Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
Accidentally. I knew I wanted to be a writer from my early teens. I did my degree in English and history, during which I leaned heavily towards the English lit. and creative writing. I followed Clive James’s advice and read anything and everything that wasn’t on the syllabus.
In my final year, I contemplated my career choices. Starving-novelist-in-a-garret or some sort of gainful employment, no idea what that might be.
Then I saw an article about the copywriting course at Watford art college (the only one of its kind at the time). I applied, did a copy test and they offered me a place. I couldn’t quite believe someone would pay me to do this for a living. I still don’t – most days I still pinch myself.
What work are you most proud of?
The last job (a brand development project for a new utility company).
Ultimately, it’s about answering a client’s problem. That could be writing an effective brand story. Or coming up with an idea and words that resonate with the brand and the customer.
Taking that benchmark, my favourite line of copy I’ve written is: ‘When a Rolls-Royce drives down the street, the world stands still.’
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I saw a great line for Timberland recently: ‘You’re never going to be able to retire. Why should your boots?’
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
It doesn’t matter what you write, start. Open a book or the dictionary, pick a word at random and use it as a jumping-off point. Make it relevant to your subject matter somehow. It may be rubbish, it may be genius but until you start, you’ll never know.
I sing, put on silly voices, pretend I’m Hemingway, pretend I’m Jane Austen, pretend I’m Elvis. Whatever it takes to mess up the blank page.
Don’t panic, have fun.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Getting started (see above).
Any copywriting pet hates?
There’s no excuse – you must reward people for taking the time to read what you’ve written. You can make even the dullest subject compelling.
There was an ad campaign for Pilkington Glass with thought-provoking ads and commercials in the early 90s (not mine, sadly). My favourite headline from it read:
‘In every series of advertisements there is always one that appears less interesting than the others. This is that advertisement.’
You have to read on after that.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Always have an opinion.
It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong, but have a point of view. Be prepared to share it, discuss, defend and modify it. What you think might seem obvious to you but others may have missed it completely.
If we’re discussing a piece of work and you don’t have anything to say about it, it doesn’t help anyone.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read. Read. Read. Then read some more. Read everything. From great novels to the terms and conditions on rail tickets.
Think about what inspires you, what works, what made you want to read on and what made you react – whether you laughed, cried or smashed windows. Then apply that to your own writing.
Rewrite other people’s work and make it better. Compare your writing with what you’ve read.
Look at structure. Songwriters often take an existing song and mimic the structure or chord sequence. Then they put their spin on it and come up with something new.
Choose a piece of someone else’s copy you like, look at the structure and use that framework to build something that’s yours.
What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?
The variety and creativity the job brings and requires. I’ve been down coal mines, worked with billionaires and homeless teenagers. I’ve uncovered the secrets of luxury car production and learnt pretty much everything you’d ever need to know about tractors.
I also understand what makes Ultra High Net Worth Individuals tick. And I’ve travelled all over the world, but copywriting’s also taken me to some amazing places into my head.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I’m quite new here, but it’s a great place to promote yourself and your talents amongst other professionals. There’s a ton of great free advice and you’re never too experienced to learn something new. I’m interested to see where it takes me.
Where can people find out more about you?