Advertising copywriters generally work alongside an art director within the creative department of an advertising, media or full-service agency. They work with client briefs to conceive, develop and produce effective advertising campaigns.

The art director deals mainly with the visual images of the advertising campaign, while the copywriter provides the verbal or written 'copy'.

This may include creating slogans, catchphrases, messages and straplines for printed adverts and leaflets. They are also involved in writing text for web advertising, as well as scripts for radio jingles and TV commercials.

Copywriters also work with media planners/buyers and the production department to fully develop the advertising campaign.

Responsibilities

Advertising copywriters often handle several client accounts at the same time, which makes the job varied and interesting.

Typical work activities may include:

  • liaising with clients and interpreting their briefs;
  • developing creative ideas and concepts, often in partnership with the art director;
  • presenting ideas to colleagues and clients;
  • familiarising themselves with their clients' products and services, the target audience and their competitors' activities;
  • writing clear, persuasive, original copy;
  • updating digital media;
  • proofreading copy to check spelling and grammar;
  • amending, revising or redeveloping adverts or campaigns in response to feedback from the creative director, account team or clients;
  • overseeing campaigns through the production stage to completion;
  • working on several campaigns at once, sometimes under pressure and often to tight deadlines;
  • casting actors for TV and radio work and listening to voice tapes;
  • liaising with production companies, photographers, typographers, designers and printers;
  • keeping up to date with popular culture and trends;
  • monitoring the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for a junior copywriter fall between £20,000 and £25,000 a year.
  • Middleweight copywriters, those with three or more years of experience, can earn £25,000 to £45,000.
  • Senior creatives with ten to 15 years of experience may earn from £45,000 to £80,000 or more.
  • Creative directors who have won campaign awards can earn over £120,000.

Salaries for copywriters can vary greatly depending on the size of the agency and the geographical location. Copywriters may be able to increase their salary by moving between agencies.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 9am to 5pm. However, flexibility is required as it is normal to work long, irregular hours when meeting tight deadlines. This may include working in the evenings and some weekend work. Part-time work and secondments may be difficult to obtain.

Paid overtime is rare, but some agencies will offer time in lieu.

What to expect

  • Copywriters are generally office based but may be required on TV shoots, radio recordings, castings or in editing suites. They may also visit clients, undertake research in public areas or visit different locations to help with creativity.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is possible, although this is more common for experienced copywriters.
  • In the UK, most of the top agencies are based in London but many also have regional offices. Most large cities have an advertising scene, in particular Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol, Brighton, Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
  • Most agencies have adopted a less formal and more relaxed dress code.
  • The work may be stressful and highly pressurised, but it can also be very exciting and rewarding.
  • Advertising is dominated by young people, with nearly half of the workforce aged below 34.
  • Many agencies have a high turnover of staff, with creatives frequently moving to different employers to progress their careers. Redundancies can be common in the advertising industry, for example, if there is an economic downturn or if the business is undergoing a difficult period.

Qualifications

This area of work is open to all graduates, although a degree or HND is not essential for a career as an advertising copywriter.

Creativity and the ability to write well are key requirements for a copywriter, and so a qualification in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • advertising;
  • communication or media studies;
  • English;
  • journalism;
  • public relations.

The most common entry route into advertising copywriting is by compiling a good 'book' (portfolio) and getting it critiqued by advertising agencies. This can often entail cold-calling, emailing and physically taking your book to the agencies.

In the early stages, it is better to get it reviewed by junior creative teams rather than the creative director. Be prepared to have your ideas criticised, which can be disheartening but is part of the learning process. Try to get the same body of work viewed by different teams to obtain varied points of view. If an agency likes your book they may offer you a placement.

