Think you could be the next Don Draper? If you’ve got a way with words and more creativity than you know what to do with, you might enjoy working as a copywriter.
We catch up with Alex Cherin, Copywriter at Frank Creative in Portland, Oregon to learn more about his job and industry. Does Mad Men really offer a realistic portrayal of his profession? And how can you get started as a copywriter? Read on to find out!
What is your current company name and job title? If you’ve changed titles since you started at your company, what was your job title when you started?
I’m a Jr. Copywriter at Frank Creative—a small full-service branding agency in Portland, Oregon. I started out as an intern.
What exactly do you do?
I provide all the words you see on an ad, website, or tweet and all the lines you hear in a commercial, radio spot, or video. My job requires quite a bit of writing—I write “copy” (Latin derivative of the word “provide”—as in we provide messaging to the consumer).
But it also requires a lot of strategic and conceptual thinking. So all the messaging, slogans, and hashtags you see come from a central idea born from a writer—or whoever comes up with the big idea. Generally, the big idea is supposed to communicate the client’s objectives into consumer-facing concepts that aim to accomplish said objectives. For instance, Nike’s Just Do It campaign has lasted for over 20 years. It’s spawned numerous ads, brand videos, product endorsements—the whole shebang—and helped make Nike become what it is today, a leader in its industry. While I do more at my agency in particular, this is my job in a nutshell.
Tell me about where you work. What’s it like?
We’re a small shop of nine people: two founders (creative director and marketing director), two account managers, two designers, two writers, and an office manager. While our office isn’t large, we have over 10 years’ worth of art and creative materials all over the place, so it’s quite cozy. We’re also pretty noisy—we play music loudly and tend to talk over each other. And with all the artists and creative professionals with whom we collaborate, the place often gets crowded quickly.
Since we’re a studio, we manage our individual work with a lot of independence. Everybody is often working on several different projects. Only when we’re pitching for a client or we have a big client project (such as a website or branding campaign) do we work together as a whole on projects.
Who are your clients?
Many of our clients have spanned the categories of outdoor, action sports, athletic, and LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability). We also do a lot of work for non-profits, such as Friends of Trees and The Intertwine.
What is a typical day on the job like for you?
Every day is different. Depending on the needs of our clients, I’ll work 8 hours to 15 hours on a given day. But on average, I’ll have a task list given to me by the accounts team so I can organize my week.
For me, I like to write in the morning and edit, concept, strategize, and research in the afternoon and evening. Again, this is all subject to change if or when a client needs something.
One example that comes to mind is a pitch I did recently. For a week straight, I arrived early and left late. A lot of it involved nailing down creative concepts with the right language and messaging. A concept begins with a tagline or slogan that communicates a central idea and lends itself to visual representation and tactical thinking—tactical thinking includes where we place ads, what kind of ads we produce, and other legs of the campaign. Because it needed to get done immediately, I spent hours writing and researching, hoping a good idea would just come. That’s the other thing, your creative has to become a reliable instrument—more or less.
What are your favorite aspects of your job? What are the things you would change if you could?
I love my team. We enjoy each other’s company, we share a similar sense of humor, and we create amazing work. I’m learning a lot from them.
I wouldn’t change anything about my work. I’m pretty lucky to be where I am.
What did you study in college? How does your major relate to your current position?
I studied History at Reed College. It gave me a wealth of information I use daily for inspiration. And thanks to my education, I’ve learned to write and manage an enormous workload—which is pretty much what I do regularly at Frank. Outside of this, I got really lucky landing a job as a copywriter without a portfolio.
To become a creative (copywriter, designer, illustrator, art director, etc.) in the creative industry, you need a selection of your best work (aka your book or portfolio) that demonstrates your style and abilities. Luckily for me, it was a video I submitted for an internship that showed my creative potential and led my boss to believe I could become an asset. It’s irregular in the ad industry to employ someone without a portfolio—usually people develop one in school or at an ad/portfolio school.
What advice would you give to college students who are interested in working in your field?
If you’re not enrolled in an advertising program at your school (or you went to a Liberal Arts school like me and they didn’t offer one), read Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and How to Put Your Book Together and Get a Job in Advertising (Newly Revised Edition) by Maxine Paetro. Contact professionals and ask them questions—do whatever it takes. I once volunteered myself for a modeling shoot at W+K just so I could get in touch with a creative (no, I didn’t make it into the Target catalog).
Advertising is really competitive—and it takes a great portfolio and a good network to land a job. It might be easier at a smaller agency, like Frank Creative. So look around. The other alternative to doing it all on your own is to go to a portfolio school—there you can build the skills, the portfolio, and the network you need to get a gig. Before I got lucky with Frank, I was looking at the Chicago Portfolio School—it’s among the more affordable schools.
Does your company hire interns in your field? If so, how would someone go about applying?
Not at the moment. But stay tuned for Portland Ad Federation’s Colaboratory internship. That usually starts up in April for juniors and seniors.
Homework time! Check out the books that Alex recommends to learn more about working as a copywriter and getting your career off the ground. Spend some time researching the creative agencies in your city and looking for ways to get in touch with people who work there. If you land any modeling gigs, be sure to let us know!
Alex Cherin is a writer in Portland, Or. He’s available for freelance projects. Find him and more of his work at alexcherin.com.