Does age or sex matter in the world of copywriting?

I’ve been a working copywriter since I was 30. Now I’m 63. Many copywriters who are older than me are still at it… such as Herschell Gordon Lewis, Drayton Bird and Dan Kennedy.

older-man300Copywriters wear their age well. This is partly because those who know direct marketing, know that that it’s a complicated subject that is not easily mastered. They like to see age because it implies that the copywriter has important experience. This is comforting when they’re plunking down a big wad of cash.

However, many copywriters are unaware that ageism works in reverse in copywriting. As a coach, I’ve had more than one student who refused to put their photo on their website fearing that their advanced age would send people away.

By the same token, a very young person may find it a bit harder to get going as a copywriter. It has nothing to do with the quality of their writing. After all, anyone can see what the writing looks like on the copywriter’s website.

It has to do with marketing experience. Will this copywriter give bad advice? How can we gauge their marketing knowledge?

I once had a very talented student who had not yet had a job, still lived at home, and had not been to college. Not only did he look twelve… he even sounded very young. This time it was me who said “no picture.”

Where youth wins in the copywriting world is in the agencies. Having worked in agencies myself both as a full time copywriter as well as freelance, I’ve seen how the hiring goes.

Young copywriters are excited and thankful to have “broken in.” Top brass likes the entry-level pay and the willingness to work overtime for free. I was once chastised by my creative director boss for working less overtime than anyone else in the agency!

Bottom line for freelancers: Showing an advanced age only works in your favor.

So what about gender in the world of copywriting?

My entire career I’ve enjoyed using the name “Chris.” Hundreds or perhaps thousands of times, the person at the other end assumed I was male.

It seems to me that there’s an assumption that if you’re to err, it will be better to insult a woman than a man. Never once has someone who did not know my gender use female language to reference me.

Back in the early days of the Internet I began growing my mailing list. I published my newsletters for years before it became commonplace to upload photos.

I had thousands of copywriters on my mailing list. The first time they saw my photo I was flooded with emails that said, “I always thought you were a man!”

While I continue to benefit from my androgynous name, I don’t think that it matters to clients whether you’re male or female. Where the subject of gender in copywriting becomes interesting is an observation I’ve made over the years.

And that is that in general, the men in this profession are much better at promoting themselves to “guru” status.

Maybe it comes from the business-to-consumer side of copywriting — with all of its sensationalism — but there is a much greater degree of “horn tooting” among the males. I’m sure that you can think of some well-known copywriters who fit this category.

I’ve also observed that among the men, there’s an old boys network. The last marketing workshop I went to had about eight men, one of them “famous.” There were only three women.

While I got a lot out of the workshop, I did find it difficult to be heard. I had to practically yell to get in on the conversation.

So I would say this: the bottom line on gender in copywriting is that maybe — just maybe — the men are getting more steady work than the women.

I’ve been writing a new client acquisition letter for a campaign I’m doing into a new niche. My boyfriend is a retired union negotiator. He likes to offer advice on my writing.

And true to his testosterone, he tells me: “Toot your horn harder! Say you’ll double their income! Say there’s NO ONE like you… tell them to Google you… say you guarantee results… you’ve got to hit it harder!

So there you have it… my take on sex and age in the world of copywriting. I’d love to hear what you think!

© 2016 Chris Marlow, All Rights Reserved

P.S. — The S.S. Treasure Hunt is my membership site for copywriters. We have Millennials on up, with a fair amount of Baby Boomers, and both sexes equally. They’re a special group and you should meet them if you’d like to associate yourself with copywriters who are actually getting things done and building successful careers!

About Chris Marlow

The original copywriter's coach, Chris Marlow has worked with copywriters since 2003. Her acclaimed Marlow Marketing Method™ Client Acquisition Course has produced hundreds of successful copywriters. Chris' S.S. Treasure Hunt membership site not only houses this course but four more on the subjects of Copywriting, Advanced Copywriting, Productivity, and Closing Clients. The S.S. Treasure Hunt also contains the world's only statistical pricing database for about 100 copywriting jobs. Chris has put together this resource to give copywriters everything they need to succeed — and nothing they don't. Chris is committed to helping copywriters focus on what's important, saving them from the time- and money-wasting Bright Shiny Object Syndrome so prevalent on the Internet.

28 Responses to Does age or sex matter in the world of copywriting?

  1. Nan Devlin December 10, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    Four years ago, a B2B tech client (VP) asked me to come in to their office for 3 days a week for 6 months to help out their fairly new and inexperienced in-house marketing team – of course, I asked why hire inexperienced people, but the C-suite had cut the marketing budget – it was all they could afford, and the VP was getting complaints from the product management team – the team I worked with.

