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Al Robertson — ProCopywriters Member Spotlight

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

On one level, I’ve always been a writer – I tried to write my first book when I was about five. But I became a professional writer in a slightly roundabout way. I started off managing brands at Unilever subsidiary Birds Eye Wall’s, then I worked in feature film development for a couple of years.

That combination of marketing knowledge and creative experience got me my first copywriting job, at branding and design agency Corporate Edge. Everything else followed on from that.

What work are you most proud of?

Helping Ronseal sort out their tone of voice, rethink their writing process and start rewriting all of their packs and other collateral. It was a dream project and they were a wonderful client.

I can still see the results whenever I check out any of their writing. And naming the Nectar card – almost
twenty years on and it’s still a name that works perfectly for them.

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

I love how Weber BBQs communicate. They don’t just think about selling BBQs – they work very hard to make sure people can use them as well as possible. Their ‘How to BBQ’ guides are some of best cookbooks I’ve ever read (and I love cooking, so I’ve read quite a few).

They’re beautifully written and designed, the perfect blend of the practical and the inspirational. So with those books they hit a very rare combination of targets.

They’re brilliant pieces of brand positioning that actually teach you something useful, in a properly long-lasting way. I wish I’d written them all! Not least because I’d love to help test out the recipes…

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

I step away from whatever I’m working on, and go and do something completely different. Ideally, it should be a bit physical, though it doesn’t have to be exercise. I find things like sorting through my laundry or popping out to shop for supper very helpful indeed.

If I know in advance I’ve got something tricky to write, I’ll go and work in a local café. The change of scenery really freshens me up! And I always feel guilty if I sit there for too long, so that gives me a bit of a deadline too.

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

If it’s directly to do with writing, my favourite task is editing longer pieces of copy. I love fine-tuning words, taking out whatever’s not quite working and making sure that any good ideas sing out as powerfully and concisely as possible.

Indirectly, I love running client workshops. It helps me understand how they think, so I can reflect what they’re really after in whatever I end up writing for them. And of course, just listening to them talk is very helpful when I’m doing tone of voice work.

Any copywriting pet hates?

Apart from the obvious ones (its/it’s confusion, people confusing stylistic choices with grammatical errors), I don’t think I really have any. Bad writing is an opportunity to create something better! It’s always fascinating working out what people were really trying to say and then helping them say it.

Though come to think of it it’s always very frustrating when people are happy to just live with bad
writing rather than do something about it.

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

Get out of your own way.

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

That’s a surprisingly hard question to answer. It’s a long time since I started out, so I’m not sure how relevant my own experience is. So perhaps some general advice:

  • Surround yourself with people smarter than you – it’s the best way to learn
  • See the big picture – understand the strategic and project management side of things too
  • Write lots of different things – find out what you enjoy and what sort of writer you really are
  • Read (and critique) lots of different things – learning how to read is learning how to write
  • Build a network of fun, interesting, creative people to support, inspire and guide you

And most importantly:

  • Always write what your audience needs to hear, not what you want to tell them

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

It keeps me in touch with the copywriting world and helps me keep on learning. In particular, I love the online seminars – it’s great to sit down with a cup of tea and take in a talk from an expert. So far, every single one’s been unmissable.

Where can people find out more about you?

At my website, www.alrobertson.co.uk

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