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Sabine Harnau — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

Sabine Harnau

From Scratch Communications

PRO

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

I didn’t choose copywriting — copywriting chose me.

Last year, I got a USB floppy disk drive. Finally, I could read all those Word docs on the stack of 1990s disks I still kept in a drawer! One of my favourite discoveries was an ad I’d written when I was 15 — passionately persuading my fellow pupils to get involved in educational policy.

I still remember the moment when I was asked to write the thing. Passionate about political participation but clueless about advertising, I spent hours in the school library reading about persuasive writing, AIDA and advertising techniques (this was when Windows 95 was still pretty fresh and we had no internet at school).

For the next 20 years, I kept hiding from my destiny.

Creative writing degree didn’t exactly come with a job guarantee, so, I studied anglophone and German literatures, cultural studies, linguistics and education instead — with the goal of becoming a teacher.

During my twenties, one detour followed the next as I was avoiding the call to be a copywriter: editing books about pop culture, teaching at German and Scottish secondary schools, working as a customer service advisor…

Until I finally succumbed to the call. And became the first copywriter at LEGO Customer Service.

After a 2-year stint at a London agency, I started From Scratch, my own boutique consultancy focused on brands that do good.

What work are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all my work.

Whether it’s because of the results I achieved for my client, the perfect turn of phrase or delivering to an extremely tight deadline (preferably all three).

But my favourite work is creating those “aha” moments. Witnessing that millisecond when my client realises they’ve broken through to a new level of understanding how copy works — that’s truly magical.

This happens a lot in my Copy Coaching sessions, my Website Conversion Copy Audits and in projects, too.

For example, I still remember the moment I presented the bold, brief headline “Be a Confident Freelancer” to my insurance client, With Jack. It was wonderful to dive into their prospects’ deeper emotional needs together and transform the copy around such a powerful promise.

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

Patagonia’s “Don’t buy this jacket” ad. It’s such a smart strategic piece, raising awareness for the need to curb our consumerism and protect the Earth while celebrating the Patagonia brand. Genius.

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

I don’t get writer’s block.

But sometimes I feel resistance, and I’d rather play Skyrim on PlayStation till 2030 than sit down and write another paragraph.

When that happens, I get a nice cup of tea, some salty liquorice and set a timer — forcing myself to write for just 15 minutes, with no expectation of quality. That’s usually enough to get me going.

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

I love writing based on thorough customer research and data. Fortunately, I love research and discovery, assembling messaging recommendations and creating tone of voice guides just as much. Listening deeply to customers is so rewarding and yields better conversion rates, too.

That’s because it’s more than just a skin-deep marketing exercise. I’ve seen research like this lead to new products and services, a changed team attitude and a renewed sense of purpose across the company.

My least favourite task is discussing copy with personal taste as the only guide. “I like it” or “I don’t like it” are important emotions, but they’re not useful feedback because they’re so fickle and subjective. The most constructive conversations have the customer (and the brief) at the centre instead.

Any copywriting pet hates?

Some people insist that good copy is always short.

I disagree. Most websites and emails failing to convert the reader are so short that they’re boring, same-y and vague.

Yes, each word has to earn its place, and economy of expression is a sign of great skill. But we also need to remember that we usually know more than our reader — and that curse of knowledge can mislead us into omitting messages that are vital for getting the Yes.

Oh, and being called a “wordsmith” or being asked to “fluff things up”.

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

“It’s your business, and you get to decide how you want to run it.”

Sounds so obvious — and yet it seems I needed to hear it.

Since Joanna Wiebe taught me this, I’ve loved my work even more. And that joy on my side has had a ripple effect: I’ve had the nicest clients, the most enjoyable projects and the most positive impact on my clients’ businesses ever.

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

Learn the craft to the point where you can explain the writing decisions you make. Everyone writes, but only professional copywriters have a good reason for every word they allow into their drafts.

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

Copywriting can be lonely work, and there’s a lot of questionable, shouty copywriting advice out there. ProCopywriters is a friendly community of high-quality pros with a British and European outlook — a breath of fresh air.

Where can people find out more about you?

I’m most active on LinkedIn and Instagram:

linkedin.com/in/sabineharnau/ and instagram-com/scratch_posts

And of course, you can always connect via my website at from-scratch.net

What do you think?

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