Should You Hire a Copywriter?

It’s an investment, but experts say aligning with the right wordsmith should be a part of any firm’s overall brand strategy
Should You Hire a Copywriter
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A designer’s professional life is undoubtedly fueled by arresting imagery, but a regular stream of engaging writing can be just as vital to their work. Formulating cohesive mission statements, updating website copy, churning out clever social media posts, and drafting design statements that detail new projects are all crucial to a studio’s branding. Some larger firms are blessed with a budget that allows for an in-house marketing expert or a savvy public relations agency to offload such creative matters to, but the time-strapped designers helming start-ups or small enterprises often don’t have that luxury. Should they snatch time away from their jam-packed schedules (even when they know the gift of gab isn’t their strong suit), or hire a copywriter who can build a solid narrative around their practice?

According to Rebecca Goldberg Brodsky, cofounder of the design-and-culture-focused New York– and Los Angeles–based strategic communications agency Dada Goldberg, springing for a writer is an invaluable expense. “The designers who rise to the top can communicate their full vision to clients, the public, and the press. If this does not come naturally to the team,” she tells AD PRO, then bringing on a copywriter is a necessity. “We have found that people tend to be either writers or visual creators but it’s rare that someone is both. So, it takes a village.”

Why You Should Hire a Copywriter

Brooklyn lighting design studio In Common With has collaborated with copywriters since the brand’s inception in 2017. “We pay so much attention to how we photograph and present our work visually, the language around it should be equally important,” says cofounder Nick Ozemba. Initially, Ozemba and his partner Felicia Hung brought on a copywriter to “help us to zoom out, tell the story of our studio, and craft a tone of voice for the brand. More recently, it’s been project-driven, focused on major launch moments,” such as developing text for a new collection or descriptions of individual products for the website that in turn inform In Common With’s social copy. 

It was the rebranding of her eponymous practice several years ago that prompted New York designer Ghislaine Viñas to reach out to a copywriter. “We didn’t just change the logo, but we really looked at the work we had been doing for the last 20 years and looked ahead at where we wanted to go and how we wanted to be seen,” she recalls. 

Although Viñas was well known for her interiors, she wanted to explore other realms too, including product design and creative direction. “I wanted the message to be clear and I knew that after investing the time and energy into the redesign and refocus that I would need a wordsmith to put what we do into words,” she says.

Getting Started With a Copywriter

Viñas was lucky. She was already a fan of Brooklyn writer and strategist Emily Rae Pellerin’s work, she says: “I knew she had the voice I was looking for and would understand how we wanted to position ourselves. She understands brand development.”

But what if you don’t have someone in mind from the get-go? For Ozemba, tapping a copywriter who has an experienced editorial eye—and an appreciation for craftsmanship—for a project is a plus, so he recommends approaching “a journalist who has written about you in a way that has resonated.” Otherwise, as in most industries, word of mouth tends to yield successful results. Ask your peers, adds Ozemba, “who are often very generous with sharing that kind of information and recommending good people.”

Word of mouth is usually how most small businesses are introduced to Catherine Sarsfield, a London content writer who works with the likes of furniture maker Jan Hendzel Studio and Atelier100, the initiative supporting hyperlocal design established by H&M and Ikea. However, if she encounters a designer that she thinks she might click with, she doesn’t hesitate from “dropping a message to see if they need any support.”

Expressing Your Voice

Once you’ve snagged an ace writer, how do you ensure that they can build upon your own distinctive voice? 


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New Orleans designer Hattie Collins sat down with her copywriter “to talk about words that reflect and evoke my brand,” she remembers. “We looked at imagery that inspired me and we chose words associated with those images. We spoke a lot about how I wanted the brand to sound when people read the copy.” Two drafts and rounds of edits later, those words now serve as a standard for Collins’s website, so when new projects are woven in, “we piggyback on the language that she came up with.” For her Instagram account, Collins uses another writer, she notes, who “chooses relevant hashtags and writes short but effective captions and we also had a long meeting about my brand voice, words, and phrases to use along with words and phrases to avoid. It is important to me to have consistency.”

After asking new clients to send over any existing brand decks or documents and setting up an exploratory call with them, Sarsfield embarks on a brand audit, “usually challenging the messaging or copy and sliding all the information into a template deck that goes on a journey to help get to the heart of the brand. I’ll then ‘present’ this in a long session—the deck serves more as a blueprint than the focal point,” she explains. “It’s really about having conversations and eking out the smaller details that might have been missed but could make for a good story.”

The Relationship Between Brands and Words

“Compelling copywriting is essential for designers and brands. A visionary can create something that aesthetically edges forward but without words to contextualize the innovation or inspiration, it does not meet its true potential,” warns Goldberg Brodsky. “When the words and pictures come together, it cements the intent, and it becomes synonymous with the creator.” 

It’s a harmonious pairing, but “writing for brands takes a strategic brain,” says Sarsfield. Her own strategy is two-fold: melding a clear-cut idea with language that always feels true to the brand. “An element of storytelling is important, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to speak in this elevated, cinematic dialogue,” she explains. “Often, keeping things simple is best. Stripping back jargon is more effective. But I do believe that the most important thing is to speak like a human. That connection is what’s going to get people believing in what you do.”

Ozemba agrees that language should always be “clear, informative, and descriptive while capturing the mood or the feeling of the work you are doing,” he points out. “For example, with our most recent lighting launch, Flora, we wanted to describe the process and the functionality of the pieces, but also convey an element of romance that was so essential to the collection.” The ideal copywriter, Ozemba believes, is someone who shares your values, understands your brand mission, and “can articulate not only where your business is, but where it is going in the future.”

How Much Do Copywriters Cost?

Like designers, copywriters have their own day rates. Although each project is unique, designers can expect to set aside approximately $2,500 to $6,000 per project, according to Sarsfield, depending on the type of work and whether you’re reimagining, say, an existing strategy or starting from scratch. In some cases, a one-off project can lead to a long-term relationship because a studio might realize throughout the process just “how important content is,” says Sarsfield. “I try my best to show this through my work—not because I want them to keep me on, but because it’s in their best interest to keep their tone of voice consistent. It’s helpful to think of copywriting as a long-term service and value much like designers would want a client to think about design.”

Whether it’s a retainer or an hourly fee that makes the most sense for the project, just remember to be upfront, says Ozemba. “Outline your scope of work and be clear about deliverables and numbers of revisions.”

The Results

A return on investment isn’t always straightforward to assess. Viñas sums up her gratifying experience with Pellerin as “pure bliss,” but Pellerin’s well-written bios, for instance, were not quantifiable. Rather, it’s how they “made us feel when we were being presented to the outside world in the right way,” as Viñas puts it. 

Collins loves that her voice across all platforms now “sounds polished and professional. The benefit of adding copywriting to my budget is that I don't have to hem and haw over captions and copy,” she says. Instead, she can zero in on all the other facets of her business demanding attention. 

The time saved stressing over riveting sentences may be the biggest upside to hiring a copywriter of all. “Having a thought partner who can offer an external perspective and put our vision succinctly and clearly into words has been so impactful,” shares Ozemba, “and it also frees us up to do what we do best.”