Member spotlight – James McCann-Ellerington

James McCann-Ellerington

B2B technology content expert

Why did you choose a career in copywriting and how did you get into it?

Like many people, it was by accident rather than design. English was a strong subject at school though something I regretfully overlooked at degree level for something perceived to be more lucrative and job-appropriate. In this case, economics.

My first job in 2005 was with a B2B technology PR agency which opened up the door to many new writing styles in the form of articles, releases, letters and so on, as well as a broad spectrum of clients and industries. Fast forward to 2014 when I set up on my own and this was the basis for much of my work. Something that has only snowballed as more and more clients have seen the value in exceptional copy.

What work are you most proud of?

I’ve worked a lot in renewables and, particularly in the early days of solar power, with a company that made panels. Part of this was lobbying the government for an attractive feed-in tariff (the price people get paid for generating solar energy) to encourage uptake. This involved writing speeches, powerful messaging and media training – all of which helped contribute to securing one of the most attractive payment rates for solar panel users anywhere in the world at the time. The campaign also won a few awards.

What piece of copy do you really wish you’d written?

It’s hard to pin this one down. The best copy is often the shortest and simplest. Something that is easily understood, delivers precisely for the brand or spokesperson and is unforgettable. The advertising industry has been leading the way here for decades though other creative sectors have caught up in recent times. But for me, Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ remains exceptional through any lens in which you want to look at it.

I don’t engage with social media so, by default, am blind to any of the excellent copy that appears there on a daily basis. And I’d like to put in an honorable mention to all those businesses and straplines that are based entirely on puns.

What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?

Go for a walk. No music. Just me and my thoughts. Having said that, since working for myself I’ve been able to identify exactly what kind of environment, energy, timings and processes work for me. To that end, I rarely get writer’s block anymore. And if I do, I just remind myself of the slogan mentioned above!

Any copywriting pet hates?

We’re being slowly overrun with the appearance of random capitals. I think it’s coming from the US but I’m seeing lots of capitalisation of job titles (no!), capitalisation of the first word in headlines (no!) and capitalisation of technology words that, while important to the brand in question, do not require such treatment (definitely no!). If I can add one more without being ranty, it would also be the amount of times – this in copy that gets signed off and used publicly – that companies are referred to as plural (they) and not singular (it). 

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?

In the early years, I was in so much of a hurry with work. I’d attribute a big part of this to being in an agency and the constant pressure to churn tasks for multiple clients. I was new to PR and work generally so, in trying to please multiple stakeholders, I didn’t give the time or due diligence to writing briefs I should have done. The advice I was given was to invest more time bookending the copy with research at the front and editing at the back and once I was done to proof, proof and proof.

What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?

Honestly, the same things I’ve mentioned above. Find a way of working that suits you. These days, a lot more people are remote, which is an excellent development. But this means more distractions (housework, TV etc…) and disruption (kids, pets, deliveries etc…) so being able to work out precisely what, when and how your best writing is generated would be the best discovery anybody in our world could do.

Mine is to carve out some time over 4 days for each piece: research and structure one day one, write on day two (ideally first thing in the morning), edit on day three and proof and send on day four. It means that I’m always coming to each piece with new eyes, fresh energy and a different hat on.

Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

It’s the only repository for companies to find expert writing help which, whether they’re aware of it or not, most of them need. In all honesty, I’ve not had a huge amount of work from the platform but I’d put that down to my neglect to nourish my profile. One of my resolutions for 2023 is to invest more time in ProCopywriters to keep myself visible.

Where can people find out more about you?

Here. I don’t have a website. I’ve been freelancing for nearly 8 years and haven’t needed one. A big part of freelancing for me is the work/life balance I have so I’m reluctant to solicit work I have to decline or don’t want to do. That being the case, I work on recommendation-only and via a couple of platforms like this. 

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