Is ‘copywriter’ the best way to describe a livelihood?

When I asked yesterday whether copywriters had any perceived social status, readers’ comments suggested that there is another, more pressing, question that needs to be asked.

Rather than come up with a new way of asking it, I’ll pinch Rowena Forbes‘ comment wholesale:

Don’t you think, as people who are supposed to be ‘good with words’, that we really should be able to come up with a job title that actually conveys to people what we do?

Many of you agreed. When you tell people you’re a copywriter, most haven’t got a clue what you do for a living. Some think you do something with legal patents. Others think you put the little ‘c’ in the circle (ho, bloody ho).

But, yes – we could do with more clarity. Obviously, I want to attract clients who know what a copywriter or copywriting agency is – but what about those who want my services, but don’t know how to find them in Google?

So, what do you think? Should we continue to call ourselves ‘copywriters’? Or should we switch to ‘freelance writers’ or something completely different?

Share your thoughts below. I’m sure they’ll be clear ones…

Copywriter: Ben Locker

Category: Blog, copywriting
Tags: copywriters, copywriting, copywriting-best-way-in, describe-a-copywriter, describe-livelihood, do-copywriters-fall-under-creatives, freelance writing, job titles

More: « Do copywriters have status? | (Guest post) Why good online copy needs good web design »

38 Comments

  1. Wordsmith. End of discussion.

    Comment left by Andrew Nattan on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:06 am

  2. I hate ‘wordsmith’. I’d rather be unemployed than work under that name.

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:22 am

  3. Most people i speak with don’t actually understand what i mean by ‘copy’ let alone copywriter – i find myself having to elaborate by stating “you know, the ‘words’ on the page”!

    but have to say- liking the ‘Wordsmith’ idea!

    Comment left by CopyChameleon on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:24 am

  4. Can’t remember where I read this, but apparently we’re doing detriment to ourselves even using the “C-word”. Apparently we’re supposed to be Creatives (another “C-word”)… is “writer” too much of a blanket term?

    Comment left by Bridget on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:30 am

  5. Agreed. I’ve dealt with one too many clients who use it as a verb: “we’ll just get John to wordsmith that, it should only take 20 minutes”.

    Wordsmith my arse. (No, that’s not an invitation.)

    Comment left by John McGarvey on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:31 am

  6. I think ‘writer’ is too much of a blanket term. If I say to people I’m a writer, they usually say something like “Oh, do you write books?” (as it happens, I have done, but that’s by the by).

    ‘Creatives’ is also rather a blanket term. I also hate it when people refer to an online advert or something as ‘a creative’. Don’t know why. Just jars with me.

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:35 am

  7. I used to call myself a creative as I had an art director for about a year. That met even more blank stares than saying I was a copywriter. As comparisons go, at least the latter has some indication of the profession. I’d argue that calling yourself a creative is far more generic than a writer.

    To be honest, I’m quite happy with using the term copywriter. It beats the hell out of job titles like analytic consulant or information engineer.

    Comment left by Claire on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:45 am

  8. I have stopped calling myself a copywriter as nobody has the first idea what it means.

    I have now resorted to saying “I write the words that go on websites” very slowly so that people understand.

    I don’t like ‘wordsmith’ at all, sounds a bit poncy!

    Comment left by Jamie Graham on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:46 am

  9. Just thinking here, it looks like we’re stuck between terms that are too broad or narrow; writer is too all-encompassing, SEO/Content/etc. writer too specific (“Oh, she only does X, we need someone who can do XYZ.”)
    Stop me if I sound paranoid…

    Comment left by Bridget on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:49 am

  10. An old Creative Director used to describe my work as “word weaving” and me as “Our resident word weaver” in-office and to clients…
    I think it was a term of affection?

    Comment left by Bridget on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:53 am

  11. Yes, it’s important to be specific – especially on the web. That’s why I have separate pages for specific services such as online copywriting and SEO copywriting, even though they are essentially the same thing (although the former is a bit more all-encompassing). That way, I stand a chance of being found by people who are looking for an ‘online copywriter’ or an ‘SEO copywriter’.

    Comment left by Ben Locker on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:54 am

  12. Depends who is asking. If it’s an agency, I’m a creative. If it’s the plumber, I write brochures and websites. If it’s a direct client, I find out what they want and become that (or know someone that does) ;-) . However, I have noted that since my work involves more bona fide marketing, the company name The Write Stuff is a bit misleading.

    Comment left by Michael on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 12:00 pm

  13. Lexiconic Engineer? Or if we’re doing it for a copy mill, Lexicolonic Engineer?

    Comment left by Larner on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:01 am

  14. Love the post!

    The term “copywriter” seems a bit quaint these days. Which is funny because I still refer to myself that way. Hard to let go! But with the the MMA-style “copy vs. content” fight raging these days–and content going for the knockout–perhaps “Content Writer” is more apt?

