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Copywriters

Copywriters are responsible for generating the words, slogans and audio scripts that accompany advertising visuals, frequently working in a creative team with an art director.

Copywriters may specialise in an industry sector or in a particular medium, such as TV, radio, online, print or direct mail.

Working to a client's brief, they:

  • discuss the client's core message and target audience
  • generate creative ideas with the art director
  • present options to clients
  • modify copy until the client is satisfied
  • oversee the production phase.

Most copywriters work Monday to Friday, although work can extend into evenings and weekends. Full-time, permanent contracts are hard to find, but freelance opportunities are common. Although copywriters are mainly based in an office or studio, they may travel with the art director to visit clients and film and recording studios.

Salaries may range from around £18,000 a year for junior copywriters to around £100,000 for senior creatives in leading agencies.

An advertising copywriter should:

  • be highly creative and imaginative
  • have good written and interpersonal skills
  • work well in a team
  • be able to work under pressure
  • have an eye for detail
  • be interested in how words can be used to convey particular messages.

The majority of advertising agencies are in London, but opportunities for copywriters exist in other major cities. Entry is highly competitive and agencies expect copywriters to present a portfolio of work that shows evidence of creativity and innovation. Some agencies offer internships and work placements, which are the most common routes into junior positions.

Many copywriters have a Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or degree in advertising, design, English or related subjects. An applicant's portfolio of work may be as important as his or her qualifications.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

Training for junior copywriters tends to be on the job. Several organisations offer programmes of further qualifications and a range of short courses.

Junior agency copywriters may progress to senior copywriter and potentially to creative director. Many successful copywriters set up as freelancers. There may be some overseas opportunities, particularly for copywriters skilled in writing for specific industry sectors.

What is the work like?

Copywriters are responsible for generating the words, slogans and audio scripts that accompany advertising visuals, frequently working in a creative team with an art director.

Projects and clients vary widely, although some copywriters may specialise in an industry sector or in a particular medium such as TV, radio, online, print or direct mail.

The copywriter works to a client's brief, generating original copy to attract the attention of the target audience. This can include creating straplines, slogans, body copy, jingles and scripts. Usually working on multiple projects, the typical creative process can involve:

  • meeting account executives to discuss the client's requirements
  • familiarising themselves with the product, target audience and competitor activities in the market
  • working with the art director to generate creative ideas
  • presenting initial ideas, to be rejected or developed into workable concepts
  • writing copy options, which may be presented to the client as a story board (a consecutive series of frames depicting the script and drawings that may be used)
  • modifying copy until the client is satisfied
  • overseeing the production phase, liaising with designers, illustrators, printers, photographers and production companies.

Accuracy is essential. The copywriter is responsible for checking that all content is truthful and complies with codes of advertising practice, as well as checking spelling and grammar.

Many advertising agencies appoint a copywriter and art director together, as a creative team. Copywriters will usually work with or for a creative director who is likely to have overall responsibility for an advertising campaign.

Hours and environment

Most copywriters work Monday to Friday, although the creative thinking process can mean they rarely switch off completely. Work frequently extends into evenings and weekends to meet deadlines. Full-time, permanent contracts are hard to find, but freelance opportunities are common.

Copywriters are mainly office-based, but may also visit clients. Attending photo and film shoots and audio recording studios is likely with some agencies.

The creative environment is often very informal, with relaxed dress code. However, copywriting can be a stressful and demanding career with intense competition to generate original ideas.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Junior copywriters may earn between £18,000 and £25,000 a year.
  • With a few years' experience, a copywriter may earn between £30,000 and £50,000.
  • Senior creatives with strategic and team responsibilities in leading agencies may earn over £100,000 a year.

Salaries tend to be higher in London. Freelance copywriters are paid an hourly or daily rate.

Skills and personal qualities

An advertising copywriter should:

  • be highly creative and imaginative
  • be skilled in writing clear, concise copy that attracts the intended audience
  • understand the different language styles that appeal to target markets
  • have excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • work well in a team and with a range of creative people
  • be able to work under pressure and manage workloads effectively
  • be highly self-motivated and well organised
  • be able to see other people's points of view and accept feedback
  • work within strict budgets
  • have an eye for detail
  • be prepared to keep abreast of the competition and advertising trends.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • how words can be used to convey particular messages
  • business and advertising.