    I did it – and it was one of the worst ageist situations I have ever encountered. The newbies couldn’t stand the fact that a “grandma” was there to tell them what to do – since of course, they knew everything. A month later, my VP contact left the company, followed by 2 product managers. When the product managers left, I did too. The “kids” called me names, talked down to me, sneered, etc. I decided to just observe it, rather than get bothered by it. But this was acceptable behavior in the current company culture.

    About 3 months after I left, the whole marketing department was let go. And wouldn’t you know it? All those snot-nosed kids called me to help them find a job and tried to connect on LinkedIn. One even had the nerve to ask for a recommendation. Not gonna happen.

    What this taught me is that in some industries, such as pre-IPO tech companies, where youth is king, it’s better to be freelance and not in the office. But writing for tech, finance, medical, manufacturing, etc requires industry knowledge and mature communication skills.

    As Bob Bly says, you can write forever. No need to worry about losing your job!

    • Chris Marlow December 10, 2016 at 11:41 am #

      OMG, what a horrible story Nan! And to think I used to be in an office like that too. Believe it or not, the design department of where I used to work as Senior Copywriter decided that one of the OWNERS of the agency (our Creative Director) was an old fuddy duddy (age 56 or so) and his ideas were stale. They managed to get the president to let the CD go home and “write a book.” Now that was especially sickening because the CD was a FOUNDER. He owned half the company. And since that time I have always been aghast that mere pups can oust the owner of his own company. The politics in that company were vile. It helped me have the determination and stamina to make it as a successful freelancer in just 3 months after I left!

      As to Bob’s comment, I had not heard that but I love it! When I discovered direct response copywritng I remember thinking to myself that if I could get leads and sales, I would never be out of work 🙂

  2. Bonnie Schooler December 9, 2016 at 8:21 pm #

    Chris you are spot on! I belong to a group that came out of the AWAI Bootcamp and at our dinner after Bootcamp this year, we spoke of this issue. The best thing is we stand together and support each other in the “arena”. It gives women copywriters great support! Age wise, I think it is less of a problem as older Copywriter than when I worked in the corporate world.

    • Chris Marlow December 9, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

      Yes Bonnie, I agree. When I look at the agencies now and the Internet marketing companies the employees look so young! BTW, Hershell Gordon Lewis just passed away but I think he worked right up to the end. And Denny Hatch wrote copy until he was 80.

      I’m reminded of what someone said to me a few months back: when an old person dies, a library goes with her!

  3. Daniel G Taylor May 24, 2014 at 4:47 am #

    We know as marketers that perception is everything.

    But if we’re young, qualified and can get results, as long as we can provide a “preponderance of proof” to prove our claims about ourselves, clients won’t care about our youth.

    Of course clients, especially senior businesspeople, may gravitate toward older copywriters because they assume greater experience. This isn’t always the case.

    Clients should choose copywriters young or old based on their ability to prove that they’ve gotten results in the past.

    • Chris Marlow May 24, 2014 at 7:33 am #

      Amen! I needed to eat at 30 just as much as I do at 60 🙂

  4. Alan Graner May 18, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    Hey Youngster,

    I’m 71 and still writing. I’ve discovered age is more of a handicap in advertising than in public relations (I’ve worked in both). Ad agencies seem to prefer younger copywriters because they’re cheaper and/or more “hip.” There seems to be some magical age when creativity exits our brains. AdAge has published articles stating creatives over 30 should start looking for another industry. (Yet I was still driving creative in my 60s.)

    I’ve found ageism less prevalent in PR. When I meet prospective clients with my PR partner (a kid of 65), nobody seems to mind our grey hair, even young entrepreneurs. Instead, I getthe impression they feel more comfortable with us because of our experience and our contacts.

    Still, we live in a youth-oriented society. I’ve had headhunters tell me off-the-record that ageism is a problem. They have a much harder time placing older creatives, but can’t prove ageism is the reason they’re not hired.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens as millions of Boomers pass 65 and continue to work…even in “creative” industries.

    • Chris Marlow May 18, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

      Youngster – ha! I love it. Your insights are valuable Alan, thanks for chiming in. And yes — with the financial meltdown and the fact that boomers are living longer and working longer (some by choice, some by need), we just might see some of that ageism fly out the window. I know I’ll write until I drop!

