Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I started out working in general marketing and PR roles. After 5 years or so, I found myself at a career crossroads. I could either continue moving up through layers of management or specialise in one area. I chose to focus on copywriting because it had always been my favourite part of marketing and I felt it offered the opportunity to earn a decent living doing something that was both creative and varied.
I was right! Not only do I get to do what I love every day, but I’m able to combine employment in a close-knit creative team with running my own freelance copywriting and training business. It’s this variety that I love most about my work.
What work are you most proud of?
My in-house role with Practical Action, an international development organisation, means I get to meet some incredible people living in less developed, remote parts of the world.
A few years ago, I travelled to Turkana in Kenya to meet the nomadic communities who live there and hear their stories of living in one of the world’s harshest environments. I drew on my experiences in Turkana to write the copy for a UK fundraising campaign. Being able to amplify the voices of marginalised people and share their stories with new audiences is a huge privilege and something I’m very proud of.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
This probably says more about my personal penchants than my professional life, but I seriously appreciate a well-written cocktail menu. There’s something about the shameless opulence of a cocktail that lends itself to playful, indulgent copy.
Oriole in Smithfield Market, London, is a cocktail bar that takes its inspiration from the age of discovery and exploration. Who doesn’t want to sip on a Finca Filadelfia (smooth and creamy with rich coffee and crème brulée notes) or a Sanshin Old Fashioned (deep, peated and earthy with a luxurious chocolate and port finish)?
I’d love to write a cocktail menu for a high-end cocktail bar one day – preferably with an open brief that would allow me to be super-creative. And a bottomless research budget so I could, you know, really get to know the product.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
Often, all that’s needed to get my creative juices flowing is a change of scenery. Something as simple as a five-minute walk outside or switching from using my keyboard to a pencil and paper.
I’m also a big fan of wordplay – especially when it comes to writing headlines, taglines and campaign slogans. I find that making lists of synonyms, rhyming words, alliterative words and idioms can encourage good ideas to surface. Inevitably, it also surfaces lots of rubbish ideas, but that’s all part of the process – and no-one needs to see your “workings out”!
Of course, these techniques can be tricky when you’re up against the clock – nothing stilts creativity more than an imminent deadline. So perhaps an extra bit of advice for avoiding writer’s block in the first place is to plan carefully, do your research and factor creative time into the process. Not very glamorous – but effective.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
My favourite writing task is sharing an extraordinary story that might otherwise go unheard. It takes courage to open up to a stranger and trust them to convey your story accurately and sensitively. In that situation, I have a duty to do a good job and that weight of responsibility has led to some of my most powerful writing. I also find getting out of my own head by immersing myself in someone else’s world incredibly cathartic.
My least favourite writing-related task is proofreading. It’s a distinct skill that requires a particular flavour of focus and discipline that I can only maintain for short bursts of time. I also find it insanely boring.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Cheeky, chummy, cutesy copy. Like when you click on a broken link and you get a pop-up that says something along the lines of: “Uh-oh! Bernie our friendly web bot can’t find that page! Don’t worry – accidents happen!” Bleurgh.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
When I was tentatively starting up my own business, I had a chance encounter with a much more experienced freelance copywriter. She’d seen me doing some fairly casual in-house training sessions and advised me to pursue training opportunities independently. I hadn’t thought about making training part of my business plan, but this conversation made me look into the options.
Since then, I’ve published a series of courses teaching fundamental copywriting skills. My target audience is entrepreneurs and small business owners who need effective marketing copy but can’t afford to employ specialist staff. The positive feedback I get from my students is incredibly satisfying. I feel very proud that I’ve played a small part in the success of hundreds of independent businesses through my courses.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
My advice would be to start off in a junior role either in-house or in a creative agency. Use this time to build strong foundations – of knowledge, contacts and experience. Learn from those around you. Be curious and playful – try a bunch of different things and give yourself the space to experiment with diverse sectors and styles until you find your niche.
This is essentially the path I’ve followed, so I’m obviously biased! I know some copywriters dive straight into freelancing and are successful, but I’d always recommend the slow and steady route. Learning your craft at the same time as building a client base from scratch – and dealing with the admin of running your own business – is no mean feat. I have a lot of respect and admiration for anyone who can make it work.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I value being part of a copywriting community and being able to learn from other copywriters. In my working life I’m in contact with dozens of graphic designers and digital professionals, but very few fellow copywriters. It can be a solitary profession in that way, so it’s comforting to have that network of support.