31 Notable Copywriters from Yesterday and Today
In the age of advertising in which creating content is king, the craft of copywriting has become one of the most sought-after skills in the game. At its core, copywriting may sound simple, but in practice, it is so much more than its finished product. It is a process that relies on both strategic and creative thinking, a delicate balancing act that is necessary for successful copy.
Whether you are an aspiring copywriter, newbie, or a seasoned professional, there is always room to grow and hone in on your copywriting skills. A timeless way to achieve this task is by studying your predecessors. Below are thirty-one of the top copywriters both from the beginnings of advertising to the present day. In one way or another, these professionals are responsible for trailblazing an aspect of this dynamic industry and might just find their way at the top of your list of copywriting role models.
#1. Eugene Schwartz
Eugene Schwartz is just as famous for his ears as he is for his copywriting. He listened intently to what his clients told him and what his client’s customers were saying. He was able to build a high-paying empire on top of the power of his sharp listening skills and his ability to blend a conversational tone gleaned from his clients and audiences into high-performing advertisements.
#2. Claude Hopkins
Claude Hopkins made a killing in the early 1900s by writing clever advertisements for businesses. He influenced consumer behaviors by striking right to the heart of the sales pitch: How does this product benefit me? He could seamlessly weave the value of a product into punchy lines for his audiences.
#3. Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero
Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero draws on her past experiences as a journalist to craft compelling copy. She has established her name as a leading authority on copywriting due to her skill in commanding the attention of her audiences. She stresses the importance of editing a business’s copy because, above all else, including showy graphics and videos, a company’s writing shoots straight through the heart of consumers.
#4. Victor O. Schwab
Victory Schwab wrote the famous How to Write a Good Advertisement from his stellar career as a mail-order copywriter. He pioneered coded coupon advertisements and established himself as an expert in headlines and calls to action. Schwab understood that copy without these things, copy does not generate the desired action.
#5. Helen Lansdowne Resor
Inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, Helen Lansdowne Resor was an infamous copywriter who made waves in the industry. In the early 1900s, Resor pioneered introducing sex into advertisement and was also the first woman to spearhead a national advertising campaign. As one of the most successful copywriters and advertisers in the industry, Helen Lansdowne Resor broke open barriers for women and hooked audiences with evocative marketing.
#6. Robert Collier
Robert Collier is famous for writing The Secret of the Ages and The Robert Collier Letter Book. He was both a self-help guru and an indomitable copywriter who sold hundreds of thousands of books on the back of his copywriting skills. He always wrote to evoke an emotional reaction from his audience. Therein lies the success of his copywriting.
#7. Maxwell Sackheim
Maxwell Sackheim was the founder of one of the first direct-mail book club and a famous advertiser. He is known for his depiction of the business owner as a character in their advertising. Rather than smoothing over their personality for a broad appeal, Sackheim focused on the owners’ earnestness. A successful copywriter can make a business empathetic to its audience.
#8. Erma Proetz
Erma Proetz was the first woman inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame and is famous for reviving the company Pet Milk. Erma Proetz created a likable and knowledgeable health nutritionist persona that she used on radio’s first cooking show. Proetz understood that her audience was predominantly women and used her skills as a copywriter to build a bond between her and her audience to revive the failing Pet Milk company and carve out her space in advertising history.
#9. Leo Burnett
Leo Burnett was one of the most influential business owners of the 20th century and was the man behind one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. He was known for crafting intriguing stories within his advertisements, and that a good ad has the same structure as a story. Copy is, above all, a form of storytelling and should be simple, inviting, and memorable.
#10. Barbara Proctor
Barbara Proctor secured her legacy as the first Black woman to own a copywriting agency. She built her reputation on her integrity. She refused to accept assignments that demeaned women or Black people. Proctor is proof that you can be empowered to say no to projects and command a top-performing advertisement agency.
#11. David Ogilvy
David Ogilvy was a British advertising executive, creative copywriter, and the 1948 founder of the now-infamous Ogilvy and Mather agency. David is remembered for not only this lasting feat as the “Father of Advertising,” but also for the great humility that he possessed. David was never afraid to bolster the talents of his peers and inferiors, as he was always driven to achieve greatness through his team.
#12. Carol H. Williams
Former VP and Creative Director at Leo Burnett Co, it is evident that Carol H. Williams is a force to be reckoned with. Carol has been at the top of her game in the ad industry for decades, ever since founding her own agency called Carol H. Williams Advertising. She has contributed her creative talents to impact a variety of campaigns, servicing both the largest of Fortune 500 Companies and the smallest of philanthropic and community-driven organizations.
