Most of us, at one point in our careers, were copywriters, so this is the page we enjoyed working on the most. Perhaps you have noticed that the layout is crude and the pictures are bereft of any graphic value whatsoever...which, of course, has "driven a stake" through the hearts of our Art Directors, causing them to stomp out of the room in a royal snit. Well, we do like them, but, then again, we like the printed word more. Oh well, no matter. Whenever our art directors' egos are bruised they flee to the Thirsty Muse to lubricate themselves with pails of lattés and bushels of croissants. Please don't feel sorry for them! They have an innate ability to bounce back. They'll have a few lattés -- and as soon as they see the wallpaper over there, they'll get re-energized and start suggesting ways to re-decorate the place. Maybe they'll even start doing it themselves. We can only hope that the manager has a fondness for fuschia or teal -- you know, the colors that are sort-of colors, but refreshingly different! Anyway, no need to digress! (or should we say: no need to digest. It's an old Norm Crosby joke). Let's get back to the subject at hand. So, what is a copywriter? Different definitions flew around the table with reckless abandon until one of our members quoted the words of Thomas D. Murray, a famous copywriter in the States. We all thought it was appropriate. So, alley oop and here we go. Ready or not let's get on with the show!:

Somewhere deep in the basement of every office building which houses an advertising department or agency, is a janitor's room -- and one floor below this cheery chamber, in the darkest, dankest, dampest corner of the sub basement, you will find a not-too-spacious, poorly-lit area in which a musty, dusty odor abounds. This is the natural habitat of the copywriter. The copywriter can usually be found whittling on, chewing into, cutting up, sleeping across, or chained to a scratched up lean-to which, in his more creative moments, he uses as a desk. At his left there is usually found an old beat-up word processor, and at his right a waste basket stacked high to overflowing with crumpled bond -- a monument to words which (in the copy chief's opinion) might have missed the sale.

A copywriter is a story of contrasts. He has the temper of a panther, is as sensitive as a pregnant woman, as sarcastic as a salesgirl, as unmanageable as a movie star. One day he may be as loud as an atomic bomb, and the next as quiet as a mouse. One minute he's as healthy as a horse and calm as a cucumber, and the next as sick as a dog and nervous as a cat.
Copywriters like weekends, sporty cars, gambling, airplanes, all hobbies, cigarettes, and pipes, secretaries, paychecks, long vacations with pay, short vacations for coffee, pats on the back, his own copy, music, office parties, long lunches, and bourbon in its bonded form. He is not much for copy chiefs, layouts, speeches, art directors, accounting, advertising awards, and people who talk about the "glamour" of the advertising profession.

Nobody else is so late to come in or so early to leave. Nobody else has more imagination or less self assurance. Nobody else sees more (when a secretary walks by) or hears less (when the boss explains a campaign). Nobody else can cram into one lap drawer five carbons of his latest copy, eighteen assorted issues of Advertising Age and Printer's Ink, four old-type novels, seventy-two broken pieces of a gum eraser, one hundred and eleven pencils of assorted sizes and colors, and a three-year-old wedding invitation. No one else has started to write so many novels, or stopped to talk to so many women.

A copywriter is the oddest of creatures -- by nature he is normal but, by heaven, he's a screwball. He can sell half the people in the country a jar of pickles but he's afraid to ask a friend to buy a ticket to a church supper. Unfortunately, sales managers must live with him, for he can take the stilted, awkward words they use to tell him what they want and turn them into the warm language of the living room. Yes, without knowing even the rudiments of economics and with all his idiosyncrasies, the copy writer can start more people thinking more thoughts about spending more money and buying more goods than an army of Fuller Brush men or the masters of the planned economy.

Are You A Copywriter?

