Think Twice Before Becoming a Copywriter

For a copywriter, it can be all work and very little reward

The Unsung Hero
••• Getty Images

If you’re contemplating a career change or just starting out, and have your heart set on being a copywriter, you need to be prepared for what lies ahead. Despite the creative title, a copywriter's job is not always that glamorous or creative. Not to dissuade you, but consider the following before you take the plunge. 

Getting Your Foot in the Door

This is one of the biggest hurdles for any career — how to get noticed and land that job. While you can work in a number of different industries, you will have to come with some experience, education (a degree in English, advertising or journalism) and a great portfolio before you qualify for a full-time job.

A lot of copywriters start out by freelancing — doing multiple, smaller gigs for different clients. Once you've developed a solid base of experience, it could lead to something more permanent.

As far as job outlook goes, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows employment change in the writing industry (including for copywriters) at only 8%. That means job growth will be about average for writers between 2016 and 2026. And it is expected to be a very competitive market out there — you won't be the only one competing for a top spot at an agency. The BLS expects competition to increase as more people becoming interested in working as (copy)writers.

Copywriters Do a Lot of Research

In a traditional copywriter/art director team, the burden is on the writer to research the product or service. You need to be highly detail-oriented to hold this position. There is a good reason for this — when it comes to writing about the product or company, the copywriter needs to know everything possible — right down to the very last detail. 

It's the art director's job to know enough to help conceptualize and ensure the layouts, video spots and other visual elements are perfect. Consequently, you will spend many late nights and early mornings reading and researching while the designers and art directors are involved in the fun, creative process. 

Other Duties

Most copywriters dream of writing great ads or slogans. But that's not all the job is cracked up to be. There are other tasks you may be assigned that may not seem as glamorous such as writing speeches, press releases, sales letters and direct marketing pieces.

A lot of your job has to do with selling ideas, so it helps if you have great communication (or even sales) skills. You may be required to work alone and with a team — so you'll want to make sure you can work well with others and that you can pull off a job all on your own without any direct supervision.

The Job Doesn't Come With Perks

There are perks to every job, and one of the biggest in advertising and marketing is travel — often to very interesting or exotic locations. The problem is; the client, art director, designer and account services team will naturally have to go along — you won’t.

This may be hard to swallow if you come up with the big idea and wrote the script. Unfortunately, it's expensive for everyone to tag along, and that money could go to other things like craft food services or flight upgrades.

Your role will be to stay put at the agency writing something or generating the next big idea. In a sense, copywriters are like Cinderella — they never get to go to the ball​ or bask in Belize with the art director.

Salary

Speaking of perks, it's probably a good idea to talk about what you can expect to make as a copywriter.

According to the BLS, the average copywriter (which falls under the "writers and authors" category with the agency) made $61,820 per year as of 2017. The lowest 10% in the industry only earned $30,520 a year. That really isn't a lot when you consider the cost of living, especially in major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston.

Your Opinion May Not Be Valued

Once you've created an incredible campaign idea and written scripts and headlines that will result in the product selling out on Amazon, don't be surprised if the client completely rewrites your carefully-crafted copy. The client can’t come up with the copy from scratch, but they have the right to edit it with a vengeance, so don't get wedded to the words or to your creative visual ideas. The art director, producer and director may change up your visual ideas as well.

Prepare to Be Edited 

There’s a reason the phrase "everyone’s a copywriter" is so popular in the agency world. 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 them with “better words” people come up with while chatting at the water cooler. 

You need to be prepared that your words may change. Your job is to accept that and not argue the point, or you risk being labeled difficult or a diva.

You're Not the Architect of Your Work

If you're just starting out, it's hard to not be excited about coming up with a killer idea that made it past the rounds of client cuts. It may be time to get the ad made and sell some products — and perhaps win an industry award or two.

But the reality is, as the writer (who touched the project first) you'll almost never get the chance to see your idea through to completion. Unless, of course, you’re writing copy that goes straight to a blog or email account. Otherwise, there are a lot of steps — and people — between what you do and what the consumer sees.

This is the life of a copywriter: A lot of hard work, very little glory. If this doesn't appeal to you — and you have any kind of artistic skill — consider becoming an art director instead. You can still come up with awesome ideas, but the satisfying perks (like Belize) will be there.