How To Become A Professional Copywriter: An Expert’s Guide
The writing game has changed somewhat in the last….say 50 years.
These days, copywriters are responsible for a huge swathe of the creative process. A crucial thing to understand: a copywriter is not just another writer.
Great writers can make great copywriters…but it’s never a guarantee.
Why? Because copywriting is writing+marketing. It’s the art of storytelling with a hook at the end. Or in the middle. Maybe even at the start. But the important thing to understand is that copy is always a means to an end. Copywriters tell stories that drives readers to undertake an action. They’re persuasive, compelling, inspiring, and, at the end of the day, convincing.
So, if you’re an up-and-coming writer and you’re hoping to make your mark, how can you slide your foot in the door?
Read on for the ultimate tips to advance your copywriting career here in the modern world of 2020 AD.
Study (It Matters Where)
Hemingway and Twain didn’t study writing, right? So do you really need to dive into the world of higher-learning if you’re trying to go pro?
Yes and no.
Again, we’re not talking about writing fiction here (although most authors these days do go to school for it).
We’re talking copy. Writing copy is a fine art and meticulous skill. It’s a perilous balance between compelling stories and convincing arguments for purchase. Copywriters, almost without exception, need to study their craft. Just like a steelworker, a doctor, or a goddang NASCAR drive—any proud and skilled profession.
Are there copywriters who didn’t go to school for it? Of course. But every day the field gets more competitive, and a degree gets you just that one bit farther through the interviewer process. I mean these days, chances are you’ll be up against a candidate with a master’s degree, not just a bachelor’s. Again, there’s lots to learn.
Intern (Work Experience)
The world’s greatest athletes all have something fundamental in common.
Whether they’re playing hockey or volleyball, running marathons or climbing mountains, they all do one thing: they learn to be better by challenging themselves to do better.
You don’t learn to throw a fastball by reading about it. You play against the best, and you try to improve every day.
Copywriting is the same. If you want to be among the best, you want to practice and learn by working with the best.
That’s what an internship is, really. It’s practice for your career. It’s taking what you learned in school and bringing it all into the real world: where the stakes are higher and the rewards greater. It’s finding out how all the rules you studied are skirted and twisted and straight up broken out there in the field.
If your internship looks like this…
It’s not an internship. That’s indentured servitude. And rest assured, the organization responsible doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Write (All The Time)
Shooters shoot. Writers write.
Look, it’s that simple. Once you’re Allen Iverson, you’re allowed to start question the need to practice every day (although even then, the greats keep pursuing perfection). Until that day, you need to refine your instrument.
Words are your instrument. Using them well takes serious practice.
Try out new things. Like a growing point guard might practice left-handed layups, consider your weak spots and make a concerted effort to build your muscles.
Some writers intentionally refrain from using complicated punctuation—think semi-colons and oxford commas. If that’s you, try working some fancy schmancy marks into your personal writing. If your writing tends to skew toward massive sentences with flowery descriptions and complex structure, consider the alternative. Short, declarative sentences. Precise language. An economy of words. See where that takes you…
Build a Portfolio
Ah, the portfolio.
Other creative professionals have it somewhat easier here. After all, copywriting isn’t always the most visually appealing pursuit.
Don’t let that stop you from thinking about your portfolio. Despite what you may think, it’s no less important. Leading agencies and marketing departments will want to see an organized presentation of your previous work.
Think of it this way: when you hire a carpenter, what do you want to see? In a perfect world, you’d be after images of all the chairs, tables, houses, and sculptures they’d ever worked on.
Your portfolio should be an extension of yourself—a pure representation of your skills and sensibilities. A stranger should be able to look through it and understand what your writing is all about.
Prototypes, apps, books, web pages, art pieces, even a freaking speculative TV script…they could all find a place in your portfolio. You don’t want to be stymied by your perception of what a job application ought to look like. You want to wow a prospective interviewer with an overwhelming impression of your professional skill.
In fact, that’s why MAD copywriting programs place such an emphasis on crafting a thrilling portfolio. Because at the end of the day, it’ll be your key into the wonderful world of copy.
Think (About Where You Want To Work)
Well, it’s an easy step to skip. Especially if you happen to have a soft spot for earning money, advancing your career, getting your parents off your back…
It’s tempting to leap at the first jobs you find. It’s also tempting to sell your talent cheaply, in a mad rush to start bringing in cash as soon as humanly possible.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And when it comes to finding joy in what you do, as in a backcountry camping trip, it’s worth considering where you want to go before you head out.
Because like a camping trip, the average career path in 2020 can be chaotic, messy, fun, and somewhat rudderless. If you’d like to emphasize the fun part (and minimize the rest of it), it pays to plan ahead.
Consider making a list of companies and organizations you admire. At the same time, maybe put together a list of your absolute dealbreakers: companies you wouldn’t be caught dead writing so much as a Facebook ad for.
Finding Work As A Copywriter
OK, now the hard part.
You’ve studied. You’ve trained. You’ve been writing so much your fingers have the muscle definition of Arnold in his prime.
And to top it all off, you’ve got a portfolio that you happen to think would make David Ogilvy look like a semi-literate chimp.
So, any second now someone should be backing up the dump truck of money straight into your Scrooge McDuck money-pile.
Right? Right guys?
Getting the right job isn’t always easy. It might take months of interviews and cover letters and tedious networking events.
There are, however, ways to cut the line.
In the world of copywriting, that means two things: building a network, and acing your portfolio.
Which brings us to…
The MAD Advantage
We get students jobs. That’s just what we do.
For more than two decades, the Miami Ad School has been the go-to name for professional creative education in America. Our reputation is unimpeachable. And there’s a reason our grad placement rates are consistently in the high-90s: we focus on teaching you the skills and giving you the tools that real employers really want to see.
At MAD, students develop a professional network of reliable contacts that can help you advance through your career for years in the future. Our grads consistently point to the friends and mentors they found while here as a source of help when beginning their careers. Add in a professionally curated portfolio of projects for real-world clients? It would be difficult to graduate with a bigger leg up in the job race.