Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
My chemistry lecturer, the striking Dr MacDermott, was complaining one lunchtime that she trained people to work in science, only for them to go off and get a job in marketing. And that’s just what happened.
I was showing some university papers to my sister in law – who’s still a graphic designer at Plum in London – and she asked if I’d considered being a copywriter. I thought it was something to do with patents.
I got lucky with an agency interview and was straight into the good stuff with Toshiba air conditioning.
What work are you most proud of?
The new Jaguar Land Rover HR intranet site was a good one. Over 100 pages and hundreds of thousands of views so far. In terms of achieving business results – saving costs and improving workflow – it was acknowledged as a major success.
Oh, my creative director nearly phoned me up to say well done when I came up with ‘Les hôtels Accor? D’accord!’.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Has anyone nominated the classic 1960 VW ‘Lemon’ ad yet? I know it’s a bit Mad Men, but what a game changer.
Then there’s the Guiness ‘Surfer’ TV ad (“He waits…”). OK, it’s the concept, photography and editing as well as the script that makes the impact, but somehow the copy is a flourish of the writer’s wand.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
It rarely happens. If you know what you’re supposed to be saying the words are there. It’s about the message more than the medium, so if I lose focus I check my notes and make sure I understand the mission.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Favourite task is getting on with the writing when you’ve decided what you have to do. Approach and strategy can be a brick wall, so it’s good to get over that, settle on a direction, and get on with putting words on the page.
Least favourite? Trawling for work after a successful project.
Any copywriting pet hates?
I’m disappointed when I see indulgent copy that’s all about ‘us’ and not about the reader. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
In fact, who the heck’s reading this?
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Don’t be too outrageous when the business environment is conservative. However much your client thinks they want to stand out, ultimately you need to speak in a language the reader will know, like and trust.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Learn your craft patiently with great clients and great directors, and keep learning.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
Discovering something new. There are businesses out there doing stuff that makes so much sense, but you just didn’t know it was there. For a knowledge junkie like me it’s the best job in the world.
Why do you find PCN membership useful?
Writers need an organisation like the PCN. Writing is like building a fire: everyone thinks they can do it, but there’s a craft to creating a cheery bonfire, or a ceremonial pyre, or just embers for cooking. By using a structure like PCN we have the opportunity to quantify what it is we do for the client, and help them find the right professional for the job (rather than just chucking more petrol on it).
Where can people find out more about you?
Or of course my profile on Pro Copy Network.