THE ADVERTISING industry is one of the most sought-after career fields among university students. However, getting into advertising is very competitive and choosing to dive into that competition requires a great deal of certainty in one’s decision. Choosing a potential lifetime career can be daunting, especially to those who do not have any first-hand experience or knowledge in their desired fields. For those who truly want to pursue a career in advertising or are merely curious about the field, *The Yonsei Annals* met with Yoo Byoung-ook, the Creative Director of TBWA Korea, to gain insight into the life as a copywriter. TBWA is an international advertising agency that is a unit of Omnicom Group, the world’s third largest advertising agency holding company. Creative Director Yoo, who has been a copywriter for over 17 years, offered his invaluable advice to students interested in stepping into the world of advertising.
What do copywriters do?
Copywriting is the art and science of writing text for the purpose of advertising. In this context, a “copy” refers to all written content that is placed in an advertisement, whether it is the brand name, the headline, or the catchy slogan. The copywriter is the person in charge of writing these copies that aim to increase brand awareness or promote a product.
“Generally, people tend to think that copywriters only write slogans,” said Creative Director Yoo. “While that is definitely the primary part of our job, we are also responsible for every other text that appears in an advertisement. For instance, we are also in charge of writing the small disclaimer that appears at the bottom of a cigarette commercial.”
An advertisement agency can be divided into two major parts: the account services department and the creative department. The account services department focuses on the client’s request, the “what to say”, while the creative department is in charge of the presentation and delivery, the “how to say it.”
The account services department, which consists of account executives (AE), account planners, and account coordinators, is the team that works as an intermediary between the client and the creative department. Copywriters are part of the creative department, which is where ideas for advertisements are conceived, developed, and produced.
“Although the process slightly differs from agency to agency, the main flow of how things are executed is the same,” explained Creative Director Yoo. “The AEs arrange meetings with the clients to gain an understanding of what they want and draft a creative brief to deliver those requests to the creative department. The creative department, formed by a team of creative directors, copywriters, and art directors, holds several meetings to discuss slogans, visuals, and all the fundamental aspects on how the advertisement should deliver the message. Once finished, the AEs, sometimes accompanied by the creative directors, present the draft to the clients. After receiving feedback, the process is repeated until the final product is approved by everyone.”
Is copywriting the right job for you?
Copywriting is widely known as a job that requires great creativity. Because copywriters have to create and deliver an impactful message in a matter of seconds, they are required to not only have a powerful imagination, but also be highly proficient writers.
“Great writing skills are an absolute must in this career,” emphasizes Creative Director Yoo. “Often times, people link copywriting to wittiness and unconventional ways of thinking. While both are indeed important qualities for copywriters to possess, they are considered as additional talents; strong writing skills are the essential foundation of copywriting. Humor and wordplay come afterward.”
The Creative Director further added that curiosity and tenacity are also important traits that a copywriter should possess. “Curiosity, because copywriters should always be aware of their surroundings and raise questions. Having diverse experiences provides a strong foundation from which ideas grow,” he stated. As for tenacity, he emphasized that it was different from passion, in that fiery passion dies away at some point. “You have to be persistent because there will most definitely be times when you are stuck in a creative block. Nothing seems to work during those periods. You have to be tenacious and patient with yourself.”
On the other hand, the director expressed that personality types are not of great importance. Often times, advertising is depicted as a job most suitable for extroverts. “Sure, an outgoing personality may be helpful in easily reaching out to clients and working with other people. However, when it comes to the creative department, I really don’t think personality matters,” he stated. “The introverted mind has many capabilities of its own, and exceptionally bright ideas often come from people who are constantly thinking to themselves.”
The Creative Director further commented that copywriting is a perfect profession for those who get easily tired of repetitive tasks. “Because we create advertisements for all kinds of products, we study and think about different things all the time. One week, we could be pondering over cosmetics, and in the next, we would be at a PC room, studying gaming chairs,” he said.
