From a logistical standpoint, the copywriter’s job is very straightforward. Here’s a glimpse at how many marketing departments are set up, so you get an idea of where the copywriter fits in.
In the corporations I’ve worked for, copywriters (also called staff writers, a term I really despise) are on the lowest end of the totem pole—with the exception of interns. If the copywriting team includes more than one person, the person with the most experience may receive the title of “senior copywriter,” which leaves the junior copywriter title to the other writer(s).
Senior copywriters typically help supervise/mentor the junior copywriters while taking on the larger, more difficult projects (print projects requiring communication with a printer, etc.). If you get lucky, your senior copywriting companion will become a great friend and career mentor along the way. If you get really lucky, you’ll be the only copywriter and can get a wide range of experience without much competition for projects.
Above the copywriters is the marketing & communications manager, who reports to the marketing director, who typically reports to the CEO. In some companies, the creative services department (the design team) is also a part of the marketing department. That was my experience with my first copywriting job (at a startup company), but it wasn’t with my second.
Being last in line means that we typically get paid the least in the department (insert frowny face here); however, that doesn’t mean we are any less talented, skilled, or important. Copywriters are responsible for doing most of the actual tangible creative work, while the managers’ time and energy is focused on attending company meetings/events, researching project possibilities, and organizing project information and ideas. (All in all, I think I’d rather get paid less to do more of what I love.) If all goes well, everyone supports and lifts one another in their individual roles and makes the process that much smoother. It can be a really fun team environment to work in.
I think you could safely say that, generally, those above you were once junior copywriters (or in some other role on the low end of the marketing-department ladder) and have since gained valuable years in the work/industry as they’ve progressed up the department ladder. As a result, they know what your job entails, how to support you most effectively, and how to do their job well, too.
I can tell you, however, that there are times when a senior copywriter or manager (1) has equal or fewer skills than you (and may still feel comfortable sticking his/her title in your face) or (2) has the experience and know-how but is just downright lazy. In either instance, you may end up doing both the copy direction and the work (without much credit for the extra effort), even though you are getting paid a lot less than they are. It happens to the best of us. My advice would be to work whatever challenges you encounter to your advantage. Having a lazy or incompetent senior copywriter/manager sucks, but it’s also a great opportunity to build a solid reputation quickly, try new things, and start collecting awesome portfolio samples for the future. Who can say no to that?
With that said, even if senior copywriters or managers lack in certain areas (as nerve-wracking as that may be), it can be extremely refreshing to have someone who supports your work, takes all the heat when trouble arises, and is always there to bounce ideas off.
My guess is that the structure of every marketing department you encounter will be similar, with a few differences here and there. Even then, your copywriting responsibilities will probably remain unchanged (with the addition of a few hats, depending upon the company’s needs). The key to success here is talent and a passion for writing and editing. You didn’t get into writing to make millions. You got into writing because you wouldn’t have it any other way. Copywriting, in particular, can be an extremely lucrative form of writing, which can make it even more satisfying over the long haul. If you can survive the corporate drama, that is.