Editing in the World of Advertising

Advertising is an interesting field—for the right kind of editor—with its own unique set of challenges and rewards. Throughout my nearly 30-year career, I’ve edited advertising materials for more than 200 companies. Some of my work has been freelance, some has been inside agencies, and some I’ve done on the client side as part of a marketing department. Editing for many different companies and products has taught me to pivot on a dime from one challenge to the next.

Look at all my babies!

Even now, I can’t walk down the aisles of any grocery store without seeing numerous products I helped promote. A small sample of the companies I’ve worked for and the products and brands I’ve worked on over the years includes Almond Board of California, American Express, California Strawberry Commission, Coca-Cola, CollegeInvest, Coors Brewing Company, DiGiorno, Domino’s Pizza, Horizon Organic, Kraft, Microsoft, Noodles & Company, Pepsi, Rubbermaid, Schick, Smirnoff Ice, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Waterpik, Wendy’s, and Yogi Tea.

The products and services might bear different labels now, but just seeing them in the store reminds me of my part in bringing the campaigns to life or the products to market. I smile remembering the hard work and dedication I put into every job, and sometimes, I grimace as I vividly recount working through the night to meet a deadline for a new pitch or a product launch. This diversity of clients, products, and services has given me a deep understanding of advertising—and the creative work and mechanics behind all those catchy jingles and eye candy.

Shiny baubles

There are many shiny baubles (i.e., high-profile brands and clients and the work on their prominent campaigns) around every corner to make the job enticing: witnessing the Hot Pockets jingle creation in the office next to mine; owning my part of the worldwide rollout of the latest version of Microsoft Windows; editing the brand-new Small Business Saturday campaign; being part of the team for the new-to-the-world Domino’s Pizza Tracker; watching yogis wander quietly around the office while creating new packaging for Yogi Tea; and hearing new taglines like “It’s Not Delivery, It’s DiGiorno.” before they go out to the rest of the world.

I also learn about companies and products I might never have seen otherwise—which is always entertaining—and I get to spend way too much money on brand-new products I just know I “need.” And although the job includes long hours, lots of back and forth on what to say and where, and millions of revisions, I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned about great companies and products for anything.

“Your job must be so much fun.”

When asked whether working in advertising is as glamorous or as fun as it seems from the outside looking in, I’ve found there are no easy answers. The business can be engaging and filled with adrenaline rushes and laughter, but it also includes many late nights, lost weekends, grueling work on short deadlines, and personal sacrifices such as changing vacation plans. Something else most people don’t know about the advertising world is that deadlines are so tight and the work often so intense that it is challenging for editors to work a normal 9-to-5 schedule. Every agency creative (as we’re called in the biz) has been there.

Advertising editing requires researching new client information and learning new products on the fly (sometimes overnight) to become an instantaneous subject-matter expert. You also should be agile enough to frequently switch between multiple style guides, including using hybrid styles and guides, and commit them to memory with lightning speed. These things make our jobs challenging, but they also make the field interesting if you’re a person who loves to constantly switch gears and has nerves of steel.

Punctuation? Who needs punctuation in an ad?

Ah, punctuation. The bane of an advertising editor’s existence, particularly because advertising executives, clients, writers, and sometimes creative directors dislike using punctation in their ads. The editors are told things such as “Semicolons are ugly.” “We don’t like to use too much punctuation. Leave it alone.” “Why do we need semicolons, anyway?! Just use a comma. It’s the same thing.” “We don’t like periods. It’s fine the way it is.”

Yet ensuring correct punctuation is one of the most significant parts of every editor’s job—and deliberately breaking cardinal language rules can be aggravating for editors. Ad execs frequently don’t allow their editing team the deciding vote on editorial matters, which is frustrating for an editor who knows punctuation helps the reader understand the message (even in a short ad). My favorite examples of mistakes that a team allowed on a huge campaign (despite constant and strenuous protestations by my boss and me) are “less people” (instead of fewer) and “all the sudden” (instead of “all of a sudden”). On the very day the ads aired, we were slaughtered in the reviews as “terrible editors.” It’s a huge frustration when we can’t sway the decision makers.

