Chris Alden

PRO

2 February 2016

Chris Alden

Chris AldenWhy did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?

I crossed over into copywriting from journalism, so for me it wasn’t so much about ‘getting into copywriting’ as deciding the moment to rebrand as a copywriter.

I’d written advertorials for national newspapers on behalf of some major brands, so moving into ‘pure’ copywriting was the natural next step.

I’m glad I made the leap. My broadsheet journalism background has led me to ‘explainer’ copywriting on topics such as business, technology, finance and travel – and I have a more diverse client list than I did when I was a journalist.

What work are you most proud of?

I like interviewing and I like big ideas, so I enjoyed writing profiles of business authors for a Grant Thornton magazine aimed at CEOs. Here’s an example of one of the pieces, which featured business author Dan Heath.

What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?

In last year’s annual report for global advertising group WPP, somewhere between the KPIs and the governance statements, Jeremy Bullmore writes an essay about the much-overlooked role of intuition in brand strategy.

I’d love to have written that – because without directly saying so, the article sells the idea (at least to me) that WPP still values human intelligence and creativity, even in a data-driven, technocratic world.

‘Thought leadership’ is an overused term but this is a good example of its value. And yes, it’s copywriting.

What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?

For me, the procrastination bug doesn’t strike when I have something to write, but it hits hard when I have something to transcribe.

That’s when I make a spreadsheet of all the tasks I have to do, in order of urgency and importance – knowing full well that ‘go and do some exercise’ will be task number one and ‘transcribe that interview’ will be task number two.

What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?

I enjoy copy-editing. I find writing more fun when I have something on the page to work with – and I’m always more motivated when deadlines are near.

As I say, I dislike transcribing. But I’m beginning to accept that ‘learn shorthand’ will stay at the bottom of my to-do list for good.

Any copywriting pet hates?

My pet hate is when institutions – often banks – don’t include up-front details about how their products work.

Imagine, for example, you have an account in which you must pay a certain amount per month to earn a certain level of interest, or can make a certain number of withdrawals per month to avoid fees.

So far, so simple. But what does a ‘month’ mean? A calendar month? A monthly period from the day that you applied for the account? A monthly period from the day that the bank approved your application? Different banks do different things.

So you shouldn’t gloss over details such as these – because they make the difference between a happy customer and one who’s leaving because they didn’t get the service they expected.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

When I was on work experience, a magazine editor told me to put my phone number at the bottom of a letter when prospecting for work.

This was nearly 20 years ago, so email hadn’t yet taken hold in the workplace – but even in a digital age, it remains good advice.

Only years later did I come to know it as a call to action!

What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?

I’d tell people to write, write and write some more – because that’s the only way you become a student of how words work.

Don’t restrict yourself to tweets and blog posts: learn how to write landing pages, emails, news articles, features, roundups, interviews, Q&As, research reports, brochures, headlines, sells, trails, captions, reviews, calls to action and more.

I think content structure is the most overlooked part of copywriting. If you’re in command of structure, you can use it as the basis to organise your thoughts, ask the right questions, guide the reader through the journey, and meet the client’s goals.