    Comment left by MDR2 on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 11:05 am

  15. I’m with Michael which is to say that I’m identity confused. Writer, Creative (sometimes, but without the tanty’s), Content Writer (yes if it’s online, but offline sounds naff), Marketing Consultant (catch-all that works). I don’t use the copywriter term much at all really. Wordsmith sounds a bit pretentious somehow. I think a bigger issue is getting across how important our job is. Most people confess they can’t draw so they hire a graphic designer, whilst everybody assumes they can write. Why then would they need a writer?

    Comment left by Vicki Jeffels on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 12:40 pm

  16. I have used ‘commercial writer’. It’s not sexy, though.

    However, trying to be sexy quickly leads to being pretentious.

    Comment left by Angpang on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 12:56 pm

  17. I think there’s a definite and increasing blur in people’s minds about what a copywriter actually writes – copy and content more and more getting shmushed into people’s minds. But while I write web content, while I write press releases and the like (marketing communications),I really am a advertising writer – and that’s really what a copywriter does. Copywriters write promotions.

    Now if I really want to get specific, I am primarily a direct response marketing copywriter – I write copy to generate a sale, click or some sort of response. Otherwise, to my DM mind, what’s the point otherwise?

    FWIW.

    Comment left by Roberta Rosenberg on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 1:06 pm

  18. There’s no doubt that those outside the creative industries are less likely to know the term copywriter. Perhaps it’s worth undertaking qualification in copyright law just to convert a few more leads…

    Wordsmith I can’t stand. Makes me cringe if I say it in my head, makes me gag if I say it aloud, makes me do a little bit of sick in my mouth if I say it in front of a mirror.

    @Angpang’s suggestion of commercial writer sounds one worth stealing though…describes the purpose nicely when you consider it alongside the term ‘technical writer’.

    But are we complaining too much? After all, the confusion gives us the opportunity to explain it on our websites, weaving in all manner of keywords…

    Comment left by Anthony Hewson on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 1:10 pm

  19. As a newbie to copywriting and as someone who’s still trying to work out what to call myself, I’m glad to see I’m not alone in struggling with the title.

    I started calling myself a writer and people asked where I’d been published. When I mentioned web site content the look in their eyes spoke volumes. I ceased to become interesting and they moved on.

    I called myself a copywriter and the other day an educated professional asked: “So what is it that you copy, exactly?”

    It depends on context and it will probably stay that way. But I’m used to that – for years I was a ‘Consultant’ in the IT industry and that also needed explaining. No, I don’t have a clue how to deal with your home computing problem.

    ‘Copywriter’ is here to stay. Our challenge isn’t to re-write the job description, it’s to ensure its meaning is communicated clearly. Which is what we’re good at, isn’t it?

    Comment left by Andrew Knowles on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 1:15 pm

  20. I hate the term ‘wordsmith’. I do not smite words. I may, however, smite a self-professed wordsmith for making me cringe uncontrollably. Perhaps I’m a potential wordsmithsmith.

    It’s hard to get away from the copywriter label, as it’s the only professional term that encompasses what we do. I can’t see a cartographer renaming himself a Map Man for the benefit of people who might otherwise think he spends his time creating graphs showing how carts his company makes. We just have to accept that we have to explain our services to potential clients within the context of what they need.

    That said, I was previously a partner in a business and called myself Boss Lady. It didn’t exactly convey what I did, but it did convey personality, and that’s what I was after.

    Comment left by Row Writes on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 1:55 pm

  21. Hand on ladies and gentleman. I have it.

    tarradiddler

    Even less people will know what it means, but it makes a nice noise. And there’s a gain of truth!

    Comment left by Angpang on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 2:18 pm

  22. It doesn’t help that over in the states a Copy Girl is someone who photocopies. I love my site/twitter name, it’s cute, but it does spoil it a bit when people peg me as an office admin type.

    Comment left by Ali Turner on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 2:19 pm

  23. I liked the post! I live in Kiev (Ukraine)and the word “copywriter” doesn’t translate into Russian or Ukrainian languages. So, when somebody asks me about my job and hears the answer: “Copywriter”, I have a lot of questions to answer…

    My suggestion is “word-maker” – sounds creative and serious:)

    Comment left by Inna Imas on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 2:47 pm

  24. I think copywriter is the right word to use with others in the trade: creative directors, marketers and copy managers.

    With copywriting increasingly called “content marketing,” a case could be made for “content strategist.” But I can just see the CDs’ blank stares…

    I don’t mind wordsmith–it captures the craftsman’s side of our work: the forging, twisting and, let’s face it, beating of words to which we all sometimes resort.

    I don’t think “freelance writer” serves us. It sticks marketing copywriters (my preferred moniker) in a huge, generalized pool that includes content mill slavies.

    With non-trade folks, you have to wing it. “I write advertising and marketing materials. You know, websites, brochures, ads, direct mail…” (Voice trails as listener’s eyes glaze.)

    Comment left by Lorraine on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 3:00 pm

  25. [...] few hundred years lead on the web – a lot of responsibility falls on content writers (or, is that copywriters? Or wordsmith? Or…tarradiddler?) to tailor their voice to an amorphous audience. And how do [...]

