Sue Keogh — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight Revisited

How has your business changed since your first Member Spotlight interview?

Wow, that was back in 2012. Quite a lot!

My digital marketing agency, Sookio, just turned ten and we now have our own ‘creative hub’ in the groovy end of town in Cambridge. We have a team of four full-time copywriters, content creators and strategists, plus our partners in video,
animation and web design in the building and solid relationships with freelancers in SEO and design. Hopefully, we’ll grow a little more in the coming year – signs are good.

Copywriting is still very much at the core of what we’re doing though. That hasn’t changed. The focus is always going to be on digital content.

What’s been your biggest success since your first Member Spotlight interview?

I think it’s the way we’ve developed into a really solid agency. We know what we’re about, what we offer, where our core skills lie. And the mix of retainer contracts and ad hoc projects, coupled with the spread of services across copywriting, social
media, video, design plus strategy and training, means that we don’t have all our eggs in one basket.

But it’s a balance though; we’re not saying we’re a full-service agency, because that would be spreading ourselves too thin. We’ve broadened our scope but refined it at the same time – offering more types of content along with the strategy and training,
but still limiting it to content itself, rather than pretending we’re a PR agency or want to build your website.

Why did you decide to focus on the kind of work you’re doing now?

I’ve always enjoyed communications and I’ve always enjoyed creating content. I actually started out in radio, helping produce music-based documentaries, series and live broadcasts for BBC Radio 2, all of which gave me a really solid grounding in
creating quality content.

From there I made the move into digital, at a time when the industry was only just taking shape – and despite all the different changes over the last few years, a common thread running through it is how we can create the content that people will want to read, watch or respond to in some way.

With copywriting in particular, I always enjoyed writing to the different formats. Take writing homepage content for Yahoo and Aol; there’s a bit of an art to crafting the perfect witty headline, the accompanying two lines of text and getting it all to fit in
such a limited space.

Oh, and finding just the right image that brings it all together and doing all this in a very short space of time, like when the final whistle has just blown in a World Cup match or during an escalating news story.

Whereas homepage copy for a business website is a totally different beast. Or product descriptions. Or blog posts. I like the variety of it all – the different formats, the different clients, the different sectors.

Whenever we advertise for a new member of the team I always say that every day is different at our place, and I’m not making it up!

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

Following on from above, it’s the variety of it. People come to us with very different needs. Some clients want us to write their copy and manage their social media, whereas others have a really good in-house team and just need support with strategy and training.

Some people want to get on the first page of Google; others never mention SEO at all! Some people are already active on the web and social media and just need a helping hand to get it just right, whereas others come to us saying, “Help! I don’t know where to start!”

What I like doing is drawing on all of our expertise across so many different sectors and businesses of different shapes and sizes, and coming up with the content and strategy that we know is going to work.

What are you working on just now?

Lots of projects going on right now! We’re kicking off a series of white papers we’re writing and designing for a leading scientific institution…we’re filming a software demo for a tech company…I’m doing some training with the University of Cambridge on writing for the web and email marketing…then there’s the ongoing contract with a new recruitment agency who find jobs for ex-military people.

Lots of variety, as I say!

Describe the view from your window

We look out over Mill Road in Cambridge, which is a lively part of town and not the bit you see in the traditional touristy images of the city.

It’s a big, light and airy room with high windows and murals of trees. Behind where I sit there are a couple of birds flying across the wall. It’s the sort of creative space I’ve always wanted.

Tell us about your side projects

The thing we’re currently trying to get off the ground is Sookio School. The training we do is very bespoke and typically for large organisations, but we have a steady stream of people coming to us who are one-man bands with no budget, who still need to get to grips with digital marketing. Sookio School is a series of bitesize courses they will be able to follow online from wherever they are in the world.

It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a very long time, but unfortunately, it’s taking us longer to launch than we expected because we’re doing it properly. It’s filmed at HQ, with high production values, loads of screengrabs layered over the top to demonstrate what I’m talking about, onscreen text… it’s not just a case of me droning away over a PowerPoint presentation!
And then once that’s launched we can finally get round to tackling the Sookio website, which is in need of a facelift!

How has your writing process evolved?

Nowadays, I don’t work on the day-to-day projects; I give constructive feedback and look at everything before it goes out. I’m more involved with developing people rather than the actual writing itself nowadays.

However, I do write for the company blog and have got into LinkedIn posts, both of which give me the opportunity to write in a relaxed style, drawing on personal experience, rather than to a tight brief (which is a bit of a luxury!)

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

Can I talk about something they should be less honest about? I get a bit fed up with client bashing in public – I don’t think it reflects well on people who do this on LinkedIn or their website, it risks comes across as arrogant.

I don’t mean you should put up with clients being difficult or not paying. But sometimes the issue is actually with you!

Maybe you haven’t clarified the brief at the beginning, maybe you haven’t outlined your payment terms or got a deposit up front, maybe you went into the kick-off meeting with assumptions about their tone of voice and didn’t listen when they explained it wouldn’t work for their audience.

So, I think some copywriters need to be more honest with themselves. If problems keep on happening, then maybe you need to change your processes or find diplomatic ways of educating the client. Moaning about it publicly is only going to put people off working with you.

What advice do you often hear given to newbies, but you don’t agree with? Why?

It’s not so much advice, but I have a real dislike of the trend for unpaid internships in the creative industries. It’s hard enough to know how to place a value on your work as it is, particularly when you’re just starting out. Having to go and work for free
really doesn’t help matters.

For employers, you’re shooting yourselves in the foot by limiting yourself only to people who can afford to come and work for you. Sometimes when I go to events for the ad industry I look round and it’s not just the sea of white faces I notice, but the lack of diversity in class background too.

As copywriters, we bring all our experiences to the page, and I think it’s important to encourage people from all walks of life to get into the industry. So, back to the question: whatever your upbringing, gender, age or skin tone, please forge ahead with your dream of becoming a copywriter – the industry will always need you.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

I’ve been doing this a long time, but I still get caught out when a new client says a project has to kick off, like, yesterday. My instinct is always a bit, “Right! Drop everything! Let’s get moving!”

But half the time, various people have to sign it off, then someone goes on holiday, then we tweak the brief, and it doesn’t actually start in earnest for two months.

I also find that if you say to someone, “Yes, we can do this…but not until next week,” the world doesn’t stop turning. It’s actually a positive sign that you’re a) in demand and b) managing your time properly. I think it comes from my freelance days, when I was post-redundancy, post- pregnancy, post-working in London, and I felt like it wasn’t as easy as work just landing in your lap.

But whatever the reason for it, I need to remember that it’s OK to pause for breath before starting a new project, and it’ll actually benefit everyone in the long term.

What’s something about your work that makes your inner copywriting nerd happy, but you’re not able to chat about enough?

I just get a really satisfying feeling when I see good copy when I’m out and about.

We have a Pinterest board on copywriting inspiration where we put this kind of stuff. So it might be a sharply written ad on the Underground, or witty packaging design when I’m in the supermarket. I just really enjoy it, it gives me a lift! Particularly when they’ve got the hyphens in the right place (sorry).

What do you think?

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