Paul Allen — Member Spotlight Revisited

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

We’ve moved further away from gun-for-hire copywriting and more into brand language and creative campaign work. We’ve grown. And we have a demanding, but very talented, coffee machine.

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

Personally, I took on a side-project – writing The Ethical Careers Guide: how to find work you love, which was published last year. A touch ambitious to combine with the day job, but rewarding.

For Lark, we’ve developed very strong relationships with some of our charity clients. I think you need to retain an outsider’s perspective but – by completing so many projects for one organisation – you really understand how they work. That’s invaluable.

We’ve also started a new relationship with the alcohol education charity Drinkaware – and are looking forward to tackling some of their content and creative challenges.

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

Well, a lot of core brand content – like messaging, vision/values, tone of voice – can feel abstract and meaningless. And even when it’s well written, this stuff can seem so far removed from someone’s actual job.

So it’s enjoyable to create something authentic and inspiring, which also feels relevant and practical to everyone in the organisation.

By bringing more creative design in-house, we’ve also started working a bit more like a traditional ad agency. Our writers think visually anyway, and good content obviously needs words and design to work together.

What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?

We do work with private sector brands, but quite a few of our clients are charities, and it’s rewarding to work on projects that you feel will make a positive difference to people’s lives.

What are you working on just now?

Right now in the studio: copywriting for an alcohol and drug misuse charity here in Brighton, e-learning materials and creative for Drinkaware, a Christmas appeal for Crohn’s and Colitis UK.

Describe your desk and what’s on it

An open MacBook Air connected to a monitor. Anglepoise lamp. Two bananas. Pile of papers. Water. Some fancy Blackwing pencils bought for me as a gift.

Tell us about your side projects

Writing fiction. Getting better at the piano.

How has your writing process evolved?

I’m not sure. I’ve always found writing quite instinctive – even the more structural elements.

I’ve probably learned to be a better critic. I think you have to always back yourself to be a good writer – almost to believe that the last thing you wrote is amazing.

But then you very quickly need to switch into editor mode, spot the flaws, make it better.

What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?

How pointless it is to come in at the end of a process, once all the decisions have been made, and be asked to add some words to fill the space.

It’s not an easy conversation but some clients need to hear that a bit more.

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

I don’t know what they hear!

My (hopefully good) advice would be to build up a diverse portfolio of work. Campaigns, editorial articles, corporate brochures, e-learning, microcopy, email newsletters, whatever you can.

Employers (and clients) don’t really want writers, they want people who can solve their problems. The more copy-related problems you’ve learned to overcome, the better equipped you’ll be.

Any lessons you’re still learning?

Countless. How to listen better. How to get the best out of different types of writers. How many different interpretations there are of a ‘content strategist’. How to keep the coffee machine happy.

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

A while back, before retraining as a journalist, I was a translator. But I only ever translated into English because I felt the nuances of a foreign language – cultural, social, political, and so on – were so subtle and I might miss them.

Now I work in only one language, my mother tongue, I can happily, confidently (and geekily) chew over synonyms and choose the word that, not only carries the right dictionary meaning, but also brings a less definable ‘spirit’ that somehow makes it perfect.

What do you think?

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