Housed along many inner streets of major cities across the world, there’s a magical place where scatter-brains get paid to think and dink around all day. To pump nerf balls and adjust swivel-chairs from the ground up and then back again.
A place where anyone can wear whatever they want. And there are no rules.
Okay, so that place doesn’t exactly exist. But somewhere near the corner of “Almost” and “Not Quite” there lies the creative department of an advertising agency. For the record there are some rules, and you can’t dink around all day. But I wanted to set the proper mood.
Other than the importance of iced tea, the purpose of this entry is to offer a narrow view into what life is like for copywriters in advertising agencies, considering that the job is oft misunderstood. Mainly for other lost souls to determine whether or not coming up with advertising campaigns might be a nice choice for a career.
The first thing you need to know, is that iced tea often looks more refreshing than it actually tastes. Or for Copywriters, people like pictures, not words. Believing otherwise will probably set you up for disappointment. You might as well and go a be an Art Director. Quick, here’s a picture so you’re not bored:
Now that’s ARDVER-tising. (Sorry.)
There is no way to properly explain what it’s like to be judged on your ideas alone. Not only because it’s quite different as you move around agencies, but also because rejection and disappointment dominate your work day, week and month. A success rate of just means you’re kicking everyone you work with in the pants. Plus, there is an eerie sort of tension with your team members because you’re all friends, all working to better the client, but also all enthralled in head to head competition.
The reward however, even if it comes once in a Bad Moon Rising, is the unique feeling that you’ve created an abstract “something” to share with the world, that CAN be measured in hard numbers, and that no one else could duplicate in quite the same way. This warrants a really big glass of iced tea. And a slap on the back from your Creative Director.
The Writing Skills of an Advertising Copywriter
The point is, if you fancy yourself someone who knows a little bit about a lot, it’s a pretty great gig. (Or if you are a failed poet or novel writer, this is where most of your kind end up. i.e. me.) You get to think conceptually all day long. And brainstorm with other eccentric people in a ‘creative team’. And you get to call upon that part of you who writes an Oscar speech in your head and thinks “yeah, that would be really funny, I would totally say that.” And by this I mean, the theatrics of presenting. Laying out your soul to be trampled by otherwise dead-pan clients. It’s not as bad as it sounds once you get used to it. A bad client meeting makes a big glass of iced tea, a really great thing.
Here’s a hard selling point: you rarely have to use Microsoft Excel. You have an account team to do it for you. It’s fantastic. I’ve had some jobs in digital where you have to open the program, but it’s all copy and paste from there. Copy and paste is a beautiful thing. Working hours are also good.
The best selling point about being a Copywriter, is the feeling you get when you write something awesome. Something that’s witty and interesting and fresh. And the client loves it. It makes you want to stare in the mirror when you go home and nod your head in slow motion while turning on the soundtrack to Ocean’s Eleven.
Has it been too long without a picture? Sorry, here’s a pretty good line:
As much as writing copy is an art form, it’s really all about practice. It’s about finding your own process and then using it every chance you get. From the office, to the couch, to the bar stool alongside raucous friends, you have to always be writing. In your head, on paper, a napkin, wherever. That way, when an assignment comes across your desk, you have the process down. And all that is left is the idea.
The Mo-Jo sort of comes and goes for most writers. Sometimes, you are just on fire. There could be a project where you write three lines and you end up with something like this line for money magazine, The Economist:
or a serious line you didn’t expect:
Sorry for the out-of-nowhere somber note. But advertising is surprising, and anything but subtle. Always remember to smooth the whole thing out with a glass of iced tea after work.
The times when you write three lines and get something worth showing to the world, are the times you will remember. But most of the time, you write hundreds and end up with:
Pour a tall glass of iced tea on a hot day, and throw it off the porch.
Not that I’m cynical or anything. But cynicism does become a good friend when your work day consists of your ideas getting thwarted by your boss, the account team, the legal team and then if you are lucky enough to have one half-way interesting idea bleed through the passion-killing system, the client tosses a Molotov cocktail though the window into your soul.
Sounds terrible, I know. It’s actually not all that bad. No one can blame you as long as your passion for new ideas shines through. As long as you never lose the fire, no one can say “that person is not doing their job.” And, of course, as long as you always provide the client with a conservative option.
One truth about working as a copywriter in Detroit, is that you will most likely work with an automotive client. The one truth about automotive clients, 99% of the time they will choose the conservative option. Major clients are often afraid of rocking the boat.
But I brought up working in Detroit to point out that some gigs are better than others. It is a vastly different job depending on where you work and what clients you are assigned to. And I bring that up to point out that I am just one Copywriter in a worldwide sea of creatives. And many of them probably have some different ideas about what it is like to work in the industry. And use something other than iced tea to remain sane.
And finally, the reason I decided to post my thoughts on what I do for a living, is because it could be anyone, from any type of social, educational and ethnic background. And if you are interested in looking for work experience as a junior copywriter, I have an assignment for you.
- Write one hundred lines for a really boring brand (say, Skippy peanut butter for example).
- Go through and find a few decent lines that would make someone want to buy the product. Remember the target audience.
- Find one of your fascinating friends who can use Photoshop, and make a few print ads.
- Once you do that, all that is left is getting the interview. Oh, well, then I guess you have to nail the interview.
- Join the IPA (The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) and put the membership certificate behind your new desk
But THAT of course, is the beauty of this job. It’s all subjective. If some muckety-muck Creative Director or so-called Senior Copywriter doesn’t like your mediocre work, the next guy thinks it’s brilliant. A copywriters work is never done. And its changing all the time, with social media and digital advertising changing the game every few weeks.
Just don’t do it for the money. Salaries for copywriters can in advertising agencies or production companies are going down every year as more and more people want to join the party. Maybe writing this article was a bad idea…
Anyway. Should you choose this life as a career, chin up and into the fray with you. But carry along a few Lipton packets for the ride, you will need them.
About the author: Phil DeAngelis
I am 27 years old and live in Royal Oak, Michigan. My writing philosophy revolves around keeping ideas and arguments concise. Beyond writing, I enjoy listening to and making music. I have extensive experience assisting others with finding employment and writing resumes.