10 Ways to Succeed as a Copywriter, Part One

My first job out of graduate school many years ago was as a copywriter for RCA Direct Marketing in New York City. And the rest, as they say, has been history.

Since that first exciting stint writing about the most popular records (yes, vinyl) and tapes (yes, cassettes and eight-tracks) of the day, I’ve written about an incalculable number of different products and services. As I wrote in the preceding post here on A New Marketing Commentator

I’ve written copy to help promote everything from business cards to books, healthcare to software, insurance coverage to investment advice, magazines to music, travel to tuxedos and much, much more.

I’ve also written direct response fundraising copy for dozens of charitable organizations (which, by the way, has been some of the most satisfying work I’ve done over the course of my career so far).

I may have worked for a number of different companies, developed new skills and taken on new responsibilities – such as creative direction, public speaking and social media – along the way, but I’ve also stayed true to my roots as a copywriter. 

And after all of these years writing headlines and subject lines, direct mail packages and email blasts, blog posts and brochures, teasers and tweets, I’ve been able to draw a handful of conclusions about what it takes to succeed as a copywriter.

So with all of that said, here’s the first in a series of “10 ways to succeed as a copywriter”…

1. Dare to be different. To earn a living as a copywriter, you have to be a good writer. That goes without saying. But what’s almost just as important to your success is your ability to think creatively.

Copywriting is not for the conformists and traditionalists among us. It’s a job for those who are willing to take chances and who understand what Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) meant when he said, “Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot; others transform a yellow spot into the sun.” 
To stand out among the clutter and competition, your work has to reflect a high degree of originality and inventiveness. It can’t be the same old, same old. It has to be new or improved, first time, every time.

Copywriting is for the right-brained and open-minded, those who aren’t afraid of being judged for their idiosyncrasies and foibles. It’s for those who like to read such books as Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? and Roger von Oech’s A Kick in the Seat of the Pants. It’s for people who like to listen to everything from Lady Antebellum to Lady Gaga. It’s for well-rounded people with diverse tastes and interests, people who have no problem whatsoever looking at something from someone else’s perspective.  

This is the first in a 10-post series on how to succeed as a copywriter. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll publish the balance of the series, one post at a time (not necessarily consecutively), here on my blog, A New Marketing Commentator. Please stay tuned. And if you have any feedback on this series for me, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or click “like” below. Thanks.

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13 Responses to 10 Ways to Succeed as a Copywriter, Part One

  1. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series, Bob. This first post makes one of the greatest points a copywriter MUST realize… When you say “inventiveness” what comes to mind for me is that writing is a creation. You are inventing. A writer is an inventor, and if you’re going to create inventions people want to use, you have to be innovating.

    So true about the right-brain need to express and run free. It must be my left brain that keeps me from writing 10 blog posts per day! 😉

    Keep up the great work, can’t wait to see the rest of your series.

  2. Jon Buscall says:

    @Bob – Daring to be different is a great motto for any copywriter. It takes attitude and originality to cut through the crap and craft a stunning phrase or sentence that will grab the reader’s attention.

    Like Michelle, I’m looking forward to the rest of this series. Glad I found your blog (via Michelle).

  3. Bob Cargill says:

    Thank you, Michelle and Jon, for your very thoughtful comments. I’m so glad my post resonated with you.

  4. Hey Bob,
    Great post! I’m a creativity junkie and it certainly feels essential to all my professional roles – copywriter, web designer and life coach. I need the ability to see anything and everything from a variety of perspectives and then from that unique perspective find the angle or approach.

    My sense is that it is hard to “learn” creative thinking. When I offer a different perspective, my coaching clients often say “I would have never thought of that!” Or “I’ve never looked at it that way.” And I continue to hear that after I have tried to train them to think more creatively.

    I’ve had the skill most of my life. My parents were effective problem solvers and I believe they modeled creative thinking skills.
    I’m curious what you think. Can creative thinking be learned? Or is it a skill that we either have or we don’t?

    Looking forward to the next nine…

  5. Hey Bob, this is a great post.

    I think we often get caught up in the next new thing, but these lessons/needs/skills are still very, very valid. Doesn’t really matter whether you’re designing on paper or a laptop.

    Looking forward to seeing how the series progresses!

  6. Bob Cargill says:

    I agree with you, Christine. I believe that the best creative thinkers are predominately right-brained…that they have an innate ability to think out of the box.

    You can teach people how to think creatively, but only a certain percentage will actually get it. Just like not everyone is capable of thinking analytically.

    Thanks for your comment. And thank you, Janet, too. I appreciate the feedback and support.

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