What Does a Copywriter Do and How Do You Become One? Everything You Need to Know

What Does a Copywriter Do and How Do You Become One? Everything You Need to Know was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.

Copy is the text used to sell products in advertising and marketing and copywriters are the professionals who create this copy. Copywriting is a centuries-old craft. One of the oldest surviving advertisements in English was printed on a small sheet of paper in 1477 by William Caxton, who wrote ad copy to sell a handbook for priests.

Modern copywriting evolved alongside newspapers and magazines and has adapted to every communication innovation since—from television and radio to the internet and social media. Whenever you pass a billboard, watch a commercial, scan a magazine advertisement, or scroll past a promoted social media post, a professional copywriter created the words you see or hear.

These words are carefully selected and arranged to encourage, convince, inspire, and/or educate readers and listeners so that they’re more likely to:

  • Buy a product
  • Buy a service
  • Take an action (register for a site or service, call for more information, visit a store or website, etc.)

I started my writing career as a journalist, which is a common route to copywriting. For the past 15 years I’ve worked as a copywriter for a digital marketing agency and in-house marketing departments and also as a freelancer. Copywriting is a fun career that offers day-to-day variety and collaboration. It requires a self-starter’s mindset, a love of language, and strong listening skills.

Read on to learn more about other essential qualities of a copywriter, the tasks they typically tackle, and the core skills and training needed if you want to pursue a career in copywriting.

(And if you’re looking for open positions, you can search for copywriter jobs right here on The Muse!)

What Is a Copywriter and What Do They Do?

Days, weeks, or months can go into creating copy for ads and marketing campaigns, and the actual writing (as in fingertips to keyboards) is only part of a copywriter’s job. The job responsibilities of a copywriter can include:

  • Brainstorming and creating concepts for advertisements and marketing campaigns—often working in partnership with a graphic designer
  • Writing copy for various formats and media
  • Pitching ad and marketing campaign concepts to clients or company decision-makers
  • Researching products, services, customers, website search trends, competitors, and entire industries
  • Developing brand voices or adapting copy to an established brand voice
  • Analyzing campaign results to guide future copywriting strategies
  • Editing and revising—writing means rewriting and copywriters are responsible for taking direction from stakeholders and reworking copy through multiple drafts until it’s on target

What Do Copywriters Write?

Copywriters compose the words, phrases, taglines, sentences, and paragraphs that sell products and services. As a copywriter you could write business-to-business (B2B) copy for companies selling goods and services to other companies, business-to-consumer (B2C) copy for companies that sell their products through a retail business, or direct-to-consumer (D2C) copy for companies that sell directly to customers through a website.

Your writing may appear in or on:

  • Print ads (newspapers and magazines)
  • Social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.)
  • Scripts for radio and podcast ads or any spoken advertising—typically with voice-overs by announcers, show hosts, or actors
  • TV and streaming service ads in the form of scripts, on-screen words, and taglines
  • Websites (homepages, category pages, landing pages, product descriptions, ‘About’ pages, etc.)
  • Billboards and posters alongside the highway and in public transportation hubs, for example
  • In-store signs that drive awareness about specific products and sales in the store

What Is the Difference Between Copywriting and Content Writing?

Copywriting and content writing overlap and the roles are often confused. However, their core objectives are different.

In copywriting, the goal is usually to make the sale. The writing is often medium or short form (e.g., the “Got Milk?” campaign) and has a clear, simple message meant to inspire action (e.g., milk is healthy, grab a gallon). Often copywriting directly addresses a customer problem, promises entertainment, or evokes an emotion. For example, the “Share a Coke” campaign put different first names on Coke cans to inspire positive thoughts of friendship.

The purpose of content writing, on the other hand, is educating, helping, or entertaining existing and prospective customers. This copy is usually longer form, such as blog posts, articles, or scripts and text for how-to videos. The main goal of content marketing is to deepen brand relationships, establish topic-area expertise, and confirm that a product, service, or company is the customer’s best choice.

Keep in mind there is significant overlap in these positions and copywriter roles often include long-form content. When searching for copywriter jobs, pay close attention to the job responsibilities so you know what type of writer a company is seeking.

Key Facts About Copywriters

Let’s get down to the details and talk about pay, work environment, and more.

Where Do Copywriters Work?

All companies that advertise or market their products or services need copywriters to ensure they capture attention and inspire sales. You could work as a copywriter in any industry you can imagine, including alternative energy, fashion, technology, media, waste management, space tourism, and more.

