Why Word Tonic’s Carolyn McMurray refuses to be labelled a “junior” copywriter
Kicking off her copywriting career at the age of 17, Carolyn McMurray’s short stint studying English at uni made her realise she’d be better off immediately “making a move” into industry full-time. Four years later, she’s a firm fixture in the space, having also founded the Gen Z copywriting community and newsletter Word Tonic. With the project, she’s created a space for budding wordsmiths to develop their craft and find like-minded copywriters – as well as their clients and audience. Her work has not gone unnoticed, with the newsletter being mentioned in the go-to industry publication, AdAge, and Carolyn herself being mentored by industry legend, Vikki Ross. Here, Carolyn talks about her journey to ditching the “junior” label and how she uses LinkedIn to get most of her work.
Founder, Word Tonic
Place of Study
BA English, Queen Mary, University of London (2020-2021; did not complete)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a copywriter – which is basically a fancy way of saying I write words for a living. Blogs, emails, newsletters, web copy... I do it all!
When I’m not staring at a blank Google Doc or spending an hour writing different variations of the same headline, you can find me working on Word Tonic – the Gen Z copywriting community I founded. I lead weekly copy calls and host Q&As with industry legends like Vikki Ross and Mike Reed – it’s basically learning and development, but for Gen Z copywriters.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Vikki Ross – she’s my official mentor now and her work in the industry massively inspires me to write better and be more creative.
I’d also say a lot of my inspiration comes from reading – newsletters, books, swipe files [collections of tested and proven advertising, used as references]. I’m subscribed to about every copywriting newsletter out there and find that they’re filled with lots of gems. Ones I’d recommend are The Word, by Dave Harland; Sonder & Tell’s newsletter and The Creative Copywriter’s Word Science.
If you think about it, all writing is an amalgamation of writing that came before – so soaking up and reading as much as possible is really the only way to keep getting ideas.
“All writing is an amalgamation of writing that came before – so soaking up and reading as much as possible is really the only way to keep getting ideas.”
What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
Back in September 2022, I set up a newsletter for Gen Z copywriters. Being able to write my own copy – for my own venture – has been so fun. There are no rules, regulations or briefs – I can write exactly the way I want (funny, conversational, and a bit weird, if you were wondering).
If you could sum up your job in an image, what would it be and why?
The hamster (below)! Word Tonic members actually created it and it went on to become sort of an inside joke in the community – there is literally no meaning behind it whatsoever. But it does show what the vibe is like in Word Tonic. We’re open, not stuffy and genuinely all friends.
Also, it got into [industry magazine] AdAge, which I genuinely find amazing!
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Nope! And that’s something I wish more young people would be told – you don’t need a degree to be a successful copywriter.
I went to uni for a couple of months to study English and decided to quit to pursue copywriting full-time. It was the best decision I ever made, because it forced me to start making a move and trying to get ahead in my career.
I’m not saying training isn’t important – I think doing a copywriting course or having a mentor can really help set the foundations, especially if you’re not 100% sure about how to get started in the industry. But there’s no need to fork out thousands.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
Yes and no. I’m lucky to have found out about copywriting so early. Because of that, it was just a case of me working on my career and levelling up.
But actually, getting into the industry was a little tough. I mean, I got gigs after building my spec portfolio [speculative work done for companies you choose], but a lot of them paid really poorly and completely took advantage of me and my talent; I definitely felt undervalued a lot of the time.
Quite a few gigs wanted to pay me peanuts – I'm talking £10 or £30 per 1,000 words. So they’d often underpay me, or equate my writing talent with my age: “Oh she’s super young; her writing’s probably not that good, so let’s pay her less”. Then they’d get surprised when I didn’t stick around. Fresh emerging talent nowadays – especially us Gen Z – will leave a gig if it’s not valuing us or our talent properly.
That’s another reason why I created Word Tonic. I wanted other young people in the industry to know all the things I didn’t when I first started out – things that would make their journey way easier.
How did you go about landing your first clients?
I dived straight into freelancing, so I reached out to a lot of my clients directly. I don’t like cold email outreach as it’s always scary, but you can get really creative and fun with it. I think you kind of have to, especially if you want to stand out.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I’d say my biggest challenge has been dealing with the “junior” label. I felt super-undervalued at the start of my career and often felt like the label was being used by some companies as an excuse to underpay me. It was also just a mindset thing for me – I think I sometimes blocked myself from taking opportunities or leaps of faith because of it.
It’s taken a bit of self-love but now I know my value and my worth and have stripped the “junior” label away from my title. I’m a copywriter, that’s it.
“I often felt like the ‘junior’ label was being used by some companies as an excuse to underpay me. I’m a copywriter, that’s it.”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Junior: Writing Your Way Ahead In Advertising (a copywriting book for newbies, and it’s beautifully blue)
The Creative Copywriter Academy (binge-worthy copywriting course that’s under £200)
D&AD (non-profit advertising and design association jam-packed with creative resources)
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
For copywriting, I think self-promotion is a must and LinkedIn is a great platform for that. You can write posts, build a bit of an audience and flaunt your skills to the world – as well as build your network. 80% of the work I get now comes from referrals, and all of them have been through LinkedIn.
I also have a copywriting Instagram account and my biggest learning has been “just do it.” Just put stuff out there. Stop waiting for the ‘right’ time, or best idea. If you want to get on social media, just do it. I know it’s scary putting yourself out there, but it’s the only way you’re actually going to get eyes on your work.
Oh, and when it comes to LinkedIn, please don’t be boring or robotic. Especially in your bio. Make it you. Make it human.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Knowing when to raise your rates – and actually doing it. The average salary for a junior freelance copywriter is £150 to £250 a day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make more than that.
If you’re writing on the same level – or better – than seniors in your company or are putting out amazing work consistently, I think it’s fair to raise your rates. I hate the idea that years of experience = salary.
That’s a load of BS, so if you are a young copywriter, don’t let your age or “junior” status push you into jobs or gigs that don’t financially value you. Know your worth.
Have there been any courses, programmes or access schemes you have found helpful?
If you’re looking for a bit of a foundation, try The Creative Copywriter Academy. It’s an all-in-one copywriting course that teaches you the basics of writing good copy and how to become a freelancer. You’ll even get to build a spec portfolio – and it’s less than £200.
Bit of a shameless plug here, but the Gen Z copywriting community is also a great resource if you’re looking to become a copywriter. We do weekly copy calls and monthly Q&As where you’ll be able to learn and develop your skills, and build your network. You’ll also be able to meet other Gen Z copywriters and get advice and be supported in your journey.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Ditch the “junior” label. Controversial, I know!
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Build a portfolio – that’s the first thing I’d advise new starters to do. You want to show employers and clients you can write well and having samples of your work on hand will make it much easier to apply to – and land – copy gigs.
These samples can also be entirely made up. That’s what I did at the start. I wrote up a “made-up” blog for Airbnb and did a few emails for Asos.
Mention Carolyn McMurray
Interview by Lyla Maeve
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