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Copywriting as a career

In advertising, you can make money both on the management side, and the creative side. But the management types make it a lot sooner. Client servicing, account planning and media buying are the kind of jobs that fall in this category. And there's a neat, set route for entry-level hires in this category: join MICA or do an MBA. Advertising -- as an industry -- has its glamour and you may well enjoy your job.

But if you were seeking to join advertising because you think you are creative -- you're once again on the wrong bus. The creative side is a whole different ballgame. There is no course or college which can guarantee you that first, important break. Your talent -- and persistence -- must speak for itself.

Yes there is the concept of a 'Copy Test' where you might for example be asked to 'sell hell'. But at the end of the day, your brand of 'out of the box' thinking must catch the fancy of some CD (creative director). And each CD may have his or her own ideas on what constitutes raw talent. Rejection is part of the deal but 'we'll call you when there is an opening' isn't really a brush off. They will call, if they liked you.

It's a shocking fact of life that creative trainees are paid peanuts. And that scares off many wannabes. Parents find it hard to digest their children getting a 1,000 rupee stipend in an age where anyone can command a 10,000 rupee salary at a BPO. Don't see it as a 'job' but an enrolment into the ' University of Creative Life.' All that can be taught in fields like copywriting, photography, filmmaking, journalism, television production is essentially learnt only on the job. Each year of experience you rack up exponentially increases your market value. So does working with the right people, and most importantly your actual work -- or portfolio.

So a reasonably talented copywriter can, in about three years time, command a salary of Rs 200,000 to Rs 250,000. That's a 2,000% jump! A really talented person would rise to creative director and in the longer run would earn virtually the same as his counterpart in management. Is there any point, then, in deciding which stream to join, based on the salary potential?

Even the fact that an MBA earns more at starting level is, in fact, illusory. Today, a student typically invests Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 in a two-year MBA course to secure a placement worth about Rs 200,000 to Rs 250,000 (typical starting salary in an ad agency). In contrast, the copywriter has spent no money on training, and in fact been paid by the company (after three to six months of probation trainee salaries rise to more respectable levels). So, given that you do have the aptitude and the passion to be a creative person, choosing to do otherwise is an irrational decision, motivated by the fear of 'what if.'

And yes, that could happen. You might discover that your passion for words does not include passion for selling, so maybe you are better off in journalism. Or, book editing. Given a passion, it's still a question of finding the right fit.

Creative jobs have many pluses. If you do manage to build a USP, you can command both your price -- and your pace of work. An experienced photographer, for example, may work just 10 days in a month and earn a lakh or rupees. An MBA puts in gruelling 12 hour days, 6 days a week for the same. No, the point isn't that everyone should rush to take up photography!


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