When first exploring career options for English majors, I was surprised by the many professions I had never heard of before. There are several career paths that are more behind-the-scenes that an English major may find themselves in after graduating; copywriting is one of those professions.
James Plendl, the head copywriter at Mason Companies Inc. in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, has been with the company for 9 years. He attended University of Wisconsin-Madison and majored in English; prior to becoming a copywriter for Mason, he started working in their call center after graduation. He spent a year in the call center before a position opened in the finance department where he worked for another year. After two years with the company, a position opened for a copywriter and James got the job.
Mason Companies Inc. is a direct sales and e-commerce company that owns and manages 10 catalog/website brands, the James, and two others on the copywriting team in Chippewa, is responsible for content that goes in 8 of the catalogs and websites that customers view daily.
During the weeks before a catalog’s deadline the team primarily focuses on catalog work. A typical day starts off with the three copywriters looking over the workload for the day and dividing it up as evenly as possible. All the work and information for specific tasks gets communicated via email, so a good portion of the day is dedicated to going through emails to find the necessary information.
Each of the 8 catalogs that the team works on has a spring and a fall season, each season has a book 1 and book 2, so catalog work happens quite frequently and as while I was shadowing with James he was working on proofs for some of the 2019 spring catalogs as the fall ones had already entered circulation.
When new product gets placed in the catalogs, James writes up descriptions about the product. The first line of the description is known as the “lifestyle line” James said it acts as the hook to get the customer interested in the product. He utilizes the brand websites and even competing companies to find information on products and get an idea on what others say to get people to buy the product. James said writing the life-style line is one of his favorite tasks because he can be really creative with it, he also mentioned that products that show up across multiple brand catalogs may have different life-style lines in each catalog for different audiences.
Most of the information in the catalogs gets recycled from previous versions, James is responsible for checking and verifying hundreds of pages of proofs to make sure the information is still correct. James said it’s very important to be detail-oriented because copywriters have to catch any spelling errors and make sure all the information is right, straight down to the prices of products.
Proofs go through several rounds of verification; each copywriter looks over their sections then passes it to the next to get double-checked. The graphics team looks over them again for design issues and if anything is changed in the copy, they send the proofs back to the copywriters for more verification. James said catalogs have hard deadlines so the information has to be thoroughly checked over before going to pre-printing.