The Life of a Copywriter
So what's it actually like to be a freelance copywriter? My good friend and colleague Lara tells all...
Why did you decide to become a copywriter?
Copywriting felt like a natural career choice for me. I have loved writing and reading for as long as I can remember; English was my favourite subject at school, so I went on to study it at university; I enjoy watching adverts and understanding the marketing process – and the copywriting industry itself is creative, commercial and innovative, which I find fascinating.
For those out there who don’t know what a copywriter does (believe me I’ve come across them!), how would you describe your job?
Haha …yes, true – the definition of a copywriter seems to evolve all the time!
I would say my job involves creating effective written communications to promote a product, brand or business. This can include writing words for adverts, advertorials, editorials, headlines, taglines, straplines, websites, blog posts, apps, presentations, speeches, product descriptions, scripts, brochures, newsletters, direct mail, books and press releases.
Sometimes I work directly for a client independently and other times I work as part of a creative team. It has become a given that any words I write need to work across traditional and new media, which I enjoy as there is always something new to learn.
What is an ‘average’ day like in the life of a copywriter?
Most days I work from my home studio. As such, I like to keep a strict agenda to ensure I stick to client deadlines and work towards my short and long-term business goals – otherwise it’s very easy to become distracted with household chores, online (window) shopping and the white chocolate cookies I baked at the weekend!
I usually begin the day by checking my emails, updating my project planner and keeping up-to-date on all my admin. When I have a chance, I also like to do some free writing exercises (check out 750 words) to spark creativity and help inspire my own content marketing strategy and blog post ideas.
The copywriting work itself varies on a weekly basis; but, for instance, this month I’ve been writing food product headlines and descriptions, travel blog posts, tone-of-voice documents and an entire company re-brand project. I love the variety and the clients I am working with, which is one of the many benefits of being a freelancer.
I try and leave my desk by 7pm each evening to prepare dinner, go to a dance class and spend time with family and friends. This varies depending on deadlines and other commitments, but I have learnt that it’s important to relax and take time out from your desk to boost energy and enthusiasm.
What inspires your writing?
Inspiration can come in the strangest of places: different sights, smells and settings help boost my creativity. I always keep a notebook on me to jot down ideas as and when they come to me; like last weekend, my husband said something to me about dinner and it gave me an idea for a tagline.
People inspire me – and I look up to friends and family who achieve great things in their personal and professional lives: many are running their own successful businesses, getting married, having babies, learning a new language, teaching themselves recipes and travelling to the most incredible places for business and leisure.
I also like to read a lot; at the moment, I’m reading a girly ‘chic flick-style’ book on my Kindle, a few different foodie, fashion and lifestyle bloggers on Bloglovin’ and a book on branding and strategy that was recommended to me. I guess other people’s words, views and perspectives influence and improve my work as it opens my mind.
Which advertising campaign do you wish you’d worked on?
I have an ongoing admiration and adoration for the work of Dolce & Gabbana, which began with La Bella Estate advertising campaign in 2012. The styling, the scripts and the staging in all the print adverts, short films and advertorials embody the values of the brand. The team has also extended this strategy across all its marketing and PR; they even have a magazine-style fashion, travel, food, arts and lifestyle blog called Swide. It’s exceptional.
What comes first, the chicken or the egg?! From your experience, what do you think should come first, the design or the copy? Or should we work together from the start? Does this make a difference to the end result?
In an ideal world, we’d work together from the beginning. Visual communication requires both design and words to help inform, educate or persuade an audience.
The best campaigns are always the ones where the copywriter and the designer feed, inspire and drive each other towards the optimum result. It’s also more fun and enjoyable to be collaborative and work as a team.
Do you think designers are easy to work with? They are known to be stubborn sometimes!
I guess I’ve been lucky, as the designers that I work with are great! Perhaps it’s because the majority of them are freelancers like me, so we learn how to be the creative, the director, the finance manager and the runner all at once. We have a common ground, so we have a mutual respect for each other on that basis.
How does the copywriter-designer relationship work for you?
I used to work in a design agency as an account manager, so I really appreciate the role of the designer in the creative process.
It helps for the designer / art director and the copywriter to be as collaborative as possible from the outset and value each other’s strengths and different approaches to the task. Whereas designers are experts in visual composition and direction, copywriters will focus more on the look, sound and feel of the words.
I always find it helps to understand the design process and the tools the designer requires from the copywriter to optimise project results. The same goes for website designers, printers, production specialists and technicians: the more each expert in their field comprehends the skillsets of other experts in different industries, the greater chance you have of maximising everyone’s potential for the benefit of the client, the project and the team itself.
I’m sure you have worked on many projects, from small to large. Why would you recommend a small to medium sized business hire a copywriter for their re-brand, new website or advertising for example?
Smaller businesses tend to be too close to their daily operations, which can make it hard to see the bigger picture. I’m the first person to admit that my business is like my baby – and everything I do for it is with my heart. This is positive in a lot of ways, but it does mean that outside influences are required to ensure the content remains customer-focused.
As well as offering a new, word-orientated perspective on the project, a good copywriter can market a company or a product in a concise and catchy way that resonates with the target audience. Clients are experts in their fields – and the same is true of copywriters. The right words will ensure the business produces its strongest possible marketing message.
What’s more, quality writing takes time; if a business is investing in its advertising and marketing, the written content should be as pristine as the design and the functionality. The copywriting process includes in-depth research and insight, a clear content strategy, concept development and more rewrites and reviews than we care to remember. Most businesses do not have the time or the inclination to dedicate resource to their content – but a copywriter can and will create copy that conveys authority and customer retention.
What tips would you give small business owners in order to look after their copy, once they go it alone?
Once a business or brand has its set ‘story’, it’s important that the content is maintained and developed to keep it fresh, relevant and meaningful in the eyes of the target audience (…and Google if it’s online).
For smaller business owners I tend to write a series of guidelines and techniques for them to use in their everyday copy. This can include key words and phrases, example text and the reasons why these words are so important to the brand and the business. I try to keep this as succinct as possible so that clients are more likely to use it.
It’s good practice to have regular brainstorms about the brand or the company to understand how the business is perceived and how this can be communicated. Listing similar tone-of-voices and ways they deal with certain situations will help the business identify how it could react in a similar scenario. This will help add to the content marketing strategy and may spark ideas for blog and social media posts, for example.
I guess my biggest tip would be to think before pressing post, or sending a document to print. Is it relevant? Would my target audience want to read it? Is it appropriate? I always ask someone to proofread my work before I post it on my own website to check it’s in-keeping with the brand and my business goals.
It’s key to remember that there is no right or wrong with this, so long as it’s consistent.
Has the rise in social media and online brand presence affected the copywriter? (A lot of clients now ask for web copy to be SEO friendly, specific copywriting tips for Twitter posts, Facebook…)
Writing for digital media is very different from traditional advertising and marketing, so I would say it has impacted on the role of the copywriter and the industry generally. The reader is in a different frame of mind when using digital channels, so this will inevitably change the style of the design and the words used.
I like to see these digital developments as opportunities for the copywriter though; there is more to write about, more to learn and more ways to connect with the target audience than ever before.