Copywriter [noun]: A person who writes copy for the purpose of advertising or marketing.
Today, the role of a copywriter has many nuances that are often left out of its basic definition.
Meanwhile, in less nuanced terms, we’ve seen the word dropped completely in favor of more (or less) creative terminology, like that of Word Ninja. But since we’re not in an action movie, let’s stick to the more nuanced meaning of copywriter.
Originally, the word copy came into popular use with the rise of the newspaper industry. There, publishers referred to the text to be printed as the copy and those who wrote it as copywriters and those who edited copy as copyeditors. Sounds easy, right?!
But what does the word itself really mean today?
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What is a copywriter?
Many dictionaries tend to stick to similar phrasing when referring to a copywriter. However, a closer look around the Web illustrates how the meaning of copywriter has changed and expanded through the years.
Cambridge Dictionary defines copywriters as “someone who writes the words for advertisements”.
It’s rather a “meat and potatoes” kind of definition, but thanks to Cambridge’s prestige and enduring influence, it’s still one in common use.
Meanwhile, across the pond, Merriam-Webster says a copywriter is “a writer of advertising or publicity copy”.
This wording gives a little bit more elbow room to what type of writing is included. And, of course, being referred to as a “writer” rather than a “someone” gives an added sense of achievement to any copywriter reading it.
Being all business, BusinessDictionary defines the word as “a professional who composes headings, sub-headings, and body copy of advertisements, brochures, catalogs, direct mail offers, product literature, etc. Some copywriters work independently while others are employed by the advertising agencies”.
A very thorough and serious explanation. But perhaps it is lacking some creative oomph for any copywriter hoping to NOT put clients to sleep when describing what we do.
Check out how this real live copywriter describes himself at Snagajob: “Copywriters are the handsome, good-smelling men and women who create fresh written content for advertising, marketing and descriptive texts. Copywriters can write more creative text, like ad jingles, taglines, and other creative copy, or more research-based copy, like a job description on a website.”
Now there’s a description that could persuade anyone, especially if your job requires just that. Also, it is, naturally, 100% accurate.
As many copywriters and ALL copy editors like to point out, writing and editing are NOT synonymous with one another.
However, The Balance defines “a ‘Copywriter’ is one who writes or edits copy or written content for a living, usually ofsales generating or marketing nature.”
While most copywriters today write AND edit content, perhaps the use of “or” is likely to rub a few the wrong way. Also, the added quotation marks around the word itself give the sense that the word is a concept rather than a person (or maybe that’s just my own self-esteem issues).
Meanwhile, over at Urban Dictionary, an obviously millennial-minded writer sardonically defines copywriter as “someone whose work is to create texts for advertising. Normally in his/her twenties or did you ever meet a 50 year old copywriter?”
Has he or she even seen a copywriter out of a ‘Mad Men’ type setting?! This can be true of agency copywriters, particularly Junior Copywriters, starting out before moving on to bigger roles or leaving the agency. However, it is definitely not true of the freelancer variety—an entirely different breed that comes in all shapes, sizes and age ranges.
WriterAccess describes how “copywriters may or may not be freelancers, but a copywriter does have to be a master of writing succinctly in order to meet the client’s needs”.
They pretty much had me at the word “master”…
Are there different types of copywriters?
Leaving these meanings to digest, let’s take a closer look at some of the different types (or specialties) of copywriters to get an even clearer picture.
Prospects describes how “as an advertising copywriter, you’ll work alongside an art director within the creative department of an advertising, media or full-service agency. You’ll work with client briefs to conceive, develop and produce effective advertising campaigns.”
Also called the creative copywriter, this is one of the most creatively fulfilling roles one can have as a copywriter and oftentimes goes hand in hand with working for an ad agency.
Naturally, working as a copywriter for an ad agency can have many benefits—including gaining valuable experience with big-name clients. But it can also be very demanding. And those demands might mean a few too many late night deadlines, an unhealthy addiction to caffeine, and a tendency to reply snarkily to simple questions like, “Did you grab lunch yet?”
In addition to the understanding and writing skills needed for a copywriter, Neil Patel points out that “an SEO copywriter also understand[s] how Google feels about certain words and phrases, especially long tail phrases.”
The downside of this specialty means that everyday conversations with SEO copywriters may include the odd bout of Google-y-ness (tending to Google everything) and requires patience as they go about choosing their words VERY carefully before they speak.
Radix Communications says that “digital copywriters are responsible for all the largely-unsung microcopy that gets website visitors and app users to click on the right things and enter the right information”.
Think of all the times a website or app has gotten you to click a button…
Funnily enough, you’ve probably obeyed more Call to Action buttons than obeying your Mom and Dad’s requests. So if anyone’s more likely to get you to return a phone call or remind you to send grandma a birthday card, the odds are in favor of a digital copywriter—sorry Mom & Dad.
