Alasdair Murray

When and how did you become a copywriter? What did you do before?

I became a freelance copywriter back in 2001. Prior to that I was a ‘suit’ – an Account Director for a leading recruitment marketing/advertising agency, having spent several years in client services and worked for a number of different agencies along the way.

Funnily enough though, the first ad agency job I applied for was for the role of Copywriter, but, because my background was gained in newspapers – I worked in classified ad departments for a regional and a national newspaper – they decided I would be better off being an account handler, or to give it its proper job title at the time, ‘Senior Account Administrator’. So that was that! Or so I thought.

During my time at agencies I worked on a number of recruitment advertising accounts, including the BBC, who at the time spent around £1.5m a year on their recruitment advertising, as well as leading recruitment consultancies like Robert Half (to give you an idea of their spend, I headed up a team of four that worked solely on that business) and various divisions of Reed, as well as many niche recruitment consultancies, particularly in IT and telecoms.

What made you want to be a copywriter?

Originally, I applied for a copywriting job whilst working for a newspaper as I’d written many ads during my time, often on the fly over the phone by extracting the information from the client there and then. I felt as though it would be a natural progression. As I say though, my initial application ended up with me spending quite a few years as an ad agency suit instead and briefing writers and art directors, rather than being one of the creative team myself.

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

These days I do a lot more than recruitment, although that remains a big part of my role. Recruitment writing is a lot more involved than the common misconception that it’s just about knocking out some dull text for a 10 x 2 for the local rag or cut-and-pasting a job description onto the web. Fortunately there are relatively few copywriters who can claim to specialise in it, so as long as there is a market for it, I’ll be one of the people who not only specialises in it today, but has also lived and breathed recruitment in various forms over the past 20 years.

When not writing web content with a recruitment bent or honing some copy for a the careers section of an employers website, you might find me writing a newsletter for a motor dealership or a prospectus for a college or even a YouTube script for an online gaming company (one of the more novel jobs I got hired for).

What do you enjoy most?

Coming up with copy that is in the style and tone the client has been looking for but failed to find. Cracking a few headlines, taglines or a campaign idea. Finding an angle on which to base the entire content of a website – all of these give me pleasure. In short, being creative rather than churning out purely factual pieces.

What sort of working setup do you have?

I work from home, and have done for the past 11 years. For most of them I have juggled house husbandry with writing. I have often been known to change a baby’s bum one moment and focus on headlines for an ad for a rocket scientist the next – but thankfully those days are over, with my boys at school and nursery.

What one book should copywriters read, and why? (Not necessarily about copywriting.)

I think copywriters should read all sorts of books, and regularly too. I recently had bookshelves specially built just to house my collection of over 400. I am a terrible hoarder. I can’t just read it and give it to the charity shop. I tend to buy the books from the charity shop.

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

The rates have gone down, certainly in recruitment spheres. I used to pay more to commission writers when I was a suit than I can actually command myself 12 years later for the same sort of work. In terms of changes for the better – lifestyle. No commute. No rigid hours. I get to see my family every day. I can even sneak out for a cheeky round of golf midweek if I fancy, so long as I put in the hours maybe a half day at the weekend, to make up for it and to achieve that Monday morning deadline that a full-time in-house writer can’t.

What are you most proud of in your copywriting career?

Never, ever having been off brief. No rewrites, other than when the client has come along and changed the brief as an afterthought. I can honestly say I have never, ever had a disappointed customer.

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

I’d like a guarantee about regular work coming along! Things tend to work out each month but there are times when a couple of clients go quiet and I wonder if it’s a sign of things to come with all the uncertainty of these austere times. Thankfully, something always turns up, but unlike a regular employee, I never know what my pay cheque is going to be at the end of the month.

What advice would you give other copywriters?

Read, listen and write, not just for business, but for pleasure too.

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