The job itself presents exciting challenges that keep copywriters on their toes. “Over years of observation, I have come to realize that unlike most office workers, a majority of copywriters do not take up hobbies such as playing golf or cycling on the weekends. It’s a personal theory, but I think it’s because the job itself is so stimulating on a daily basis that we do not feel the need for extra thrills,” he remarked.
A day in the life of a copywriter
Just like in any other profession, copywriters often face strict deadlines when creating advertisements. “There are times when we have to stay after office hours to finish our drafts,” admitted Creative Director Yoo. “Although the advertising careers have a notorious reputation for keeping people at the office all day and night, this is not entirely true.” He continued to explain that the advertisement industry follows an intermittent cycle, in which the workload fluctuates accordingly. For example, advertisement requests peak a month or two before *Chu-seok* and Christmas holidays. This is because corporations generally want to launch new product lines or promotions during national holidays, when there is higher success in drawing public attention. So there are periods when we are extremely busy and other times when we have much more freedom,” he concluded.
When asked about what his typical day looked like, Creative Director Yoo replied, “It really depends on the advertisement we are working on, and what the client is looking for. However, our meetings are usually gone about the same way. Here at TBWA Korea, we put less value on the formality and more on the actual ideas we bring to the table. What I mean by this is that we do not formally present our ideas in a specified or thorough manner. Instead, we freely bring up any ideas that come to our minds. It does not matter if they are too general or unclear. Through discussion, our creative department members build on each other’s ideas and suggestions, and the idea evolves into something unexpectedly splendid. We like to call this process a ‘chemical reaction.’ This method places less pressure on the individual and we usually end up with something even more creative because of the collaborative effort we put in.”
After numerous meetings within the creative team and several exchanges with the AEs and client, the approved final product is produced into an advertisement. This final stage is often the most rewarding, as copywriters get to see their ideas come to life. Creative Director Yoo expressed that he especially experiences career fulfillment when his advertisement achieves its purpose, whether that is to promote a product, increase brand awareness, or boost sales. One of his proudest moments, he mentioned, was when his advertising campaign for Sidiz, a Korean chair manufacturing company, resulted in the company ranking first in a top-of-mind awareness survey. “Duoback had always been the number one chair manufacturing company in Korea for several decades. So when our campaign slogan increased Sidiz’s brand awareness and outranked Duoback, I was beyond thrilled,” he stated.
Is it ever too late to start?
It is common to see students worrying about the need to partake in several student clubs, contests, or programs related to their desired career field. Such activities help build strong resumes, as they testify to the student’s level of determination and preparation for the job. Therefore, students in their final years of school—whether they are majoring or belatedly realizing their passion in advertising—may be concerned with the thought that they haven’t participated in enough activities related to the industry. However, student clubs, competitions, and undergraduate majors do not play as big of a role in applying for a job in an advertising agency as people think they do. Creative Director Yoo, for instance, explained that he did not participate in any particular student clubs or competitions regarding advertising during his undergraduate years.
“Those kinds of activities would be helpful in gaining experience, but I wouldn’t say that they are imperative. In fact, being too absorbed in school activities related to solely advertising may be unfavorable, as it could narrow your perception of the world,” he advised. “It is never too late to become a copywriter, as long as you have a strong base in writing. I, for example, did not have my heart set on copywriting from the start. I had always known that my strengths lie in writing, so I opened up my career options to those related to writing: screenwriting, radio producing, and copywriting.”
From there, he applied to various jobs and proceeded to narrow down his options after knocking on several doors. Once he was determined on copywriting, he taught himself the basics of advertising through books. The most important advice the Creative Director emphasized was that it is never too late to want to become a copywriter. The advertising industry places more value on how creative the ideas are than on past qualifications and resumes.
* * *
“As copywriters, we constantly seek something different. Something disruptive. We attempt to break away from conventional ideas to create something innovative,” stated Creative Director Yoo. More than just product promotion, copywriting is a form of art that is about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. With the unconventional placement of ordinary words, copywriters have the power to inspire and evoke a certain emotion within the viewers. To those who revel in creative freedom, copywriting is definitely a career path worth considering. Test the limits of your imagination and do not hesitate to explore this new career field if you are even the slightest bit interested. You never know where life may take you.