Your book needs to be of a high quality and well presented, as some potential employers often view this as being more important than qualifications. Agencies look for fresh ideas, so make sure your examples are innovative.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to write good, clear copy in a variety of styles with accurate spelling and grammar;
  • excellent teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills;
  • logic, creativity and imagination;
  • ability to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines;
  • strong organisational skills;
  • self-motivation, flexibility, stamina and the ability to adapt;
  • confidence, enthusiasm and determination;
  • accuracy and attention to detail;
  • the resilience to accept criticism of your work;
  • commercial awareness with the ability to understand the target audience;
  • an interest in popular culture, new trends and styles;
  • good research skills;
  • administrative, IT and proofreading skills.

Work experience

The advertising industry is extremely competitive with very few creative advertising graduates getting a job straight after graduating. Occasionally, students from relevant courses are offered a work placement after exhibiting their work at their university or college end-of-year degree show.

Employers

Entry-level jobs are seldom advertised and there are very few formal graduate training schemes. When such schemes do run, they are likely to have a closing date in the autumn before graduation. Some employers may contact selected universities directly or attend certain graduate shows. They may seek out talent at showcases, such as the D&AD student awards, and through other competitions.

Other routes into copywriting are possible via recruitment and business-to-business (B2B) advertising. Some copywriters move from the account-handling side of the industry. They can come from art direction posts or merge the two job functions as an art director and copywriter. This can be more common in smaller or regional agencies where some degree of multi-tasking may be required.

Creatives are often recruited and hired in pairs (a creative partnership of a copywriter and art director), although many agencies are prepared to consider lone copywriters. Creative partnerships are often formed on advertising or design courses, but there are several organisations that offer help in finding a creative partner.

Copywriters mainly work for advertising or full-service marketing agencies. Full-service agencies offer a multidisciplinary service to clients, such as marketing and PR in addition to advertising, as many clients look for a full 'communications' package.

It may be possible to work for the client directly or for digital and new media companies specialising in writing copy for websites. There is a rising demand for web-based copywriting.

Newspapers often employ copywriters to write advertisements, as do radio stations to write jingles. Medical copywriting for pharmaceutical companies is also an option for those with a medical or science degree.

Business communication, where copywriters are employed by large companies, is a further possibility.

Advertising is an increasingly competitive and specialised industry, and it is one of the most popular career choices for graduates.

Most job opportunities are based in London and the other major UK cities.

Look for job vacancies at:

Many agencies may advertise jobs on their websites. Specialist recruitment consultancies can also deal with job opportunities for creatives. However, many copywriting posts are not always advertised, so speculative approaches are essential. Useful directories to help with speculative applications include:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Some formal training may be offered by larger advertising agencies but the majority of training is delivered on the job.

Many agencies encourage junior copywriters to undertake external training. This may include the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) Foundation Certificate. This is an online course for junior advertising professionals and covers the entire brand communications process.

The Diploma in Marketing Communications, which includes an advertising module that can be studied part time, intensive or via distance learning is run by Communication Advertising and Marketing (CAM) Foundation.

The IPA also offers a range of short courses and seminars for experienced staff.

Continuing professional development (CPD) programmes, which include practical workshops in areas such as relationship management, craft skills and branding are provided by D&AD.

Advertising is a dynamic area and it is vital to keep up to date with industry news and trends. Reputation and recognition are vitally important for career progression. Recognition within the industry comes from making a mark with original work and is often acknowledged in the trade press (e.g. Campaign) and through prizes and award ceremonies.

Career prospects

Entry into the profession is as a junior copywriter. With experience, employees may progress to become senior copywriters.

Copywriters that are more interested in management would look to move into a creative director role. This is usually attainable with at least five to ten years of experience working on high-profile campaigns and winning some industry awards.

Depending on the size of the agency, juniors can usually work up to senior copywriting roles in the same agency, but further progression will normally involve a move to another employer.

Many successful copywriters go freelance or set up their own agency, often in partnership with colleagues from the same original agency. This is not viewed as disloyal, but rather as a natural career progression.

There may also be some opportunities to work internationally, especially for copywriters skilled in writing for specific industry sectors.

Career development will depend on the success of your campaigns. Working on an award-winning campaign will raise your profile and bring you industry recognition, which will increase the demand for your work.