Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’m not sure what else I could have chosen for a career because writing is one of the few things I’m good at. I badgered the editor of a magazine in Munich, where I lived at the time, to give me my first job.
So in 2003, I became an editorial assistant (after a stint as a skint intern). I was head-hunted to work as a writer and editor for another Munich-based publisher, and did a lot of freelance journalism on the side.
When I moved back to the UK in 2007, I got a job as publications officer at a university and later became communications manager. I started my copywriting company, Messagelab Communications, in 2012.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the work I did for World Animal Protection. I wrote a report about wildlife crime in London, and there was an accompanying exhibition held at City Hall in London. It was fantastic to see my words come to life alongside striking images. I also loved helping a former Premier League footballer with storytelling techniques for his new career in public speaking. I never thought I’d be talking narrative arcs with a footballer. I was very proud when he delivered his first talk. He’d really studied everything I taught him and it went down an absolute treat.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Any of The Economist’s adverts (Not all mind expanding substances are illegal / Think someone under the table / To err is human. To er, um, ah is unacceptable). Brilliant.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Step away from the computer. Make a cuppa. Take a walk. Bake bread. Watch trash TV. It’s always fine when I return to it later. In emergency situations – and only in emergencies – I listen to the theme tune from Rocky.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I love editing, and in particular, dramatically reducing word count. It always amazes me how many words I can lose and still keep the message (in fact, the message becomes stronger without all the clutter). I can’t think of a writing-related task I don’t like – probably the admin related to running a business.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Oh yes…waffle, jargon, bad grammar, blandness, overly formal writing, overuse of the exclamation mark, mixed metaphors, SEO keyword stuffing. That’s just for starters.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
‘Cut the crap.’ Perhaps that’s not quite how it was put to me, but that was the message. It was given by my dissertation tutor who was critiquing my short stories. He taught me about spare prose which has informed my writing style ever since, so it was inadvertent career advice. I think it’s a useful philosophy for life in general though; we don’t have time to waste, do we?
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read as much as you can (fiction and non-fiction), go to conferences, look at what other writers are doing and learn from them. Learn the craft of copywriting, and keep pushing yourself beyond what comes easily. Value the work you produce, and don’t undercharge. Trust your instincts with people and projects, and try to only take on work you feel positive about.