    Pingback by The International Sign (for) Language… « Bridget Reilly: Copywriter on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 7:07 pm

  26. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by benlocker: Okay copywriters – you asked for it. Blog: Is ‘copywriting’ the best way to describe a livelihood? http://bit.ly/92I2Ss You decide……

    Trackback by uberVU - social comments on Wednesday 24th February, 2010 at 8:01 pm

  27. I agree with Andrew above – as someone relatively new to this profession I find ‘writer’ too broad a term and so I think ‘copywriter’ is better – although as other of your commentators have alluded to, it does require a fair bit of clarification to individual clients.

    I don’t like ‘wordsmith’ either. ‘Taradiddler’ I could go for.

    Comment left by Nick Parkhouse on Thursday 25th February, 2010 at 12:24 pm

  28. It’s the same down under. Yep in Sydney, Australia a city full of advertising, most people do not understand what a copywriter is. But a copywriter is a business writer. They write things, that sell things. There is loads of theory and practice on how people have done this since marketing and advertising began. Ultimately, a good copywriter makes other people money.

    Regards,

    Chris.

    Comment left by Chris Dusseldorp on Thursday 25th February, 2010 at 12:31 pm

  29. It’s the same down under. Yep in Sydney, Australia a city full of advertising, most people do not understand what a copywriter is. But a copywriter is a business writer. They write things, that sell things. There is loads of theory and practice on how people have done this since marketing and advertising began. Ultimately, a good copywriter makes other people money.

    Regards,

    Chris.
    http://www.christophercopywriter.com
    http://copywritingpublicrelationsadvertisingmarketingsydney.com

    Comment left by Chris Dusseldorp on Thursday 25th February, 2010 at 12:33 pm

  30. I told my hairdresser (what? it’s too stylish for a barber, yeah) that I ‘write words for businesses’.

    ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘What?’

    I explained how, say, a bank might need to write new posters and boards and websites and things.

    ‘Ohhh, I thought they had like a big pot of old ones or something and they just, you know, pulled them out from the cupboard when they needed them.’

    I didn’t even try ‘copywriter’.

    Neither did I tip her for the haircut.

    Comment left by Rob SP on Thursday 25th February, 2010 at 1:07 pm

  31. Rob, so you did not tip her because you could not convey what it is you do? Nice :(

    I don’t think there is a name we can call ourselves. For me I would need to use terminology based on whom I was communicating with.

    Some understand copywriter just fine, a lot do not.

    In the case of the hairstylist I would have used an analogy of how I would bring more customers to the shop.

    She is not stupid, she just needed the right description.

    I feel most of us fail to do that

    Comment left by Paul on Thursday 25th February, 2010 at 4:37 pm

  32. Word-whore is the only expression that does it any kind of justice.

    Comment left by Martin on Thursday 18th March, 2010 at 10:48 am

  33. It’s no different in any other industry. Think about the people who do stuff with websites – they get officially titled webmasters, web developers, architects or god knows what else – but will probably describe themselves as web designers down the local boozer.

    I have two sets of business cards. One’s for people who work in marketing and advertising and says I’m a freelance copywriter.

    The other’s for people who aren’t in the trade and says I’m a managing director.

    Comment left by Matt Bennett on Wednesday 24th March, 2010 at 5:51 pm

  34. [...] on a copywriting blog I enjoy there was a bit of a debate about the term copywriter – and whether there’s a better word we could use to describe what we [...]

    Pingback by So what does a copywriter do? « The Scribbler on Thursday 13th May, 2010 at 7:49 pm

  35. [...] unwieldy for a category on a social bookmarking site, let alone a business card. People have argued for and against the term, but copywriting works. It defines what we do – a copywriter writes copy after all – [...]

    Pingback by Is Copywriting Obsolete? - Unmemorable Title on Monday 11th October, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  36. I’m happy with ‘writer’ but then a little saddened when people say ‘books?’ And I have to reply, ‘no erm website and stuff’. I like wordwhore but think I might go for wordbitch for my next website.

    Comment left by kate on Monday 5th September, 2011 at 8:39 am

  37. [...] Ben Locker’s classic post on whether or not copywriters should re-brand as creatives or wordsmiths, the vast majority of people that write for clients for a living seem to have come to terms with [...]

    Pingback by You're Not a Social Media Ninja, You're a Fool - Copywriting Blog - Unmemorable Title on Tuesday 27th September, 2011 at 3:20 pm

  38. I love term the copywriter. That’s describes what I do. I write copy. (Amongst other things) Yes, it sounds a bit old school. But that’s what I like about it. It sounds like a proper job. It has class and gravitas. Content writer? Pah. Marketing strategist? Whatevs. Advertising creative? Nah. Wordsmith? That reminds me of an old man scribbling away with a quill by candle light. I’m sticking to copywriter thanks. Copywriters of the world unite and spread the word!

    Comment left by Sarah Turner on Friday 21st October, 2011 at 10:56 am

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