If a company uses a hybrid style—combining CMOS and AP, for example—instead of just picking one, problems can ensue. This hybrid (often not memorialized in a house style guide) gives reviewers the liberty to stet editors’ changes based simply on “this is our style” and consistency suffers when no one knows which guide to use on what.

How can I become an advertising editor?

If after reading to this point you think you have what it takes to edit in the advertising field, my advice is this: You have three available avenues. You can (1) work in an agency, (2) work in a marketing department within a company—usually working on only their products, which limits the companies you work with and products you edit, and (3) freelance. Each avenue has its own upsides and pitfalls.

There are other considerations inherent in the industry that should be considered. Advertising editors are often looked at as simply proofreaders (checking changes), not seasoned professionals with exceptional writing, rewriting, and substantive editing skills who can provide fantastic ideas no one else has thought of because they are too close to the work.

We are also seen as disposable or interchangeable. We’ve all heard the phrase “anyone can do your job.” If you learned how to diagram a sentence in school, then surely you can be an editor, right? Not so. As editing is a highly specialized skill, most advertising execs and creative directors do not have the time to learn what an editor does. They just want us to “give it a light edit.” Editors don’t do “light” edits. We dive deep on every round of copy to ensure nothing fell off with an errant keystroke, no one changed something and added incorrect grammar, the copy makes sense from every perspective (including design), and we are satisfied the client and agency look smart. We call ourselves the unsung heroes of advertising. We don’t usually get credit, but we are proud of our work regardless of not receiving the accolades.

Finally, being an editor in a marketing department in a highly regulated industry comes with its own challenges. Keeping any hint of creativity in the copy while trying to adhere to brand guidelines and government regulations is a daily conflict. Marketing departments are usually more rigid in what they allow editors to do, and the work can become boring quickly if you’re used to, or enjoy, that adrenaline pivoting I spoke of earlier.

Editing in the field of advertising is in many ways an exciting job, but it also poses some tough challenges. Thriving in this type of environment takes a particular breed of editor, and only you can decide whether it’s a job you will enjoy.

Sandi Pearce

Sandi Pearce has been writing and editing in the advertising and marketing field for nearly thirty years, working with many agencies and brands across a wide spectrum of industries. She finds inventive ways to not only toe the line of formal grammar but also cross over into the creative side to help companies and brands stand out from the crowded sea of advertisers.

8 comments on “Editing in the World of Advertising

  1. Loved this post, Sandi! The part about the “light edit” made me laugh—hardly a day goes by, even in the world of science/tech editing, that those same words are not uttered. (Please give this 100-page regulatory agency report a light edit. We need it by close of business.) Congratulations on so many successful ad campaigns over the years, despite the grammatical wink-and-nods you may have endured. 😉

    • Thank you, Ellen! Yes, we’ve all heard the “light edit” comments, haven’t we? Sheesh. I bet there isn’t an editor in any field out there who doesn’t hear that comment a lot.

  2. Sandi, you’ve written a terrific and valuable post! You describe wonderfully what the ups and downs of editing for advertising, and for companies, can be like. I so appreciate everything I’ve learned from you here, and I’m not surprised by your experience that so many in the business world have no clear idea what a good editor can do for them (can’t everybody be an editor?), and how hard it can be for us to teach them. I also love hearing about the positive things you’ve gleaned from working in advertising–all new to me. I look forward to passing this along to anyone else wondering about ad editing. You’ve laid out the pros and cons in a very helpful way.

  3. Thanks for writing such an information blog post about editing in the advertising world! A lot of this information is new to me, but I have definitely experienced editing for a company or department that doesn’t use a particular style manual and doesn’t have a house style guide either. Consistency is key. And while some people might not care about errors in writing, we’ve all heard people complain about typos in books or grammatical errors in ads.

  4. I love this:

    Editors don’t do “light” edits. We dive deep on every round of copy to ensure nothing fell off with an errant keystroke, no one changed something and added incorrect grammar, the copy makes sense from every perspective (including design), and we are satisfied the client and agency look smart.

  5. I love this because it’s true for editors of any ilk
    :
    Editors don’t do “light” edits. We dive deep on every round of copy to ensure nothing fell off with an errant keystroke, no one changed something and added incorrect grammar, the copy makes sense from every perspective (including design), and we are satisfied the client and agency look smart.

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