How to Start a Copywriting Career From Scratch

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Being a professional copywriter may seem like a dream gig – you get to make money inventing clever concepts, collaborating with creative types, and using your ideas to drive people to action. If you intend to have a copywriting career, know that it will take a lot of hard work to establish it. Also know that hard work will prove fruitless without clear objectives and a basic knowledge of the business.

If only the industry weren’t so competitive! If only successful copywriters didn’t guard their trade secrets so closely!

How to Start a Copywriting Career

Take heart. Award-winning copywriter Pete Giblin is here to look back on his copywriting career and give you a head start on yours. Like a great advertising campaign, his advice boils down to a few basic ideas.

1. Get the Lay of the Land

“The first thing I would do,” says Giblin, “is get my hands on as many portfolios of other people as possible. I’d also check out winning ideas from Cannes and whatnot to see exactly what is ‘good’ advertising at the moment.” If you’re just starting out, imitation is a perfectly respectable route to inspiration.

2. Master the Art of “The Concept”

“A concept is basically the hook, the twist, the way of describing something that sets it apart.” Take Apple, for example. Apple products have a lot of nice features. Compared to some competitors, they’re rather pricey. But Apple’s advertising represents an attitude, an aesthetic, and an approach to life and to creative expression that goes beyond the nuts and bolts. “It’s hard to describe,” says Giblin, “as you can see.” And yet, it’s something every great copywriter needs to get a sense of.

3. Be Your Own Creative Team

“The next thing I would do,” Giblin says, “is buy a light box and learn basic Photoshop. If you have a good idea, the some basic sketches are enough to get the idea across. Things don’t need to beautifully Photoshopped to be sellable. Our most successful work was sold with an overview of the idea and a hand-drawn picture of a hand putting a golf ball on a tee.” Beyond saving you the trouble of recruiting a partner before you’re established, learning the basics of design will help you collaborate with others when the time comes.

4. Write an Ad

“The best way to describe the kind of copy I do,” Giblin says, “is an email. First you have the subject line. You need a pithy, good little line that intrigues readers and makes them want to know more. Then you’ve got the body copy. You’ll be given a list of things to say in the brief [which, for now, you can dream up yourself –Ed]. You say all that stuff as briefly as you can using the client’s sort of language.” Fine-tune. Repeat.

5. Branch Out

Now that you’ve got a concept and some content, try different presentations. Learn to write basic scripts for TV and radio spots and take your ad into different media. Master a variety of writing styles. “One style of writing is smooth,” says Giblin, “and another is, like, ”Yeah awesome party! Let’s be loud!”

6. Reach Out

“I would get a Cargo Collective site,” Giblin says. Cargo Collective is a popular online showcase and networking platform for creatives. “It’s what I use as my portfolio,” says Giblin.

“You need to contact creatives and creative directors and get your work reviewed by them as much as possible. It’s how you get seen and known. It’s a business. Get stuck in.” Now that it’s easy to find industry leaders through Twitter and LinkedIn, it’s easier to build a rapport over time and network as a known entity when you have some solid work to share.

After you’ve spent some time building a portfolio and getting some experience, contact Artisan and let us help you take your copywriting career to the next level.

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