Copywriters are those offbeat, twisted, loveable, erratic, sometimes snarky creatures who write advertising, in all its forms. Sometimes they are confused with marketing people and/or public relations people -- which can often be a problem. A copywriter doesn't develop the marketing. He only wishes he could. He is the person who follows through on the marketing and writes the advertising that reflects the marketing's objective -- and gets results i.e. sales. A copywriter is not a public relations person. A public relations person is a person who writes (or performs other functions) to gather goodwill for a company -- which is less quantifiable. All these disciplines require distinctive talents and all are equally difficult. Public relations writing and marketing are discussed elsewhere on this site, but for now let's talk about copywriting

Okay, so let's get on with the show! Do your talents point you towards a career in copywriting or public relations? If you have a penchant for pleasing people, you'll probably do well in PR. On the other hand, if you'd rather write words that sell things to people, then welcome to the WILD, WONDERFUL and FASCINATING world of advertising copywriting. Your career will be fast-paced, challenging and exciting -- but be warned. From the outside looking in, advertising can have a glamorous appeal - and it can mean big money - but big money always means big work (and big talent). Advertising is exactly that. Once you get into the business, you will find that the ad game moves very swiftly and is very competitive and you will have to work hard just to stay in the game. So before you commit yourself, sit down and consider your abilities for a moment. Is the ad biz right for you? If you've got a quick wit, brilliant talent and a thick skin, then go for it. If you are someone who thinks advertising might be a good idea because you can make other people laugh then maybe you should consider a career as a stand-up comedian?

If you do get into the advertising business and your first campaign is a success, you will be a copywriter for the rest of your life. The thrill of having your first campaign approved, then produced will hook you forever. "Ink" will figuratively flow through your veins.

Precautionary Note: If you do get into the advertising business, remember that you are hired as a professional who is obliged to sell a client's product. If the client's product doesn't sell, the chances are pretty good that you won't be collecting a salary for long --and you might very well find yourself out in the street, scratching your head, wondering just exactly what went wrong. This is the conundrum -- how do you sell a product, while entertaining at the same time, and meeting all the strats? It's up to you. Let us know how you do.

Another point to consider is that advertising copywriting is far more restrictive than most other writing professions. When you write an ad, you must remember that you are writing for the mass market -- particularly in television -- where children will be watching. That means a risqué idea probably won't cut it. On the other hand, in screenwriting, you might not have to make such concessions. Think of it this way. An advertiser must please the masses -- and a good percentage of their sales depends on people seeing and liking their commercial. Since a commercial must appeal to the masses, it usually relies on squeaky clean, handsome, beautiful actors walking around immaculate sets. A movie, on the other hand, has already won over its audience as soon as the movie goer buys a ticket (the money is in the bank, so to speak) and the movie is generally restricted to a specific audience (i.e. adults over 18) . So the screenwriter is able to do more to make a point. Do you see what we mean? No? Okay. Let's look at an example. In a recent TV commercial for an SUV, a group of men are travelling into a jungle (presumably in South America) to study the Mayan Ruins. One of them is hit by a poison dart -- and it's up to the other guys to suck out the poison. Now, we all know the joke and we all know where the dart is supposed to land on the man's body. But, in the commercial, the dart hits the man's neck (the least offensive part). Our guess is that the copywriter complained that the dart missed its rightful target, but the advertiser opted for a less precious part -- because the last thing they want to do is "offend anyone". Let's face it. As a copywriter, you'll have to be politically correct for most of your life. Copywriting is a great way to earn a living, but the down side is that although you have a truckload of brains, you'll be forever prevented from ever owning a spine. If you're not happy with that scenario, then being a copywriter might not be for you. So GET OUT. Try screenwriting instead.

Another example is a television commercial for a bathroom tissue. It's an animated commercial featuring a bear in the woods who has run out of bathroom tissue. This too is an old joke and when told in bar halls might be less offensive than a television commercial. The TV commercial, however, is well done and only "alludes" to the joke. It's far from offensive.So the bottom line is: when you do have that wildly creative idea, make sure it A. Sells your client's product and B. doesn't light up the switchboard when it airs.

A lot of people do. But, rather than write for a living, there are scads of people who scored high on their S.A.T.'s or belong to Mensa, but choose to live life as a house painter or a cement cutter. Consider William Faulkner. He was a postal clerk all his life - yet William Faulkner was one of the most brilliant writers who ever lived. When Stephen King dreamed up his first novel "Carrie", he was working in a laundry. Many people who are famous today started out modestly. James Cameron, the famous Canadian director (one of them) was a truck driver for years before getting his chance to shine in Hollywood. Remember, you don't have to be sitting in front of a typewriter to write.

