Why did you choose a career in copywriting, and how did you get into it?
I’ve always enjoyed writing but I didn’t set up on my own account until 2019. At that point I had been teaching for nearly two decades and had become frustrated with the academy trust to which my then school belonged. I took a plunge and set up as a freelance writer.
The first few months were tricky and I did some supply teaching to pay the bills but not being able to answer the phone has its drawbacks. Then came Covid-19 and lockdown, and business started to pick up. Since then, I’ve had a steady flow of business and built up a nice group of regular clients, so I must have learnt something useful along the way.
Nor was it an illogical leap. My first contact with copywriting was when I worked for a long haul tour operator through the 90s. I’d been closely involved in brochure copy and brochure production, so I had a basic understanding of what’s required. Plus, I’d spent many years teaching other people to write, so it seemed like a reasonable choice.
What work are you most proud of?
That’s a tricky one. Even after only four years as a freelancer there are many projects from which to choose. And of course, I like to think I’ve done a great job for every client! However, one that comes to mind is the English instructions for a mobile phone vending machine; a limited word count and very strict guidelines on style and tone – I’m pleased to say it’s in use across Europe.
What piece of copy do you wish you’d written?
That’s even harder, as there is so much excellent material out there. As pure advertising copy, probably Patagonia’s 2011 Don’t Buy This Jacket campaign. While it’s not especially subtle, it is thought provoking and highly effective.
In terms of content, then perhaps the material for Team Malizia, one of the teams in the most recent (2022-23) round the world Ocean Race. It’s not perfect, but it has a good balance of upbeat excitement and the inclusion of technical detail, plus a measured discussion of wider issues.
What do you do if you hit a bit of writer’s block?
I’d like to think it doesn’t happen, but of course it does. When I was teaching, kids would sometimes say, “I don’t know what to write.” My answer was usually, “It doesn’t matter. Write something now, and that will get you thinking. You can always come back later and change it.” As it turns out, that’s quite good advice.
What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?
For a favourite task, making the final few tweaks to a client first draft (not my first version, obviously) knowing that the client probably won’t want many changes – all of which depends on those early conversations and eliciting a really clear brief at the start.
And for least favourite? Mmm… chasing for feedback and chasing for late payments are both irritating, although fortunately they aren’t usually necessary. Also, fact checking AI generated material. Some of my clients like to use AI material as part of their instructions, so checking that, especially when sources are not quoted, can be time consuming. However, I suspect this is something many copywriters are going to be doing more of; and there are very few tasks that don’t respond to putting in the time and attention to detail.
Any copywriting pet hates?
Potential new clients who want everything ASAP. Often this means they haven’t planned ahead properly, so it’s a ‘heads up’ in terms the extra preparation that may come with the job. Occasionally it’s ASAP because they’ve been let down by someone else; then I will bend over backwards to help them if I have space in my diary.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Years ago, a university tutor stressing the importance of being a specialist. I don’t think that’s foolproof advice, but what she was getting at was the need to be able to talk (and work) in depth in one or more fields – but without closing doors on new opportunities and new learning.
What advice would you give to people starting out on a copywriting career?
Listen really carefully. Be brave and be honest. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Be prepared to market your services even if you find that hard. Remember that for everyone who responds to a high pressure call to close a deal, there’ll be always be someone who finds that off-putting; they will prefer a more measured approach. It is quite literally ‘win some, lose some’ and you’ll get a feel for the likelihood of either.
Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?
It’s a great forum in which to learn more about the skills, craft and science that go into writing, and it’s good to have a sense of solidarity with other freelancers. Plus, I picked up a commission via ProCopywriters within the first week of joining – very happy with that!
Where can people find out more about you?
Visit my website at https://declanmorton.co.uk and get in touch – contact details are on the website.