More and more blog posts. More and more personalized campaigns. And polished content for every product in e-commerce. There has never been more writing and publishing than today — the amount of content is exploding.
Such a mass of content can only be created because Artificial Intelligence now helps with text production. But: If Artificial Intelligence now enables machines to write, are copywriters still needed at all? Will there still be a role for us copywriters? And if so, what does that role look like?
This is something I talked about for a long time with Manuela Frenzel and Saim Alkan. We think: yes, there is a role for us. But it may look very different from today. We have summarized the results of our discussion in an infographic: Copywriter of tomorrow — will you be a Copy Director?
In its entirety, I’ll show you this graphic at the end of this article. Before I do, let’s zoom in to three sections here.
What remains of the copywriter
At some point, artificial intelligence may replace every profession, they say. No question if. It’s just a question of when. I’ve always said to myself: When that time comes, I want to be at the forefront. I won’t be made obsolete — I’ll be the copywriter who makes myself obsolete.
It will be a while before that happens. But already today, a lot of opportunities are opening up—and with that, a lot of things are changing. You can use large language models like GPT-3 to generate headlines or have an article written paragraph by paragraph. Or use data-to-text solutions like AX Semantics to precisely generate hundreds of product texts in multiple languages.
Because of how you write is changing, the things you need to be able to do as a copywriter are also changing.
Into the future with two questions
We want to look into the future. But not with a big utopian throw. We want to be realistic. That’s why we asked ourselves: What kind of people are they? What do they have to be able to do, the copywriters of the future? If we explain this well, then at the end of this article you will know the answer to the following questions:
- How can you continue to earn your money with text? Dear colleagues, this goes to you. How can we make our profession fit for the future? What skills do we already have? And what attitude do we need to adopt so that we can swim on top in the flood of content?
- What kind of people should generate your content? Whether your brand was a publisher twenty years ago or not: If you run a website or a store today, you are a publisher. You have to create content. Software helps you do that—and a few people who know how to use the software. What should these people be able to do?
The answer to question one is: Become a copy director.
The answer to question two is: Hire copy directors.
Saim goes into further detail about how a copy director fits into a corporate environment and what roles they fulfill on the team — and they need to be able to do as a result. You can read his article here: Tomorrow’s Copywriter – How companies are turning text into a revenue driver with the Copy Director
In my article, I’ll focus on the first question: How to become a copy director. What that means for your job description. And what you should already be able to do in order to succeed in this transformation.
I’ll also show you why leadership needs to happen when there’s no team to lead— and you’re all alone with you, your ideas and a few AI tools. Overall, if you are not completely uncommunicative and retreat exclusively into your cave, this could be exactly the same thing that enables you to lead well in a team. And to lead, you can be employed—but you can also go solo.
So, here goes. Let’s dive deeper. These are the three chapters:
- As a copy director: Do I have to want to lead?
- As a Copy Director: Do I need to be an employee?
- As a Copy Director: What do I need to be able to do?
As a copy director: Do I have to want to lead?
Desire for leadership tasks—that is the intertitle in the center of our graphic. And we think: You have to bring this desire with you if you want to produce texts as a professional in the future. But why, really? Aren’t we all actually quite good at copywriting on our own?
Desire for Leadership: The center of the infographic.
Text Production: Alone stays small
A lonely author is writing his book. He sits alone in his garret, and if his name is Schiller, an apple rots away in the drawer. When it comes to the written word, we like to think of the lone warrior. He does everything all by himself.
Yes: writing can feel lonely. Every author is alone with his text. That’s why writing is a great job for people who like to be alone—at least at times.
For books, the attitude may work. Even for a small blog. A single person can write enough to get the product done. But what if the goal is a catalog like IKEA’s or Otto’s? Or a magazine like Fit for Fun or Stern?
Editing: Growing as a team
Writing can be done alone. Publishing, on the other hand, is teamwork. Whether on a news site. In an e-commerce store. Or at many of the big blogs: Publishing is teamwork.
Producing a lot more content used to mean employing a lot more people—a team. An entire editorial team. And such a team has always needed leadership. There have always been job titles for that, too. Editorial director. Editor-in-chief.
We were reminded of this after the discussion between Saim and me, seen here on Youtube by our participant Daniel Ahrweiler: Isn’t the new job actually the same job an editorial director has always had?
