May 4, 2023

What is copywriting?

People are often puzzled when I tell them I am a freelance copywriter. They are either unfamiliar with the term, or think that I work in copyright...

What is copywriting?

People are often puzzled when I tell them I am a freelance copywriter. They are either unfamiliar with the term, or think that I work in copyright law — a misunderstanding that led to at least one very confused conversation over a third glass of pinot in the pub…

Even I have to admit, until I’d graduated from university and started exploring marketing in more detail, I did not know the job title even existed. It seems that, although we are all surrounded by the work of copywriters, the term is not widely known.

So it made perfect sense to me that my first blog post would go right back to basics. In this article, I explore exactly what it is that copywriters like myself do. And I will start by saying that it has absolutely nothing to do with copyright law!

A copywriter's life summarised in one photo: pen, paper and coffee.

Copywriting ‘101’

In a nutshell, copywriting is the act of writing for the purposes of marketing and promotional material.

Copywriters are responsible for the text (as distinguished from images or other visual material) in a huge range of material, including advertisements, brochures, email, leaflets, catalogs and even radio jingles.

“But why is it called ‘copy’ when the work is original?”

It’s a good question, and one I am frequently asked. Here, ‘copy’ means written matter that is intended to be copied or reproduced in printed form. This use of the word can be traced back to the birth of modern journalism in the late 1800s, when ‘copyboys’ were employed to run material from the writer to the printing house for publication.

A world of copy: We are constantly surrounded by the work of advertising copywriters. But it's not all about catchy slogans and unique brand names.

Today, the work of copywriters is all round us, on websites, user manuals, TV ads, emails, product descriptions, social media content, newsletters, professional bios — the list goes on.

Copywriting can be highly creative work. Coming up with attention-grabbing taglines and magazine advertisements requires a great deal of imagination and skill. But unfortunately (or fortunately) not every copywriting gig feels like a scene from Mad Men. Other forms of copywriting, such as white papers and online job descriptions are far more technical and research-based.

Some copywriters specialise in one form of technical writing, but most are adept at working for various mediums, adapting their style and tone accordingly.

Where do copywriters work?

Copywriters are hired on all levels of business, from small companies wanting to increase their audience reach to multinational corporations with high-profile, worldwide brands.

Many copywriters work in creative agencies or in-house marketing teams. They collaborate with a team of designers, digital specialists content strategists to create on-brand, consumer-focused marketing material. Other copywriters, like myself, are freelance, and are hired by on a project-to-project basis.

Copywriters may work as part of an agency or 'go solo' as a freelancer. Either way, successful copywriting requires collaboration and adaptability.

What makes a good copywriter?

The skills required for great copywriting go far beyond a knack for grammar and refined writing skills (although this certainly helps).

Successful copywriters are able to create memorable, engaging and powerfully persuasive content that compels their readers into action. They are skilled researchers, creative, concise and highly adaptable, uniquely tailoring material to appeal directly to a target audience. In short, they are master wordsmiths who can make anything sound exciting to the right audience.

I could go on for pages about the characteristics of excellent copywriters (at least some of which I like to believe I possess myself!), but I will save you the self-indulgence in this particular post. But if you are burning to know more, this list by Jeff Bullas covers everything that you could ever want in a copywriter.