Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
In my early twenties, I was teaching undergraduates at university in Los Angeles. Although it was initially thrilling to be living in a city of narcissists, life eventually became a little too Holly-weird for me and I found myself missing Bovril, Autumn mists and Match of the Day. Dewy-eyed with nostalgia one particular day, I spoke to a copywriting friend in England who told me I could do the job. So I called his bluff.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m quite pleased with a Boris Bikes poster written in the style of the Mayor and a filthy mailer for Club 18-30. But the best is probably the below-the-line launch of Change4Life. Behaviour change marketing is the most satisfying to do and the campaign thrives to this day, helped by the Prime Minister’s seal of approval.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Much as I love slick, fast-talking US spots like Old Spice, Career Builder and dollarshaveclub.com, I’ve tweeted a poster from a UK recruitment campaign for social workers instead. Beautifully illustrated by Dave McKean, the copy wears its research lightly and tells a powerful story in just 100 brief words.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Take time out. Have a glass of Château Dysentery, go for a walk or watch YouTube clips (not necessarily in that order).
If I’ve no time to take out, I ask myself if my copy were a character from fiction who would it be? Then try and continue as if that person were speaking.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
A lot of copy follows the traditional formula of a beginning, a muddle and an end. I like planning ahead so I don’t fluff my lines when I come to write. Experience tells me when I’m ready; over-thinking it can kill the spontaneity of your copy.
Least favourite task? Chasing payment can be a pain, especially in this city where it’s not dog eat dog, it’s dog doesn’t return other dog’s phone calls.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Self-indulgence. Don’t get me wrong, putting yourself into your work is a good thing. But it’s ultimately more about advocacy and building a case than promoting yourself. I was once told by a Creative Director, ‘We all know how clever you are; how clever is the product?’ He was right. The best copy should be like a window pane. Don’t fog it up with needless verbiage. Yes, that is a euphemism.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
‘Never move for money. Always move for opportunity.’ There will be a point in your career where you can work for less and build a portfolio that can increase your market value substantially. After that you can think about money.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Connive, convince, con or cajole your way into the best places to learn your craft. (Maybe go easy on the alliteration once you’re there.) I took my own advice and spent four years next door to Rory Sutherland, two of the cleverest people I know.