No matter the product or industry, there are three common options for how you’ll be employed as copywriter:

  • On an in-house marketing team: As an in-house copywriter you work directly for a company as a member of its marketing team. You’ll help develop the company’s marketing strategy and write copy for its marketing campaigns and advertisements. In-house teams are growing, according to a 2020 survey of marketers by Digiday, which found that 83% were handling marketing mostly or completely in-house, rather than hiring external advertising and marketing agencies.
  • For an advertising or marketing agency: Agency copywriters develop ad or marketing campaign pitches to win outside clients and then execute on their successful pitches. With an agency, you’ll write for client companies you don’t work for—often for multiple at a time.
  • For yourself as a freelancer: Freelance copywriters work under contract or on a project basis.

Can Copywriters Work Remotely?

Yes. Copywriters can work remotely and many were already work-from-home veterans before the world went into lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. (You can search for remote copywriting jobs right here on The Muse!)

How Much Do Copywriters Make?

Income for copywriters varies significantly based on what your experience level is, which geographic location you’re in, and whether you’re an employee or a freelancer. According to PayScale, the average salary for a copywriter is $53,154, but jumps to $63,055 in New York, while the average salary for a senior copywriter is $75,656 but only $63,465 in Phoenix. Experienced, in-demand copywriters can reach six or even seven figures.

What Is the Outlook for a Copywriting Career?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 2% decline in jobs for all writers and authors between 2019 and 2029. The emergence of artificial intelligence copywriting technology has raised concerns about the future of copywriting specifically. But AI is meant to support—not replace—human wordsmiths. And as long as companies need to communicate the value of their product or service, they’ll need support from copywriters.

How Can You Become a Copywriter?

You must be a strong writer to become a copywriter, but that’s not the only necessary skill. You also have to come to the table with ideas, a strong point of view, adaptability, and strong listening skills, says Susie Felber, Global Content Director for consumer health electronics company Withings and a former editor of mine.

To develop these skills, start working as a copywriter. Pursue the education and training that supports a copywriting career (we’ve outlined them in the next section!), but remember that there’s a trial-and-error aspect to being a copywriter and the best way to learn is by doing. So seek internships as soon as possible, apply for entry-level copywriting positions, learn from more senior copywriters, and find a mentor willing to help you grow your problem-solving and interpersonal skills. (Remember, you can find open copywriter internships and entry-level jobs on The Muse!)

What Education, Training, or Certifications Do You Need to Become a Copywriter?

There’s no one single route to a copywriting career but as far as education requirements, most copywriting job postings include a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Some of the most helpful degrees for copywriters are:

  • Marketing
  • Communications
  • Journalism
  • English
  • Creative writing
  • Education

For more specialized industries (such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, engineering, or technology), companies may seek copywriters with a background in that field in addition to proven writing skills.

Certifications aren’t typically required for copywriters, but there are many available to help you advance your skill set and help you stand out to companies and hiring managers.

Some continuing education certificates to consider earning include:

What Skills Do You Need as a Copywriter?

If you’re serious about pursuing copywriting, it helps if you write consistently, even if it’s not professionally. So definitely work to hone your writing skills as you prepare for your career—and once you’re already in it. Like most things, writing improves with practice.

So strong writing skills are essential, but this is also a career where soft skills rise to the top. You need to learn diverse subjects and industries quickly so you can write about them with confidence, which requires a blend of curiosity and tenacity on top of the ability to pinpoint relevant data. “I look for someone who is deeply interested in almost anything,” Felber says. “Copywriters who have a strong journalism or education background are often curious people who go the extra mile and enjoy finding a story in anything and everything. You may dream of selling a novel, but you’ll find enjoyment even when writing about dog beds or atrial fibrillation.” With these skills, you’re more likely to create engaging copy that addresses the issues that matter most to your target audiences.

Some important soft skills for copywriters are:

  • Ability to take direction
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy and emotional intelligence
  • Fast learning ability with a growth mindset
  • Flexibility and open-mindedness
  • Intuition
  • Persuasive communication
  • Sense of humor

You’ll also need certain hard skills—the specific knowledge or abilities you’ll use to do a job. Writing is an obvious hard skill all copywriters need, but a strong foundation of marketing skills is also important. Copywriters are expected to be strategic marketers as well as creative thinkers, especially as they gain experience. So you need:

  • Writing and wordsmithing skills, including copywriting-specific skills and knowledge
  • Research skills
  • Knowledge of spelling, punctuation, and grammar
  • Knowledge of strategic marketing
  • Basic SEO skills
  • Familiarity with content management systems
  • Familiarity with digital publishing platforms
  • Knowledge of social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.)

