What IS a Copywriter, Anyway?

What-Is-a-Copywriter

“The best thing about being a copywriter is being able to tell people you’re a writer.”

When I was first dabbling with the idea of becoming a copywriter, this is one of the things that stood out to me and stuck in my mind. The idea of telling people you’re a writer is not only pretty cool, it’s a lot easier than having to explain what a copywriter is. But it is also a bit misleading.

Tell someone you’re a writer and they’ll think you’re a writer-writer.

Like, one who writes novels and stuff.

“Oh you write novels? Nice!”

“Erm, well, I’m not that kind of writer.”

“Oh. What kind of writer are you?”

“I’m a copywriter.”

“Ah… right.”

Cue glazed look over their eyes as they smile, nod politely and swiftly change the subject. Because they have absolutely zero idea what a copywriter is. Some people think they know what a copywriter is. These people are the ones most likely to respond with: “Oh, law stuff?” No. Not law stuff. Admittedly, I was guilty of this common misconception myself when I first heard the term ‘copywriter’, years before I was to become one.

But copywriting has absolutely nothing to do with copyright law which is the protection of creative property. For that, you’ll need a copyright lawyer, not a copywriter. (Although a copyright lawyer may well want to employ the services of a copywriter to help them sell their copyright services.)

Turns out, unless you’re in the biz, no one actually knows what a copywriter is.

Unless they’ve watched Mad Men. In which case they’ll think that copywriting is purely about advertising and that all copywriters are boozy, cigarette-smoking, nap-taking, all play and no work mavericks.

MadMen

But copywriting isn’t always about advertising, and not all copywriters are advertising copywriters. It’s a vast and varied field, and thanks to Google, many copywriters these days are more likely to find themselves writing website copy, SEO copy, and email campaigns than writing ads and scripting TV commercials.

Some of the main types of copywriting are:

Advertising copywriting: The one anyone who’s seen Mad Men thinks about when they hear the word ‘copywriting’. Advertising copywriting involves creating and developing concepts and copy (including headlines, slogans and taglines) for press, TV and other forms of advertising. 

Website copywriting: The internet changed the game for copywriters everywhere and there’s no shortage of demand for online copy, from individual web pages or specific landing pages to entire websites. Besides the copy itself, website copywriters also get involved in things like site structure, usability and ensuring the copy and design work together.

SEO copywriting: Does all the things ‘regular’ copy does, but it must do it in a way that pleases the Google gods. To drive traffic, SEO copywriting helps pages to rank well in the search engines by using specific keywords and phrases. Which means it requires some form of compromise (or sacrifice, depending on whom you’re talking to) of the writer’s creative freedom in order to incorporate these, making it slightly different from ‘normal’ copywriting.    

Direct response copywriting: Unlike the indirect response approach of TV, billboard and magazine advertising which aims to build brand awareness, direct response copywriting aims to move the reader to action immediately, making it a very powerful form of copywriting. Used in sales letters, video sales letters (VSLs), emails and landing pages, direct response copy can be easily tested, enabling you to work out exactly what influences the buying decision more quickly.

Conversion copywriting: Like direct response copywriting, conversion copywriting is all about that one single goal of getting someone to take action. That action could be adding something to a cart (buying), subscribing to a list or just clicking a button. Conversion copywriting requires specific, in-depth knowledge of the target audience in order to use the right language to convey the right message to elicit that all-important end goal – action. Conversion copywriting can (and should be) split tested extensively and continuously to gain actionable data that will help improve conversions again and again.

As you can see, different types of copywriting can merge with each other. Direct response copywriting involves conversion copywriting, and website copywriting can involve SEO, conversion, and advertising copywriting. Some copywriters can do all of the above, while some specialise in a certain branch.

RIGHT. STILL NOT REALLY CLEAR ON WHAT Y’ALL DO THOUGH.

You’re right. We haven’t got into the nitty-gritty of it.

The problem is, it’s very difficult to boil it down to one simple answer. Ask ten different copywriters what exactly it is that they do and they’ll probably all give you a different answer. But one of the most well-known and concise explanations is this:

“A copywriter is a salesperson in print.”

 It’s a great starting definition. A copywriter does indeed write to sell. But it’s not (always) about ‘selling’ in the sense of getting someone to part with their hard-earned money.

In his book Brilliant Copywriting, Roger Horberry describes copywriting as follows:

“Copywriting is the job of using the right words, to say the right thing, to the right people, to get the right response… copywriters aim to convince their readers of the merits of a particular product, service, argument or whatever, and then get them to act accordingly.”

So at its heart, copywriting is really about persuading someone to take action. Whether that action is to buy something, opt in to something (like an email list), engage with a product, service or company, or even to buy into an idea or an opinion, the ultimate goal is always the same – to elicit some sort of response.

COPYWRITERS – THE SLUTS OF THE MARKETING WORLD 

Bet that got your attention. 

There’s a joke that says a good copywriter will be whoever you want them to be (we’re a little bit slutty that way).

Chameleon-like, we have the ability to adapt our writing style, voice and tone to fit whoever we are writing for. Whether the reader is a 32-year-old American housewife with three kids and a dog who does pilates (the housewife, not the dog) and religiously watches Dance Moms, or a 56-year-old Ivy League educated CEO who reads The Economist, a good copywriter knows just how to talk directly to the person reading their words, no matter who they are.

Chamelon

A good copywriter also knows exactly which words and phrases will make people sit up, take notice and take action. Because they know that there are certain words that people are predisposed to find more appealing than others.

A copywriter chooses each word with care and with purpose. They make every word count. They communicate with style and with substance. They connect with the reader on an emotional level and they use proven methods, frameworks and techniques to persuade their readers to put their emotions into action.

Copywriting is a science. And an art.

Here’s a fantastic little video from D&AD that I think brilliantly sums up what a copywriter does:

To be able to write words that have the ability to change people’s behaviour is a pretty powerful thing. In the words of copywriting legend Joseph Sugarman:

“Using it (copywriting), you can move millions of people to reach into their pockets for millions of dollars – all from the power of your pen or the message you convey in print, on TV, on radio or a computer screen.”

There’s a helluva lot of money riding on what we write.

And that’s what makes us so special.

Copywriter