What makes a successful copywriter?

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One question that persists for all university students is – “what am I going to do when I leave uni?” For some of you studying English and other related courses, a career as a copywriter may have suggested itself. But this raises another question – do you have what it takes?

Writing essays is an altogether different beast than copywriting. While essays require you to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in a formulaic academic way, copywriting requires a more creative touch.

Writing essays does however have a few things in common with copywriting:

  • Writing within a set amount of words
  • Writing to a brief (the essay question)
  • Finishing by a specific deadline

Mastering these three things is an integral part of being a good copywriter, and if you’re nailing these with your essays then you’re well on your way. But there are other skills and talents that writing essays won’t teach you:


Copywriting is a creative discipline that requires you to constantly come up with original, engaging ways of saying things. Whether it’s an advertising slogan, a brochure or a blog post, as a copywriter your role is to inject some creativity into what is being said.


As a copywriter you’ll work for a variety of different clients, purposes and audiences, so the ability to adapt is an essential prerequisite. You must be able to change the tone of voice of your writing, research and understand a variety of subjects, and adjust the style of your writing as needed.


This might seem like an odd one, but copywriters really must have a good instinctive understanding of other people. They must be able to see things from the reader’s point of view, and understand the intent of the client they are writing for.


Most essays contain thousands of words – copywriting involves far more restrictive word counts. The ability to get across a message or piece of information in as few words as possible is a highly valued skill in the copywriting industry.

The best way to find out if you’re can create original, concise and engaging content is to put yourself out there and do it. I’d highly recommend getting in touch with the editor of your student newspaper to offer your services. I wrote for my student newspaper, and this gave me a chance to get a taste for writing content for publication, as well as gaining valuable experience.

On a final note, writing for your student newspaper can also serve as a springboard to bigger better things. During my time writing a column for the student newspaper I made a lot contacts, and this eventually fed into my first writing job as a copywriter for a major record label.

Derryck Strachan, founder and MD of the copywriting agency Big Star Copywriting, has some 20 years’ copywriting experience.  He started out writing for this university’s student newspaper before getting a break in the music business (working for Warner Music, Virgin and Polydor Records).  He then spent some time freelancing (for bbc.co.uk, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Time Out among many others) before setting up Big Star (with clients including River Cottage, Interflora, Ecco Shoes, Hilton Hotels & Thomas Cook).

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