Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I think I’m meant to say “I fell into it” and that’s kinda true, though my dad was in advertising and I grew up around the big agencies.
I was always going to be a writer of some description. As a kid, I usually had my nose in a book and I wrote and published (i.e. drew a cover and stapled the pages together) my own stories.
Then my Year 5 teacher gave me some career counselling — he said there’s no money in being an author, and I should become a journalist to earn a living and write books in my spare time. What he didn’t tell me was that journalists have no spare time — I discovered that after I got a cadetship.
After working 24/7 for the Murdoch family (I’m Australian, they own everything) for almost seven years, mainly as a music and film editor, I quit it all to move to London and chase the rock’n’roll dream. Alas, the NME didn’t want me. I became an agency copywriter instead.
That was 2006. In the intervening years I’ve worked in-house and in agencies (and, briefly, back in the media). I’ve:
- been a communications manager in the NHS
- an editor at an internal comms agency
- set up global B2B content marketing programmes
- workshopped content strategies with household names
But the higher up I got, the less writing I was doing. An itch needed scratching. I quit it all in 2016 to go freelance, and haven’t looked back.
What work are you most proud of?
If I’m honest, I’m most proud of getting the courage to give up the daily grind and persist with the freelancing thing. Within a couple of months it was clear I could do it, and I incorporated a business and started calling myself a “founder”.
Of the writing, I loved working with IBM Security on their Voices of Security series. I interviewed around 30 people to delve into the hugely varied backgrounds of cybersecurity specialists – bomb disposal technicians, child geniuses, hackers, meditation experts, physicists, drama graduates, chemical engineers, homeopaths – to create profiles and showcase the talent in the industry.
The feedback was consistently something like “I sound so much cooler than I am!”
Of the strategy, my first freelance work was with accounting software firm Sage, developing a global blogging strategy for Sage Advice. The pathways I laid down led to what’s now the biggest and most successful small business blog brand in the world (now in 20 countries!).
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Our household is a proud supporter of Who Gives A Crap – the sustainable toilet paper company that plunges half of its profits into building toilets for those in need — and I am in awe of whoever does their packaging copy. Seriously, just buy a box and marvel in its glory.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I grumble, I cry, I hit the table. I have cuddles with our house bunny. I watch bad TV. Writer’s block is also why I’m fairly prolific on Twitter.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
Controversial: my least favourite task is optimising copy for people with bad SEO guidance. I try to avoid keyword-stuffing, but sometimes clients (and content software) can be insistent. Writing to poor keyword choices can ruin good quality copy.
My favourite? This might be the journo in me, but I love talking to people to find out their stories. I can chat for hours when I have a reason. (In the real world I have social anxiety, so you’re less likely to get a good conversation from me unless you start it.)
Any copywriting pet hates?
Using big words when simple words will do. I work a lot in the professional services sector; lawyers and accountants love big words. Contrary to popular opinion, big words and long sentences don’t make you look more clever, and using plain English is not dumbing down. (See also: Content Design London’s fantastic work.)
I’m on a mission to #humaniseB2B.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
I moved to London determined to be a music reporter; I ended up writing copy for tutorials for BT’s billing system because it was several months later and I couldn’t get a job.
At the time I was devastated, but I remember someone wise (probably my mum) telling me that your day job does not define you. Sometimes we have to take work not because we’re passionate about it or have always dreamed of doing that job, but because we have to pay the bills.
That’s important to remember in a society that’s always banging on about following your bliss; sometimes your passion needs to take a temporary side seat to pragmatism.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Don’t forget the admin. I seriously suck at admin and feel like a headless chook, running around trying to catch up with bookkeeping and invoicing and tax and all that fun stuff because I didn’t set it up properly at the outset. If you don’t think you’ll have time for admin, outsource it.
Also, be aware that everyone thinks they can write, and you will come across both clients and other freelancers that think they can do a better job than you. You need to have confidence and courage in your convictions; you are good at what you do, no matter what imposter syndrome is telling you.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I’ll admit I don’t use my membership to its full benefit, but it has been useful as a stamp of professionalism — telling people I’m a member of ProCopywriters adds some gravitas to my experience. I enjoy the Twitter chats (when I remember!) and have joined some excellent webinars.
I’m also looking forward to my first CopyCon later in 2019, having had to miss the 2018 one because I went home for the first time in seven years.
Where can people find out more about you?
My website is being redeveloped (I probably shouldn’t admit that it’s waiting on me writing the copy – client work must come first!), but you can find it at thecontenttype.com. I’m also very active on Twitter (@TheContentType) and as a B2B specialist am usually hanging around LinkedIn, too (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/ljmcmenemy)
If there’s something you need to know, just ask – I’m always looking for an excuse to procrastinate…