Creative copywriters are employed by agencies both permanently and on a freelance basis to develop advertising concepts. They mainly deliver the words and verbal content that accompanies the visual elements. Agency copywriters usually work in close partnership with art directors and have lots of input to the visual elements. Many advertising agencies appoint them as a creative team.
Job Description, salaries and benefits
Copywriters are responsible for generating the words, slogans and audio scripts that accompany advertising visuals.
The typical creative process can involve:
- discussing the client's core message and target audience
- brainstorming visual and copy ideas with other members of the creative team
- writing and presenting a few options to clients
- modifying copy until the client is satisfied
- overseeing the production phase.
The copywriter and art director are accountable for checking all the content being advertised is truthful and complies with codes of advertising practice.
Most copywriters work Monday to Friday, although work can extend into evenings and weekends. Part-time, permanent contracts are hard to find but freelance opportunities are common. Although copywriters are mainly based in an office or studio, they may travel with the art director to visit clients, film and recording studios.
Salaries may range from around £18,000 a year for junior copywriters to around £120,000 for creative directors.
An advertising copywriter should:
- be highly creative and imaginative
- have good written and interpersonal skills
- work well in a team
- be able to work under pressure
- have an eye for detail
- have an interest in commerce, popular culture, and new advertising trends and techniques.
The majority of advertising agencies are in London, but opportunities for copywriters exist throughout the UK. Entry is highly competitive. Working in a business's in-house marketing team could be a route into agency work. Many copywriters are hired in partnership with a creative art director.
Many copywriters have an HND, Foundation degree or degree in advertising, design or related subjects. An applicant's portfolio of work may be as important as their qualifications. Advertising is dominated by young people, with nearly half of the workforce aged below 34. Some journalistic experience may help adult entrants.
Training for junior copywriters tends to be on the job. External workshops and short courses can enhance skills.
Junior agency copywriters may progress to senior copywriter and potentially to creative director. Many successful copywriters set up as freelancers. There may be some overseas opportunities, particularly for copywriters skilled in writing for specific industry sectors.
What is the work like?
The types of projects and clients vary widely, although some copywriters may specialise in an industry sector. They may also specialise in producing copy for:
- above the line advertising, which uses mass media like TV, cinema, interactive media, posters and radio scripts to promote brands
- below the line advertising, which uses less conventional methods that focus on direct means of communication, like brochures, leaflets, press advertisements and direct mail.
The copywriter is responsible for taking a client's advertising brief and generating original copy ideas that grab the attention of the target audience. This can include creating straplines, slogans, body copy, jingles and scripts. Usually working on multiple projects, the typical creative process can involve:
- meeting with account executives to discuss the client's requirements and core messages
- familiarising themselves with the product, target audience and competitor activities in the market
- brainstorming ideas and concepts for the visual and words with other members of the creative team
- presenting initial ideas to the creative director, some of which may be rejected or developed into workable concepts
- writing various copy options, which may be presented to the client as a story board (a consecutive series of frames depicting the script and drawings that may be used)
- modifying copy until the client is satisfied
- overseeing the production phase, booking and liaising with designers, illustrators, printers, photographers and production companies
- casting actors and models to appear in adverts
Accuracy is essential. The copywriter and art director are accountable for checking all the content being advertised is truthful and complies with codes of advertising practice. Although proofreaders may examine the final copy, copywriters are also responsible for checking spelling and grammar.
Junior copywriters can earn between £18,000 and £22,000 a year in London.
Hours and environment
Copywriters have to be flexible, as their work is very deadline driven. Most work Monday to Friday, although the creative thinking process can mean copywriters rarely switch off completely. Work frequently extends into evenings and weekends. Part-time, permanent contracts are hard to find. However, freelance opportunities are common, with many creative copywriters working remotely from home.
Although mainly office based, copywriters and art directors may undertake research in public areas, visiting different locations to seek inspiration. They may also visit client offices. Attending photo and film shoots and audio recording studios is likely with some agencies.
The creative environment is often very informal, with relaxed dress code. However, copywriting can be a stressful and demanding career with increased competition to create something truly unique.
Salary and other benefits
These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.
- Junior copywriters may earn between £18,000 and £22,000 a year.
- Salary ranges for a middleweight copywriter - that is, someone with three or more years' experience - may be between £25,000 and £40,000.
- A senior writer with strategic and team responsibilities may earn up to £70,000, plus benefits.
- Creative directors who have won campaign awards may earn around £120,000.
Salaries tend to be higher in London and will vary depending on the size and reputation of the agency.
