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3 things to expect from a career in copywriting

By Andrew Boulton

August 31, 2018 | 5 min read

Expect to be wrong. So very wrong


There are professions where you can reasonably expect your authority to go unchallenged. Pilots, for example, are rarely expected to field flying advice from a passenger on his way to a legendary stag do, even if his T-shirt does happen to say 'Wingman'.

In copywriting, there is no such luxury. For all your expertise and experience, your professional opinion is subject to challenge, disregard and even contempt.

Admittedly, we work in a business where considering other views will never leave 250 holidaymakers bobbing unhappily about in the middle of the ocean. In fact, it can often help to produce better work.

The challenge every copywriter faces is to inoculate themselves against the more harmful strains of feedback. The occasions where trivial peeves or misplaced prejudice could easily damage the effectiveness of a line.

But a good copywriter should never be collaboratively impenetrable. There has to be an openness to suggestion, otherwise your work will find itself wheezing along on one good lung.

Allowing a certain degree of creative permeability not only makes you easier to work with, it also makes you a more flexible and inventive writer.

And, agonising as it may be, that means allowing yourself to be wrong. Sometimes.

Expect a fight

If you're a copywriter raised on a diet of Don Draper, the reality of the job may hit you like a shopping trolley filled with stolen meat.

Too much vitamin D(on) in your bloodstream and you may start to believe that a signed-off idea is only a silky monologue and a pithy strapline away.

But, this side of the television screen, however smooth and breathy your delivery may be, you'll rarely be met with universal acclaim or the dim whiff of professional lust.

In reality, many clients will gladly thrust in their interruptions throughout even the most beautifully rehearsed 'Drapering'. And it's surprisingly difficult to appear urbanely omniscient when you're having to explain why the logo isn't bigger.

That's why preparation to present should not just be an act of seduction, but an act of combat – arming yourself with a mid-price bouquet but also a sock filled with snooker balls.

Your job in this situation isn't to convince the client of your brilliance, but of theirs. They hired you, they gave you a (ahem) great brief and they're now seeing how you have considered and addressed everything they want this work to achieve.

They will be able to see for themselves how striking the creative looks, but they need to understand how persuasive it can be.

I'm not saying convincing your client should be attritional, nor am I saying you should be defending every comma as if you'd rescued it from a home for battered grammar.

But you need to have reasons, evidence and rigour for every element of your work. Otherwise, it quickly becomes a conversation about what is liked rather than what will work.

Expect to get hooked

Naturally gentle souls, many copywriters have a history of substance abuse no more extravagant than Gaviscon and a hot Ribena.

And that may be because copywriting itself is our drug of choice, an alphabetic narcotic that we would cheerily burgle an orphanage on Christmas Eve to feed.

The early symptoms are an inability to get anywhere quickly, so perpetually distracted are you by the great (and awful) copy that lines every route you take.

You'll also find yourself filling your phone with endless examples of copy you admire, deleting pictures of pregnancy scans and your dad's Olympic medal ceremony in order to squeeze in a particularly witty billboard.

There's no real cure for copy addiction. It's a compulsion we feel to read and analyse the world around us. And even if we could treat it – douche it from our systems or drizzle anti-venom into our couscous – it's an obsession we need to become better writers.

Consuming great lines makes us work harder to elevate our work. Gobbling down poor writing strengthens our defences against lazy ideas. And once you're a copywriter that thirst for words should never go away. Its a bit like being a vampire, only instead of being a ghostly pale figure biting the necks of sleeping maidens, you're a ghostly pale figure repeatedly missing your tube train because you can't stop reading the ads.

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