Getting in

Around 1,500 agency copywriters are employed in the UK. Many more work on a freelance basis. Most of the advertising workforce is in London. Larger agencies are also in cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester, but there are small agencies in many towns.

Entry is highly competitive and agencies expect copywriters to present a book or portfolio of work that shows evidence of creativity and innovation. Some agencies offer internships and work placements, which are the most common routes into junior positions. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) runs a summer school that includes an agency placement.

The IPA website lists graduate opportunities as well as member agencies that jobseekers may wish to approach. The IPA's copy test is a self-assessment tool that helps candidates to determine whether they are suited to a career in advertising.

Job vacancies may be advertised in Campaign, Creative Review, The Drum and in national newspapers as well as on the IPA website and www.mad.co.uk There are many websites specialising in freelance copywriting jobs.

Entry routes

There are no set entry requirements. However, many entrants have a Higher National Diploma (HND), foundation degree or degree in advertising or design. Other areas, such as journalism, marketing, media or English, can be equally useful.

Entry requirements to courses vary, but are typically:

  • for HNDs, one A level in a relevant subject with three or four GCSEs (A*-C) or a BTEC National Diploma/Certificate in a relevant subject
  • for a foundation degree, one A level and three GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent
  • for a degree, two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent qualifications.

Candidates should check with individual universities for exact entry requirements. Those without the usual entry qualifications can take an Access course.

The Diploma in creative and media may be relevant for this area of work.

Creative ability is vital for this job and agencies may be keen to encourage talented writers from any academic background. An applicant's portfolio of work may be as important as his or her qualifications.

D and AD offers a programme of part-time evening advertising, digital and design workshops, hosted by creatives from leading agencies. These are widely accepted as a route into the industry.

Training

Initial training is likely to be in-house guidance from more experienced colleagues and learning on the job.

Everyone in advertising is expected to keep up to date with industry trends and standards. The IPA offers qualifications at Foundation, Advanced and Excellence levels, as well as a range of short courses and development programmes. Graduates employed by IPA-affiliated agencies can join a seven-stage training programme that offers training at each stage of their career.

The Communication Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation (CAM Foundation) offers a Diploma in marketing communications, which includes an advertising module. Study is through part-time, intensive or distance learning. Entrants need to have a degree-level qualification or experience in a relevant role.

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) offers a range of marketing qualifications, including a postgraduate diploma.

D and AD offers training, including a course on writing in advertising.

There are postgraduate degrees and diplomas in advertising. Entry is usually with a first degree.

Getting on

There is no clearly defined promotion path. By becoming involved in increasingly high-profile campaigns, a junior copywriter can be considered a middleweight and then take more senior, heavyweight positions. Winning industry awards helps to raise a copywriter's profile. With several years experience he or she may progress to the position of creative director.

Those working in smaller agencies may have to move location and employers to progress. Copywriters may move as a team with their art director.

Many successful copywriters move into freelance work. There may be some overseas opportunities, particularly for copywriters skilled in writing for specific industry sectors, such as IT, medicine, telecommunications or finance.

Further information

Advertising Association, 7th Floor North, Artillery House, 11-19 Artillery Row, London SW1P 1RT. 020 7340 1100. Website: www.adassoc.org.uk

The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9QH. 01628 427500. Website: www.cim.co.uk

Communication Advertising and Marketing Education Foundation (CAM Foundation), Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead SL6 9QH. 01628 427120. Website: www.camfoundation.com

Creative and Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Websites: www.ccskills.co.uk and www.creative-choices.co.uk

D and AD, 9 Graphite Square, Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5EE. 020 7840 1111. Website: www.dandad.org

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), 44 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QS. 020 7235 7020. Website: www.ipa.co.uk

Young Creatives Network (YCN), 72 Rivington Street, London EC2A 3AY. 020 7033 2140. Website: www.ycnonline.com

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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