As StrayGoat Writing Services points out, a technical copywriter “focuses on sales content” like other copywriters, but “the technical copywriter is more comfortable with technology, especially industrial technology that you don’t come across in day-to-day life (unless that’s your job). Often they are experts in that technology or have some sort of background with the technology or technology that is similar.”
These copywriters are often specifically used for B2B (Business-to-Business) copy, helping other members of the company or businesses in a similar industry understand their specific jargon. Basically, these copywriters let the engineers and other “techy” experts do all the talking, without letting everyone else feel like they are having to listen to engineers do all the talking.
What does a copywriter do?
“So what kind of work do you actually do?”
Even once the word copywriter is more clearly defined, there is still something elusive about what a copywriter actually does.
Of course, the work will vary depending on who they are working for, what their specialties are and so on. So, what does it really mean to work as a copywriter?
According to Mediabistro, “a copywriter creates clear, compelling copy to sell products and/or educate and engage consumers, flexing persuasive writing muscle on websites, blog posts, product descriptions, email blasts, banner advertising, newsletters, white papers, PSAs, social media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram, and other marketing communication vehicles.”
This is a great example of embracing the full modern scope of what a copywriter can do. And, it’s good copy. Where else are you going to see the words copywriter and flexing muscle used in the same sentence?!
Chegg goes on to say that, “copywriters create text for businesses. A copywriter is also a large presence in advertising agencies, but also a standard hire in many other companies including non-profits and medical organizations. And although a writer, you are no novelist: Your work as a copywriter is short and pithy. Your goal is to catch attention and be remembered.”
Short and pithy, no novelist…I get the point of what is to be done, but it’s not exactly getting me excited about being or becoming a copywriter.
HubSpot explains that “copywriters are trying to get people to feel, think, or respond — or, ideally, to Google the slogan or brand to learn more about the campaign.”
This gives the overall work a much welcomed artistic nod, moving away from the concept of copywriters as simply selling or persuading. Yet, in the end, it also implies the ideal objective is to Google the end work. That definitely doesn’t feel as creatively fulfilling (or ego boosting) as making people “feel, think, or respond”.
Check out what FirstSiteGuide has to say: “Besides being skillful at researching, writing, and editing, copywriters need to master some aspects of project management as well, at least when it comes to planning and implementing marketing campaigns.”
Remember the days when we were only “someone who writes the words of advertisements”?! What a giant leap we’ve made! This description also points out an important part of being a modern creative in general—that is, doing a bit of everything (often for the same pay) because someone has to.
WorkflowMax goes further in this direction by saying “the modern copywriter has come a long way since the newspaper days. Now, a copywriter needs to not only create stand-out copy, but he/she needs to understand how that copy should be presented and distributed.”
And please don’t confuse “understand” with “having the tools and training” to actually implement the presentation and distribution of said copy. Raise your hand if you have ever been asked to do “a little” graphic design, photography, etc. with copywriting or vice versa.
Meanwhile Creativepool describes how “copywriters are responsible for generating the words, slogans and audio scripts that accompany advertising visuals.”
This sounds like they are only creating print ads and video commercials. Hey, that would be great, since print and video copy can often be the best paying and most creative gigs around. But it doesn’t cover the full range of content work that the average copywriter usually does.
The Guardian sums up the work rather succinctly but eloquently by stating that “to become a copywriter you need to be able to work at speed as well as having a talent for sparkling prose”.
Note to self: Start using the word “sparkling” a lot more when talking about what I do.
When asked to describe what he does, copywriter David Lanfair said that “…I generate keen creative solutions that help people, brands, networks, and companies solve their business and marketing challenges, and do it through the medium of writing — crafting the copy for various types of collateral: from a tagline, to a print ad, to a marketing deck, to a TV script, to an annual report, to a billboard, to a webisode series, to branded content, to naming a product or service, to writing the copy for a website, to just about anything that requires words to persuade someone to take action or spend money.”
That’s a mouthful—but pretty much nails it! Although, it’s also fair to say that a screenwriter usually writes TV scripts and webisode series. But I’m sure copywriters and screenwriters can fight that one out amongst themselves.
All fun aside, in the world of copywriting, all meanings of the word are fair game…And, going back to Word Ninja, that too is actually quite fitting. Words are flying around us, wreaking havoc on how a brand is seen, how we communicate, and it’s the copywriter who comes in (and, like ninjas, are often unseen), and whips out some mental martial art moves that result in some killer copy.
So take each definition with a grain of salt and if all else fails, try coming up with your own meaning. After all, if there’s anyone suited for the task, it’s a copywriter.
What does the word copywriter mean to you? Let us know!