  5. Beverly Bergman May 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Hi Chris,

    We’ve spoken about this before and I couldn’t agree more! It is very true that in general, the men in the copywriting profession are much better at promoting themselves to “guru” status and tooting their own horns!

    When I started my own copywriting frm in 2008, I started researching who was doing what and looking for statistics about copywriters and found that NO female copywriters were coming up in my searches. NOT even one! Not even you or Tina Lorenz, both of whom had a well established and highly respected reputation by that time.

    In attempting to connect with others in my field, I did observe that there is indeed a good old boys network among the men copywriters — and I don’t see that it has really changed in the past 6 years – despite heavy marketing and promotion from a handful of women writers. Unfortunately, I think this is a holdover from Dan Draper and Mad Men days, coupled with your truth about how agencies think.

    This is why I attempted to start the International Alliance of Female Copywriters (IAFC) in 2010 — to raise awareness and raise the bar for women copywriters. I KNEW there were many women copywriters — but no one has ever heard of them. Sad to say, it seemed that getting women writers on board an association that would support them was not really of particular interest to these women.

    I have been asked hundreds of times if I know Dan Kennedy and if I write like he does. I do know Dan and can write in his style, but have my own style which is different — for good reason, and is a whole other discussion. When I said this to people, I generally received a very cold shoulder.

    Consequently, I have decided if I can’t beat ’em, I’d have to join ’em and am in the process of getting certified by Dan now.

    I haven’t abandoned the idea of IAFC, maybe I was ahead of my time?

    • Chris Marlow May 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Hi Beverly,

      You know what they say about women in business… a man can make a statement and a woman can make the same statement but she comes off looking like a bitch. And maybe it’s just not in our natures. I did some research before writing this piece, googling “famous copywriters.” All men.

      As to Dan Kennedy, I was recently approached by a doctor for copywriting and marketing work. She wanted to fill a seminar. I could surely do that for her but she wanted Dan Kennedy-style copy. When I told her it wouldn’t work for doctors and a B2B seminar effort, she dumped me. Maybe the women are partly to blame?

      I do think that copywriters are a very independent bunch. Maybe they’re not joiners in the IAFC manner. Do they even think they could use more chutzpah? If they’re working and making money, then maybe that’s all that matters. So I don’t have an answer except to say that after doing the Copywriters Fee & Compensation Surveys, I did not discern feedback from women that was distinct from what I was hearing from the men. I think copywriters love to hang with other copywriters but because of their independent nature, they’re not really joiners.

      I have a LinkedIn Group of 900 copywriters. Why not join and ask them directly what they think of the idea? There’s nothing better than getting it from the horse’s mouth. The group is called: Copywriters and Direct Marketers Solve the Marketing Problem. So present it as a marketing problem! I’m doing some research in there myself right now.

  6. David Kline May 18, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Although those of us that are older might struggle with the fast paced digital world, I believe that my life experiences have contributed greatly to my ability to help my clients. Although media and distribution change over the years, the power of message does not – that is timeless.

    I have no doubt that my life experiences, including writing some really bad copy, have contributed immeasurably to my ability to write. Some things just get better with age.

    It took many years, beginning with a radio career, then advertising, then preaching, then advertising/marketing again for me to learn how to develop a powerful message that resonates with the people. The “flash” of youth was replaced over time with wisdom, matching the right message with the right client.

    Although I have settled into branding more than DR, the same principle applies.

    • Chris Marlow May 18, 2014 at 8:44 am #

      I wish I still had my first sales letter… I remember it vividly… horrid! And I admit I much prefer writing direct mail over the new stuff. But I smile when you say that the messaging is timeless. Yes it is. Long live copywriting!

  7. Shel Horowitz--Green/Ethic al Marketer May 18, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    Great discussion. As another copywriter with an androgynous name, just a wee bit younger than you (57)–I have noticed that many people assume I’m female (they’re wrong). I was particularly amuse when a client n the UK referred to me as a “marketing goddess.” And I made the mistake recently of assuming an Elia was female. I usually try hard not to make those kinds of assumptions. My mom, a New York Jew whose second husband was Japanese, surprised a lot of people when she met them in person. She didn’t look like their conception of someone named Yoshida.