Marketing is an ever-changing field, so you’ll also want to be sure to keep up to date on marketing trends and emerging marketing technology as part of your ongoing professional development.

Should You Become a Copywriter?

I love copywriting and am grateful I have the opportunity to write about a variety of topics every day. I’ve written about marketing, meditation, nook decorating, dog howls, and much more. It’s fun to find the words that spark interest, pause the scroll, and drive sales. If you’re a creative, curious writer with a growth mindset and a knack for problem-solving—you may find copywriting is a career path you’ll love, too.

Copywriting is also a challenging, high-pressure career. In addition to writing on tight deadlines, the success of your writing is determined based on metrics, such as sales figures, click-through rates, and conversion rates, so you need to be willing to adjust your work to accommodate these factors. “A great copywriter will have to be open to feedback and willing to make edits and modifications—even if it’s not what they think is best,” says Emma Cimolin, marketing director of B2B delivery software company Routific. “They understand that it is what is best for the client and their needs.”

To keep the stress in check, it’s important that you’re a strong writer who loves the writing process, takes direction well, and can write and revise quickly. “Copywriters can’t be precious about their words,” Felber says. “One with experience knows that your first idea, second, or even third—are rarely your best. Really listening to the client, internal or external, helps you bring their vision to life.” When hiring copywriters, Cimolin looks for candidates with empathy who can understand and write genuinely about audience pain points. Like Felber, she looks for flexibility and a dash of humility. “A great copywriter will need to check their ego at the brief,” she says.

Think back on jobs you’ve had in the past. Did you ruminate on negative feedback from bosses? Did you have trouble shifting gears when required? Or did you see constructive criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve? If you said the latter, you have the temperament to match the job. Responding to constructive criticism and changing course are daily—even hourly—requirements for copywriters.

How Can You Land a Job as a Copywriter?

To land a job as a copywriter, you need to sell yourself! Throughout the application and hiring process, you’ll need to share your education and experience while also demonstrating with every piece of your application that you’re a clear communicator, persuasive writer, and solid grammarian.

Before applying for copywriting jobs, be sure to polish your job hunt “calling cards” and skills:

  • Resume: The copy on your resume should be clear and compelling—like your ad copy will be once you get the gig.
  • Cover letter: Consider your cover letter one of the first writing samples someone who hires you is going to see. This is your opportunity to tout achievements from previous positions and demonstrate your stellar wordsmithing skills.
  • Portfolio: Gather a variety of your best writing samples and share them in an online portfolio or on your copywriter website. Include links to your portfolio on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other sites hosting job-hunter profiles.
  • LinkedIn and/or freelance marketplace profiles: Most of my current clients found me through LinkedIn. Make sure your profile is detailed and includes links to your copywriting portfolio, copywriter-specific keywords (i.e., copywriting, digital marketing writer, paid-search ad copywriter, etc.), recommendations from peers and former bosses, and a professional but friendly headshot. If you’re going the freelance route, build a compelling profile on top freelance marketplaces—but be sure to do your research and be wary of undervaluing your work, taking assignments that don’t match your skills, or taking on too many clients.
  • Interviewing skills: Know the specific skills, responsibilities, and experiences each job description requires, so you can share your ability to meet these expectations when answering interview questions. For example, you might share stories about how you took direction and changed your copy approach or how you put yourself in the shoes of customers. Prepare for your interview thoroughly so you’re more relaxed and able to share your capabilities with clarity and confidence.

Finally, if you want to make your way into copywriting you need to network, network, network! Do you have family or friends in marketing? Reach out to them for informational interviews or career guidance. Join your state’s chapter of the American Marketing Association and attend their trainings and happy hours. Marketers are a social bunch and networking is an important part of career development in the field. You never know who will become a mentor, know of a job opening, or have a colleague who’s hiring copywriters.

If you have the writing chops, curiosity, tenacity, and passion to become a copywriter, you’re setting off on an interesting, challenging, fun, and rewarding profession. I’m rooting for you!

By Sondra Wolfer - The Muse
The Muse
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