Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I didn’t choose a career in copywriting per se. Instead, I rather naively declared myself a ‘writer for businesses’, after a decade in the newsroom. As a broadcast journalist, I loved to write stories that matter. Every day.
From (re-)writing the headlines as we were going on air, because a major catastrophe had just dropped on the news wire (nerve-racking). To covering devastating world events (like the Indian Ocean Tsunami and the 7/7 bombings – just a stone’s throw from where we were at ITN’s HQ), and smaller stories about marginalised people, fascinating people, and sometimes, not even people. Nosiness, above all, compelled me. And it compels me still today.
I digress. TV news is thrilling and exhausting in equal measure. But knowing I wanted a family, I had to be strategic. Back to declaring myself a copywriter and I was lucky my first-ever client was Save the Children. And the rest is history.
Am I the same copywriter of 10 years ago when I ventured into unchartered territories? Absolutely not. I had no idea there were so many nuances and niches in one industry. But I’ve built an enjoyable career out of it – and now an entire copywriting collective called The Power of Words (TPW).
Writing journalistically, despite the copy being predominantly B2B, has stood me in good stead for a ‘keep me on my toes’ copywriting career – that’s both flexible and entrepreneurial.
What work are you most proud of?
There is a lot of Diversity & Inclusion storytelling going on. And quite rightly so. But it’s often clunky or worse still, boring. Organisations posting (for the first time that year) that they celebrate Black History Month, and the like. You know what I’m talking about.
A management consultancy we work with is doing things entirely differently, by creating open, raw, honest conversations about what it is like growing up as trans, an adult with ADHD, a woman who wears a hijab in a workspace where no one else does, or about white privilege.
We’re so proud to have written these ‘personal journey’ stories. Blow our own trumpet time: here’s an example. And if more businesses can adopt this approach, I think D&I truly has a chance, instead of paying awkward lip service.
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
Can I say an entire book? If so, it’d be ‘Made to Stick’ – by Dan and Chip Heath. Someone recommended it to me recently, and every page has me going ‘yes, yes, yes!!’. And I often pull out nuggets from the book (aka steal) whenever we help clients with messaging, and standing out. While we advise clients to steer clear of alienating acronyms, Chip and Dan have a good ‘un. SUCCES, the 6 principles of sticky ideas:
Of course, it’d be ideal if they could have come up with the final S to make sure success was spelt right. And I’m more of a fan of the power of 3. But, hey. Overall, it’s a fantastic whistlestop tour of how sticky ideas share certain traits – and therefore, what ingredients you need to make written ideas…well, stick.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I knit while yodelling loudly in my garden. Alas, no. But I didn’t want to write the reality: coffee, power walking, podcasts, weights, spinning. Often my writer’s block breaks free in the wee hours of the morning. Terrible timing. Yet, it seems, insomnia is the perfect panacea.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
I hate writing website copy. Strong, I know. It’s a personal peeve. And so, I don’t anymore. I have some wonderful TPW writers who are ace at it, and so they’re best suited for those kinds of jobs.
Is it the fiddly user experience, the pleas for (unrealistic) high search rankings or just the fact that many websites are very personal – even the big organisation ones? Who knows.
Either way, I put them in Room 101. On to my fave tasks: I love interviewing experts who are smart and candid – and then, from those half-hour conversations concocting stories that have an edge. Something you haven’t heard before. A story that’s surprising, or makes you think differently. A spin on the norm, if you like.
That’s the holy grail, of course. And harder in B2B. But we’re managing it more and more, with the right questioning and a bit of bravery from clients.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Niggling about pricing. Talking of pet hates, there’s a really funny horse sketch that sums it up – with half a beautifully sketched horse body, and the other half a stick/cartoon horse. The tagline: ‘When your client asks if you can do it cheaper’.
I still get asked if TPW has an hourly or daily rate. Sigh. Of course, I am not in the line of conning clients, but there’s an ongoing dichotomy between penny-pinching and still expecting exceptional quality. And bad or no briefs. But if they come our way, TPW now refuses to take on the job. Befuddled briefs only lead to chaos.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Where are you aiming to be in 5 years? Once you have that nailed, that’s where you position yourself professionally now. Don’t wait to catch up.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Write your own blog on something that piques your interest. Anything, really. It’s good to have evidence of your work – especially if it’s your first foray into this industry. And initiative. Whose writing do you like, and why? Ideas, opinions, and gumption will get you far. After all, if you’re young, you bring digital/social know-how to the table that your older peers won’t have.
Also, think hard about where you want to play. As I said earlier, there are all sorts of nooks and crannies when it comes to copywriting. Find what niche you’d like to own – then bolster your knowledge in that area. And read the ProCopywriters’ blog! It’s a mine of insight.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
I find ProCopywriters super useful! Big fan.
CopyCon 2022 was a blast – my team and I walked away with some fresh thinking. It’s a strong network, too, of like-minded wordsmiths – and that’s pretty cool. And I’ve discovered smashing guests through ProCopywriters that I’ve had on TPW’s LinkedIn Lives – or want to invite in the future.
Where can people find out more about you?
Mosey on to The Power of Words website. Connect on LinkedIn. Or even go old-school and drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org I’m always interested in hearing from writers who might be a good fit for the TPW collective.