What’s the toughest part about being a copywriter?
Is it churning out fresh, original ideas day after day? Is it deadlines called ‘yesterday’? Is it defending your ideas from cretins sometimes masquerading as clients?
None of that. In my experience, the toughest part has been answering the question: What do you do?
Neighbour: So what do you do?
Me: I’m a copywriter
Me: I work in an advertising agency. You see the ads on TV, in the paper…. I do stuff like that.
Neighbour: Ohhhhhh….. you’re a model!!!
And that’s one of the flattering interpretations. Over the years, I’ve been mistaken for a journalist, a billboard painter, even an obituary writer. Some have a low opinion about my abilities, obviously misled by the ‘copy’ bit in Copywriter. A friend’s grandmother thought she finally understood what I did when she commented, ‘Ah, so you have a good handwriting.’
My parents too took a while getting used to my vocation. “My ad’s in the paper”, I yelled one morning, proudly displaying my first creation in print. My parents avidly pored over it, taking in every line. I waited breathlessly.
Dad looked up, nonplussed, ‘But where’s your name on it?”
Always practical, Mom wanted to know, “Will they pay you more for this?’
Plumbers don’t have this problem. Neither do politicians nor palm readers nor software programmers. Everyone’s professions are self-explanatory, making it easy to slot them into neat, little boxes. Copywriters, in comparison, are a slippery lot. They don’t copy (at least they’re not supposed to!) and they don’t just write.
‘So what do you DO then?’ people ask curiously, even suspiciously. I point out ads they might have seen on TV or in the newspapers. They struggle with that for a while and then launch the dreaded question, ‘But how do you come up with ideas?’
Recently I quit mainstream advertising and joined a media house as the in-house copywriter. My job is to create advertising for the different publications in the Group. Now, more than ever, I shrink from occupation related questions.
A gist from a recent conversation:
Aunt: Where do you work?
Me: ‘I’m with XYZ (Newspaper name)
Aunt: ‘You’re a journalist?’
Me: No, I’m a copywriter. I do ads to promote the newspaper.
Aunt (frowning): ‘You mean you write those matrimonial ads?’
Me: ‘Er.. aunty, actually I’m a journalist.’
I know when it's time to give up.