When and how did you become a copywriter? What did you do before?
I first started writing copy for the web when I was working in music radio and became editor of Radio 2’s country music website. After that I moved to ITV.com, and then went freelance as a web editor, working mainly for Magic FM and on the Yahoo! UK homepage team. Knowing I could write web content, more and more people began to approach me to ask me to write copy for their sites.
What made you want to be a copywriter?
I’ve always loved reading, I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loved language. So there’s no better way for me to earn my living than by doing something editorial. But as much as I’d describe myself as a copywriter, I’m also a content producer, web editor, blogger, journalist…in fact at one point on my business cards I used to put the all-purpose phrase ‘We do words’.
What types of copywriting do you do, and for what clients?
I specialise in writing for the web, so I’ll do anything from a simple homepage to working with designers and developers to create the copy for a whole website redesign. Over the years there has been so much variety – from household names like Yahoo!, Aol, BBC, ITV, Toshiba to small businesses in design, tech, marketing, finance, charity, education and more. The sectors are different but principles of good copywriting are the same.
What do you enjoy most?
I do lots of one-off jobs, but what I really like is developing long-term relationships with clients so I can keep on producing the content; writing blog posts, updating the news and homepage, and looking after social media platforms.
What sort of working setup do you have?
I’ve just moved to a lovely new office based over a luxury spa and treatment centre in the centre of the cathedral city of Ely in Cambridgeshire. Parts of the building date back to the 16th century and it has a very calm, serene feel (and smells nice too!)
What one book should copywriters read, and why? (Not necessarily about copywriting.)
I really like Essential English for Journalists, Editors and Writers by former Sunday Times editor Harold Evans. It was first published in 1972 and while the focus is on writing for print newspapers at the time, so many of the principles can be applied to modern writing. It’s a really good read with plenty of clear examples to back it all up.
How have things changed in the time you’ve been a copywriter? What’s better, and what’s worse?
The other day I worked on site with a client and was introduced to the office as the copywriter… I’d like to think that after five series of Mad Men this title has an elevated status but I’m probably imagining it! But as well as becoming a more common and respected term, the advance of social media has enabled a sense of community that was perhaps missing before, particularly in an industry where lots of people work remotely from their clients – and sometimes from other humans.
What are you most proud of in your copywriting career?
I’m fond of the headlines I wrote for the Yahoo! homepage, for example “Stop! Hammer time” for a news item about the rise of DIY accidents over the bank holiday. And then there was “Bono, where’s yer troosers” when U2’s assistant was in court accused of stealing clothing and other personal items from the band.
And on a more serious note, I was on Yahoo! homepage duty on 7/7 and the day Jean Charles de Menezes was shot – there was so much information coming in from different sources and it was even more essential than usual that the copy I was writing was fast, accurate and in the right tone. When a couple of people higher up the ladder said I’d done a good job it meant a lot.
If you could change one thing about your working life as a copywriter, what would it be?
I’d have liked to have spent less time over the last year taking people to court. Some people have behaved very badly indeed, and it’s frustrating to have to waste time on this when all my other clients are so lovely.
What advice would you give other copywriters?
Always, always get a contract at the beginning that outlines the brief. Say what you’re going to do, and what you’re not going to do. This is how you find out that the client is assuming you’re writing 20 pages while you thought it was just a homepage. Getting this sorted at the beginning can save so much pain later.
Even when you’re writing for the web, try printing the thing off and editing or writing the copy by hand. A little voice in my head cries, “but what about the printing costs!” Then I remember that on a £1000 job, 5p on printing isn’t really a problem and will actually help me do it better.
Lastly, the best way to beat creative block is to walk away from it and do something else. My best straplines have come to me when I’m making a cup of tea. Or I listen to a radio station I don’t like or read a magazine on a topic in which I have zero interest. It shakes your brain up somehow.
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Plus you can find out about her Sweet Retweets workshops in writing for social media at http://www.sweetretweets.co.uk