Mid-career switch: reception to copywriting
February 11, 2014 1:21 PM   Subscribe

I've been working as a receptionist for a few years, and I'd like to transition into a career as a copywriter. About three years ago I wrote back-of-the-box copy for a home entertainment distributor, I've written music and film reviews for a few blogs my friends run, and I recently finished the third draft of a novel. None of these seem like they'd work for a copywriting portfolio. I've also spoken to the marketing department at my current place of employment about writing press releases and blog entries, and I'm waiting to hear back from them about potential short-term projects. In the meantime, what can I do to get more experience and build up a portfolio?
posted by pxe2000 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For web writing, you might want to learn a bit about SEO.
posted by radioamy at 2:28 PM on February 11, 2014

Are there any non-for-profits which interest you? Volunteer to work PR for one of their events - that should give you press release, development letter and ad copy experience.
posted by 26.2 at 3:06 PM on February 11, 2014

26.2 -- I've emailed a few theatre companies about that (one of which is around the corner from my office!). No word yet, but I may need to follow up with them.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:31 PM on February 11, 2014

It depends what kind of copywriting you want to do, if you just want to write marketing spiel, you're on the right track. If you want to end up in advertising writing tv and radio commercials and you're in the States, your best bet is to try and get into a portfolio school, basically it's a year or two of intensive training in how to write ads which culminates in internships around the world. Try Miami Ad School for starters.

If you're in Australia, the equivalent is Award School, run by the industry and only costing a token amount to do the course.
posted by Jubey at 5:11 PM on February 11, 2014

You're in luck - copywriting is an entry-level position in the world of web marketing. At the same time, understand that there is no barrier to entry, and often writing is considered a "nice to have" by clients. So it can be tough to make a living as just a copywriter.

The trick is to add value to your core competency of writing. Some areas to examine are "content marketing", "social media marketing", "engagement marketing," "persuasive writing", "information architecture", "content strategy," "semantic search," and "Hummingbird algorithm."

Rahel Bailey is a good person to follow, because she has consistently kept up with the various trends in the marketplace. I also frequently add links about online marketing trends to our company G+ page.

My suggestion for you is to start cold-calling interactive agencies. Market yourself as an "account manager" and an "aspiring digital strategist."

Use your skills as a receptionist (professionalism, good engagement and rapport with clients, organizational skills, good presentation) as the foot in the door, combined with your portfolio.

With your portfolio, oftentimes the hiring manager will glance at it for about 10 seconds, so what you have so far is probably good enough, if presented the right way.

However, I can't overstate the importance of figuring out who is hiring in your city, and reaching out to them.

Set up information interviews. The cardinal rule of information interviews is they are not suppose to be "pitches" for a job, but always leave the door open to opportunity, and also mention that you will keep in touch from time to time (I would recommend ever 2 to 3 months).

Also, take care to target smaller shops (under 20 employees). They are often less bureaucratic (no HR gatekeepers) and the CEO hires directly.

MeMail me if you would like more ideas.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:24 PM on February 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

Why copywriting? What do you think is involved in 'copywriting'? Are you interested in coming up with concepts (advertising)? Writing blog posts and marketing spiel (community management, tho KokuRyu's advice is solidly on the money)? Writing press releases (PR)?

I can only really speak to advertising copywriting, because that's what I do. My average day involves coming up with concepts in response to briefs with my art director (anything from big interactive ideas to banners to TVC scripts to branding stuff [manifestos, strategy etc]), responding to ENDLESS. ROUNDS. OF. CLIENT. FEEDBACK., a crushing amount of conference calls, hovering over designers, having long discussions with IAs and UX designers about how our latest interactive whosit is going to work, etc, etc. It's a lot of fun, but my job is definitely more about problem solving and developing intense fascinations with whatever category or brand I'm asked to work on than 'writing.' To get in you need a portfolio that shows how you respond to briefs and problems. The best way to do this is by spending a bunch of money on ad school (Miami Ad School, Award School etc). Good ad schools will also set you up with internships. If you can go this route, please do.

The PR person in our agency writes all the blog posts and pressers and award entries and twitter posts. She's good at it because she's dogged and detail oriented. I would be appalling at this.

There are loads of other roles in marketing that involve writing but don't have the title of 'writer', so I'd suggest you really interrogate your attachment to 'copywriting.' If you've got it in you to do an internship at an agency (PR, design, advertising, marketing etc) you'd get more of a feel for what these roles entail.
posted by nerdfish at 3:59 AM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I moved from desktop support work to a corporate writer type (copywriting, tech writing, whatever needs writing) a number of years ago. To pump up my portfolio I signed up with a bunch of content farm and freelance sites, and also volunteered in a few places. In my case I like playing video games, so my first volunteer effort was offering free help files to mod developers.

If I were to do it over today, I'd probably start now with fiverr.com as well as the volunteer stuff. There are a ton of news sites that are always looking for volunteers to make posts out of press releases. Picking one in your industry of choice is a great way to immerse yourself in it and make a few connections. Oh, and start a blog too. Even if it doesn't work for your portfolio, it's a great way to practice writing (although I did end up using a couple of blog pieces when applying to my very first writing jobs).

Note that I don't do a lot of the marketing stuff that other folks mention, but if you're just looking to move into a role where you string words together for a living, this worked for me!
posted by jess at 4:50 PM on February 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

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