WTF with AI and my future career

Dec 22, 2023

As I mentioned in my email yesterday, I’m doing a feature this week called “Santa’s Mailbag”.

And I’m taking some time out from a client project I’m working on, a new mentoring program I’m planning, and my never-ending holiday “to do” list to answer your most burning questions or share your feedback and insights.

So let’s get rolling, shall we? Let me dig into my mailbag and see what I come up with…

Oh, look-ee there…here’s a question that came in from Pete R.

Here’s Pete’s question: “If you were just starting out right now, in the uprising of AI, how would you go about standing out?”

Well, Pete, you’re not the only Copy Insider who’s wracking their brain over the implications of AI and what it means for their copywriting career.

Because Omezikam U. asked a similar question: “What steps should we take as marketers/copywriters to stay relevant and get hired by high quality clients in 2024 and beyond in spite of AI?”

I’ll start with Pete’s question, since even though these are related questions, it’s really a two-part answer.

Let’s say I was a “newbie” copywriter right now, meaning I’ve just gotten into copywriting over the past year or two, or it’s something I’m just learning about and have barely gotten my feet wet with it.

If that was the case, I’d be looking to work in-house, preferably with an established direct response business or digital marketing agency. If I had no experience and couldn’t get a job there, I’d shoot for an internship.

Even before the “uprising” of AI, I used to think working in-house as a marketer or copywriter was the best way to start off your copywriting career. That’s because it gives you the big picture perspective of where copy fits into a business.

It gives you access to all the numbers and results, so you can truly understand what the biggest needle movers are, and the impact of testing and marketing.

It gives you access to people you can learn from, not necessarily mentors (though you may get one of those, too), but by watching and listening in meetings and other interactions.

And you get paid while getting all of the above plus valuable experience and connections. Those friends and colleagues you work with can become lifelong allies throughout your career, and become a great source for client referrals once you’ve left to go freelance. (I still get referrals from people I worked with at Phillips Publishing more than 25 years ago!)

Now add the AI uprising to the equation, and if you’re working in a business that’s already starting to adopt AI tools into their copy and content creation, then you’re learning all of the above PLUS real-world application of AI to work smarter.

To me, this would be priceless training you’d be hard-pressed to get elsewhere and would give you a huge edge.

So that’s what I would do, Pete… even if it meant taking an initial pay cut.

And it’s even easier to do so these days, since many jobs don’t require you to sell your house, load up a moving van, and uproot yourself and your family to a new city. Most are remote positions that give you similar amounts of flexibility that you enjoy as a freelancer.

If going to work for a company isn’t an option or you can’t find a suitable position, then I’d continually practice using AI tools and get good at doing so.

I’ve been using the data analysis tool in GPT-4 for year-end business planning and am amazed at how much more efficient it is. I’m actually kinda in love with it and want to marry it (shades of “Her”, oh no sorry hubby…)

I’ve played with DALL-E and used GPT-4 to brainstorm headlines, do avatar research (though I still do it my old-fashioned way as well), and for other applications.

So consider learning about AI (and keeping up with where it’s going) part of your must-have copywriting education these days, just as you do when it comes to learning how to craft compelling headlines or write killer leads and bullets.

And that’s the perfect segue to answering Omezikam’s question about staying relevant and getting hired by high-quality clients in 2024 and beyond. Most clients these days are looking for people who know how to write really good copy AND can use AI tools to improve their efficiency and copy results.

On the flip side, some think they should pay less for copy as a result… but at the same time I’m hearing complaints about too much lookalike copy being produced by AI (duh) and most of it not being up to snuff.

So the copywriter who can use AI to save time, produce more high-quality ideas for testing, and other applications — and who really understands how to turn that AI output into strong, compelling copy and use it to optimize their emails or promos will find themselves more in demand by many clients these days.

(I’d just be wary of clients who think it’s simply about cutting costs versus working smarter and coming up with more testable ideas and angles than one can do on their own… or that it’s perfectly okay to just use AI to steal other people’s copy).

On the other hand, some major publishers I know aren’t using AI to create their promos… because they DON’T want to sound like everything else out there. I believe this is going to become even more important in the years ahead.

In fact, just the other day I got an inquiry from a Netherlands-based company wanting a “non-AI copywriter” to write copy for video scripts. As more companies get burned or disappointed by AI tools not living up to their promises (again, some of this has to do with inexperienced people using them), there may be more clients making similar requests.

That means in addition to seeing how AI can help YOU create greater efficiencies in your copywriting process or with your clients or employer, you still need to make your main focus being getting really, really good (dare I say “dangerously” good) at writing sales copy.

It means turning in the best possible copy each time you work with a client. And making sure it’s clean, free of typos or other mistakes, so they don’t have the headache of editing your copy (a complaint I hear from clients again and again).

That’s because if you do a decent job, they’ll actually use your copy and you’ll get a sample (even if it didn’t end up working)…which can lead you to more clients.

You’ll get repeat business (again, even if your initial effort didn’t work–if you did a good job and you’re good to work with, they’ll give you another shot… and remember, copy/creative is only 20% of the 40/40/20 rule… the others are 40% offer–which includes the product, and 40% is the list your promotion went to).

And you’ll start to develop a good reputation… instead of a bad one (yes, clients do talk to each other and word can spread quickly if you aren’t able to deliver the goods). So don’t risk shooting yourself in the foot if you are more eager to start making money than actually learning and mastering your craft first.

(I know it sounds like Santa’s being mean, but it’s a good way to end up on your clients’ “naughty list” if you fail to follow through with a solid effort on your copy.)

Here are my top tips for getting better at copywriting if you’re just starting out:

  1. Keep reading and learning everything you can about copywriting
  2. Study successful promotions, i.e., read or, better yet, hand copy one each day
  3. Write every day, even if you’re making up practice projects and get whatever initial clients you can so you can get better
  4. Stay tuned to my emails, lots of opportunities to learn from them… as well as some things I’ll be offering or steering you to that can help!

Alright, that’s it for today’s Santa’s Mailbag. As I peek inside it, it’s looking a bit empty in there… so send over your questions and comments to me at Better yet, use this simple form here, and you’ve got a good shot of having me address them in a future issue.

Now, be good boys and girls so you end up on Santa’s “nice” list, okay?

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. I mentioned earlier that I’m working on a new mentoring program. It’s going to be a more affordable option that will focus on improving your copywriting skillset by getting regular feedback as well as seeing me critique other people’s copy.

It’s similar to the two Copy Mentoring Sprints I ran this past Summer and Fall and will start in January and go through June. So keep your powder dry and stay tuned for more details soon if this sounds like something you want to do.