When and how did you become a copywriter? What did you do before?
I’ve been a professional copywriter since 1983, when I got a job writing for Freemans e.g. “Black skirt with two patch pockets. Material: 50% cotton, 50% polyester. Available in sizes 10, 12, 14, 16. All garments washable. Please see size guides at the back of the catalogue.”
I ended up as senior manager in the creative department with a team of copywriters and designers reporting to me. I launched my own writing/design agency in 2001.
I’ve also worked as an insurance clerk, a barmaid and a tea-lady.
What made you want to be a copywriter?
Writing was always what I was best at. I could write before I went to school. I wrote during the evenings, at weekends and on holiday. I still do.
Remember when you were about 13, and adults always asked: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I told them I wanted to be a writer. My neighbour gave me a writing competition to enter (I won first prize), and I went on to qualify as a journalist.
What types of copywriting do you do, and for what clients?
I call it Writing Without Waffle. That is, making complex information appear simple for websites, newsletters, blogs, brochures, sales letters and leaflets – in fact, any marketing communications that need to be clear, concise and impactful. My clients are 80% small businesses, 20% corporates, anywhere in the UK.
I’ve recently completed my first project for an overseas client and reckon I can now call myself an “international copywriter”.
What do you enjoy most?
Dancing, scuba diving and listening to live rock music. That’s also where I get my best ideas.
Recommend one book that copywriters should read, and say why. (It doesn’t have to be about copywriting.)
Can I choose two? My own books both reached top 10 in Amazon’s sales & marketing category – the ‘Little Fish Guide to DIY Marketing‘ and the ‘Little Fish Guide to Networking‘. The latter was nominated for a 2012 #bizbookaward for Small Business Trends, and ended up 11th in the marketing category. ‘The Little Fish Guide to Social Media’ and ‘The Little Fish Guide to Business Writing’ will follow.
How have things changed in the time you’ve been a copywriter?
My first typewriter couldn’t type the letter o. I had to type a c and fill in the rest with Biro. I ranted at my boss: “I’m a professional writer! I can’t be expected to work this way! If I throw the typewriter out of the window and it lands on someone’s company car, I can’t be held responsible!” They gave me an electronic typewriter, then an Amstrad. The ability to cut and paste paragraphs was like a miracle. I find it extraordinary that I now have access to the Internet, via three computers, two laptops and an iPhone.
If you could change one thing about your working life as a copywriter, what would it be?
RSI, thanks to too much typing over too many years.
What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened in your copywriting career?
Answering the phone to a Director at a well-known lingerie company who said: “Hello, how do you feel about sex toys?” I was tasked with writing catalogue copy and quality control manuals for them – and managed not to giggle at any of the briefing meetings I attended.
What single piece of advice would you give other copywriters?
A writer writes.