Think Twice Before Becoming a Copywriter

For a Copywriter, It Can Be All Work and Very Little Reward

The Unsung Hero
The Unsung Hero. Getty Images

So you want to be a copywriter?
Are you sure?

If you’re reading this and considering the title, you are probably in school or college. Or, you are thinking of a career change, and copywriter has a nice ring to it.

Before you dive head first into this profession…WAIT. There’s a lot you need to know that very few people will tell you until you actually take the job. Even then, it takes years to realize some of the things that are about to be revealed.

So, strap in and take notes; it’s a bumpy ride.

The Copywriter Does a Lot of Research

In a traditional copywriter/art director team, the onus is on the writer to do more of the research into the product or service than the art director. There is obviously a very good reason for this; when it comes to writing about the gadget or company, the copywriter needs to know everything.

The art director needs to know enough to help with the concepting, and to make sure the layouts, video spots, and other visual elements do everything justice. You will spend many late nights and early mornings reading and researching while the designers and art directors are off doing something much more fun.

The Copywriter Rarely Does The Fun Stuff

There are perks to every job, and one of the biggest in advertising and marketing is the travel. When you put together shoots, you will often have to travel to a certain location or set to make them happen.

Well, you won’t. Your art director will. The designer will. The account services team will naturally have to go along. And the client will be there. But the copywriter, that’s a role that is considered surplus to requirements.

Sure, you may have come up with the big idea. Yes, the scripts are all yours.

The design and art direction ideas may have even been generated by you. BUT, when it comes time to put those ideas into action, that’s when the copywriter is brushed aside. It costs a little more to send you as well, and that’s money that everyone would rather spend on something else…like craft food services, or upgrade a flight to business class.

You will be sat in the agency writing something, or generating the next big idea, while your art director and his or her team are posting pictures of themselves in Belize on Facebook. Suck it up.

Copywriters are like Cinderella. They never get to go to the ball. But unlike Cinderella, there’s no happy ending either. This is it. Even if you become a creative director, you’ll still be a CD with a copy background. You do words. That’s it, that’s all.

The Copywriter’s Opinion Is Not That Important

It doesn’t help that your title sounds like something an underwriter or undergrad legal aid would do. “Ummm…so you do that copyright stuff I see on books and music and stuff, right?”

You would think in the agency world, and the educated client side, that everyone would know better. For the most part, no, they don’t. Once the copywriter has created an incredible campaign idea, and written scripts and headlines that will sell a ton of that must-have product, they are kicked to the curb.

Their job is done. Now, it’s time for the people with all the visual talent to take over.

Do not be surprised if the client completely rewrites your carefully-crafted copy. They can’t come up with it from scratch, but they can sure as hell edit it. And that very cool visual idea you had to start the 60-second spot…the art director had a chat with the producer and director, and they changed it all up. You can protest, but you’re the word nerd. You don’t know this visual stuff at all, and you’d be best to crawl back behind your desk and get one with something else.

The Copywriter’s Work Will Always Be Edited (Or Even Rewritten)

There’s a reason “everyone’s a copywriter” is such a well-known phrase in agency life. From a junior client to a junior account executive, your words are very easy to change.

It’s just a case of deleting the ones you spent hours sweating over, and replacing it with “better words” that people came up with on a whim over their coffee break.

The visual aspect of advertising, that is way harder to personally change. Sure, you will have a wannabe Ridley Scott or Milton Glaser telling the AD how to use fonts, or what kind of filter to put on the image. But, they can’t actually go in and do it themselves. That takes training. They don’t have training.

What they do have is an email account and Microsoft Word. Hey, that’s what the copywriter uses. “Send me the document, I’d like to make a few changes.”

Hang your head, sigh, and do it. The words will get changed, whether you help or not. And if you argue, you are known as being difficult or a diva.

The Copywriter Is Rarely Remembered As An Architect

Well, you did it.

You had a killer idea that made it past the rounds of client cuts and feedback, and it’s time to get it made, sell some products, and win some awards. This is going to be awesome.

But you, as the writer, touch the project first, and almost never get to see it through to completion. Unless you’re writing for something that goes straight to a blog, or an email account, there are lots of steps between what you do, and what the consumer finally sees.

During that time, you have moved onto other things; and you are about to be forgotten. The AD and the director will have casting calls and you’ll be completely ignored.

The designer will talk to the production department about paper stocks, and you will be absent from that meeting.

The shoot will happen in Paris, and you will be sat in a dull office thinking “what’s happening to that campaign I came up with?”

And when it comes time to collect the praise, and the awards, you have been removed from the project for so long, you are an afterthought.

“Why am I putting this name on the awards sheet, what did they do?”

What did they do? They birthed the damned idea. They took it from an awful brief to a thing of beauty. But that was five months ago, and they’ve been working on other incredible work that is about to be snatched from them and produced by other people.

This, my friends, is the life of a copywriter. A lot of hard work; none of the glory. Are you ready for that? If you have any kind of artistic skill, seriously consider becoming an art director instead. You can still come up with awesome ideas, but the perks are infinitely more satisfying. Then you can look over at the poor copywriter who’s deep into research on the next big project, and wave goodbye as you get ready to step onto a plane for that shoot in Australia. Oh, now that’s the life.

And if you happen to think this all sounds a little bitter, well, you’re clearly not a copywriter. Or you’ve lived a blessed life as one. In that case…congratulations. You’re the exception to the rule.