What it means to be a copywriter: five things I’ve learnt over three decades

Posted by Greg Lee-Conway | March 24, 2022

Hi, I’m Greg, and I’ve been writing for 30 odd years. A copywriting career is an adventurous one. It challenges you to your core, and it’s enormously rewarding.

So, what is a copywriter?

A copywriting career is an adventurous one – mentally more than physically, but you may find yourself visiting places you never thought you would; I know I did. My career has taken me to London, the USA, India and across Australia.

I’ve met some of the most interesting and inspiring people, who have all shaped my approach to the craft. It is a career based on diversity, creativity and communication. Deep down, I am a people observer and connector and find it easy to discover the love in a client’s story.

Copywriters are a unique bunch with the skill to see the positives in all things and speak in multiple tongues. To have a successful copywriting career you need to be approachable and elastic with a curiosity bordering on obsession for a story.

Even having a cuppa, I am thinking of a sentence or paragraph that can work for an article or content piece; I never really switch off. If writing was a team sport, a copywriter would be the ultimate utility player. Attack, midfield or defence, we fit into any position and any game plan.

Wearing several hats

Whilst most commercial writers tend to stay in one lane, copywriters craft copy across a breadth of topics. Content for websites, newsletters, EDMs, blogs, case studies, capability statements, white papers, social media – you name it; whatever the topic or the platform, we write it.

Digital or print, short or long-form, technical, persuasive, emotive, informative, educational and content that is scripted to sell.

We pay attention to SEO, keywords, word counts, target audience profiles and deadlines. We interview, we research, and we have tantrums when we can’t find the perfect adjective.

Although we are storytellers, we use words economically and we breathe deeply when pressing the send button.

Five learnings I have instilled into my writing practice

1. Know your role

Digital marketing is primarily top-level communication made up of several moving parts, and a copywriter sits within a team of other specialists: design, strategy, marketing, technical, client management and content.

Each component must work cohesively to ensure the best outcome for the client. My job is to interpret and articulate, and I can’t do this successfully without working as part of a team. I acknowledge the designer’s choice of colours and logo, user experience, image style and spatial contexts, gearing my writing to align with these design elements.

I comprehend the marketing strategy and strive to exceed the client manager’s expectations. I ask questions when I need and offer advice when asked; otherwise, I listen and absorb the bigger picture.

2. Lean on the data

I want to know the client’s audience, understand their triggers and find the connection. I create content and then apply the data as a truth serum. Once a piece of content is live, I crave analytics and feedback. Did it hit the mark? Did it engage with the audience?

I use this data to refine my content and each piece of content is an opportunity for continuous improvement.

3. Just write

Like any job, you have tiny moments of greatness, but mostly you are wading through quicksand. When I can’t think of a single idea or find any inspiration, I simply sit down and write. I know what I am writing is total rubbish; however, by tapping the keys I purge and, generally, a small nugget of gold falls out and I am off and running.

4. Research – imagination – economy

Copywriting is about being a dedicated researcher with a vivid imagination and the discipline of economy. I research the topic, the audience, the client’s competition and other copywriters’ work. Once I’ve done the research, I unleash my imagination and then apply brutal economy to my text.

5. Facts tell – stories sell

It’s an old cliché but a truism. Most businesses start locally, relying on facts in what seems like a big pond. Eventually, they outgrow the local pond, or it dries up. When it’s time to splash in the big pond, it’s my job to help them successfully navigate the deeper waters. The hardest thing for a client to digest is that in the big pond, facts are secondary. It is the story that sells.

A copywriting career is all about the story

A copywriting career is one of the few careers where bias doesn’t exist; however, it is a career where you cannot hide.

Whilst copywriters are non-judgemental people, our stories are constantly judged. If the story doesn’t ‘work’ then neither do I.

Copywriters always start from a position of ‘yes’ and our first words to a new client should always be, “How can I help tell your story?”

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