The Rise of the Copywriter / Designer

by Shaun Crowley

Marketing-savvy designers who complement their design service with copywriting can expect more lucrative projects and plenty of on-going work.

Marketing consultant Shaun Crowley looks at a few copywriting designers who no longer tell their clients "I'm a designer not a writer".

It's tough being a freelance designer these days. You need to be a shrewd businessperson. You need to spend as much energy on your marketing as you do on your design projects.

There are lots of neat ways freelance designers in the marketing communications arena stay ahead of the game. Some offer a unique layer of service such as free proof-reading or liaison with printers. Some market themselves as specialists in a specific area, such as video-based websites or 3D design.

And then there are a few other freelance pioneers who are integrating something entirely new into their creative services—copywritingand finding a whole host of new clients banging at their door.

Copywriting; the craft of writing to sell. It may seem strange to think of yourself as a copywriter as well as an artist, but it's not a strange concept for most design clients. These days promotions coordinators look for freelancers who make their lives easier. That's why those freelancers who offer both copywriting and design are the most in-demandhiring them cuts out the need for central coordinators to get involved at each stage of a creative project.

Dean Rieck [] is one such successful copywriter/designer. His design firm grew from small-scale freelance service to award-winning agency, a success which he attributes to one single thing. "It's more convenient for clients to have one person handle both copy and design." But ask Dean if he sees himself as a designer first and a copywriter second, and he'll turn the question on its head. "Being a copywriting-designer has helped me understand the relationship between copy and design in a way that most copywriters and designers don't. In my mind, they are the same thing. They are a unified message. That's why I always work with clients as a consultant and not as a 'writer' or 'designer'."

Neil Tortorella [] is a copywriting-designer based in Ohio. He believes the key to his success comes from the moment he questioned deep-seated beliefs about how designers look at copy. "I always sent the writing stuff out to "official" copywriters. It's what I was taught to do. Designers design. Writers write. Or so I thought...."

Tortorella struggled as a self-employed designer for seven years. Then a group-based project in 2003 signaled the start of a lucrative pursuit into copywriting. "Being a group of designers, there was no shortage of design input. The problem came in when we needed someone to string together a few words. Me and another guy took care of the design. A project manager kept us on task. But we still needed those dang words. So, during the beginning phase, the project manager said to me, "Your forum posts are pretty good. You write it." "Huh? I'm a designer, not a writer." But as it turned out, lucky for me, she wouldn't take "no" for an answer. And so, the writer hidden within sprang forth. I found I not only had a knack for pumping out the prose, I rather enjoyed doing it, too."

Ayd Instone [] recalls the time he ventured into copywriting. "I started to realize most headlines and paragraphs followed the same rules. So when I got a less time-sensitive project that needed some copy, I bought a good teach-yourself book and had a go." Ayd reflects that his biggest hurdle was overcoming the fear of failure. "I think most visual-types have a stigma about writing. In reality, it's not rocket science. Writing adverts is all about identifying benefitsdo that and you'll convince any client you've been writing copy for years."

Yet even if the prospect of writing copy appears daunting, copywriting-designer Mike Matera [] believes there's no harm in trying something new. "There have been times a client wanted me to do something I'd never done, but I didn't tell the client that I'd never done it. If a project looked like it could help me develop a crucial skill and/or a valuable addition to my portfolio, I took it on. This has enabled me to segue into other areas and skill sets as I grow my business."

Ayd Instone adopts a similar philosophy. "Freelance designers have to act like businesses. That means finding out what they can offer to make their clients' lives easier, and offering it before others do. In some cases, that means learning new skills, or at the very least, continually honing existing skills."

Meanwhile, as the economy stiffens, big design agencies are making up for lost revenues by turning to the smaller jobs traditionally reserved for one-shop designers. Fortunately, freelancers like Rieck, Instone, Tortorella, and Matera are able to compete with these agencies more effectively by offering a similar level of service at a fraction of the price. Neil Tortorella: "The truth be told, there's an awful lot of very competent designers out there. Today, being able to offer "one-stop shopping" has helped not only land the type of clients I choose to work with these days, it also generates additional revenue streams I didn't have before."

Whilst most designers look at copywriting as a completely different skill-set, marketing-savvy designers like Dean Rieck are prepared to change the way they work in response to changing market needs. "Words and images aren't the goal...helping my clients sell their products is the goal. The thing I do is a means to an end. In my line of work, that's what separates the successful from others."

Tortorella: "There's nobody else on the independent level in my local area that provides design and copywriting to independent professionals and smaller businesses. Actually, I've found very few even on the national level. If they do offer more than design, it's outsourced. I've found there's a comfort factor when my clients understand that there's one person who's crafting both their "look" and their "voice.

"At the end of the day, even if a designer provides only design, having decent writing skills is important, especially for independents and small firms. These folks wear several hatsdesigner, salesperson, project manager and chief cook and bottlewasher. Writing becomes important for drafting winning proposals and presentations, sales letters, memos, etc. In our business, clarity is awfully important. Good writing skills help a designer rise above the rest of the pack and be perceived

Shaun Crowley has worked as a freelance copywriter, marketing consultant, and communications manager for a major UK publishing company.