How has your business changed since your first Member Spotlight interview?
It’s been a rollercoaster. I’ve been super busy mostly, but it’s been a bit white knuckles at times. I’ve been lucky to work with some great clients.
And despite (or perhaps because of) the pandemic, it seems the world needs good copywriters and tone of voice experts more than ever.
What’s been your biggest success since your first Member Spotlight interview?
Ordnance Survey asked me to work with them to create a stand-alone brand positioning, personality and tone of voice for their leisure brand. It was one of those projects where the clients trusted me completely and it all fell into place.
I also got to work with a lovely design studio called Death & Glory in Southampton who made the design sing. The best feedback came from a writer who works with the guides every day.
Her response was one word – “Wow!”. It’s great to get that sort of positive feedback from peers, it means I’ve done a good job.
Why did you decide to focus on the kind of work you’re doing now?
I started specialising in tone of voice development about 15 years ago.
That led to a role as Head of Verbal Identity at Calling Brands (formerly Dave), which let me build on the work I was doing for my own clients.
I juggled that and freelancing until 2017, then went full-time on my own. I love working with brands to develop the way they write and communicate.
I believe in creating usable guides that make it simple for people to apply the ideas. People don’t know what to make of lengthy theoretical guidelines. You need to create simple concepts with real examples to bring the brand voice to life.
What are you enjoying most about your industry or niche?
I don’t have a specific industry or niche. I did specialise in luxury automotive for 10 years, which was a happy accident.
But I like to duck and dive between industries and niches. I’ve always found something fascinating in every brand I’ve worked with, whether it’s an online accountant or a luxury yacht.
I approach things with an open mind and I like to be busy. So I’m always happy to work on lots of diverse things at the same time.
What are you working on just now?
This year I’ve worked on:
- TOV and web copy for a sonic identity agency
- web copy for a luxury film production company
- naming and tone of voice for a dog nutrition/supplement start-up
- ongoing copywriting for a luxury yacht company
And I recently finished working with the team at Falcon Windsor on Ted Baker’s annual report.
I’m now finishing another big tone of voice piece for Ordnance Survey.
Describe your desk and what’s on it
I’m sitting at 3-metre long antique vendange table (wine tasting table) in my wife’s paint studio in what was a Victorian laundry in Battersea. There’s a pile of paper, empty coffee cups and 2 dogs sprawled under my feet.
There’s a lot of activity here – people mixing and packing tins of paint, deliveries and all sorts going on. It can be distracting but it’s good to be in a busy and creative environment.
Tell us about your side projects
I’m a member of the writers’ organisation 26.
Last year I did 4 projects with them (Dear 26, A Common Place, 26 Flashes and 26 Weeks). It’s a great way to force yourself to write something that isn’t work-related.
This year has been a bit hectic, so I’ve been writing the odd poem, adding to a collection for possible publication at some point. And then there’s the unfinished novel in the back of
How has your writing process evolved?
I’m a good listener and I’ve always been quick to pick up concepts and details. Over the years that’s given me confidence to trust myself and not panic. So I guess it’s made my process more intuitive and spontaneous.
That’s not to say I don’t think and plan carefully before I begin but I often start writing to work out what I think or mean.
What do you wish copywriters were more honest about?
Fear of the blank page and writer’s block.
I’ve heard lots of people complain of it over the years, but I’ve never bought into it. Copywriters aren’t novelists (at least most of us aren’t paid to be) so we don’t have the luxury of being blocked, there’s always a deadline to meet.
I learned early on when I was stuck to just start writing, putting one word after the other, even if it’s nonsense. It tends to open things up, even if it’s one word or a sentence out of a page of noodling – it can be the crack that lets the light in. It’s about trusting yourself and giving in to the process. You’re a writer, so write.
Which leads on to the blank page. which isn’t so scary when it’s full of words and there’s a chance some of them will actually be the right ones.
If it’s not working, go and do something else. Give your mind a break – go for a walk or a run and follow your nose rather than plan where you’re going. Let your subconscious do the heavy lifting for a while. And when you come back to it, there will be something that will pop out onto the page.
The novelist Jack London summed it up beautifully: “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
What advice do you often hear given to newbies, but you don’t agree with? Why?
Be yourself, write in your own voice.
All brands have distinct personalities and voices, so you have to write in character for each. So instead of being yourself, practice writing in as many different voices as you can.
A friend at Uni gave me a copy of the Faber Book of Parodies. That set me on a track of spoofing great literature, which meant unpicking sentence structures and vocabulary.
Discovering the tics and tropes of different authors is fun. Then try writing something in that style. It makes you think hard about who is speaking and how they think, as much as what they are saying.
Any lessons you’re still learning?
Despite the many tight deadlines, you can’t run at everything. I’m a bit like a bull at a gate with writing at times. I have to remind myself why I do this and enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
What’s something about your work that makes your inner copywriting nerd happy, but you’re not able to chat about enough?
Two things: the flow and words themselves.
I love it when I come back to something I’ve written that’s good, but I don’t remember writing it. It goes back to trusting the process and your subconscious, being in the flow and letting something (or someone) else take over.
Words, words, words. The sound and feel of them in your mouth or when a bunch of them flow from your brain to your pen and magic occurs on the page.
Just saying a word like fandango or scintilla out loud gives me a lot of pleasure. Go on, I dare you, open the window and shout fandango at the top of your voice.