Name: Sophie Beard
Job title: Freelance copywriter
Current employer: DDB Melbourne
Location: Melbourne, Australia
The designer and the copywriter. Which one do we need? It seems everyone in the creative industry has an opinion on the value of copy to the design process. With the rise of design studios offering copywriting services, and communications consultancies tacking design onto their offerings, it’s apparent more agencies are becoming attuned to a necessity for both. This couldn’t ring more true for freelance copywriter Sophie Beard.
“I don’t want to eat into your beautiful white space with my words for fun,” Sophie says. “Design and copy need to work together to do the best job they can, and if that means fewer words and more design in one scenario, then great. At the end of the day, we all want to do a good job.”
At just 25-years-old, Sophie holds an impressive amount of experience under her belt. From making her way through RMIT’s Bachelor of Communication (Advertising) degree, participating in the Melbourne Advertising and Design Club Ignition program, interning at Grey Melbourne, gaining her entry into the industry through Clemenger BBDO Melbourne and currently freelancing for DDB Melbourne, she speaks with the perspective of a veteran.
“Even though I’m a copywriter at the moment, I’ve been an art director before. Day-to-day, there’s great flexibility to do both,” she explains. “Advertising is a bit of a puzzle, which art and copy work together to solve. So you need to have an understanding of both – they don’t work in isolation.”
It’s a given that trends come and go within design, within copywriting, and within the advertising industry. These professions continuously flip and adapt given social, economic and cultural changes, and arguably, are the result of the changes that have come before them. If you’ve seen AMC’s Mad Men, you’d be familiar with the romanticised ‘golden years’ of advertising in the 1950s and 1960s, where copy was king.
“The long copy ad ruled supreme,” Sophie says. “Copywriters came up with the ideas and the Art Director was shunned to a dingy corner to provide the ‘pictures’. These days it’s the complete opposite. This is the visual generation of the ‘quick get’, short attention spans, and instant gratification.”
“Thankfully, copywriters’ egos aren’t as bloated anymore – although art directors will probably disagree,” she adds with a point of cheek. “The whole process is more equal and collaborative.”
Sophie says that, while writing and design are two distinct creative processes, they will always have a place together in advertising. Knowledge of each other’s craft is essential.
“Designers are involved in projects from start to finish. Most importantly, copywriters are paired with an art director – the majority of whom are graphic designers, too – so designers instigate the ideas straight from the start. We don’t hate each other!”
Saying this, the presentation of concepts and ideas to clients also takes more than one type of creative brain. Articulating the importance of copy to a creative project – particularly to clients – can sometimes fall to the wayside as the power of the visual has increased. Sophie is quick to point out why copywriters are so essential to the creative process.
“We’re more than our ability to write,” she explains. “Working in a team, half the process is coming up with the ideas. It’s not just about being a good writer, it’s about being a problem solver, and problem-solving alone is pretty damn hard.”
Depending on the media available to the idea, these problems could need visual solutions ranging anywhere from filming a commercial, building an app, working with a social media trend or inventing something completely new that no one has seen before. And ideas don’t necessarily succeed because they are simply ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’.
“Clients need to think about their media,” Sophie says. “What will do the job best – words, imagery, or a combination of both? Copy and art will always have a marriage. They will never divorce. They are like a puzzle where one solves the mystery of the other.”
Bringing this idea up to speed, Sophie uses examples of Snapchat and memes to illustrate her point – outputs where both text and visuals work together to communicate meaning. But does that mean that we can just leave the rise of mass popular social media to do the writing and message making for us? Can we, the everyday people, replace the role of a copywriter themselves? Definitely not.
“Just because you can write, doesn’t mean you should,” she states. “These days everyone thinks they’re a writer. Wrong. You might ride your bike on the weekend, but does that make you a professional cyclist?”
Sophie believes that for brands wanting to cut through the noise, the basics – even those from the ‘golden years’ – still resonate today. Everyone may be their own author online, but there’s still something charming about the craft and enjoyment of words.
“Copy still rules on the Internet – when people have the luxury of time, they invest in words,” she explains. “Maybe it’s not always the printed word, but they’re still words and someone had to write them. The success of podcasts like This American Life’s Serial prove how captivating words alone can be.
“With certain media, our word count has actually increased. Think about webisodes and other sponsored video content advertisers create. [In a professional sense], copywriters have to be even smarter with their words now, more economical. You no longer have the security of long copy formats all the time. You need to be punchy and succinct.”
With the constant churn of the advertising machine, Sophie’s days vary depending on what stage a campaign is at. With the help of a few more Mad Men references, it’s clear that collaboration is no longer just confined to designer and writer, but a whole lot of other players in the game. Briefings with an account manager or ‘suit’ – quite a literal nickname, so think [character] Pete Campbell – happen before many hours of planning amidst an empty white slate can occur.
“This ‘brainstorming’ time, thankfully, isn’t spent alone but with your partner,” Sophie says.
To clarify, she doesn’t mean life partner. Copywriters are often paired with an art director.
“If you’re a copywriter your ‘work wife’ or ‘husband’ is an art director, and vice versa. Although, for most teams, you do spend more time with this person than your significant other, so you might as well be married.”
Sophie’s ‘work wife’ is Anna Stickley. Together, they’ve racked up an impressive number of accolades for their work, including their Video Stamp campaign for Australia Post which won a bronze Cannes Lion.
“Once you have a range of ideas you like, you then present them to the creative director – the Don Drapers – and hopefully they like something, which you can then review and finally present to clients. And, if all goes swimmingly, people actually let you make your idea!”
Sophie professes that her motivation for her work and writing is also one that is pretty frightening.
“To come up with a great idea, the kind you see and think, ‘I wish I’d thought of that’, is magical and scary,” she says. “Something that can start so small – within your own head – and then grow and spread so fast is always scary.”
“After a campaign is launched it’s almost a weird out-of-body experience to see a thought that was kicking around your synapses on such a large scale. And when they’re ideas that bring about social good or become part of the public’s lexicon, that’s even better.”
As the trends change and agencies continue to mix and match their services across design and copy, it’s clear that words still hold a very strong place in the creative process. We may be decades from the ‘golden years’ of advertising, but Sophie maintains that a changing landscape won’t threaten the importance of copy. It’s relationship to design will also survive as creative partnerships continue to thrive.
“We’re so visually literate, you can find shorthand for everything. I don’t think this world is something that writers should be scared of though. There will always be a place for great writing.”
We hear a lot from Creative Directors, we’ve checked out our share of studio profiles, and we think we have a pretty good idea of what designers do. But what about the account managers? The copywriters? The accountants? A machine needs more than one cog to run smoothly, right? Each month, we’ll introduce someone working behind-the-scenes wonders and give you an insight into the wide scope of roles within the creative industry.