Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I spent my early career working in advertising and corporate marketing roles in retail, housing, and healthcare. It was pretty varied, but the one thing that always excited me was the writing side of the job.
In my experience you tend to be good at what you enjoy, and vice versa. I found myself doing more and more writing in my day job and finally ended up taking on a bid-writing role.
I’d often wondered about making a living from commercial writing so, after my daughters started school, I took the plunge into freelancing and then started my own business. And I love it.
I’m lucky to have some fantastic clients and I still get to enjoy my most demanding clients
(aka the mini McNerlins).
What work are you most proud of?
Hmm. I’m not sure I ever feel ‘proud’, being my own worst critic. But I do enjoy helping my clients showcase the great work they do in a way that also helps them grow.
One of my earliest and ongoing clients is a mental health charity based in London. They do amazing work with young people and needed help putting their strategic plans into words.
I helped them piece together and write their 18-page strategy document which has become a working guide they refer to regularly. It’s been rewarding being part of something that’s making a tangible difference to so many young people.
I also enjoyed doing my first Voice Guide for my digital agency client. We did a fun workshop with exercises that drew out the agency’s personality and how they wanted to differentiate themselves. Then I put it all together in their no-fluff Voice Guide.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
I like copy that makes me smile unexpectedly. Some recent favourites are the quirky messages on Method’s packaging, Wendy’s social media copy, and nearly everything by Oatly. It’s like entertainment (although perhaps that’s just to us copywriters)!
It’s hard to be funny and clever without being cheesy. But when you know who your customer is, voice can be a great differentiator, especially for brands in crowded markets.
I’m sure I wouldn’t have any Method products sitting in my bathroom cabinet if I hadn’t read ‘it smells like fancy marmalade’ and ‘the only thing left is a sparkling sense of satisfaction’. It made me smile (and get my purse out) in the middle of an otherwise boring shopping trip.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I get some bullet points down on the page and don’t judge or edit what I’ve written (until later).
I read that Hemingway used to end a writing session when he knew what he’d write next. So that, when he came back to it the next day, he could pick up where he left off. It works for me (sometimes).
If I’m really struggling, I go for a walk up the garden and try not to think about it, which often re-sets my brain and helps refill its creativity store. I seem to get my best ideas in the shower and could really do with a waterproof notepad!
Not everything comes down to creative inspiration though. There are some copywriting formulas and techniques that work well and can often get me started.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I love the potential in a blank document. The moment just before I get started on a new project. Then I enjoy the ‘brain dump’ of the first draft.
I also really enjoy the research phase which often involves interviewing customers or contributors. I’ve met people from all walks of life via Zoom over the past 3 years.
I find the essential editing less fun. I’ve learnt to be ruthless but it’s still sometimes hard to kill those ‘darlings’ that read beautifully, but just aren’t adding value to the copy.
Any copywriting pet hates?
When my family think I can come up with nifty ideas and slogans for things on the spot! While it’s good to trust your instincts, I think it’s important to reflect on your work before delivery. It nearly always improves it.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Be courageous and put yourself outside of your comfort zone from time to time. That hasn’t always been easy for me. But I’ve had my most satisfying career moments after I’ve taken on something uncomfortable but positive.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
1. Call yourself a copywriter without feeling like an imposter. You’ve probably got much more experience than you realise.
2. Listen to your clients and their customers. Never start without a solid brief, and make sure you get one. You might be excited by your own ideas, but without an approved brief you risk getting it wrong and giving yourself extra work that could have been avoided.
3. Find a community. There are lots out there so find one that suits your style. I dip in and out of mine regularly to ask advice, sense-check ideas or learn something new. It also makes freelancing feel less lonely.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
The trust factor of having the logo on my website is really helpful. I’ve also been approached by quite a few potential clients who have found my profile on the ProCopywriters website.
I’ve enjoyed some of the free trainings and I’m really looking forward to the ‘IRL’ conference this year!
Where can people find out more about you?
lauramcnerlin.com is the best place to start. I specialise in projects that help clients find clarity on their messaging.
As well as conversion-focused copywriting projects, I have some packages that help piece together the messaging puzzle for clients, including Voice Guides, Case Studies, Brand messaging, and VOC (voice of customer) research.