Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I started out as an account manager in corporate comms, and I always got asked to do the writing. Writing was my favourite part of the job, so I eventually moved into a full copywriting role.
I worked agency side for many years, and now have my own freelance business.
What work are you most proud of?
I specialise in B2B and am most proud when I’m able to take a complex proposition and distil it into clear, compelling copy.
On the flip side, I find the job most frustrating when, despite my best efforts, I’m unable to get the client to move away from jargon and meaningless puffery.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I love The Economist adverts, particularly the one that’s a fake testimonial from the management trainee, aged 42.
Another article in my swipe file is one a manufacturing client gave me a few years ago. It’s from an old diecasting textbook he had from his college days. The language and message are so clear. I often use it to illustrate that you don’t have to speak in technical gibberish to convey a technical point.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
First, I look for quotes from the customer persona. I look in places like online forums, book reviews and article comments. That helps get my head into the customer’s voice, goals and challenges.
Second, I get out my swipe file to seek inspiration from the greats.
I also use lots of templates to help me get started. That way I can get something on the page quickly, which has a snowball effect on my flow.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite is editing – when I’ve got the first draft done and can start the strategic work around ordering messages and refining language.
My least favourite is having to weaken copy with phrases like ‘leading’ that don’t mean anything, because the client insists.
Any copywriting pet hates?
When people start copy with lines like ‘I’m pleased to tell you’ or ‘I’m delighted to announce’.
Why does the reader care how you feel?
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
This is more copywriting advice than career advice, but for me they’re linked because advancing my career has involved becoming a better writer.
I have two post-it notes above my desk:
- Continue the conversation in the reader’s head
- Get them to read the next sentence
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Get a mentor and/or read lots of copywriting books.
Because anyone can sit in front of a keyboard, people often think there’s little technique involved in copywriting. Thus, you need a thorough understanding of what makes writing persuasive. Writing talent will only take you so far when you need to be able to justify your approach (and your fee).