• Priya Sharma Shaikh

Demystifying careers: To be or not to be a Copywriter!


If you’ve ever seen an Amul hoarding and craned your neck to read the message while in a zipping vehicle or stayed your gaze over a newspaper or magazine Ad or stayed tuned into an engaging Ad on the radio while your are on your way to office, or watched TV or surfed online, chances are that you’ve read and experienced COPY. There is almost no escaping it in todays world. Every advertisement or visual has two components, an image (or video) and some text (or audio). The text you see or hear in an Ad or audio is called copy. In fact, what you read on billboards, brochures, emails, catalogs, banners, magazines and Ads in the newspaper and what you hear spoken in Ads on TV and radio are all different forms of copy and content.

People who write copy are called COPYWRITERS while the ones who write content for brochures, websites, press advertorials, blogs are called CONTENT WRITERS or CONTENT MARKETERS.

I started my career working at Trikaya (now Trikaya Grey). I was in client servicing, which meant helping to get accounts and then servicing them. However, although we brought in the business the coolest guys who were worth their weight in gold were the copywriting team, including Cristopher D'rosario, Alok Nanda and later Preeti Vyas. Their words spelt magic and they were the ethereal beings. The rest of the team was not allowed to disturb them when they were at 'work'. That was my first tryst with formal creative writing and undoubtedly respect was well deserved as the words they put together helped our clients sell better.

What is copywriting?

Simply put, copywriting is writing with the aim of making a sale now or in the immediate future. It is the writing that seeks to persuade people with relevant rationale as why they should buy. A copywriter’s job is to string together words such that people engage with the ad and are moved enough to act on it, whatever the purpose of the ad. Like this video beautifully sums it up, it’s your job to make people care about the brand.

What is a copywriter?

In the early days of copywriting it was all about print ads but over time it had come to include writing for radio and TV as well. Since the emergence of internet, copywriting has become broad based and many today also include writing for blogs and social media in copywriting while others call it content marketing and consider it outside the purview of copywriting.

What does a copywriter typically do?

The job requires you to be a wordsmith. That’s the basic requirement. Whatever you write, you’ll have an agenda and all your writing will be geared towards accomplishing it. For example, you have a soap to sell and there are dozens of brands of soaps out there already. As a copywriter, you are supposed to catch the consumer’s eye and give her/him a strong reason to buy your product. The next time your target customer is in a shop looking for a soap, she/he should ask for your brand.

Depending on the brand and its positioning, your message will have to vary. Watch these ads to see two examples of how the copy for your ad might vary even for the same brand.

Every medium has its nuances and the copy will vary from one medium to another. Brands ensure that the tagline and tone of the messaging remain consistent throughout but the copy will evolve nonetheless. A 30 second ad on TV has a certain requirement, while a banner ad online has its own.

Copywriters working in the digital parts of agencies (or in digital agencies) would be online most of the time.

Work could include tweeting for clients, posting a Facebook status and blogging.

This requires an understanding of social media norms and knowing what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Now this doesn’t mean that a copywriter spends his/her entire day writing in a corner. Much of the copywriters’ time goes in researching the market and the consumer. If you need good ideas for copy you will need to be a good researcher, someone who’s willing to read or listen to understand what the consumer really wants.

Good copywriting is all about touching the consumer’s heart and for that you need to know the consumer well. Like, really really well!

A copywriter is often required to be present in pitch meetings and at such times, you may need to think fast and come up with ideas on the spot. Once you’ve got the business, another important job of a copywriter is to communicate the brand message to the client and explain the ethos behind the text you have chosen to use.

What skills does a copywriter need?

Copywriting is a job that requires no qualification except that you be good with words and willing to get better. Of course no ad agency or marketing firm hiring copywriters is ever going to say that, but if you have a knack for words and can make them do your bidding, then trust me, lack of a degree or a major in a language is not going to stand in your way. But being a good copywriter requires more than that.

Copywriting is a job that requires you to be creative as well as analytical at the same time.

As I mentioned above, the ability to research is critical, but so is your curiosity about the world we live in. Great ideas are often a result of combinatorial thinking and that requires an insatiable thirst for knowledge about people, their cultures, beliefs and value systems, their languages and the way they speak to each other amongst other things.

Copywriting is great storytelling backed by insight and research

Copywriters usually work with the art department and business development teams and it goes without saying that you need to be a good team player to achieve your goals as a copywriter. You’ll need to work long hours and meet deadlines and hence will require an ability to deal with pressure.

You’ll also need a lot of patience, for the times when your best ideas get rejected again and again and again.

But it’s nothing that cannot be learnt on the job. As long as you are excited about it, you can just do it.

Career progression for copywriters

If you are fresh out of college, you usually start with interning at an agency or a marketing firm. Of course you could be lucky and get recruited directly too. You will probably start as a junior copywriter writing under someone more experienced, who will oversee your work. You will also probably proofread and edit copy written by others. Most firms will put you on smaller accounts while you learn the tricks of the trade.

Once you’ve spent a few years on the job and shown a flair for it, you will most likely be promoted to senior copywriter where you will be writing copy yourself and working on new client pitches.

The pinnacle of the copywriting hierarchy in agencies is the role of creative director who oversees the entire business.

The CD has already worked on a lot of assignments and usually created a name while doing so. She/he sets the creative vision for the team and is responsible for getting clients. Most CD’s will go through the hierarchy becoming Associate CD’s first. In larger agencies you’ll also find the role of a National CD who is effectively the national head of all creative work in the agency.

While it takes at least 12-15 years to reach the level of a CD in a regular advertising agency, in new-age digital agencies the progression to a similar role could be much faster. Most agencies today are flat organizations and if you’ve got the talent then it will be seen. All that matters is the quality of your ideas and if they are good then you’ll have a great career ahead of you.

Where can you find work?

Advertising agencies and marketing firms recruit copywriters all the time. A simple search online will throw up a list of such agencies in and around your city. Fuelled by the dramatic growth in internet penetration, digital agencies are sprouting across the country and some of the most cutting-edge work is currently happening online. With a little due diligence and a careful look at the client list of such agencies, you can figure out, which agencies are doing good work. As an in-house copywriter, you can find work in marketing teams of firms that own brands.

Entry-level salaries in agencies range from Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 while those in marketing firms could go higher. Unless you can show exceptional writing talent, you will need a degree, any degree, to get started.

It is also recommended that you remain keen on learning more about the trends in the trade and to do so please make sure you subscribe to sites like Campaign India, Adage and Agency Faqs to keep yourself up to date on all that is happening in the creative world.

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