Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I chose it slowly, with a lot of luck along the way. Like many writers, I’ve loved words and stories since I was little, but I also loved art. At university I studied Art History and Philosophy, sort of combining the two, writing about art and ideas.
Then I worked in a bookshop for a while before I got my first editorial assistant role in magazines. I started as an office temp on a fortnightly women’s title (it was paid, and this was massively lucky – by the time I left magazines it seemed to have become the norm for people to work for free indefinitely to get a foot in the door, narrowing the field considerably and unforgivably).
After 7 years of writing my way up to features editor on a teen magazine, that title closed and I decided I wanted to write for the greater good. So I made the switch to charities in 2008 – inadvertently becoming a ‘copywriter’ in the process.
What work are you most proud of?
This is a huge question with many different little answers! I still struggle to feel proud of things I don’t feel I ‘own’, and everything I work on in my job is as part of a team effort, relying on good briefing, strategy and design… but I’m learning to feel my share of the pride of being part of that bigger whole.
In terms of creative collaboration, back in 2015 when scrolling stories were the new(ish) thing, I worked on a portal for Save the Children with a web developer and wonderful filmmaker.
It showcased a progamme of work in Indonesia that exposed the harms of orphanages and reunited children with their families. Important work, amazing stories – and my headline made it through numerous layers of stakeholder sign-off without a single ‘tweak’! Sadly it doesn’t exist any more so I can’t show you.
I’m also proud of my client list and the lovely, talented people that have chosen to work with me. I’m proud to have published a couple of books. And I’ve been proud when fundraising copy I’ve worked on has raised more than expected.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I still love the clever two-sides homelesses poster DePaul did way back in 2015, and I liked the black and blue copy line from the Salvation Army’s campaign against domestic violence that jumped on that what-colour-is-the-dress? meme that was everywhere around the same time. It did the job of turning it into something quite powerful. More recently…? It’s a bit hit-and-miss how it plays out but I like the Dave tone of voice. They do some nice tweeting.
I won’t start on books, we’ll be here all day.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
It depends how much time I have. If I have to push on through to meet a deadline I’ll usually put a pen to a nice big blank sheet of paper and just write and connect as many different words and thoughts as I can. (Quantity over quality being key, because I otherwise tend to self-edit before I’ve really started, and some ideas need a bit longer to brew.)
If I have more time, I’ll take any excuse to make a tea, go for a walk, maybe do a bit of people watching if I need to think about audience.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I love the deep thinking involved in tone of voice work – feeling and examining the nuances of different ways of expressing things – and the intricate semantics of setting style guides.
I struggle, at the start of a big project when there’s a mountain of reading and structural planning to do, to trust myself that I’m up to it. Even though I’ve always made it to the top in time so far, I still find it intimidating being at the bottom, looking up.
Other than that, I can usually find different enjoyment in the different bits of writing life. I’ve come to appreciate the honing process of taking in feedback, as well as ticking off the mechanical stuff like updating my invoice spreadsheet!
Any copywriting pet hates?
I’m really trying to *let go* and not keep hates as pets! (and I can enjoy a meal in a restaurant now even when the menu has typos, so I’m making progress).
But I still feel sad when language evolution deletes useful words, like when people use ambivalent when they mean indifferent, because they’re almost opposed states of being and we don’t have many other words for that feeling of being torn between opposed options.
(Oh also it’s a bit annoying when people misuse compounds – like saying ‘everyday’ when they mean ‘every day’. But then I like the IKEA strapline ‘the beautiful everyday’ because it blurs that line, essentially saying that if you can find beauty in the simple design of everyday things, it means you get to live with beauty every day.)
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
A manager of mine once told me “you need to figure out what you want”. I think that’s good advice at work and in life. I’m still trying to follow it.
Once I was managing people myself, I was able to put the implication of that advice into context and I realised it isn’t possible to orchestrate someone else’s fulfilment. It doesn’t matter how good a manager you are (or want to be), or how good a manager you have, each person has to take responsibility for their own path.
If you’re freelance you’ve likely already figured this out. But it took me a while to fully appreciate it. You can – and should – expect support along the way, but you’ve got to do the work yourself, the imagining and the forging, or you’ll just be following someone else’s path.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Keep going, maybe? I was on the verge of giving up when I got my first copywriting job in a charity because I’d had so many rejections. Be ready to listen to constructive feedback with an open mind but try not to take it personally. Building your own feedback filter isn’t easy, but you need one because you’ll get conflicting stuff thrown at you.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
Knowing there’s a community there is important when you’re freelance (especially during a pandemic). Most recently, the webinar library has been great – I miss the learning and development budget I used to be able to tap into working as staff.
Where can people find out more about you?
I don’t post on the socials as much as I should – I get post-posting anxiety! But I’m on them, including LinkedIn, or there’s my slightly neglected site lauraellenkennedy.com (all thoughts on improving that are very welcome, thank you!).