What is a Copywriter?

A lot of people ask me what exactly I do. Here’s an answer:

As a copywriter for an Integrated Communications company my main roles are writing, editing, and proofreading text, or copy, for print and multimedia (I’ve previously posted about editing and editing your own writing.) A copywriter’s job is to write clear, persuasive, original messaging, often with a limited word count. In marketing, copywriters are part of the Creative Department, and so I work closely with graphic designers, art directors, illustrators, other writers and a creative director to ensure a synthesis of visual and textual rhetoric in our materials. The Creative Department works closely with Account Services, the project, account and senior account managers who liaison with clients and vendors to initiate projects, handle client requests, relay information from to the Creative Department, and organize each project’s final production.

robo-writer

I divide my time writing for multiple projects throughout the course of a day, yet must ensure my copy matches each project’s style and tone. A copywriter isn’t simply told what to write by Account Services or clients; copywriting is a process of collaboration. I brainstorm concepts with members of the Creative and Account teams then, later, I’ll match my copy to the graphic designer’s visual layout and Account Service’s project description (a creative brief).

In copywriting, a first draft is never a final draft; it’s a process of revision.  There are both semantic and typographic restrictions that influence this revising process. For example, a client representative will suggest alternative wording or conceptual changes to a first draft; whereas a graphic designer may require copy to be shortened or lengthened depending on the layout. As a project progresses (from conceptual to design to production), its writer, designer, art director, account manager, and project manager sign a cover sheet to indicate a comprehensive review of the document. This is called “signing off”.

The goal of these early, internal revisions is to produce a draft that can be submitted to the client for their review. After this, the client will return the draft with another set of revisions. Client revisions can be challenging—often the subject of complaints that “they just don’t get it”. Good marketers don’t simply bend to their client’s will; we work closely with our clients to achieve a mutual vision. When this is achieved, we gain the marketing Holy Grail: client approval.

Letter1

With client approval, a project can go into production (either print or digital), but first a final draft (a pre-flight) must be circulated internally to spot any errors. A pre-flight is then sent to the printer where a printer’s proof is made and returned for our approval—this is essentially a printer’s pre-flight. The copywriter’s task in this process is to proofread the pre-flight and, not long after, the printer’s proof. There’s a big difference between copyediting and proofreading: copyediting is revising the grammar, punctuation, word choice, tone, and coherence of the copy; proofreading is checking for visual or typographical anomalies, or easy to miss details like a copyright symbol or a “printed in Canada” footnote. The reason for this difference is that changes during the production stage of a project are time consuming and it’s expensive to change a printer’s proof.

Proofreading is an extremely important final step, and I’d like to share a relevant anecdote. At one point, I was the only writer at Punch. One of the Project Managers came to me to “sign off” on a calendar we were producing for our largest client—these calendars would go to over 30,000 of our client’s employees. As the copywriter, it was my responsibility to proofread and sign off on this final stage of the process—I had already written and revised the copy earlier that month.

“Did you have a chance to proofread the calendar?” She asked.

“Yes.” I replied.

“Did you have a chance to look at the printer’s proofs?” She asked.

“No. I looked at the pre-flights from yesterday and they were fine so I haven’t looked over the proofs.”

“Could you also take a look at the proofs please? This is a $17,000 print job and if there are any problems it would cost us a lot of money.”

It was then that I realized my signature was required before printing a $17,000 project. Not only that, but if there was a typo, grammatical error, or missing copyright symbol, my oversight would cost the company $17,000. The conversation ended with me heading over to comprehensively proofread this job as if my life depended on it. I’ve proofread every document that has crossed my desk just as thoroughly since, having realized the importance of copywriters in the marketing industry.

So there’s a little slice of my life for you. Any questions? Please leave a comment.

5 thoughts on “What is a Copywriter?

  1. I can’t say that I envy your position, such a great responsibility. I suppose at least it makes the blame game a relatively simple endeavour ;-). Much as I wouldn’t want your position I certainly identify with the need for such a position, I know I could really use a professional proof reader.

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  2. Great explaination Al. A lot of people don’t realize the effort proofing takes; it’s not simple re-reading what you wrote. I know as a write it’s the biggest thing I struggle with.

    Like

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