Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?
I took a long and winding route through various communications roles before I arrived at copywriting. I still dabble in disciplines like PR and branding, but I’m most at home with copy and content plans.
What work are you most proud of?
If I was humble bragging, it would be my work at Dyson to promote science and engineering education in the UK. I got to write a series of thought leadership columns for UK nationals and edited a white paper that influenced legislative change.
But in my heart of hearts, it’s probably the copy for an invite to a PR event held in a hairdresser that asked people to “shave the date.”
What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?
The tagline for Fuller’s 2008 “Whatever you do, take pride” campaign for their London Pride beer. There’s a pithy, affirmational wisdom to those words – like a philosophical but pragmatic barkeeper has delivered them. Even though it originates from a beer mat, it’s become a personal motto.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
When I’m struggling, I find it helpful to set aside a fixed amount of time to write without putting pressure on myself to hit a specific word count or goal. Permitting myself just to let my mind wander can shake something loose. Sometimes it’s when I’m staring listlessly out of a window that an idea will come to me – that, or two in the morning when I’m trying to sleep.
The trick is not to be too hard on yourself when you still can’t quite find the words. You have to trust that your brain is whirring away in the background, getting ready to be productive again.
What are your favourite and least and favourite writing-related tasks?
My least favourite task is writing about myself. Despite having worked in PR, I’ve always found it hard to promote myself. I struggle to find the distance I need from my subject!
I enjoy getting under the skin of technical topics. It’s always satisfying to find a simple and engaging way of explaining a complex issue. When you do, it’s like the trees suddenly part and you can see the path ahead.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Hyperbole. There’s no reason why copy can’t be playful and inspiring. But sometimes you just need to call a spade a spade. I think it’s important to credit your audience with the intelligence they deserve. If you can see through it, they will too.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Aim for the target you’ve set for yourself, but don’t be afraid to change the plan when you need to. The most surprising and enjoyable moments in my career have come from sudden and unexpected turns.
I was lucky enough to do a bit of improv comedy when I was living in Chicago. The main rule of improv is ‘yes and…’ – where you support the scenario your scene partners have created and then add to it – rather than just running off and doing your own thing.
I’ve found the same to be true of careers. The “Yes” gets the job. The “And” pushes you forward.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Read as widely as you can and carry around a notebook to jot down ideas – you never know when they’ll come in handy.
Learn to be receptive to criticism – but don’t take it to heart. As you gain experience, you’ll learn what to challenge and what to accept.
Be kind to people. Compliment good work. Lend a friendly ear. It will be remembered.
And make sure you read some of the founding texts on contemporary writing like On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Style by Joseph Williams. I don’t think you need to treat them as gospel, but they’ll help you avoid some bad habits and think more critically about your writing.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
After working in-house for most of my career, I’m just starting out as a freelance copywriter. When you start anything new, you think there’s some template you must follow. It’s been inspiring to hear how other people have carved their own, unique paths. And copywriters are a lovely bunch!
Where can people find out more about you?
My website is dancrowley.co.uk. I’ve also started a newsletter called Setting Forth, where I try to challenge the stories we tell ourselves and argue how a different outlook might help.
I’ve looked at how a little stoic pessimism can help put our successes and failures into perspective. I’ve explored how fan theories around Kubrick’s The Shining show how easy it is to persuade ourselves we’re right. And I’ve discussed how to stay creative on your off days.