Dave Harland

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

I loved writing as a kid, excelled at English at school and did a degree in journalism, where I learned to write professionally. I worked on a football website for a few months after graduation before getting a job as web content editor back at UCLan where I studied.

I was writing about the courses, doing student profiles and working on web banners to persuade people to study there. It immediately felt easier than staying impartial, and even though I’d never heard of copywriting at that point, I stumbled across an in-house role at another company.

Ten years later, I’ve built up the skills, experience, and the biggy – confidence – to go it alone, so I went full time freelance 3 months ago, as The Word Man.

What work are you most proud of?

I started doing some freelance bits in my spare time about 2 years ago, and it was my first project as a freelancer that I still look back on with a smile on my face. It was web copy for a new IT company in Dubai, and they wanted a tone of voice that was entirely different to their competitors.

I went for a completely plain English approach, with a dash of humour and loads of metaphors so the owners of new start-ups in the region weren’t bamboozled by the techno-guff you usually see on IT sites. I’ve stuck a piece about it in my portfolio.

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

The BBC iPlayer’s first ever slogan: Making the unmissable, unmissable. It’s just perfect. And as twee as it is, Innocent still make me laugh the way they cover every inch of their packaging with lovely human words – one of their smoothies has “stop looking at my bottom” on the base. Love that.

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

I just try to plough on with whatever’s next on the list, having the confidence that something will pop into my head later on in the day when I least expect it. Ideas can come to me in the shower, in the car, or when I’m out riding my bike. And often inspired by a sign on a van, or an advert on the radio.

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

I most enjoy simplifying the complex. I work with clients who’ve written copy themselves, and it’s nearly always far too long, with lots of corporate waffle, and a hundred and one bullet points. So there’s nothing I like more than summarising 500 words into two 40-word paragraphs which convey the benefit quicker, easier and more digestible than before.

Least favourite: Stuff that has no real meaning but the client wants it to sound “creative”. I like writing tangible stuff that feels real and that you can instantly believe, so to write lines that I don’t connect with just feels wrong. But hey, if it pays my gas bill, I’ll be as conceptual as you like.

Any copywriting pet hates?

Clients who amend your copy themselves before go-live, without requesting amends first. You feel like going “mate, why did you even pay me to do it in the first place if you were gonna ruin it, then publish it?”

Doesn’t happen often but when it does, grrrrr.

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

I did some copywriting courses at the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing  – which is great if you’re looking to hone your copywriting skills – and one of the tutors Paul Chuter was critiquing some sales letters that the class had written. He told us “People don’t want to know how proud you are about your company. They want to know how you’ll change their life.”

So I try to take this approach every time I write copy.

Lead with the benefits and add the sycophantic stuff in at the end if you absolutely have to.

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

Be nice, be honest, and be yourself.

Clients do business with people they like, and they refer people they’re confident won’t ruin their reputation. Also keep it simple – everything from your website and portfolio to the way you write. And if you’re a little unsure about what you’re writing about, never be afraid of asking a dumb question.

What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?

Doing something I love for a living. I can do it anywhere, choose my own hours (as a freelancer), and playing a game of Scrabble in my downtime isn’t a waste of time.

Why do you find PCN membership useful?

It’s fantastic having such a well-run resource available, with so many like-minded people keen to offer help and advice at any time. There’s so much information available that can help you if you’re looking to make the jump from in-house to freelance like I did.

Where can people find out more about you?

Visit my website
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