by Paul Saxton: July 19, 2012
Posted in Spotlight
I became a copywriter after answering an ad in the local paper that simply stated: “Are you creative?” I’d just finished the MA in Creative Writing so I was ready to put all my hard-earned creativity to the test. It turned out it was for a local ad agency. They liked my ideas. They liked that I wasn’t constrained by advertising dogma or whatever. I thought out of the box, as idiots say. Before that I was mainly at college and university and raising a young family while doing numerous crap jobs.
I never wanted to be a copywriter. Until I became one I had no idea what they did. Or even that they existed. I had, however, always wanted to be a writer of some kind. At the time I joined my first ad agency I was making inroads into becoming a scriptwriter. I put all that behind me for a life of endless frustration.
These days I try to do as little actual copywriting as possible. But I can turn my hand to most things. The advantage is that I’m versatile and very quick. The disadvantage is that I can occasionally be sloppy.
Strategy, creative, concepts, big ideas, showing off etc. When it’s that kind of work, I absolutely love this business. Just sitting there with a pen and pad and coming up with ideas.
I run my own (very) small agency that consists of me and whichever freelancers I need to use. I also work freelance and am happy to do that in-house or at home/in the office.
I have a desk and a computer, yes. And some pens and paper. I have an office above a pub in the city and also work from home. I’m very disorganised and messy and undisciplined and you can tell this by the state of my offices – books and food and fag ends everywhere.
Luke Sullivan’s brilliant Hey Whipple! Because it’s a good reminder that copywriters can, and should, be creative and are in the business of selling.
I was lucky in that I started at a very creative agency that respected copywriters not just as writers but also as thinkers. It was only when I left and put myself about a bit that I realised that the title ‘Copywriter’ makes people think all you do is write copy. I think it’s got worse. It’s why I very rarely describe myself as a copywriter – because then all you get is tedious writing jobs. Also, I think there are too many copywriters out there who don’t care about what they do or the industry they’re in. That is, they don’t care about advertising and how wonderful it can be. They could be working anywhere, doing anything. As for what’s better: nothing really. And I don’t say that just because I’m a grizzled, cynical old git. The money’s worse, the industry’s flakier, clients are more of a nightmare and any fool thinks they can write.
I’d like more people in our industry – either client side or agency side – to be more marketing savvy and to care about the business they’re in. It’s shocking the amount of creatives and writers and designers who know bugger all about advertising or care about its rich history.
One of my very first jobs was to create a radio ad for Anglia Railways on Jazz FM. I adapted Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, read in a 50’s hipster style over a tinkling piano: “I saw the best minds of my generation at Liverpool St Station, climbing aboard the 2-for-1 to Norfolk…” Yes, it was brilliant stuff. The Times Literary Supplement rang the agency and wrote a predictably sniffy piece about it: “Maybe next time Mr Saxton could parody TS Eliot for Tesco.”
The usual really: keep your mind open, be interested in everything, don’t constrain yourself and always try to be clever.