Sarah Turner

Sarah TurnerWhen and how did you become a copywriter? What did you do before?

I’ve always worked in advertising and marketing, either for ad agencies or in marketing departments. Before going freelance in 2005 I was a marketing manager and responsible for writing the company website, brochures and advertising. When I was made redundant some ex colleagues asked me to write their marketing materials and it went from there really.

What made you want to be a copywriter?

I’ve always written. I was writing stories when I was 5 and 6. I thought I’d end up writing best-selling novels or Oscar winning film scripts. (Hey, I still might!) But for now I’m a copywriter, which I really enjoy.

What types of copywriting do you do, and for what clients?

Websites mostly. I also do quite a few corporate brochures, sales letters, press releases and advertorials. But the majority of my work is online. And my client base is varied which I like. One week I’ll be writing complex copy for a law firm or an accountant. And the next week it will be something fun like Sheilas’ Wheels.

What do you enjoy most?

That email or phone call that says ‘love the copy. Send invoice.’

I guess the part of a project I enjoy most is the research and brainstorming. It’s when you start mucking around with ideas and headlines and what angle to take. When I’m about to start a new project, I think about it all the time. In fact, some of my best lines are written in the shower or when I’m out running. I really immerse myself in the product, service and company. You have to live and breathe it to write about it.

How do you work?

I’m a freelancer with 60% of my work coming to me directly via my website, networking, word of mouth and Twitter. And 40% coming via advertising and design agencies, web developers, marketing, PR and social media companies, and graphic designers.

What sort of working setup do you have?

I work in a studio in Putney that I share with other ‘creatives’. So there’s always plenty of banter and someone to share ideas with. I just stick my headphones on and play classical music when I need to concentrate.

I have a 6 foot long desk which is either incredibly tidy or a complete mess. There’s no in between. I use an iMac and have two screens. I’m thinking about getting a third screen so I’m surrounded on all sides. When I started out I just had a laptop. Looking back I honesty don’t know how I got anything done.

Recommend one book that copywriters should read.

This is the point where I should say Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy or On Writing by Stephen King. But the book I always have on my desk is Words that Sell by Richard Bayan. It’s just so useful. Especially when you’re having an off day creatively. I always find something in there that sparks an idea. I also like Andy Maslen’s Write to Sell and It’s not how good you are it’s how good you want to be by Paul Arden. Inspirational stuff.

How have things changed in the time you’ve been a copywriter? What’s better, and what’s worse?

When I went freelance in 2005 I spent a lot of time educating clients about SEO; the value of having fresh content; and why they should have their copy professionally written (and not get the receptionist to write it. True story).

These days clients generally are much more savvy and they value the work copywriters do. They also understand that good copywriting costs money and bad copywriting costs clients. Maybe I just have better clients these days!

The rise of social media sites like Twitter have been a change for the better. I use Twitter to connect with other copywriters, keep up-to-date with industry developments and to get work. It’s an invaluable tool.

What’s worse? Not much really. It’s a tougher economic climate now. So some clients will spend a little longer paying than they might have done previously.  But that’s about it.

If you could change one thing about your working life as a copywriter, what would it be?

Unreasonable deadlines. Sometimes I think clients just pluck a random date out of the air. The more time we have to do a job the better the result. It’s as simple as that. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve worked until midnight or over a weekend because something’s been ‘super urgent’, only to discover the person that needs to sign it off has gone on holiday for a week. So frustrating.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in your copywriting career?

Can’t say I’ve experienced anything weird. But you do get some funny comments from clients. After writing keyword rich content for a client he said he couldn’t believe he’d paid so much for ‘a bit of typing.’ I’ve also had a client demand that they appear on page one of Google for the word ‘laugh’. They were software developers. Or the client that refused to complete a brief because they didn’t really know what they wanted and said ‘can you write something and we’ll let you know if we like it or not?’ That’s a classic.

What single piece of advice would you give other copywriters?

Read, read, read, read, read. Ads, newspapers, books, magazines, Twitter. Read everything and anything. Soak up the words. You’ll be a better writer for it.

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