Conor Johnston — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

Conor Johnston

Creative Media

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

In every job I’ve ever had, from weekly newspaper writing to press office work and PR-type campaigns, I’d find ways to spend most of the time writing. Why? Because it didn’t feel like work.

This wasn’t difficult because I’d turn into a default ‘staff writer’ for every organisation before I had a chance to unpack my phone charger and coffee mug.

Then, a little over two years ago the pace of digital change was passing me by, so I took up blog writing and tackled a sudden change of career in the digital marketing direction.

I also found a work-based digital marketing diploma to learn some marketing basics, thinking the chances of finding full-time copywriting work in Northern Ireland’s tiny market would be very much remote.

A local content marketing agency in Belfast saw my work and asked for help. I’ve been arranging words, as a permanent team member, for client websites and our own ProfileTree brands ever since. I’m also the company’s in-house editor.

What work are you most proud of?

Oddly, a process rather than a particular piece.

When I arrived, the company had grown very quickly, but content for our own use was being produced by too many people in too many conflicting ways.

We’ve now settled on an editorial process, a set of style guidelines and much more. I couldn’t be more proud to see it.

Aside from this, I love writing content celebrating Belfast and its people as this is pretty close to the culture blogging I enjoy outside work.

Clients who celebrate Belfast in their brand are a joy as I really lose myself in bringing the city to life through their copy.

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

Years ago, I saw a 48 sheet promoting the Ford Transit’s safety features.

The image was a stereotypical tradesman, complete with tattoos and muscular look, behind the wheel.

The main copy? One word…’Precious’. With a list of safety features below.

Possibly the most powerful example of the ‘less is more’ adage I’ve ever seen.

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

I’m a big fan of podcasts by the likes of Josh Korda, exploring why the brain works the way it does, so I attempt to apply a bit of science.

Thinking by not thinking, putting something ‘on paper’ but letting it rest overnight, a long drive or even a run all work well for me.

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

I have a love/ hate relationship with drawing up the plan for format and consistency when we’re delivering a very large number of page types for a client.

I’m obsessive about consistency, but not especially process-minded, so I’ll be revving my brain a bit close to the red line during the initial project set-up. Especially when other members of our amazing content team will be producing co-ordinated content too.

What I love, though, is the sense that the customer’s vision is starting to take shape and the content is really finding its voice, hopefully bringing clarity to the brand in a way the client themselves hadn’t even seen before.

Any copywriting pet hates?

I’m massively self-critical, and will always say I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been writing in some form in the workplace for well over 20 years.

This still means, I suppose, I’m largely self-taught so there are technical areas where I need to spend much more time making sure I’m up to speed.

However, the modern trend for business networking groups picking up bits and pieces of isolated advice about digital marketing, and copywriting, from people on the presentations circuit can be a challenge.

It means some of our own blogging time is spent talking people down from off-context tips they’ve heard during a boozy dinner somewhere.

Our business works on big-picture content marketing, from strategy downwards, so it can be a constant theme to help our audience to broaden their view.

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

It’s a cliché but still very, very true: be the mentor you wish you had.

I can remember every word of writing advice I was given in a smoky newsroom (many) years ago. The best tip, and one I still use decades later? Every word has to earn itself.

If anyone asks for help, it is a pleasure to do so. Other people doing the same for me long ago helped me find my way to my dream job and I genuinely wish the same for everyone.

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

Simple: “You know a lot when you know you don’t know”.

It has become easier and easier for people to market themselves way beyond the point of confidence over substance. Small businesses, in particular, are buying into some really poor quality work because the right gloss has been applied.

The most inspirational professionals I know are studious, inward-looking and self-aware about their need to keep learning.

What’s your favourite thing about being a copywriter?

I love turning a page full of notes from a client into something much, much shorter but with real impact and depth. I also adore the feeling of taking a dry subject and digging until the right intro for the topic just sparks into view.

What made you decide to become a member of ProCopywriters?

I saw the ‘member of’ badge being proudly displayed by a copywriter and was thrilled to find a place to grow and be inspired. Thanks!

Where can people find out more about you?

Say hi over on my work Twitter account and it’ll remind me to use it more often. I’m not a huge fan of the platform but you’ll find me on LinkedIn.

My spare time writing for various Northern Ireland-based blogs, which contain views absolutely positively not the views of my employer, has been archived.

The ProfileTree content team’s work is on our blog.

What do you think?

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