DePaul University Career Center's Blog

Is Copywriting Your Gig?

By: Kenny Lapins, DePaul LAS 1991, senior copywriter for Centrifuge Brand Marketing

As you look beyond your collegiate career to the lifelong career that lies ahead of you, you’re probably asking yourself, “How do I invent a time machine so I can stay 21 forever.” But once you realize pursuing such technology is mere folly, you should get serious about what it is you want to do.

The importance of choosing the right career cannot be overstated. You don’t want to be stuck in a career that neither matches your skill set nor captures your interest. For some of you — you lucky, lucky, creative few — copywriting will satisfy both criteria.

There are a few things you can do to determine if you’re a copywriter-in-the-making. First of all, ask yourself, “Am I a writer?” Seems like a simple enough question. But a writer is more than a person who writes. A writer can’t help but find all the typos in the restaurant menu. A writer will unexpectedly pull their car over onto the highway shoulder to make note of a story idea, a character sketch, or even just a good line. A writer uses complete spelling and correct grammar on all text messages. A writer sees a clever turn of phrase on a billboard and has three reactions (in this order):

  1. Oh look, what a clever tag line.
  2. Man, why didn’t I think of that?
  3. Ugh, I’m a complete failure, a fraud, and I am going to be publicly humiliated by my peers any second now.

If this describes you, congratulations: you are destined for many sleepless nights worrying about the three, eight-word tagline alternatives you need to write by 10 a.m. tomorrow. And of course, when you actually get to the office in the morning, you end up writing 15 alternatives because your subconscious was working on them all night and now you are just getting out of the way of the flow. Having an embarrassment of riches is its own problem of course because now you have to cull those 15 perfect alternatives down to the best three, but would extol and defend each one like it’s your child getting bullied on a playground.

Copywriting is a rewarding field for a writer. To me, each sentence I write is pored over laboriously and painfully. So when a creative director runs over to my desk quivering in fear, sweat beading on her brow, screaming, “Oh my god! We need four words to fit in this banner that encapsulate the client’s entire go-to-market strategy in the next five minutes or we’re all dead!” it’s a call-to-arms, it’s a rallying cry, it’s what I live for.

But don’t be deceived. Account managers and clients (oh, those pesky clients) can edit your words and you just have to sit there, smiling, telling them how great a change that is, how it will clearly drive more business to the site, and how they are geniuses, all the while inside you’re weeping like a baby. Most often, however, the benefits outweigh moments like these. The first time you see your words shining on a billboard, hear your voiceover ad copy spoken on the radio, or encounter your brilliant tagline on an in-store display, the choir of angels you hear in your head makes all the striving for the perfect word well worth it. Suddenly all the pacing around the office you did as you searched for just the right turn of phrase is long-forgotten. The IT expense your agency incurred because they had to replace the keyboard you smashed against the wall in a fit of pique now seems a worthy investment.

If this still describes you, one word of advice I would impart to you is this: when you are interviewing for a creative position, remember that you are selling your intangible creativity, not your measurable skills. This is why your portfolio will be more valuable to you than your resume. Think of it this way: if you were commissioning an artist to paint your portrait, you would review their body of work. It would be much more important to your decision-making than how they perform in an interview. If you went by the interview alone, you may end up with a cubist and in the final portrait your nose could be on your cheek and your body represented by a big, purple box. While it may objectively be a beautiful portrait, it’s not what you were looking for. Copywriters have different styles. Some are best at comedy, some at heartstring-tugging, some at making bland corporate-speak melodious.

When you are interviewing for a creative position, remember that you are selling your intangible creativity, not your measurable skills. This is why your portfolio will be more valuable to you than your resume.

Are you a copywriter? Only you can tell. But if the palette in your hand is filled with words rather than globs of acrylic paint, if you have an opinion on the Oxford comma that you will literally fight for, if you are enraged when people confuse “literally” and “figuratively,” you may be. And I welcome you into the Guild with outstretched arms.

Kenny Lapins is a mentor with the DePaul University Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) network. Kenny volunteers his time to network with DePaul students and provide career insight. Visit Handshake to connect with Kenny and other ASK mentors.

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