#13. Joe Sugarman
Joe Sugarman is a sharp leader and jack of all trades. He pioneered his own direct-mail company through writing by hand and was the first marketer to accept credit cards via toll-free phones. One of his ingenious tactics to keep readers engaged was by offering readers $10 to find a grammatical mistake. Overall, he is also one of the most revered teachers in the field and has written multiple books on the craft of copywriting and advertising to show for it, including The Adweek Copywriting Handbook.
#14. Helen Gurley Brown
Helen Gurley Brown’s whirlwind of career is an inspiration to many. On top of being a copywriter in the male-dominated ad industry of the 1960s, her writing chops granted her as one of the highest-paid copywriters at the time. She was known for her role as editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan and her revolutionary book, Sex and The Single Girl, which empowered women to feel sexually liberated and independent before settling down in marriage.
#15. Lillian Eichler
Lillian Eichler did what many women weren’t able to do in her time period. While working as a copywriter in New York, she rewrote and updated the Encyclopedia of Etiquette, a book that sold thousands of copies and greatly improved the original, poorly received text. From this impressive feat, she became a millionaire at just 18 years old. She is regarded as a legend for her ability to gain copywriting success so young in such a male-dominated time of the early 1900s.
#16. Jane Maas
The era of 1960s advertising often overlooked the efforts of ingenious women from the time. Author and copywriter Jane Maas is pegged as a “mad-woman” of this decade and moved up the ranks in her career from a junior copywriter to a creative director. Maas holds the title as one of the 100 influential women in advertising awarded by Ad Age, often compared to the fictional Mad Men’s copywriter Peggy Olson. She is best known for her contributions to the “I Love New York” campaign that still represents New York to this day.
#17. Carline Anglade-Cole
Carline Anglade-Cole makes a name for herself as a leading direct-response freelance copywriter. Carline has a knack for writing copy for the alternative health sector with an impressive clientele, including the opportunity to work for Oprah. Carline’s book, Life as a 50+-Year-Old White Male, outlines the ups, downs, and the ultimate success that she faced as a biracial woman in the predominately white and male copywriting field.
#18. Amy Harrison
Amy Harrison makes her mark in the UK copywriting domain with her insightful online course, Write With Influence, a resource aimed at providing tools for writing the kind of copy that generates sales efficiently. Harrison brings her previous experience as a screenwriter to the business world through her many endeavors. This includes, but is not limited to, marketing and copywriting consulting, public speaking engagements, and the core of her talents–writing successful copy.
#19. Mary Wells Lawrence
Mary Wells Lawrence is responsible for a multitude of snappy ad campaigns that are well-known to this day. Her creative direction birthed famous ads for brands such as Alka Seltzer, Proctor and Gamble, and Ford Motor Co. Lawrence was always one to take risks in the creative process, and to much success, she attempted fresh ideas that had not been seen before in advertising. Her accolades include Advertising Woman of the Year and her induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1999.
#20. Laurence Blume
Blume’s career trajectory is one to be applauded for anyone interested in gaining traction in the freelance copywriting world. Laurence’s career began with his role in a traditional advertising agency. But after years of experience in copywriting under his belt, Laurence founded his own freelance professional copywriting company, called freelance copywriter.co.uk, and became his own boss. Overall, Blume’s writing adaptability and precision are evident, for he has the ability to craft copy for a diverse clientele. His accomplishments represent both large-scale brands and smaller, niche organizations.
#21. Phyllis Robinson
Phyllis Robinson’s career was full of breaking outdated advertising norms. She started in the field as a junior copywriter and rose to immense success as the first female Copy Chief for DDB in the 1940s. This was a time with very scarce traces of women in leadership positions. Robinson has numerous notable campaigns to be admired by, including her role in marketing Polaroid cameras and creating more controversial ads involving ethnicities not usually represented in advertising at the time, such as the infamous “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye” ad for Levy Breads.
#22. Caroline R. Jones
Caroline R. Jones is admired and known for being one of the first Black women to ever work in the advertising industry. As a junior copywriter turned agency founder, Caroline was a hard worker and talented creative. In her career, she was greatly motivated to create compelling ads that struck emotional chords for minority audiences. More than anyone before her, she sought to create work that represented the needs and wants of Black consumers.
