I was an in-house copywriter at Boise Cascade when they merged with OfficeMax. Shortly after the merge, OfficeMax hired an outside ad agency that launched the “What’s Your Thing?” campaign, and the Rubberband Man commercial aired shortly thereafter. While the in-house creative teams were not involved with the campaign, we were asked to create some web banners to help reinforce the new branding. These are some of the web banners I wrote and developed in conjunction with an art director.
Here’s a great question that is trending on Quora from college students who want to land entry-level copywriting jobs: How do you become a proficient copywriter and break into advertising? The first step is to acquire the skills you’ll need, which you’ll demonstrate through a creative portfolio. Once you have a portfolio assembled, you can then start building your network and applying for positions at ad agencies that hire junior copywriters.
Acquire the Skills
There are a few ways you can learn how to become a copywriter. Attending a portfolio school is ideal, but there are other effective methods that I describe below.
The best way is to attend a portfolio school if you can afford it. You will learn how to think conceptually, and you will learn the art and science of copywriting. This requires a unique blend of strategy and creativity, and it’s great to learn from well-established, high-level creatives. These instructors will pair you with aspiring art directors who also need to create pieces for their portfolios. A polished body of work will likely give you a leg up on entry level jobs versus your competition. Your instructors will critique your pieces and help you select the best ones that showcase your talents.
Online Copywriting Schools
The second best option is to complete a certificate program through an online school like Media Bistro. Their six-course Ad Copywriting certificate program is around $1650. Alternatively, you could pay for one course at a time if you don’t think you’ll need all six courses. If you attend an online school, you will definitely develop your skills, but you’ll probably want to pair up with an art director. That way, you can send some well-executed pieces to potential employers. If you’d like to take a stab at designing some pieces, consider using a layout program like Canva. Once you’ve written your copy, you can create a compelling layout and design using their elements for various types of media.
A third option is to register for courses online with Udemy or Lynda. This is a good idea if you’re not quite sure if copywriting is the right choice for you. These expert-led courses will give you a taste for the skills you’ll need to succeed as a copywriter. It is also a low-cost option compared to portfolio and online schools.
Udemy offer courses in copywriting instruction, blogging, and social media strategy. I have seen plenty of courses, too, that give ideas as to how new writers can make money online, which is a great strategy for those who are less interested in full-time copywriting jobs and would prefer to freelance. Lynda also provides courses in content marketing, though their offerings are light on basic copywriting instruction.
How to Find Entry-Level Copywriting Jobs
So where is the best place to look? Besides the usual suspects like Monster and Career Builder, consider networking with prospective employers on LinkedIn. According to job-search expert Richard Bolles, employees who network with prospective employers have an 86% chance of finding a new job. Contrast this with a 4% success rate for those who apply to job ads.
If you decide to try networking, first determine what kind of work you’d like to specialize in. Then decide on which advertising agencies you’d like to target. For example, if you enjoy writing product descriptions, you might enjoy working for an ad agency that does shopper marketing. Or if you enjoy big-idea campaigns, find ad agencies that provide branding services.
Once you decide on the kind of work you’d like to do, log onto LinkedIn and select “Companies” from the drop-down menu next to the search box. Enter “Marketing/Advertising” in the search box and click enter. This will give you a list of advertising agencies in the United States. You can then narrow down your search by selecting your city and the size of the ad agency. If you’re looking for entry-level copywriting jobs, you may want to target mid-sized agencies. They usually hire some junior copywriters, and the competition is not as fierce compared to large, national agencies like Leo Burnett and Ogilvie.
Next, research agencies that produce the kind of work you’d like to do. Visit their websites and look at their samples. If you like what you see, learn more about the ad agency and immerse yourself in their work. Then, return to LinkedIn and look up senior copywriters at those specific ad agencies. You can then write to those copywriters and ask them if they’d be willing to chat with you in person about their work.
Many senior-level writers have mentored younger writers and will be willing to talk with you. If they like you and your work, they will be willing to connect you to other senior copywriters and creative directors in your city who are hiring entry-level writers. You can, of course, apply to open jobs, but your resume and portfolio will get special consideration if it’s coming from a warm connection. Do this enough times, and the likelihood that you’ll have a few job offers increases.
The networking method takes more work than applying to open jobs, but Richard Bolles proves that it has a much higher success rate. To read more about it, be sure to check out his best-selling book.
One Final Resource
And finally, if you’re serious about pursuing copywriting as a career, get yourself a copy of Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan. He discusses strategies behind most forms of copywriting, from creating a simple print ad to generating big-idea campaigns. He also includes a great reading list. Most importantly, he gives you an idea as to what you can expect when you join the industry. I encourage you to check it out on Amazon.