Copywriting a very odd term; and there are quite a variety of jobs that it can pertain to, but the most common probably refers to someone who writes “copy” for an advertising agency. Generally, that’s not what I do, though I have written advertising copy. The term “copy” refers to the text as a design element, so I’m not much of a fan of the term – but there doesn’t seem to be a better one available at the moment. Usually, the people I work for just refer to me as “our writer” or “one of our writers,” which is just fine.
What I do is kind of function as a Jan-of-all trades when it comes to whatever needs to be professionally written for a business. This might include image brochures, internal articles, executive speeches and letters, press releases, Website content and scripts for internal videos. I also do quite a bit of editing and consulting for punctuation, grammar and syntax urgencies and sometimes get to do some public relations strategizing. I don’t get a byline and, in fact, don’t always see the finished product because most of the time, what the people I work for really want is something that’s about 90 to 95 percent there. We might go back and forth several times as the drafts progress; but ultimately, my role is finished and the project is theirs to tweak further as they wish and disseminate.
As for how I approach the work that I do, it varies greatly from project to project – but it’s almost always very collaborative – with the people who assign the work, the stakeholders who are interviewed, and sometimes graphic designers and video producers. Usually, I’m given a verbal briefing on what the message is supposed to be and who is the target audience along with background materials to pull from. Sometimes, additional telephone interviews are necessary. But eventually, there’s no choice but to sit down in front of that blank screen and just hope that something comes. That’s because copywriting requires that you write in a voice other than your own. The posts that I do in the career counselling thread just flow naturally because that’s me talking to you. But when you’re writing an article, similar to a feature article in a magazine or newspaper, or an image brochure, you have to almost conjure an entity and listen to what it’s telling you. It’s difficult. You know the idea you want to communicate, you try to imagine the persona that’s speaking through you… and just hope something comes. So far, it has.
As for how I got interested, it was really a matter of survival and of declining opportunities to do anything else that I might have done. My background is in journalism; but I have an autonomous career anchor (see this week’s career counselling post) – and after five years’ covering health and social services for one of our city’s former newspapers, it became obvious that it was time to move on. A year spent as editor of my college newspaper was more than sufficient to reveal that I didn’t want to manage; and reporting the same events year after year was getting old. There were also some other workplace issues that defied attempts at resolution and had, in fact, escalated into a situation that felt like “learned helplessness;” so one day – I calmly walked in, wrote a resignation letter, handed it to my editor – and left.
One of the businesses that I covered, a hospital, offered a position it its public affairs department; but I thought it would be more interesting to free-lance and see what kind of business could be generated on my own. I really liked the idea of working from home. So, over the next five years, I called on local businesses and acquired free-lance projects writing various kinds of communications materials. It was financially challenging and somewhat frustrating having to write on a typewriter; but eventually, I had a portfolio that was sufficient to secure a “copywriting” position with a large and very well-respected organization in our city. After two and a half years, my position was there was eliminated. It was my good fortune that the organization offered many opportunities for me to write as a consultant, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 15 years or so.