Artificial intelligence: Team without a team
Yes. Exactly. Editorial management. Scaling content today can still be done as a team, with lots of people writing. A team of ten people can decide to stay at ten—and now write a hundred times as many blog posts with the help of artificial intelligence.
But it also works the other way around: for example, to write the same number of articles with fewer people. Then the team shrinks while the output remains the same. One person writes ten times as many posts.
However, at the beginning of this development there is always a human being. The software helps him out. Perhaps he remains alone with his machines. Then he has no one to drink a coffee with him in the cafeteria. But he still has to lead: He has to tell the machines what to write.
Leadership: Management without a team
In the past, only a few people could become editorial managers. There were only a few large teams with many copywriters. It was simply too expensive to pay so many people to do copywriting.
Today, machines can take over some of these tasks. But someone still has to tell where to go so that the texts are created. And even if you no longer need ten people to write a hundred articles today, you still have to take responsibility for a hundred articles.
There is still a need for leadership, guidance, responsibility. Today, it is no longer the size of the team that determines when a leader is needed. Today, people have to rise to leadership positions because of the amount of output. Even if they don’t lead people—but only train machines.
The bottom line on leadership: Yes. You have to want to lead. Maybe just machines. Maybe people, too. Essentially, you just have to make decisions. Whether that statement is right or wrong. Or whether this sentence sounds better than this one.
„Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.“Peter Drucker, pioneer of modern management theory
As a copy director: Do I need to be employed?
Short answer. No!
The long answer is a bit more complicated: You can still be self-employed. But not entirely on your own. You’ll work with others. Maybe with people. And certainly with machines.
The head of the graphic: Desire for new roles.
Why did I start in the middle on my journey through graphics? Because I prefer to avoid all those job titles at the top of the graphic. Production director, it says. And manager. That sounds so corporate!
What does that have to do with my solo self-employment as a copywriter? Can I retain my independence? Or do I now have to seek shelter under the roof of a company that produces content?
But these role descriptions have come up in our discussion. And rightly so. Because they are part of a complete picture. Text production is becoming more a management position, we all believe that, Manuela, Saim and me.
However, management is not necessarily the business of employees.
Freelancers can also manage
Most people whose job title is manager are employed somewhere. They have authority to issue directives. In other words, they can tell their subordinates what to do and what not to do.
Such instructions are anything but effective. By now, the word has gotten around in management. Micromanagement has fallen into disrepute since the 1950s at the latest.
At that time, management guru Peter Drucker introduced the concept of management by objectives. The latest development is called Objectives and Key Results (OKR)—bestselling author and venture capitalist John Doerr writes about how this makes Intel and Google successful.
It’s the shared goal.
The important thing in management is not the directive. But the interface between different opinions. The mediation and advice. The analysis. In the end: the goal that everyone can agree on. And for which everyone can work together. For such a goal, you don’t need directive authority—you need directive competence.
Consultants also give direction
Whenever they want to solve a problem, whenever they are looking for a new strategy: Large companies with many of their own employees also regularly book consultants. According to their title, they are consultants. They do not have the authority of managers. In terms of their function, however, they too are often project managers.
For the manager role, it is not relevant where it is anchored. It doesn’t matter whether it is performed by employees or consultants.
My role as a consultant hardly changes with more AI. I don’t write all the pages for a website relaunch myself anyway. I help clients create content. No matter who writes it in the end: Employees, staff at the customer. A team that I put together. Or, increasingly, artificial intelligence.
A manager of one’s own production
If you don’t have particularly high standards of originality and utility, you can quickly fill one SEO-oriented niche page after another with content. In the past, you would have bought texts for the price per word of under 10 cents on portals like Textbroker.
Today, artificial intelligence does it for you.
You can have AI do research for you on the web, and you can create an outline and brief in no time. You then have a large language model rewrite what you’ve found until no more plagiarism can be legally detected.
This doesn’t have much to do with writing, even if many texts are created in this way. But it is certainly text production. Production management is important as a function—but the ability to manage production alone is not enough.
The bottom line on hiring: Teams are becoming more and more significant. The legal form basically doesn’t matter. You can agree on goals with other people, even if you’re not their boss.
„The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.“Warren G. Bennis, President, University of Cincinnati
As a Copy Director: What do I need to be able to do?
With data-to-text solutions like AX Semantics, you have to think beforehand, then the software scales your thoughts at large. You have to be really good in order for it not to duplicate your thinking errors.
