Copywriting tip no. 93

As a copywriter in London, it’s likely you’ll get to work all over the shop – especially if you choose to go freelance. It’s good for the soul to have a change of scene, and is also great for getting those creative juices going. So charge your phone and sat nav your way to copywriting glory.

The bulk of ad agencies used to be primarily based in and around Soho, Bloomsbury and Covent Garden. But there are branding and design agencies, digital shops and integrated agencies popping up all over the place. Everywhere is up and coming.

Here’s a little snapshot of my latest foray into Shoreditch where I’ve been working with some lovely, clever people. A descent into the madness of the new hipster generation…


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Copywriting is changing. Or is it?

Anyone remember when senior creatives used to stress out about the rise of ‘the digital’? I do. I used to wonder what they were going on about. It’s all ideas, right? Just another way of delivering them.

Well, now I’m that senior creative and I get it. A bit. A creative director recently admitted that he doesn’t know which jobs to go for anymore. “Am I a Managing Director, a CD, a Senior Designer or a Social Media Director? What’s the bloody difference?!” For him, he could do it all, and continues to.

I’ve been working at home a fair bit in recent years. But when I’m not, I’m back in an agency, witnessing ‘the digital’ becoming ‘the social’ and listening to account handlers read word for word from their briefing documents with limited pizzazz. Some things may never change.

And then, in true ‘freddy freelance’ fashion, I’m online scouring the job pages, having typed in ‘copywriter’ and turning up ads with all sorts of titles like ‘content writers’ and ‘SEO writers’. And you know what? It all feels a bit dirty.

Demeaned. Diluted. Dishwater-like.

If any employer wants a good copywriter, they need to embrace that. A good writer will be able to turn their hand to anything. Any client. Any industry. Any format. Whether it’s ‘the digital’, ‘the social’ or ‘the future innovation that hasn’t happened yet’.

Sure, copywriters write blogs. But if we’re worth hiring at all, that will be only a tiny part of what we can do. It takes years to hone a craft in any walk of life, no matter what you do, and you can only get better with experience. It’s why we’ll cost more than a person who just writes blogs for a living. It’s why we do this. Because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a title in the first place.

Not tired, past it or dulled, but shiny and enthused with added zing.

So go on, test me. Like Fairy Liquid, I promise to deliver twice as much value as rival brands.

Copywriting tip no. 94

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

A copywriter once said this to me. It was about the way account managers were changing copy internally, without running it by the creative department first. Someone had even gone so far as to play with the punctuation. They were junior and it was a forgivable offence. But the line has stayed with me ever since.

Because people will rewrite your copy. They won’t sneakily move a logo or change a colourway, but they will alter your copy. And it’s possible it won’t be for the best. But copywriting is subjective. Damn it.

So how much pushing back can you do, and what happens if your account team aren’t prepared to get on side? I don’t have the answers. But as long as you flag your intentions and your concerns when it’s appropriate, then it won’t come back to bite you on the bum. A supportive account team is crucial for your happiness though. I know that much.

A good way to tackle this age-old copy problem is to get in front of your client at every opportunity. If a client sees a living, breathing copywriter, they are faced with someone whose job is solely that – to write good copy. Sometimes I think clients put us up there with pink unicorns and the like. But if they can see a face to go with that name, it might make them think twice about altering work for the sake of it.

That’s it for now. I have internal amends to do. Oh.


Freshly squeezed for January

January is full of exciting things. But you have to create your own fun. Here are some interesting indoors projects to keep the little grey cells active.

  1. Write a short story. Then enter it into the BBC National Short Story Award 2016.

Why not? Patrick Ness recently said:

All you need to do is write. Then write some more. Then write again. It’s as easy and impossible as that.

  1. Get some speculative work down. Then enter it into the Chip Shop Awards. If you don’t know them, get to. The least you’ll have is a laugh.
  1. Read more. You can find plenty of inspiration every Friday on the Vintage Vlog. This is marketing gold. Or at least, in my case it is. I have frequently gone out and brought novels as a direct result of watching this. You have been warned. Am also very tempted by the #2016ClassicsChallenge. The idea being that you read one classic a month for 2016.

Still feeling like your mojo needs a major re-wire? Check out Ruby Wax’s Frazzled book about mindfulness. I haven’t read it but it’s always good to be reminded to live in the moment. Particularly if you’re having a crisis of confidence – and let’s face it, all creatives go through that from time to time. And it probably makes you better at what you do.

