Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
My English teacher at school was an absolute legend. He was so passionate about the English language, and he appeared to have an in-depth knowledge of every book ever written.
It was a privilege to have been taught by him, and it’s no surprise that a lot of my school friends are also keen writers of one kind
But when I left uni, I didn’t even know that copywriting was a thing, let alone a career choice. I went into marketing because I thought it would be fun and play to my creative strengths, and luckily enough my first marketing job involved writing a lot of direct mail letters and press ads (it was in the days before websites and email!).
I quickly decided that copywriting was what I wanted to do, so after working my way up the marketing ladder, getting diplomas and experience, I threw caution to the wind and became a fully-fledged copywriter. And I’ve honestly never looked back.
What work are you most proud of?
Most recently, I’d say I’m proud of the workshops I’ve started running for small businesses, marketing teams and new copywriters. I’m not a huge fan of public speaking, but I love helping people to understand how customers interact with their brands and what they can do to make the most of their marketing or web content.
In terms of copy I’m most proud of, the first thing that springs to mind is the ad I wrote for The Sun travel section a couple of years ago. The headline, (Iceland, Iceland, baby!) really tickled me (Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice is a bit of a karaoke favourite of mine. I have no shame).
Oh, and I’m really proud of a letter I wrote for LOVEFiLM, which we tested against their control version. I had a hunch that talking to customers with a warmer tone of voice would improve results. My letter outperformed the existing creative by 6% and became the new control.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
The Economist ads are always great. Not only is each one a clever play on words, but because the reader has to decipher the message, they feel like
they’re in on the joke. Having to stop and think about something for a moment makes the ad more memorable and offers some entertainment, rather than just another list of benefits.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Writer’s block’s a hard one, because the temptation is always to keep staring at the computer screen, waiting for inspiration that never comes.
The best thing to do is either go and make a cup of tea, go out for a walk or do something completely different with your brain (send some invoices or reply to an email).
If I’m working at home, I usually stick on some loud music and have a little kitchen disco (making sure the blinds are closed, first.).
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I love editing copy that clients have put together. It’s a bit of a mental puzzle, working out what the key messages are and polishing them up, while ditching the bits that aren’t adding any value.
Brainstorming ideas can be fun too, especially in a room full of creative people. It tends to be an exercise in making each other laugh, with lots of random suggestions. But inevitably, we end up with some really strong ideas we’d never have come up with otherwise.
My least favourite thing has to be writing copy into an Excel spreadsheet. I usually end up writing it in Word and copying and pasting it back in.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Clients who insist on clogging up a piece of clear, concise writing with long and complex words, because they think it makes them sound more professional.
There’s actually a study (hilariously titled ‘Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words
Needlessly’) that tested this exact theory.
It turns out that people rate content as being more trustworthy and intelligent when the long, complicated words are removed!
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
To write quickly and edit slowly (or write drunk, edit sober!). When you have a great idea, it’s important to just get the words out, however they come.
You can spend time editing and agonising over perfect grammar later. If you write when you’re feeling inspired, when you feel alive and full of enthusiasm, it’ll show in your copy, so just go with it. Editing is the easy bit.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read a lot, whether it’s magazines, newspapers or books. If you’re interested in words, your brain will sub-consciously bank the good bits you come across so you can call on them when you need to.
I’d also recommend keeping a scrapbook of ads, marketing letters or web content that you like. Having lots of good samples to browse when you’re stuck for an idea can help get the creative juices flowing.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
It’s great to be part of a supportive community of writers – people who understand where you’re coming from.
Every year at the copywriting conference, I’m always blown away by how many nice people there are in the industry, all willing to share knowledge and clever ideas.