Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I was always ‘the writer in the family’ but I’d never considered writing as a career. I thought it was journo-or-nothing, and I didn’t want to be a journo. I graduated from Durham University with a 1.1 in English Literature, then did the sensible thing and went to drive a truck for a year.
Truck-driving is not my forte.
We were all relieved when I moved to London to work in recruitment. I came to copywriting via the backdoor, through headhunt and business development emails. It was a revelation, seeing in practice how valuable words can be. The rest is history.
What work are you most proud of?
I’m really proud of the work I’m doing right now, with a client called Softcat.
Working with content agency, ContentETC, we’re transforming their recruitment communications across every channel. It’s been very strategic. We’re repositioning Softcat’s employer brand to better reflect their offering, helping them meet aggressive growth targets.
I’m proud that we’re having such a tangible impact on their recruitment efforts, and I’m proud to be part of the team helping Softcat grow. They genuinely have a very unique, special culture – it feels like we’re helping them do themselves justice.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Allow me a moment of cliché but it’s got to be Caples, “They laughed when I sat down at the piano – but when I started to play!”
It’s an utterly fantastic bit of writing. He had an acute understanding of what makes humans tick. It’s an incredible example of how psychology should inform copy.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
It depends how much time pressure I’m under. You have to be kind to yourself. Some days, you just need a break.
You need to drink wine and watch Netflix and not think about work. It’s normal for me to work 10-hour days, 7-day weeks, so you have to temper that with the ability to hit the F-It button occasionally.
That’s probably not the answer you wanted. If I’m on a deadline and can’t take time out, then I’ll do what most people do. Take an hour, go to the gym. Read. Breathe deeply and work through it.
You know what though? Writer’s block is an early symptom of burnout. Lack of creativity, lack of inspiration – they’re terminal for a writer. Making time to be kind to yourself (wine optional) makes you better at what you do.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I love direct response copywriting. I love the challenge of having nowhere to hide. I love the science of sales copy; how you can wrap words around time-proven psychological principles and get people to take action. It’s like a superpower, when you get it right.
What else? I love working with brave brands. I love developing TOV. I love writing websites. I really, truly, passionately love being a copywriter! If there’s anything I don’t love, I don’t do it. I’m lucky to be in a position to choose who I work with – if there’s not a ‘fit’ there, it won’t work for either party.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Bad copywriters. Good-but-arrogant copywriters. People who don’t constantly strive to get to the top of their game.
If you want to move away from the corporate 9-5, it’s de rigeur to set up shop as a freelance copywriter.
PCN Members excluded, I’ve seen a lot of terminally average copywriters who give us all a bad name.
I’m all for anyone chasing their dreams. A lot of people become copywriters because they want the lifestyle though, not because they want to write. That’s the wrong way around. If writing is your passion, you’ll never be average because you’ll do whatever it takes to become exceptional.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
As a consistent academic high-performer, I felt like an abysmal failure after I left recruitment. It knocked me for six.
My dad sat down with me, and explained that failure is OK. That everyone fails. He also explained that fate works in mysterious ways, and you have to take a prod when you’re given one.
That stuck with me. I really believe in listening to yourself; you know if you’re doing the right thing for you. If you’re on the right path, things have a habit of falling into place.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Always exceed expectation.
Always look for ways to be better, and to add more value. Be humble, and approachable, and willing to learn – but willing to stand your corner too.
Absorb everything. Read constantly. Learn constantly. Ask questions. And if that sounds like hard work, leave. You’re not cut out for it.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
Oh, god. I love all of it.
Where can people find out more about you?