Do We Need to Redefine the Copywriter Title?

Is "copywriter" the right word for the job?

Copywriter working on a laptop in an office

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Creative teams in advertising agencies know exactly what a copywriter brings to the table. In fact, anyone who is familiar with marketing, advertising, and design, knows that a copywriter is a creative, strategic thinker who has as many visual ideas as they do copy-based solutions. 

But ask most people outside of the creative arena, including those in management and the clients of the agency, and they seem a little thrown by the title and the definition. Some believe a copywriter is a job in the legal profession, belonging to someone who writes the small print at the bottom of advertisements.

"Oh, you're a copywriter? So, you write the copyright stuff at the bottom of ads? Wow...that sounds boring."

It couldn't be further from the truth.

What is a Copywriter?

Let's take a look at the Wikipedia entry for the copywriter:

"A copywriter usually works as part of a creative team. Advertising agencies partner copywriters with art directors. The copywriter has ultimate responsibility for the advertisement's verbal or textual content, which often includes receiving the copy information from the client. The copywriter is responsible for telling the story, crafting it in such a way that it resonates with the viewer/reader, ideally producing an emotional response [1] .
The art director has ultimate responsibility for visual communication and, particularly in the case of print work, may oversee production. Although, in many instances, either person may come up with the overall idea for the advertisement or commercial (typically referred to as the concept or "big idea"), and the process of collaboration often improves the work."

In short, copywriters and art directors are both equally responsible for coming up with that "big idea." The one that becomes the foundation for a campaign that runs across print, digital, broadcast, guerrilla, and public relations. And yet, while the art director title feels weighty and important, the copywriter title barely grazes the surface of the role. The former feels like the person who helms the creation of a movie or Broadway production; the latter, some bookworm that checks spelling and grammar.  

Much More Than a Wordsmith

A copywriter (one word) is a creative strategist, first and foremost. So too is an art director. At the beginning of the project, the roles of both are impossible to separate. Neither one is focused on execution, pictures, or words, but rather the overall direction of the campaign. What is the big idea? What is the strategy? How do we break through the clutter? The copywriter and art director are on the exact same footing. They are both focused on big ideas, and that means art directors can think in words, and copywriters can think visually. It's just the way it is.

Once this has been done, then job specifics come into play. The words, the headlines, the body copy, they all fall to the copywriter to craft. The layout, design, execution of imagery, and the overall look and feel of the piece, that is on the shoulders of the art director. 

It's worth noting that many great visual executions in advertising have come from copywriters, and art directors have written just as many great headlines. This is the nature of the business, and to put each area of expertise in a specific bucket with certain tasks is doing a major disservice to everyone, including the agency that hired the team. 

Blurring the Lines Between Copywriter and Art Director

It's worth noting that in these days of heavy visuals executions in some media, and pure copy-driven executions in others (social media being at the forefront) the lines between the copywriter and art director are getting increasingly blurred. Some projects come into advertising and marketing agencies that require little if any, verbiage. But they do need strong ideas, and the copywriter is often more of a catalyst for these ideas than the art director or designer.

That's usually because the writer is more familiar with most of the material because at some point they'll have to write about it, be it on a website or in a brochure. And strategies often come from a collaboration between writers, planners and account management. On other occasions, the art director will be just as responsible as the copywriter for creating a campaign that is copy-based.  

If Not Copywriter, What Should the Title Be?

As the term "art director" is so much more descriptive and prestigious than "copywriter," is it time to redefine the role? Yes, or no? And if yes, what would you suggest? Is it the case that we should just abandon the terms "art director" and "copywriter" altogether, and instead refer to the roles as something more like "advertising creative" or "creative thinker?" Here's a list of proposed titles that have been suggested over the years.

  • Copy Director
  • Copy Chief
  • Creative Writer
  • Idea Guru
  • Creative Thinker
  • Idea Starter
  • Advertising Creative
  • Copy Creative
  • Thinking Machine
  • Creative Insurgent
  • Creative Strategist
  • Conceptor