Skills and personal qualities
An advertising creative copywriter/director should:
- be highly creative and imaginative, and curious about clients' products or services
- be skilled in writing clear, concise and grammatically correct copy
- understand the different language styles that appeal to various target markets
- have excellent interpersonal and communication skills
- work well in a team and with a range of creative people
- be able to work under pressure and manage workloads effectively
- be highly self-motivated and well organised
- be able to see other people's points of view and take on board feedback
- work within strict budgets
- have an eye for detail
- possess good leadership, people and project management skills.
It is important that creative copywriters maintain an interest in:
- commerce, popular culture, and new advertising trends and techniques
- why loyal customers buy certain products
- competitor activities and successful campaigns being delivered by other agencies.
Around 1,100 agency creative copywriters are employed in the UK. Many more work on a freelance basis. While these figures are not specific to the copywriting role, 70% of the total advertising workforce is in London. The next largest proportion is 6.3% in the North West. Larger agencies may employ as many as 20 copywriting/art direction teams. Other centres for advertising include Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester.
Entry is highly competitive. Large businesses with in-house marketing teams often employ copywriters to produce business-to-business and direct marketing literature. This can be a route into agency work.
There are very few formal training schemes, although agencies do offer summer internships and work placements to degree students. Many copywriters are hired in partnership with a creative art director. Such partnerships may be formed on courses. Taking on unpaid placements and demonstrating skills is the most common route into junior positions. Agencies expect copywriters to present a 'book', or portfolio, of work that shows evidence of creativity and innovation.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) have a scheme allowing students to post their CVs on the IPA website (www.ipa.co.uk) between June and September each year. Their Graduate Recruitment Agency Factfile lists member agencies with structured recruitment programmes and is an excellent starting point for those wishing to make a speculative approach to agencies.
Entry for young people
There are no set entry requirements. However, many entrants have an HND, Foundation degree or degree in advertising or design. Other areas, such as journalism, marketing, media or English can be equally useful.
Creative ability is vital for this job and creative directors may be keen to encourage talented writers from any academic background. An applicant's portfolio of work may be as important as their qualifications.
Entry requirements to these courses vary, but minimum entry requirements are typically:
HNCs/HNDs - one A level/ two H grades in relevant subjects, or a BTEC national diploma/certificate in a relevant subject, plus a portfolio.
Foundation degree - three GCSEs/S grades (A-C /1- 3) and one A level/H grade or equivalent.
Degree - five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades, or equivalent qualifications.There are postgraduate degrees and diplomas in advertising. Entry is usually with a first degree.
The Design and Art Directors Association (D&AD) runs advertising workshops, which can be a way of developing skills, meeting like-minded people and making useful contacts. These are held in London, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. See www.dandad.org for dates and further details.
Entry for adults
This field is dominated by young people, with nearly half (47%) of the workforce aged below 34. Some journalistic experience may help adult entrants.
Mature students may be accepted onto art and design courses without the usual entry qualifications if they have a good portfolio of art and design work. They may prepare for higher education courses by taking an Access course.
Initial training is likely to be in-house guidance from more experienced colleagues and learning on the job. Attending external courses and seminars is usually encouraged.
Some agencies may require entrants to take the IPA Foundation Certificate, which is an online learning course culminating in a two-hour exam. This is designed to give an overview of advertising and the specific roles within the industry.
All people employed in this field will be expected to keep up-to-date with industry trends and standards by reading relevant publications.
Junior copywriters may be promoted to 'middleweight' and then senior 'heavyweight' copywriter positions. To reach the position of creative director, copywriters usually need at least five to ten years experience working on high-profile advertising campaigns and some industry awards. Copywriters will often move with their advertising art director partner.
Those working in smaller agencies may have to move location and employers to progress. Many successful copywriters move into freelance work, either sourcing their own client list or signing up to agencies that place copywriters and media professionals. There may be some overseas opportunities, particularly for copywriters skilled in writing for specific industry sectors, such as IT, telecommunications or finance.
- The Advertising Association, 7th Floor, Artillery House, 11-19 Artillery Row, London SW1P 1RT. 020 7340 1100.
- The Chartered Institute of Marketing, Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9QH. 01628 427500.
- Creative & Cultural Skills, 4th Floor, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800.
- The Design and Art Directors Association (D&AD), 9 Graphite Square, Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5EE. 020 7840 1111.
Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), 44 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QS. 020 7235 7020.
- Careers in Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations - Kogan Page
- Getting into Advertising - The Advertising Association
- How to Get into Advertising - Thomson Learning
- Working in English - VT Lifeskills
- Creative Review
- The Drum
- Marketing Week
- Media Week