Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I didn’t actually know what a copywriter was until I saw the job ad in the paper. I graduated university with a history degree, a burning desire not to teach, and a nagging feeling that I should write for a living. Marketing had never occurred to me.
Two samples, an interview and eight months as a junior copywriter later, I knew I never wanted to do anything else.
Obviously I then went and spent two years as an SEO before getting back into full-time copywriting.
What work are you most proud of?
It’d be easy to say that I love the A-Team themed audio adverts in my portfolio, because I enjoyed writing them for so much, and they met the client’s brief so perfectly.
But copywriting isn’t about enjoyment – it’s about results. So I’d have to say it’s the first batch of sales pitch emails I wrote for my last 9-5 employer. Seeing the conversion rates go up and up was just really satisfying.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Does anyone else ever do that thing where you mentally re-write adverts you see on buses and trains? I do that all the time. My wife wasn’t happy that we missed our tube stop on our last trip to London because I was critiquing a charity advert… Anyway, that’s relevant because every now and then I see a really striking ad for a charity and just get jealous of the way they use emotion and effective calls-to-action. The NSPCC’s ‘Full Stop.’ campaign was just beautiful.
And for a good cause too. Whoever wrote that deserves a pat on the back.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
You can’t think around writer’s block consciously. I just read all of the research, the brief, and a few competitors sites. Then I ignore everything, fire up the Xbox, go for a jog, or move onto something else.
Inspiration loves to strike in the shower when you have no pen, or when you’re 3-2 up on NHL 15 and have to forfeit the game to scribble it all down!
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I absolutely love the first draft. That open white space that you get to fill with unrefined ideas. It’s just full of possibilities, isn’t it?
Conversely, I could really live without that feeling when you’ve hit ‘send’ on the first draft and you suddenly realise you’re a charlatan, your shower ideas are terrible, and you should be teaching 13 year olds about Henry VIII instead of trying to write for a living.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Copying iconic ideas. I hate it. It’s one of those things that customers think they’ll like but never actually do.
I had a client once who was adamant that he needed an on-hold marketing script done in the style of the M&S food adverts. He wouldn’t listen to any alternatives, and was dead set on a straight-laced version. With his industry, it might just have flown as a parody, but he wasn’t interested in that.
Needless to say, after hearing “This is not just a hi-vis jacket…” he was a bit more open to our ideas.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Every client deserves your best work.
When you’re young and starting out, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that creativity is this finite resource to be husbanded for the big projects, and that smaller clients can make do with by-the-book copy full of stock phrases.
I was disabused of that notion by two of the best writers I’ve ever worked with (hello, Chrissy and Matt, if you’re reading). The more creative you are, the more creative you get. So make sure you put the same effort in for a small client spending a few quid as you do for that blue chip company paying for your next car.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read. Read everything.
Once a week, buy two papers – not just the one whose biases match yours, and read them cover to cover. See how different writers use language in different ways. And don’t skip the adverts. Why is that ad in the food column of The Times, but this one next to the Guardian’s opinion piece on sexual politics? What phrases are these columnists using to play on emotions and preconceptions? Why do sports sub editors have so much fun?
If you don’t take the time to read, you’re writing in a vacuum. Every single word you write is competing for attention with news stories, other adverts, family anecdotes on Facebook, cat videos… You need to know how and why all of these things grab attention, and then work out how you can grab that attention for your client.