This is a guest post from Jack Kelleher he is a junior copywriter at TopLine Comms, a B2B digital PR and SEO agency based in London.
Three months ago, I nervously approached the office door to start my first “real” job, wracked with uncertainty. Was I right for the job? Could I handle the workload? What does a ‘copywriter’ even do? Since then, I’ve settled in – happily, everybody at the company has been incredibly welcoming – and become a fully-fledged member of the content team. And I’ve learned a lot.
As a junior copywriter, my day to day work is turning briefs into articles, blogs, white papers, newsletters, video scripts and all sorts of other types of prose. The agency I work at, TopLine Comms, is a B2B digital PR and SEO agency with a range of tech and STEM clients, so there is always something new and exciting to write about.
Although I’ve already learned a lot, I’m certainly not under the illusion that I know even a fraction of what there is to know about this line of work. However, I do have some real-world advice for anybody looking to take the same path I did. Whether you’re considering starting out as a copywriter yourself, or work in PR and want to help out new hires, here are five things I wish I had known on my first day.
1: Learn the language
Effective writers know the importance of using precise language, and the profession of copywriting is no different. What new hires may not be familiar with, however, are the collection of terms and phrases within the world of PR and copywriting.
The industry has its own unique lexicon, and copywriting is no different. Fortunately, most of these terms are simple, and you probably know a few of them already. For instance, the process of writing ‘copy’ – the body of the article, email, or other text that is the majority of the copywriter’s job – begins with a ‘brief’ – a set of information specifying what the copy needs to include, as well as other details such as desired tone and word count. Once you have written up the content, your ‘draft’ will be passed on for someone else to ‘proof’, or ‘proofread’ to spot errors. As a copywriter, you’ll probably be involved in proofing your colleagues’ work.
It goes without saying that there’s plenty more to know, but setting out on your journey, I would encourage new copywriters to stay observant and try to learn the words that will eventually define your day. Knowing the names of concepts and processes in the job can help you to learn and communicate issues and help you to get the right start. In short, knowing the language is the first step to mastering the job.
2: Don’t hesitate to ask questions
“If you don’t know, ask” is common advice for a reason. Within the world of copywriting, it’s especially important since a question asked early-on can prevent significant problems down the road. If in doubt, it’s better to reach out and ask any questions before you’ve written a 1,000-word article – trust me, I’ve learned this lesson first-hand.
Your colleagues know that you are new, and they can all relate to the overwhelming experience of starting a new job.
They will almost certainly be happy to answer any of your questions, or at least point you in the right direction to find the answer yourself.
For copywriting-specific questions, it’s worth asking the other copywriters you work with.
Writing is a skill, and your copywriting colleagues might be able to share some advice on everything from specific client preferences on the Oxford Comma to the way your agency approaches fact-checking.
3: Not all deadlines are set in stone
Sometimes, a copywriter will be assigned more work than they could possibly do in 24 hours – let alone a working day. This deluge of briefs isn’t an intentional attempt to undermine your sanity, but rather a coincidence as new work comes in.
Some deadlines are more critical than others and knowing which deadlines are flexible is essential to managing your workload effectively.
Communicate with your colleagues and boss to let them know that you are at maximum capacity and find out what can be pushed back. Many deadlines are ‘as soon as possible’, but that doesn’t mean ‘incredibly urgent’, and a day or two of delay is often not catastrophic.
Similarly, if you know that something urgent does need to take precedence over other assignments, let your colleagues know so that they can adjust their expectations.
Understanding that deadlines are flexible is different to handing in work late, of course, and the sooner you let someone know that your draft will be late, the more likely that they’ll offer you sympathy and flexibility.
4: Follow the brief!
The brief is your map when it comes to navigating the world of copywriting: it tells you what you need to cover, how, and by what deadline. Sometimes, it can be tempting to get overly creative and stray from the brief.
It’s easy, for instance, to get carried away and start adding your own points or stylistic flourishes, but these will inevitably be met with a request to rewrite the piece according to the brief. If you do think that you can offer a substantive improvement to the brief, speak with the person who assigned it to you.
They may be open to your idea or they may not, and in either case, it’s worth knowing before you start typing.
However, even the brief is not infallible. One of the most important lessons that the other copywriters at my agency have taught me is to send back briefs which are ambiguous or lacking in key information. Just like asking questions, clarifying an unclear brief can save you a lot of time and prevent a lot of headaches.
5: Do your homework.
Before committing a single word to paper, you should have a robust understanding of the client, the publication, and the subject you’re writing about. You’re not expected to know everything about the client or publication – especially when you’re starting out – but getting a feel for tone and purpose is the ideal way to elevate your writing above generic pablum.
Your company likely keeps a collection, probably online, of previous drafts and submissions to clients. This can be an invaluable resource if you have questions about a specific client’s preferred tone or other preferences, so make sure to familiarise yourself with what is available.
Starting out as a copywriter
Overall, after three months of stumbling and learning on the job, I finally feel confident taking on the work of copywriting. It is equal parts rewarding and challenging, and I still have a lot I want to improve, but I no longer feel intimidated when I see a new brief come through (unless it’s for several thousand words).
From research to structuring and, of course, writing, I have found that copywriting is fairly similar to persuasive essay writing at school and university, so if that’s one of your strengths, consider starting your career as a copywriter.
If you enjoy the challenge of untangling a complicated sentence, threading the linguistic needle of explaining a complex concept in simple terms, and bringing a fresh approach to a stale topic, copywriting might also be the job for you.
The one thing, above all, that I wish I had known on my first day is that everything would be alright. It’s tough starting a new job, but you’ll soon adapt, and, in the meantime, everybody will do their best to be supportive and accommodating.
Copywriting is challenging, but it’s not brain surgery, and if you’ve managed to get yourself hired, your employer necessarily thinks that you can probably do the work.
So, take it from me, as long as you approach the job with an open mind, are willing to learn, communicate with your colleagues, and follow the brief, everything will be alright.
Written by Cheryl A Clarke Chief Happiness Officer & Content Marketing Freelancer @ Ginger Marketing (unless stated otherwise)
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