Large Language Models like GPT-3 give you hundreds of headlines or ideas for paragraphs in minutes. It’s like an army of junior copywriters. You have to have some expertise to make a good selection from them.
Either way, your expertise is in demand. You’re the human in the loop. With data-to-text before the AI writes. With large language models after the AI has written. But in both cases: You have to know what you want. And know what you are doing. And, in your human way, better than the machine.
How do you become that—what do you need to bring to the table in detail? And what do you still need to work on?
The foundation: Lots of expertise and an open mind.
Become a senior (even without formal training)
What has always been true for all copywriters is true for copy directors: Writing can be learned, but only during writing. There are still hardly any training programs—and certainly not the one standardized final exam. Any mechatronics engineer or nurse can become a copywriter. And become good at it—with enough practice.
Copywriting has always been an ideal profession for career changers. The shift to copy director doesn’t change that.
Practical experience is the only thing that counts when it comes to copywriting. The question is: Where can you gain it? Where can you actually still learn copywriting when there is less and less manual work and more and more machines? Will there still be jobs for juniors? Where and how can you become a senior copywriter if you’ve never been a junior copywriter?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. And that worries me a bit. Do you have an idea where juniors can learn today, then reach out to me!
Be curious (as always, actually)
When it comes to writing, you can’t help but keep learning about new subject areas.
Whether you write about headphones today and coffee machines tomorrow. Or every day about food for allergy sufferers, but today about the absence of lactose and tomorrow about the pros and cons of replacing gluten in gluten-free products. Variety is your world—you’re at home in it because you’re curious.
For the future, just direct some of your curiosity away from your areas of expertise—and toward your profession itself. Try the tools that are coming out in artificial intelligence every day. And broaden your foundation: from data science to user experience. In your new role as a manager, this broad knowledge will help you.
Sell yourself (not just the goods)
Whether designers or copywriters in advertising — or photographers or editors in editorial: we’ve always been the ones who spent the money.
Our clients, our publishers—they have priced us, told us what we should cost. They implicitly made us understand that we really should be able to be just as creative for less money, right?
And who earned the money you were allowed to spend? That’s right: the vendors. Have you ever heard salespeople brag about how much revenue they made—and what commission they got for it?
Now you can do that, too. Today, you can look into analytics. Not only can you see if your content is working. You can also see how well it’s working. And you can tell your boss about it.
The bottom line on development: If you’re good at copywriting, you’re already good at a lot of things. In any case, be open to technology and data, and you’ll quickly learn what you need to know. And otherwise: Just do it.
„The best way to predict the future is to create it.“Alan Kay, software pioneer and godfather of the graphical user interface
Copy Director: A new title for a new attitude
Production director. Editor-in-chief. Editorial director. We’ve been thinking about many functional terms. Some are also here in the article and in the infographic. Each of these titles says something about one of the functions you’ll need to fulfill in the future. But none says everything.
That’s why we looked for a new word. We didn’t have to invent it, we found it: Copy Director—like Art Director.
In the Anglo-Saxon world, the title Copy Director is quite common in agencies and among advertisers. This is always the case when a copywriter is needed for a management role. For example, when it is a question of asserting the right tone of voice with product managers or salespeople. In the German-speaking sphere, this term is not as familiar (yet).
We also know the term director from graphic designers. If they are senior enough, some of them become art directors. Then suddenly there’s more to their job than just coming up with ideas and designing layouts themselves. Then they select photographers and have them produce the images they have in mind. Or they send their assistants out to look for pictures. Art directors no longer create the images themselves. They make them happen.
That’s the journey you’re on if you’re a copywriter today. You will write less copy yourself—be less of a craftsman. Instead, you will have more texts written—become more of a manager.
What’s new is that the transformation to director doesn’t require you to tell a single person what to do. It starts when you have software write your first project. Just try it out.
What did you experience while experimenting? What disappointed you? What excited you? Let me know — I look forward to connecting with you.
About the author: Arne Völker has a background in journalism, scriptwriting and copywriting. Today, he works for his clients as a consultant and helps them scale content—recently also with artificial intelligence. That’s how he becomes: „The copywriter who does away with himself.“
This article was published originally to LinkedIn Articles in German on May 27th 2022. The English version was created by Marielle Mühl with the help of the neural machine translation service DeepL.