I have worked as a junior copywriter for a little over three months now, and in that time, I have learned a vast amount. I work at TopLine Comms, a B2B digital PR and SEO agency with a variety of technology and engineering clients, and my day to day work involves writing everything from articles and blogs to video scripts and white papers.
It would be presumptuous for me to suggest that I could offer much advice about the art of copywriting, given my incredibly limited experience. However, I do have some simple tips for beginners that I wished I had been told when I was starting out.
1. If you don’t know, ask
You’ll have countless questions when you start at any kind of new job, and copywriting is no exception. Try not to feel intimidated by the onslaught of information and ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Your new colleagues were in your position once, and they will be happy to help you out. Perhaps more importantly, asking questions early on can save both you and your co-workers from some serious misunderstandings later.
2. Learn the terms
Words are a copywriter’s bread and butter, and it’s safe to assume that even the newest copywriter has an affinity for language. What new writers may not have considered is that copywriting and PR have their own unique lexicons—“copy”, “proof”, “brief”, “hook”, “B2C”, and “call to action”, for instance. Being able to name a concept or process makes it easier to understand, so it’s worth making a concerted effort to pick up the terms of art when you’re starting out.
3. Manage your workload
Sometimes, work comes in a slow trickle, but sometimes it comes through in a furious torrent. Managing the latter situation is a key skill that I didn’t foresee when I started the job. The sporadic nature of the workload means that it’s up to you to communicate your capacity and reach out for help when you need it. Certain deadlines are set in stone, while others are more flexible, and differentiating between these is key. When you’re tasked with more than you can do, reach out to the colleagues who assigned you the briefs to find out which are the highest priority and which briefs can be postponed.
4. Follow the brief
When it comes to copywriting, the brief is paramount. It may be tempting to get overly creative and stray from the confines of the brief – particularly if you’re writing on a similar topic for the tenth or hundredth time—but don’t do it. Whether you feel that it needs sprucing up or not, your job is to turn the brief into prose—if you deviate from the brief, you will inevitably end up writing the content again.
5. If it’s not right, send it back
If you feel that you have substantive suggestions for how the content could be improved, reach out to whoever assigned you the brief and discuss it with them. Whether they agree or disagree with your proposed improvements, it’s important to know beforeyou start writing.
Briefs won’t always be perfect, but they should meet a minimum standard. It is not your responsibility to work from a brief that lacks necessary information. One of the most important lessons that the other copywriters at my agency have taught me is to send back inadequate briefs rather than attempting to bridge the gaps myself.
6. Do some research
Before typing out a single word, you need to have a robust understanding of the client, the publication, and the subject. This means doing some research. Consider finding other content that your agency has written for this client and work to emulate it. Most agencies will have a collection of past work, probably online, that you can refer to. If your writing is supposed to end up in a publication, take the time to work out its tone and style. You never want to have to rewrite an article because it was insufficiently formal, or—conversely—because it didn’t have the relaxed vibe the client asked for.
Have an open mind
Overall, the most important lesson I’ve learned in my short time as a junior copywriter is—as trite as it may sound—that a positive attitude and an open mind will set you on the right course in the face of pretty much any problem. Learn as much as you can, ask questions, and reach out for help when you need it, and you will be off to a great start.