ProCopywriters member spotlight – James Ellerington

James McCann-Ellerington

B2B technology content expert

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

I was always interested in English but didn’t think of pursuing it as a career. Instead, I chose economics for my degree and, for somebody who is terrible at maths, it was not the most sensible decision I’ve ever made. It would be one of those that I’d pick to rectify if asked about ‘advice to my younger self’.


Post-degree I ended up at a tech PR agency in London, which gave me exposure to a wide range of clients and industries and the opportunity to incorporate writing into my career. It also made me a better writer by opening doors to new styles, subject matters and types of copy.


After a decade at agency-side, I decided the time was right to leave and set-up as a freelancer. It was a move that enabled me to get rid of all the stuff I wasn’t good at like budgeting (see above), and presentations (I’m terrible at design) and keep the stuff I liked, which was the media relations and writing, which often go hand-in-hand.


What work are you most proud of?

If I can be permitted the classic political question-dodge (we’re on the precipice of an election after all), I’m proud of my entire career and, because of its tapestry, it is incredibly hard to pick one standout piece.


Writing on B2B technology for over 20 years means I’ve written on subjects that were way ahead of their time. Things like writing on AI and its impact on jobs almost 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve worked on content for everything from space stations to pay-as-you-drive car insurance covering scripts for footballers to political speeches on solar power.


It is such a diverse, fast-moving and constantly evolving area that no two days, clients or briefs are the same. It’s why I love what I do and am (mostly) happy to get out of bed in the morning and get to work. Not many people can say that.


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

This is a hard question and I’ve purposely not gone and looked back at all the previous answers. Can I pick two?


The first would be the Nike strapline, ‘Just Do It’. It’s so beautifully simple and effective and has stood the test of time. I also use it personally if I find myself procrastinating. It shakes me from any inertia and means I get on with getting on.


The second would be Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann. It is a timeless piece of prose and many people have since gone on to see the quality Baz possesses as a writer and director. It’s a song that speaks to any generation with meaning in every line. No matter the age, race or background, it can emotionally connect with somebody and, even if it’s just for a split-second, make them think or feel differently. At its core, that’s what writing is about.


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

I am at my best in the morning with my mind least cluttered. It’s when I do all my writing. In fact, I almost never write anything much after 1pm. I also follow a strict writing process (when I can) and avoid doing too much in one go. I do my research and fact finding on one day, draft the content on another while reviewing and proofing on another day. It means errors are easier to spot and coming to old content with new eyes means I’m better placed to inject creativity and energy to turn something from good to great.


What are your favourite and least favourite writing-related tasks?

My favourite tends to be thought-leadership content. Compiling a reasoned argument to get a client’s view across in the medium of the press forces you to take a product or commercially-focussed issue and build a narrative around it in a way to make people care. The least would be social copy, which I find disproportionately labour-intensive. 


Any copywriting pet hates?

The increasing prevalence of random and grammatically incorrect capitalisation. It’s a trend that has been imported from America and seems to be gaining traction. Beyond this, people who start sentences with the word, ‘so’, which feels like a conversational import from LinkedIn. At a micro level, words, ‘really’ and ‘just’ add nothing and get an instant strikethrough.


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

Do something you enjoy to the best of your ability and the money will come. 


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

Find out what you like writing about and go all-in. I may be showing my age but, when I first started out, copywriting wasn’t as abundant as it is today. Much of it was done in the agency environment for our clients in a way that devalued the quality of the work. It’s not that agency people aren’t capable – quite the opposite, in fact. But it’s an environment that can be quite harum-scarum with pressure applied to get things done quickly and to the schedule or demands of another client/team. This is almost the antithesis to good copy. Thankfully times have changed but it means that now there are lots of copywriters vying for work and, to stand out, you need to not only be passionate about what you do, but good at your job. Loving what you write about is a key component realising this.


Why do you find ProCopywriters membership useful?

It’s good for being connected to peers as we often plough quite a lone furrow. The recent networking event hosted by David was great and I’ll definitely join more in the future. Beyond that, it’s a useful place to point people in order to find me. I don’t have a website and rely on finding my work through recommendations, word-of-mouth and sites like this.


Where can people find out more about you?

As above, the best place is my LinkedIn, which is here

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