi there, I'm considering pursuing an education in advertising with a focus on either becoming a content writer or copywriter.

    My question pertains mainly to copywriting- I was wondering whether a copywriter's job involves some expertise in graphic design/ html skills (in addition to just writing?)

    Is the copywriter responsible for ever designing the visual look of an ad, or just catchy slogans and compelling content?

    Also- could anyone direct me to a good educational resource or program for trying to design my own copy (for practice)? (I've heard it's recommended to practice on brands you follow or enjoy)

    Thanks and I apologize for the block of text!
    You say you want someone to direct you to a GOOD EDUCATIONAL RESOURCE? How about you stroll to the front of the copywriting forum and go through all the "STICKY" posts at the top of the copywriting forum.

    Here is the link: Copywriting

    Once you've read through the 1000's of well documented and hugely valuable copywriter's tool box threads, then come back and post. This will benefit you in more ways then you can imagine, but primarily you will get an education worth millions of dollars from those here who burn the midnight oil giving back.
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  • Profile picture of the author gjabiz
    I've worked for three 100 million dollar a year Direct Response companies, and several smaller ones. I know at least 15 full time copywriters, and they all do their own layouts and graphics...all of them, but...

    they have ownership of the promotion, that is, they are getting a piece of the results. There are many others who work under an assignment, and sometimes they rough sketch the graphics and let the graphics department handle it.

    Of course it depends on the media...newspaper and print promotions have size and space requirements, to get around this limitation, in my lifetime we've seen the growing popularity of the magalog and BOOK ... and in these instances the copywriter works with the graphic person assigned to the project.

    Online, I "think" you will find the copywriter (if the owner) rough sketches her promotion and directs the graphic person to get it to the way she sees it in her mind.

    A class in Adobe graphics will help, I grew up with Quark before Adobe was popular...but In Design and Illustrator would be good to have under your belt.

    The more tools you bring to the job, the more jobs you can do.

    gjabiz

    Originally Posted by scottmcelwee View Post


    My question pertains mainly to copywriting- I was wondering whether a copywriter's job involves some expertise in graphic design/ html skills (in addition to just writing?)

    Is the copywriter responsible for ever designing the visual look of an ad, or just catchy slogans and compelling content?

    Also- could anyone direct me to a good educational resource or program for trying to design my own copy (for practice)? (I've heard it's recommended to practice on brands you follow or enjoy)

    Thanks and I apologize for the block of text!
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  • Profile picture of the author scottmcelwee
    Thank you to all who responded and all of the suggestions were very valuable. I am now going to try to research some of the formulas and successful conversion methods.

    Anyways, I really just wanted to express gratitude for the genuine feedback everyone gave! Have a good weekend everyone.
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    • Profile picture of the author kk075
      I've been a freelance copywriter for close to a decade now so I ca touch on points that others wouldn't necessarily know. While I do get asked to occasionally lay out a page, write code or design logos/art work, I always turn these opportunities down. Why?

      Think about it. I bill $85/hr. minimum for my writing services and I'm great at what I do. Most of the time, I have more work than I can handle in a 60 hour workweek. So why would I want to spend hours doing something I'm nowhere near as good at (design, programming, etc.) and collect a fraction of the money for the effort? it makes no sense.

      So if I have a client that insists on some artwork for me to take the job, I have a great graphic designer that I work with. The same goes for a programmer, an illustrator, a video production person, voice actors, and anything else you can think of. Because for the time I'd waste trying to do it myself, I can just keep earning my hourly rate doing what I'm good at and have more than enough left over to pay for a professional. That way, the client wins and I win too.

      One piece of advice though; I would recommend taking a basic programming class in college and a few graphic design classes too. I'd also recommend photography and video production too. Even though you won't be doing it as a main part of your job, it is incredibly helpful for you to have a solid understanding of what's required and what other team members can do to make your copy shine.
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  • Profile picture of the author WritingKings
    Yes great feedback here! I have learned so much myself. This is by far the best forum
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    • Profile picture of the author AmanBansaluk
      A marketing copywriter writes promotional copy. He or she may work on advertising or direct mail campaigns or write Internet marketing copy. Marketing copywriters promote products or services to compel their target audience to take the wanted action, such as buying a product, signing up for a newsletter or entering a sweepstakes.
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