PCN Copywriting Conference 2014 review

Tom Albrighton

ABC Copywriting

On Friday 26 September, we held our second annual conference, once again at Haberdashers’ Hall in London.

Over 150 copywriters, marketers and clients came along to learn and chat about many different aspects of copywriting, from psychology and consumer behaviour to storytelling, tone of voice, writing headlines and freelancing.

Haberdashers’ Hall in Smithfield. Much nicer on the inside…

It was another fantastic day, and we’ve been bowled over by the positive response. Comments have included ‘great event with lots of variety of speakers and topics,’ ‘great speakers, wonderful organisation, very interesting topics’ and ‘very well organised, great opportunity to meet new people’. At the same time, several delegates suggested areas for improvement – rest assured we are listening, and we’ll be acting on as many of them as we can.

Tim Rich
The serious business of stories, or the battle against abstraction

As I said in my introduction, Tim is one of the most interesting writers I know. He works with some of the world’s biggest brands, and he helps them at their most testing times – writing to save a reputation, not just sell a product.

Tim Rich analyses Innocent’s brand story

Beginning with some fine examples of the ubiquity of ‘storytelling’, Tim went on to look at what, in his view, makes a story really a story. The three key elements are challenge, action and transformation – a sense of risk or danger, a resolve to meet the challenge and an outcome that is somehow new or different.

Tim also exhorted us to be less like George and more like Zippy. For those too young to remember Rainbow, he meant that if we truly want our clients’ communications to be more honest and authentic, we need to speak up and challenge them a bit more.

Rory Sutherland
Behavioural economics, or what copywriters have always known but sometimes found hard to explain

Few people in the ad industry have done more to illuminate the science of selling than Rory. Using a blizzard of real-world examples, he showed how tiny tweaks could reframe decisions and nudge people in a new direction.

For example, Alka-Seltzer’s ‘Plink, plink, fizz’ is, on the face of it, a slightly silly onomatopeic slogan that, while memorable, seems to promise no benefit. But as Rory explained, the implication that you took two tablets rather than one was enough to increase sales by an incredible 70%. With just three little words, those ads completely reframed the way the product was used.

Rory Sutherland entertains while he educates

Many of Rory’s examples weren’t to do with marketing as such, but with the end-to-end experience of buying and using the product. His point is that powerful changes can happen anywhere, and that therefore creatives and agencies should apply their knowledge far more broadly than they currently do. And he also echoed Tim’s point about ‘being more Zippy’ – we need the confidence to defy the ‘arithmocrats’ and assert that ‘soft’ skills like psychology and persuasion are just as relevant and important as hard data.

Dr Jillian Ney
Storytelling from social intelligence

For lots of us, copywriting is a fairly solitary game. I deal with many clients solely by email, and their brief to me is all I have to guide my work. Working that way, it’s easy to feel distant from those you’re ostensibly writing for.

Jill’s talk was a salutary call to leave our ivory towers and understand what people ‘out there’ are really thinking about the products we write about. Using data gleaned from social sites, her company Disruptive Insight can shine a light on what people are actually saying about brands, events and causes, giving fascinating insights into what and how they think.

Dr Jillian explains how social intelligence shows brands in a new light

One of her most telling examples was BMW, which sees itself as ‘the ultimate driving machine’ but is actually regarded by car buyers as much more family-oriented. It raises the question of how many other brands have aspirations that are completely out of tune with people’s thoughts – and what they’d have to do to bring them into harmony.

Breakout training sessions

Delegates could choose from four breakout sessions, on tone of voice (Sandra Franklin of Wordtree), psychology (Bill Hilton, and colleagues from Bangor University), writing headlines (Ros Sinclair) and earning more money from freelancing (Andy Maslen).

Many delegates indicated they would have liked to attend more than one session, and this is something we’ll almost certainly introduce next year.

Sandra Franklin of Wordtree teaches the essentials of tone of voice

Delegates grappling with the whisky-based headline challenge in Ros Sinclair’s breakout session

(L-R) Philip Nelson, Eleanor Heather and Bill Hilton explain the psychology of copywriting

Andy Maslen shows delegates how to up their freelancing rates

The rest of the day

As last year, there was plenty of opportunity throughout the day (and in the pub afterwards) to meet people you only knew online and have a good old chinwag about the copywriting life. I never have enough time to say hello to everyone I know.

As we said on the day, we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who came, as well as Andrew Dec and his team, our sponsors and supporters (Mynewsdesk, Policybee, IDM, CIPR and CMA), all the staff at the venue and Absolute Audio Visual. Now it all starts over again – so put Friday 9 October 2015 in your diary and we’ll see you next year!

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