Creative teams in advertising agencies know exactly what a copywriter brings to the table. But many people outside of the creative arena, including those in management and the clients of the agency, seem a little thrown by the title and the definition. In fact, some people believe it to be a kind of legal job, belonging to someone who writes the small print at the bottom of advertisements. It couldn't be further from the truth.
Here's what Wikipedia says about copywriters:
"A copywriter usually works as part of a creative team. Advertising agencies partner copywriters with art directors. The copywriter has ultimate responsibility for the advertisement's verbal or textual content, which often includes receiving the copy information from the client. The copywriter is responsible for telling the story, crafting it in such a way that it resonates with the viewer/reader, ideally producing an emotional response  . The art director has ultimate responsibility for visual communication and, particularly in the case of print work, may oversee production. Although, in many instances, either person may come up with the overall idea for the advertisement or commercial (typically referred to as the concept or "big idea"), and the process of collaboration often improves the work."
The ending is notable in that it actually is more accurate than the rest of the definition. A copywriter (one word) is a creative strategist, first and foremost. The words, the headlines, the body copy, they all fall to the copywriter to craft. But ultimately, at the start of any job, the copywriter and art director are on the exact same footing. They are both focused on big ideas, and that means art directors can think in words, and copywriters can think visually. It's just the way it is.
Many, many great visual executions in advertising have come from copywriters, and art directors have written many great headlines. This is the nature of the business, and to put each area of expertise in a specific bucket with certain tasks is doing a major disservice to everyone, including the agency that hired the team.
It's also worth noting that in these days of heavy visuals, the lines between the copywriter and art director are getting increasingly blurred. Projects come into advertising and marketing agencies now that require little, if any, verbiage. But they do need strong ideas, and the copywriter is often more of a catalyst for these ideas than the art director or designer. That's usually because the writer is more familiar with most of the material, because at some point they'll have to write about it, be it on a website or in a brochure. And strategies often come from a collaboration between writers, planners and account management.
So, as the term "art director" is so much more descriptive and noble than "copywriter," is it time to redefine the role? Yes, or no? And if yes, what would you suggest? Is it the case that we should just abandon the terms "art director" and "copywriter" altogether, and instead refer to the roles as something more like "advertising creative" or "creative thinker?"
Here's a list of proposed titles that I've heard over the years, and feel free to leave your own suggestions or comments below.
- Copy Director
- Creative Writer
- Word Guru
- Creative Thinker
- Idea Starter
- Advertising Creative
- Copy Creative
- Thinking Machine