Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I’ve always enjoyed wordplay, whether that was quoting Blackadder and The Comic Strip in the playground, or learning movies and song lyrics by heart as a disinterested teen.
With the joys of retrospection, I think copywriting chose me. I don’t know how else to explain going from a student indoor rock climbing instructor to PR copywriter in less than three months.
From there I went in-house at British Airways for several years, which gave me a brilliant grounding on how a brand
works and speaks, from the inside.
Then to London, and many exciting briefs and adventures in agencies large and small, as part of a creative conceptual team. Years later I fled to the countryside, and joined forces with my wife Laura to set up Town Mouse Country Mouse Copywriting agency.
What work are you most proud of?
If you’d asked me when I was working as part of a creative team in London a few years ago, I’d have said the Porsche press ads, and the NatWest campaigns.
They felt like they were a chance to play in the world of ads I grew up worshipping in the 80s and 90s (not that I’m suggesting they’re up to those very high standards).
Today, I’m really proud of the startup launches, like Spotta (a hi-tech pest control system) and Chrome Carbon (carbon offsetting for classic car and bike owners).
Bringing these ‘passion projects’ to life through copy is always tough. Figuring out the right voice, the balance of charm and product detail, to new, often sceptical audiences. That’s very tricky to get right.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with clients who are not only very smart and articulate, but who also trust me to get on with fine-tuning what makes them great or different. Seeing them grinning when they read through new copy makes all the effort and stress very worthwhile.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I love a great jingle (another hangover from my childhood), so R White’s Lemonade, or Club biscuits stand out. They still pop into my head at the most random times, decades later.
I’ve yet to have the chance to flex my songwriting talents, so hopefully, I can realise my dream.
The Leagas Delaney Adidas work (‘Just To The Signpost’ and ‘Your Wife Thinks You’re Mad’) is brilliant from an insanely simple truth and point of view.
And I’d love the chance to see what launching something like the new XBOX or PS5 would be like. The pressure, the budget, the catering!
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Cliches first. Going for a run, stepping away from your screen, The Overnight Test. They’re cliches because they do work, in some shape or form.
My other go-to when I’m struggling to get the gears turning is Private Eye. I barely have time to read them when they land on the mat twice a month, but when I do get stuck in, there’s so much to process and enjoy.
From a writing perspective, the investigative articles are short, but packed with precision detail. The satirical bits are bursting with humorous, nimble wordplay, and each of the numerous cartoons are amazing mini-concepts in themselves.
Whatever I’m working on, The Eye always helps to get me one step closer to ‘work mode’.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
I think like most copywriters, I love the first ‘go’ with a new client. Followed by the dread when you send something across, or present for the first time (does Imposter Syndrome ever go?) and then the relief and elation when your copy is well received.
Feedback’s always slightly tricky, especially now I’m running my own agency with my wife Laura. In the past, I had wonderful account handlers to chase up feedback and wrangle clients before their pearls of wisdom made it to my desk.
Don’t get me wrong. Working directly for clients has many benefits. Getting precise feedback is often more art (with a bit of psychoanalysis) than science.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Not enough jingles in TV ads 😉
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
The only one that sticks in my mind was from Creative Shaman Graham Fink at M&Saatchi. He said ‘The Universe Will Bring You Everything You Need.’
I still haven’t grasped exactly what it means. But I still have a career. So I’m guessing it was good advice.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting
I’m jealous of those young tykes! If you’d told me all those years ago that you’d be able to get in touch with every copywriter or creative you’ve ever admired without leaving your chair, I’d have thought you’d had a four-pint lunch.
So, my advice is fairly familiar:
Absorb as much as you can (but make sure it’s not just tweets and podcasts). Find writers you like (in any discipline) and say hello.
Practice ‘caring’ about things you don’t initially care about. Finding ways to get interested, excited or passionate about the most bizarre, inert or random things is a life skill for a copywriter. You never know what the next brief might be about…
Try the occasional four-pint lunch (ideally when pubs are open again).
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
ProCopywriters is wonderful. I think the site gives businesses and people much needed reassurance when they’re looking for copy help.
And in 2020, 4 very different clients tracked me down and brought me great briefs to tackle. Which was nice.
It’s also an amazing resource to explore how other very talented copywriters tackle every copywriter’s worst nightmare – the ‘About Me’ section. Fascinating…
Where can people find out more about you?
Drop me an email, or call me up. I’m much more of a consumer of social media than an active participant. But perhaps that’s my 2021 mission, to get stuck into Twitter properly, from a writing perspective.