    I think good copywriters learn early how to overcome the social conditioning. I write very empathic copy. I know women who write with power and even hard-sell. When I used to take my kids out to the park so my wife could work uninterrupted, I got comments like, “oh, how sweet, you’re babysitting”–even in the enlightened and feminist community whee I live. I always managed not to get angry, just smile sweetly and say, “no, actually, I’m taking care of my kid.” And we got a surprising amount of grief for giving our kids the last name Horowitz Friedman rather than Friedman Horowitz. We chose the order because the music was better–but became adamant in the face of comments that we should have had the man’s last name at the end because it’s the “real” last name–give me a break! I could understand this attitude in the 1950s, but this was the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    Chris, I think Dan Kennedy is younger than you think. I seem to remember being surprising that he was only a year or so older than me.

    • Chris Marlow May 18, 2014 at 8:25 am #

      I don’t know why but I always knew you were a guy… maybe a picture on your book or something. But one could assume it’s short for Shelly! As copywriters we have a highly developed inner ear, thus your opting for the “music.” Love it.. I would have done the same. I think people become their names… it’s silly, I know, but when I look around, the evidence seems to be there. Sort of like the fact that people get dogs that look like them. (I have a Yorkie.) As for Dan… he might be younger than me but when I was young he looked a lot older. Hope he doesn’t see this!

  8. Stan May 17, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    Nice post, Chris.

    You’re spot-on about the issue of age. Without all the years I spent in sales and marketing positions with companies, I wouldn’t have been prepared for becoming a freelance copywriter. I get compliments often on my marketing knowledge.

    I’m 64 and have been at it for about 2 years. The nice thing is I’ll be able to work until I can’t remember my name.

    As for female copywriters, I believe in the B2C area they are more adept than the men due to their natural empathy. I’m aware of several who hold their own against whatever the men come up with. I have great respect for them…yourself included.

    • Chris Marlow May 17, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

      Thanks Stan… you’re right… I love that copywriting is something we can do into older age… it’s a great workout for the brain. My family bought me Lumosity for Christmas. I don’t have time to play it and more than that, with my job, I don’t need it!

      Your observation re: empathy is very interesting; I can surely see the logic in it. (And thanks for the compliment :))

  9. Terry May 17, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    Hi, Chris,
    As a newbie copywriting student I found your comments on age to be just the thing. I am 61. Maybe prospects will assume the best! And I am male, even though many think someone named Terry is a woman. So yep I got a second wind from your article.

    Your friend,
    Terry Chestnutt

    • Chris Marlow May 17, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

      Ha! Both of us 61, both of us copywriters, both of us with androgynous names.

      • Terry Chestnutt May 17, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

        I swear that second winds just keeps on getting stronger! Terry

  10. Mel Dever May 17, 2014 at 6:47 pm #

    Great timing as I’m deciding whether to trade as Mel Dever or Melissa Dever.

    Anyway I’m curious.

    I haven’t done your course so the answer may be in there but the problem I have with a lot of sales copy is the recurring hyperbole that smacks of lies and deceit (with or without that nasty red text and yellow highlight). Unless backed by stats, claims like ‘double your income’ are an old school hard sell that I know can work but I don’t believe it’s right. I also believe many of the x and y gens smell it and despise it (of course there’s always a glut of cashed-up suckers in every generation).

    My question is does this belief in finding the sales message in the truth make me a ‘bad’ copywriter? Is it a female thing? Men are more outcome driven so tend to stretch the truth far more than women do (I know this is a big generalization).

    What’s your take on this?

    Mel/issa 😉

    • Chris Marlow May 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      Hi Mel, a lot of copywriters prefer B2B for exactly this reason. Even though I write B2C and B2B, I have never sold anything that I thought was scammy. After I study the product or service, and the market, I become a believer. And that makes me write good copy. I’m being paid to persuade, so that is what I do. That said, there is a lot of scammy stuff on the Internet. But I don’t work with those guys. So no, you are not a bad copywriter… you’re a copywriter with ethics!

  11. Clarke Echols May 17, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    There’s a favorite saying: “Old age and treachery beats youthful exuberance every time.” 🙂

    And no writer still wet behind the ears can bring seasoned experience to the table like someone who’s been “beating the street” or “pounding the pavement” of the real world for decades.

    On the other hand, some old folks get rusty and ineffective because they remain too “old school” in their thinking. But at the same time, too many who continually look for the next new thing, the most “creative” or “impressive” attention grabber — but ignore the lessons of history preserved in the writings of Hopkins, Ogilvy, Bird, Collier, and many other masters in decades past — leave mountains of cash on the table instead of putting it in their clients’ pocket, and do a huge disservice by not becoming well acquainted with history.