If you are young and inexperienced, chances are your first break won't be with an advertising agency. Agencies are staffed with highly experienced, polished people. I would suggest you apply for a job with a catalogue company. It's a great place to hone your writing teeth. Catalogues are a sort of "boot camp" for up and coming copywriters. There, you will learn how to make a few words work with maximum impact. You'll learn how to use words to telegraph a message, giving them one purpose and one purpose alone: to sell a product. It's the discipline you will need.

If you've tried your hardest to get into the business and didn't succeed, remember that failure does not necessarily mean you are a failure as a writer. It just means that you've got to keep writing and keep trying. HARD! Remember that there are thousands of well-qualified advertising people walking the streets, looking for work. So you've got to be tougher. You've got to be more desperate! And if the rejection gets to you, maybe you don't belong in advertising. (see Dealing with Rejection).

One of our members related to us that a former Creative Director once said to him:" die trying!" -- which is exactly what you've got to do. Read all the trade papers, learn the names of the major players and target the agencies. (In Canada, the major magazine for advertising is called Marketing. Every year, usually in December, Marketing publishes a list of Canada's ad agencies and their personnel. A smaller one is called Stimulus. In the States, a magazine by the name of Advertising Age does the same thing. Pick an advertising campaign that you think could use some "sprucing up", re-write the campaign and send your ideas to a few advertising agencies. (for God's sakes, make sure your ideas are your ideas! It would not do you well to get caught as a plagiarist). Do all this and perhaps you will get a bite.

You will probably get an assignment. Hopefully it won't be a project that determines the future of the agency. After all, you are just a beginner -- so don't expect to be dreaming up GM's next advertising campaign. When you get your assignment, try to look as professional as possible. As you take down all the facts, walk away with an all-knowing wink and a smile. (You can always run to the bathroom and feel sick to your stomach later). If you've been hired by a professional agency, you'll probably get a briefing from the account executive, followed up by a "call report" (which details all the pertinent points) in your "in basket". This call report will give you all the necessary details -- such as the type of ad required, the tone and manner the ad should take, etcetera. When you get back to your office, sit down at your computer and try to dream up two or three words or visuals that would go on a billboard and funnel all of your client's needs into one brilliant idea. A billboard message is the core of your campaign. Everything else pans out from there. We wish you all the success in the world on your first shot at advertising copywriting. Remember, though, that every star must sputter before it sparkles. Sometimes that brilliant idea may just be a matter of luck! Always remember that some of the best advertising ideas ever written would never have seen the light of day if not for some fluke -- i.e. somebody saw it on its way to the trash can!

As we have mentioned many times before in the Canadian Copywriter Website, we meet every month at a tavern by the name of the Thirsty Muse. It's near the water's edge and centrally located so it's easy for our members to get there. When we gather, we get very talkative and sometimes some of the other customers overhear our conversations. A few walk over to chat and ask questions. One of the most frequently asked questions is: "Can You Make Good Money As An Advertising Copywriter?" Our answer is "Yes, you can. But it depends on who you work for". If you work for a large multinational agency --and you are able to meet the needs of their "blue chip" clients, then the chances are pretty good that you'll make big money. But if you don't want to work for a large "Super Agency", other suggestions were tabled, one of which was notable. One of our members suggested pharmaceutical copywriting -- and when she did the other members around the table nodded quickly in agreement. The consensus was that pharmaceutical advertising was the big money maker. Why? The pharmaceutical companies have money. Plus, with the aging population, they'll have even more money. Historically, pharmaceutical advertising has always used only the best copywriters, only the best artwork and have huge advertising budgets. Of course, getting a job with a pharmaceutical agency won't be easy. You have to write science copy that sells and is scientifically and medically accurate. It has to deliver the brand strategy and meets regulatory/client guidelines. For this, you'll need a strong scientific background, preferably with biotech / pharmaceutical / medical industry experience before you even start to write. Many of the copywriters at these agencies are doctors who have made the switch to copywriting. So you will be dealing with some heavy competition. But if you can get in, go for it!

As an advertising copywriter, you are required to be a jack of all trades - especially if you work in an advertising agency. You almost have to know everything (and if you don't, it's important that you learn fast). But you do enjoy learning don't you? If you don't, perhaps you should put your ambitions as a copywriter aside. When you write, you are basically a sales person who works in the medium of print (or broadcast). You have to know all the features and benefits of the product you are writing about. Think in...