#23. Joanna Wiebe
Joanna Wiebe happened upon the copywriting field after starting her career as a creative writer. She has quickly shifted her position as an authority on writing strategic copy and has since been working as co-founder of the agency Copyhackers. Joanna was the first to coin the label’ conversion copywriter’ and outlined the three-step process of writing for successful conversions. As a whole, Joanna is motivated by the prospect of moving consumers to the point of purchase and continues to offer new insight into the key to successful copywriting through numerous speaking engagements and providing helpful resources.
#24. Thomas Burrell
As a member of the Advertising Hall of Fame and recipient of the Albert Lasker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Advertising, Thomas Burrell has made quite the name for himself in the advertising world. Thomas began his Chicago-based career in copywriting, and his talents led him to open his own agency, revered as one of the largest Black American led firms to this day. Throughout his prominent career, Burrell advocated for advertising campaigns that positioned Black American culture in a positive and authentic light for large brands such as McDonalds and Coca Cola. He has forever shifted the way that Black Americans are represented and included in advertisements.
#25. Ann Handley
Ann Handley understands the power that writing has on shaping businesses. As a marketer, LinkedIn mogul, and writer on many platforms, Ann is a thought-provoking leader in the current digital content creation space. Ann’s greatest achievements include her bestselling novels on the craft of marketing and writing and her role as the chief content officer of MarketingProfs, a resource-driven company providing business campaign advice.
#26. Gary Bencivenga
Though his career got off to a rocky start, as he began his copywriting journey with little skill or recognition from his superiors, Gary Bencivenga’s perseverance and dedication have warranted him the coveted label as the greatest living copywriters of today. Gary Bencivenga’s career landed him as a mentee of the legendary John Caples and David Ogilvy, and he has churned countless successful direct response copywriting campaigns in the four decades that he was in the business.
#27. Gary Halbert
Gary Halbert’s legendary book, The Boron Letters, takes the cake as one of the most influential copywriting books of this generation. Not only was Gary’s career riddled with successful ad copy, but he also dedicated much of it to mentorship and teaching others simple ways to improve their craft. One of the tools that he stressed the most was the importance of applying the AIDA acronym technique to business copywriting.
#28. John Caples
There is no doubt that Copywriters Hall of Fame recipient John Caples is one of the biggest names in the advertising game. Much of the success of the ad agency BBDO is attributed to Caples talents as Vice President, the agency that he spent the majority of his over four-decade career at. Caples approach to copywriting was different from his predecessors, for he was one of the first in advertising to heavily rely upon scientific notions to better understand the effectiveness of advertisements.
#29. Joe Coleman
The UK-based Joe Coleman’s impressive copywriting career sheds freelancers capabilities in a positive light. His copywriting website boasts seven awards, and according to Adweek, he is regarded as having one of the best websites in the copywriting industry. Coleman’s sharp and creative sense of humor is showcased on his site, where viewers have the opportunity to choose the level of intensity of copy they consume. They can shift the website to show soft selling language to the hardest of sells.
#30. Brian Clark
Brian Clark’s name to fame is accredited to founding one of the most lucrative content marketing websites the world has ever seen. Brian’s creation of Copybloggers was birthed by his desire to create quality content that effectively served his audiences and adequately addressed their pain points. The resource has helped countless readers sharpen their content marketing skills, and according to VentureBeat, Copybloggers is “the bible of content marketing.”
#31. Henneke Duistermaat
Henneke Duistermaat is proof that you can discover your copywriting skills later in your career. Despite never seeing herself as a writer finding her way into the sector later on through marketing, Henneke Duistermaat leads an impressive career writing for countless publications and has even founded her own agency, Enchanting Marketing, creating resources for business copywriters. She writes high-quality books on improving writing skills, including Blog to Win Business: How To Enchant Readers and Win Clients and How to Write Seductive Copy.
Feeling Inspired to Start Your Copywriting Career?
No matter where you want this exhilarating career to take you, it is important to grow acquainted with the key copywriting figures from the past and present. There is no question that these ingenious copywriters will continue to be remembered in advertising history for their craftsmanship, wisdom, and acuity for the craft. The careers and resources that they have provided for the world through books, speaking engagements, and interviews contain invaluable information for both improving your copywriting skills and finding mentors to look up to in the field.
With hard work, dedication, and a curiosity to learn new information on the industry, your copywriting capabilities are truly endless. With enough dedication, drive, and heart, you may find yourself as one of the world’s most notable copywriters.