What is a copywriter?

If I had a pound for the number of times folk asked whether I ensured people didn’t rip off other people’s inventions, well, I’d not be a copywriter. I’d have a small island, somewhere in South East Asia, a 60ft sailing yacht and the widest grin you’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I don’t, but I do love what I do.

So what is a copywriter? What does a copywriter do? Well, without referring to the dictionary definition, I believe a copywriter is someone who creates ideas to promote brands and products and expresses these ideas using words and pictures but whose ultimate responsibility is for the words. Some freelance copywriters pretty much deal exclusively in words. They tip tap away and deliver an A4 word document for a designer or art director to try to make head or tail of. That’s not the way I work, as I’m a very visual writer.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words – well, maybe a couple of hundred. Let’s not devalue what copywriters do. The visual impact of any communication is often the first thing to hit, so when at concept stage of any job, I give the image as much thought as say a headline and when I write it I break it so it reads well. I make suggestions and source reference shots, anything to help strengthen the idea.

Before any good copywriter lifts a finger, they need to know precisely who they are targeting. If an agency or client has any insights into the target market, they should share them, but without resorting to information overload. A clear, concise brief with valuable nuggets is what copywriters crave. They are rare though, but as a rule, the better the brief, the better the creative.

Where I think some copywriters let themselves down is they lose sight of the key reason why agencies and clients hire them, rather than attempting to write copy themselves. Yes, they want creativity, but above all, they’re investing in effectiveness. In short, they want results, particularly in today’s tough financial climate.

Highly experienced copywriters are highly likely to have spent the greatest proportion of their careers successfully writing for traditional media. Approximately a decade ago, when digital media was really emerging, I not only recognised the power of the medium but also just how different it is from, say, press or direct marketing, but I was naturally interested and pushed to promote the use of online copywriting. Fortunately, the agency I worked for also realised the importance of marketing and copywriting in digital media and actively encouraged the adoption of a more integrated approach.

When writing for digital media, I not only draw upon two and a half decades of marketing experience, I discipline myself, taking into account visual hierarchy, the whole user-experience and the all important dark art of SEO. Working with primary and secondary key words and phrases isn’t simply a case of writing by numbers, the content must be intelligible, engaging and motivating. Copywriting for social media is different again.

Personally, I don’t class the work I do within social media as copywriting. The best way to describe it is you are the personality representing a brand that is interested in its followers and engages with them encouraging conversation. It’s not a one-off, one-way hit. Writing for social media is a continuous, involving, direct dialogue that no other media can deliver which is why it’s essential it’s done with care and understanding. Done correctly, it really does take on a life of its own and gets brands well-liked and followed in serious numbers.

By Simon Anderson