You'll need imagination, a passion for writing and a determination to succeed to make it as an advertising copywriter

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.

You'll focus on providing the written words ('copy') for an advertising campaign, while the art director will deal mainly with the visual images. Copy can include:

  • creating headlines, slogans, catchphrases, straplines and body copy for print advertising and leaflets
  • writing for web advertising, social media and mobile applications
  • creating scripts for radio jingles and TV commercials.

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

Responsibilities

You'll usually work in partnership with an art director to form a creative team working on creative briefs. You'll handle several client accounts at the same time, which makes the job varied and interesting.

As an advertising copywriter, you'll need to:

  • familiarise yourself with your clients' products and services, the target audience and their competitors' activities
  • liaise with clients and interpret their briefs
  • develop creative ideas and concepts, often in partnership with the art director
  • present ideas to the creative director for approval and development and then to your clients
  • write clear, persuasive, original copy through the various iterations of the project
  • proofread copy to check spelling and grammar
  • amend, revise or redevelop adverts or campaigns in response to feedback from the creative director, account team or clients
  • oversee campaigns through the production stage to completion
  • work on several campaigns at once, sometimes under pressure and often to tight deadlines
  • cast actors for TV and radio work and listen to voice tapes
  • liaise with production companies, photographers, typographers, designers and printers
  • keep up to date with popular culture and trends
  • monitor the effectiveness of advertising campaigns.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for a junior copywriter are typically between £20,000 and £25,000 a year.
  • 'Middleweight' copywriters, those with three or more years of experience, can earn £25,000 to £50,000.
  • Senior creatives with 10 to 15 years of experience may earn up to £90,000.
  • Creative directors who have won awards for the effectiveness of their campaigns can earn in excess of £120,000.

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

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are generally 9am to 5pm. However, it's 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.

Self-employment or freelance work is possible for experienced copywriters.

What to expect

  • Copywriters are generally office based but you may be required on TV shoots, radio recordings, castings or in editing suites. You may also visit clients, undertake research in public areas or visit different locations to help with creativity.
  • In England, most of the top agencies are based in London but many also have regional offices. Most large cities have an advertising scene, in particular Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Leeds, Bristol and Brighton.
  • The work may be challenging and highly pressurised, but it can also be exciting and rewarding.
  • The average age of employees in agencies is 34 (slightly higher in creative agencies and slightly lower in media agencies).
  • Many agencies have a high turnover of staff, with creatives frequently moving to different employers to progress their careers.

Qualifications

Although copywriters come from a range of backgrounds, creativity and the ability to write well are key requirements, so a degree in one of the following subjects may increase your chances:

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

Although not essential, it may be worth taking a vocational postgraduate course in advertising, particularly if your degree is in an unrelated subject. Some postgraduate courses offer work placements as part of the course.

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.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • the ability to write good, clear copy in a variety of styles with accurate spelling and grammar
  • strong analytical skills
  • excellent teamwork, communication and interpersonal skills
  • the ability to form strong working relationships quickly
  • logic, creativity and imagination
  • the 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.

If you're on an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in advertising, you will usually form a partnership with an art director during your course. You'll then look for a first job as a team. This is usually done by compiling a good 'book' (portfolio) of your work and getting it critiqued by creative directors at meetings and interviews. This often involves cold-calling, emailing and physically taking your book to the agencies.

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

You may be interested in taking part in the D&AD New Blood programme for new creatives. It's aimed at students and graduates under 24 and includes awards, an academy and festival with opportunities to show and validate your work and skills.

Employers

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. There are also specialist agencies that focus on specific areas such as digital advertising. Search Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) Members for details of their 250 member agencies.

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.

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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Entry-level jobs are seldom advertised and there are very few formal graduate training schemes. When such schemes do run, they're 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.

Agencies may advertise jobs on their websites. Specialist recruitment consultancies also deal with job opportunities for creatives. However, copywriting posts aren't always advertised, so speculative approaches are essential. Useful directories to help with speculative applications include:

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 IPA Foundation Certificate. This is an online course for junior advertising professionals and covers the entire brand communications process. The IPA offers a portfolio of qualifications, including the IPA Excellence Diploma, and also has a range of short courses and seminars.

Undertaking the IPA continuing professional development (CPD) programme in addition to IPA qualifications can lead to Accredited MIPA. This learning-based personal membership programme shows that you've met the highest standards in advertising and allows you to profile yourself, your qualifications and career highlights on the IPA website.

Other relevant qualifications include the Communication Advertising and Marketing (CAM) Foundation Diploma in Marketing Communications, which has an advertising module.

Advertising is a dynamic area and it's vital to keep up to date with industry news and trends. Reputation and recognition is essential for professional development. 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. As you gain more experience through working on bigger and more important briefs, you can progress to become a senior copywriter, also known as a 'middleweight' and then 'heavyweight' creative.

In larger companies, you may then progress to the role of group creative director, overseeing a handful of creative teams. Some then go on to become creative directors with responsibility for the entire creative department. This usually takes at least five to ten years of experience working on high-profile campaigns and winning industry awards. The effectiveness of your campaigns is vital to your success.

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, working across a number of agencies and clients, or set up their own agency, often in partnership with colleagues from the same original agency.

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.