    That same principle applies in politics, business, family relations, and life in general — because human nature and principles don’t change, regardless of what’s going on in culture, technology, or the insanities of movements based on “new” ideas that automatically represent “progress”, independent of how many times history has already proven the acclaimed “progress” is only a disaster about to teach its awful lessons one more time to inattentive air-heads who fall for the smooth siren song of some politician or other well-oiled, often well-heeled con artist.

    Solidly grounded understanding of your client, customer, or prospect’s needs and problems — as well as what’s keeping them awake at night — is still the foundation on which all successful business is built. And stable businesses come from stable relationships, not hype and celebrity without substantial substance.

    If you can produce results, age and gender should matter little if at all. But lacking that, most business owners or others spending a lot of their own money will tend to opt for working with more seasoned talent.

  12. Kevin May 17, 2014 at 5:37 pm #

    Great post, Chris.

    The only thing I have to add is this: I’ve found it hard to beat a couple of controls that women have written. So they keep getting asked for updates, whereas I get other assignments.

    What I believe this means, is that once you get your foot in the door – results speak.

    And let me say this: if it wasn’t for you, there would be many more doors slammed shut than opened for me.

    • Chris Marlow May 17, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

      Thanks Kevin 🙂 Yes, I agree that neither sex can claim superiority when it comes to talent. Now I wonder… do we all get better with age? or is burnout a factor? A topic for another post…

      • Lea Pierce May 17, 2014 at 7:34 pm #

        Thanks for raising these issues, Chris, because no one else is!

        Results are all that matter in DR freelance copy; I’ve never been chosen (or not chosen) for a project because of my age or my gender.

        That said, I agree with you Chris, that men are trained from birth to be better self-promoters. A recent article in The Atlantic Magazine (source of all things good and true) speaks in depth, with statistics, to the “confidence gap” between women and men.

        The most important thing for getting work and staying busy in freelance is that you can tell a recent story of a big win. No one expects anyone to be 100%. (Bencivenga was 80% in a very narrow niche; Clayton Makepeace has said that he hits .500–one of two–and it’s generally acknowledged that busting a control 1 out of 4 puts you in the top ranks.)

        Freelance is also a lot like baseball: there is a place for home runs and there is a place for doubles and singles. Babe Ruth’s lifetime hitting (not home run) average was .357–meaning he missed more than 6 out of 10 pitches.

        Clients do, however, expect that you have recent winning work, preferably a home run and preferably in their industry. That’s why they will want to hire you: the belief you can blast results home.I have always led with my wins (who would do anything else?) and have been consistently to overwhelmingly busy for 29 years of pretty much pure freelancing.

        With regard to the question about “lies” in copy: you can write what I call the “sucker pitch”, which is “lose 50 pounds in 2 weeks while eating all the ice cream you want” (swap out details for financial, etc., etc.) or you can go the distance and find a unique selling proposition that transcends the sucker pitch and sells the underlying product far more successfully than any empty claims. (By the way, some products really do deliver amazing results. And that is grist for the headline mill.)

        Be aware, however: all successful DR copy has to promise benefit, provide credibility (proof), and then deliver a product that actually works in order to earn a second, third, fourth sale. With the exception of that slice of the population that make it a hobby to buy bizop, diet, and self-help stuff ad nauseum (hoping, I think, that if they buy the “right” CD or box or whatever, it will change their lives whi8lst gathering dust on the shelf or in the download folder), the real profit and lasting business growth is on the second and subsequent sale, not on the one-hit wonder.

        That is also the case for copywriters; the real money is in the repeat phone calls from clients who find your stuff works better in head to head competition with other writers.

        Bottom line, don’t ever accept money for copy that you’re not proud of; don’t ever promote a product or service that you don’t honestly believe can help the target market. No one forces anyone to write anything–lie or “truth”–in freelance. You’re only as good as your client; choose wisely.

        In 29 years, I have never written a word for a client that I did not believe in 1000%. I repeat: no one can force any man OR woman to write one word they feel is a falsehood in the service of success.

        Lea Pierce

        • Chris Marlow May 17, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

          I wonder if that’s the same article Nan Devlin mentioned in my LinkedIn group… she said that women won’t apply for a job unless they have 100% confidence they can do the job while men apply if they have 60% confidence. Perhaps I should have a “horn tootin'” workshop for us gals 🙂 You’re so right about the BizOp marketplace… it’s long been known you can get rich there because those lists buy and buy and never implement. I’ve always hated the marketers in that niche that take advantage of these dreamers. You’re one of the best copywriters I’ve ever known and your insights are very valuable Lea… thank you for your wisdoms!

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