What Does a Copywriter Do?

If you’ve watched Mad Men, you’ve probably seen copywriters depicted as people who spend the morning throwing pencils at the ceiling and the afternoon drinking their face off while trying to write one catchy line about canned soup. How is that a job?

While my title is technically Creative Director, which involves its own set of responsibilities, I thought I’d focus on copywriting first. What do I actually do at work? And what should you expect to do should you ever want to be the next Peggy Olson or Michael Ginsberg?

I don’t want to sit at my laptop and cry COPYWRITING IS HARD AND I WEAR A MILLION HATS! In reality, copywriting is an extremely fun job. You get to try all kinds of different creative exercises within the course of a week, plus there are a few yearly boozy business trips. But there is a lot of actual work to be done, too. Here’s what that involves for me:

1. Voice & Tone Processes

About 30% of my job is developing a voice & tone for brands. My process looks at the competitive market, current copywriting trends and the brand’s business problems to find out how they can differentiate through communications. Using what I learn, I create a set of guidelines for any writer who collaborates with the brand to use.

2. Website Copywriting

This process usually starts by doing an audit of their current website to make recommendations for which content to keep, change or nix. Brand websites can have hundreds of pages, so this process can take quite a long time. Then, I’ll work on rewriting existing content, or developing brand new content. I might also work with the user experience designer to make sure pages are structured in a way that lends itself to storytelling and with the brand’s SEO agency to optimize the copy for search. Website copy will vary quite a bit depending on the voice & tone, so it’s great to be able to work on both.

3. Content Strategy and Social Media

I spent a lot of time at the beginning of my career helping brands establish and run their social media presences. This usually involves creating a content strategy to establish their content buckets, and then turning those into an editorial calendar and executing against it. Making branded social media content can be really fun, and involves a lot of trial and error. I once spent a morning photoshopping glitter onto a pizza cutter for a frozen pizza brand.

4. Ad Concepting and Creation

This is the classic work of a copywriter. If you’ve ever heard of “art and copy” teams, this is where they come into play. In this process, a writer and designer will take a brand’s strategic and creative brief and come up with big, executional concepts for scaling it. Most famous ads are the result of this process, from the Dove “Like a Girl” ad to the sundry GEICO ads. On Mad Men, most of the characters are working on this item alone. Today, this type of work is just one of many tasks a copywriter is expected to do, although it’s still one of the most important to master. Once you’ve sold a concept through, you then work on the scripts and ad copy that will help bring it to life.

5. Brand Strategy

I also work on a lot of brand strategy. When you hear strategy, you might think of someone crunching a bunch of numbers and sketching a giant plan on a whiteboard. That’s definitely what I used to think. But brand strategy itself is a lot more intuitive and creative. The output of a brand strategy is a differentiated brand architecture that is articulated in a clear, inspiring way.

Those are the main things I do at work, although an average day could involve all kinds of other creative tasks. It’s an evolving role, so as a copywriter you get to shape what you do. That’s what’s cool about it. I’m sure my average day looks different from that of many other copywriters, so ask around if you’re curious.