Crucial Skills for Copywriting and How to Develop Them

By Oli Graham

So, you’re an aspiring PR pro interested in a career in copywriting. Perhaps you have a degree in an essay-writing subject – something which is often a minimum requirement for copywriting positions – and you know you have the ability to word an article clearly and persuasively and the skills to excel at copywriting.

But this on its own may well not be enough to prove to hiring managers that you have what it takes to be a copywriter.

Copywriting demands crucial skills that an academic degree may not have prepared you fully for. But all is not lost! There are ways that you can easily gain experience, stand out from the crowd, and prove that you have the skills to get the job.

Here are three ways that you can put yourself in the best position to get a foot on the copywriting ladder.

1 – Develop your copywriting portfolio

The most important thing you will need to do if you want to get into copywriting is to develop your portfolio. It is likely that in your career so far you haven’t done any writing quite like the writing you will be doing as a copywriter. 

It is therefore critical to build up a portfolio of this kind of writing to prove to prospective employers that you have the specific writing skills needed for the role.

There are three key ways that the demands of copywriting differ from other kinds of writing. You should build a portfolio that demonstrates mastery at these three skills.

  • Writing to various ‘house styles’
  • Writing to a brief
  • Multitasking and writing quickly

Writing according to a ‘house style’

Many copywriters work for PR or content agencies with many separate clients. You will find yourself writing for different clients with different audiences and intentions; the client will have developed a ‘house style’ which is tailored to the needs of their audience. 

As a copywriter, you must write to each client’s ‘house style’, adapting your writing to the tone and style the client requires. You will also need to target your writing to particular platforms, whether that’s website content, social media or print.

The best way to demonstrate this ability in your portfolio is to try and write for as many different publications as possible. 

Many publications are happy to take “pitched” articles so long as they fit with the tone of what is already written. Writing for as many of these as possible, and looking for different subjects and styles to stretch you as a writer will make you far more employable as a copywriter.

Writing to a brief

As a copywriter, you will always be writing to a brief. The client will provide you with the brief, detailing what points they want to be included, the goals of the writing, and any further technical or stylistic specifications, and it is your job to meet these requirements. 

Writing to such limitations can be difficult, so it is worth getting some practice at doing this – especially as writing a piece to a ‘sample brief’ is a task often asked of applicants to copywriting positions.

When creating your portfolio, try to write your own mock briefs, or get someone to do this for you. Include the briefs in your portfolio to demonstrate that you can follow instructions and adapt your writing style when needed.

Multitasking and writing quickly

One of the most demanding features of a copywriting role is the pace at which you must work while maintaining quality. It is not unusual to write over 5000 words a day as a copywriter. You will need to be able to churn out content at pace and have the mental agility to move seamlessly from one task to another.

Writing so quickly and working on so many projects at once, writing to a brief, and tailoring your writing to a house style are all difficult skills that might seem intimidating at the beginning. However, building up a writing portfolio will help you gain these skills, and have the proof on hand for prospective employers.

Often, the work involved in building a portfolio is not paid, but by building up your CV and your portfolio with a range of different kinds of writing for different clients, you will really make yourself stand out as someone who can add value to a company without needing too much training.

2 – Understand on-page SEO

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is one of the most crucial things companies and publications have to consider when managing their content. 

SEO refers to how to make content rank as highly as possible in search engines. As a copywriter, you will often have to write content for online platforms and publications, so knowing about SEO will help you write efficiently and effectively, and attract the sought-after clicks to your writing.

You will want to find out more about how to write the most ‘SEO-friendly’ content, and where copywriting fits among larger SEO strategies. You can easily find out more about SEO through online guides and books. It may also be worthwhile learning some basic HTML, to gain a better understanding of how articles are published online.

3 – Learn to take feedback

Another difficult aspect of the work of a copywriter is being able to take feedback on your writing – even if the feedback doesn’t seem immediately relevant to you. Your writing will be constantly read and scrutinised by clients, who may reject it for apparently minor reasons. 

This may seem disheartening at first, but it is all part of your relationship with the client: you must be able to revise or rewrite parts of your writing until the client is satisfied. Most importantly, don’t let this knock your confidence! Resilience is a key part of your toolkit as a copywriter that you should work to develop. 

In preparing for interviews, it will be useful to think of some examples of times you have faced negative feedback and used it to improve your work – maybe this will even have happened already as you prepare your portfolio through freelance work.

With these skills under your belt – and a freelance portfolio to prove it – you will be in a strong position to apply to PR or content agencies for a more permanent copywriting position. 

Remember that skills only develop through hard work – so keep going, and you will be on your way to an exciting career in copywriting.

Oli Graham is the Marketing Manager for copywriting agency RightlyWritten. He has worked in a number of roles in digital marketing including PR, copywriting and managing larger teams. He believes that big marketing goals are well within the reach of smaller businesses so long as they are willing to be innovative and take risks.

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