So go forth. Embrace January in all its creative glory.

Happy bloomin’ November

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? No, I don’t mean the lurgies, I mean the endless comparisons between Christmas adverts bursting forth on our screens. Unavoidable clashes of colour, noise and sometimes, if we’re very lucky, daring marketing decisions.

Storytelling is always key in copywriting, and using literal fabled characters from children’s literature only brings this into sharper view. So should we judge an ad by its budget or by its familiarity (as many of us dust off our childhood copies of Mog), or even by its ability to make us cry?

That’s the beauty of a good story, isn’t it? We make of it what we want. Who doesn’t love a big idea? But what feels really clever to me, is a killer line. Not a shoehorned line that happily matches up to a big idea, but a line that was born with the idea. I like to see a copywriter taking their idea by the adjectives, the sleight of hand, the alliteration or the very punch of that eureka moment and turn it into something fantastic.

An ad is only as good as its proposition of course; there are lots of other stars that must align to make it brilliant, like the strength of the agency, the marketing department, compliance, budgets, lead times and so on. Anyway, that said, people have to like what you make.

So here’s a round up of the top yuletide lines of 2015…

“Spare the act this Christmas”
Curry’s gives you Jeff Goldblum. It’s real, punchy, direct and, dare I say, funny. I’ve put a Jeff G on my list. Everyone should.

“Christmas is for sharing – Sainsbury’s supports child literacy. Save the Children”
This is the follow up from last year’s trenches advert for Sainsbury’s. Last year, we were supporting the Royal British Legion, this year it’s Save the Children. Cue massive shoehorn time – perhaps they borrowed one from John Lewis?

“All your favourite things”
Simple, catchy, festive. A great family tune AND a killer line. Nice work Aldi.

“Whatever makes your Christmas, make it with Waitrose”
Ooohhhh. May I sigh in wonderment for a moment? Look at the way they’ve used the same word twice and got away with it! *rubs thighs*

“Show someone they’re loved this Christmas”
Nice line as lines go, but is the insight actually quite right? I mean, really right? The link I made is that we need to spend money to show people we care, and quite frankly, that doesn’t sit so well. So…no prizes for guessing the ad.

What do you think, fair reader?! Any more great lines out there? Feel free to share and comment below. Meanwhile…Happy bloomin’ November!


Who’s v Whose

Every now and again, a good copywriter has to question their grammatical knowledge. We all do. Particularly in this age of spell checks and grammar tools on Word etc. It’s so easy to get a bit stale or question whether you are actually right in your opinion – especially when challenged by an account man (thanks Howard!). So here’s what I brushed up on this week:

Who’s is a contraction of who is and who has.

As a rule, look at the sentence you’re constructing and work out whether ‘who is’ or ‘who has’ is correct. If not, you might be better with ‘whose’, e.g.

“As somebody who’s never been kissed…”

Although less common these days, this means ‘who has’ in this case, so a contracted ‘who’s’ is correct.

Whose is a possessive form meaning ‘of whom’ or ‘belonging to whom’.

It’s also often used with inanimate objects, e.g.

The book, whose jacket had a picture of a pony on it, was dated from the 1950s.


Whose books are these?

Not black and white

This week’s copy conundrum came in the form of an email from an old friend. Strangely, people think that because you’re a copywriter, you suddenly know everything there possibly is to know about the English language.

I’ve had friends secretly vying to beat me at scrabble before now – albeit slightly drunken scrabble at that – just so they can say they beat the copywriter. It’s made me up my game, believe you me. Mainly because, I can’t claim any real expertise over other keen scrabble players. I’ve basically been winging it.

So how do you wing it when it comes to grammar? Well, luckily for me, my school actually taught grammar back in the day. But the English language is so wonderful and perverse, not everything follows a rule. This can sometimes come as a shock to people, as so:

Friend: Tricky!?  I thought the grammar game was all black and white!

Me: Yes Nige. It is tricky. This is why people pay copywriters to sort it out mate!

I’ve been going back to school recently through the eyes of my daughter. She is learning phonics which TEFL people may remember from their original courses. You sound out a word and hopefully it can be spelt as it sounds. Actually, this is ridiculous, because most English words don’t seem to be phonetic! Are they? Words like are and was, for example, would be spelled R and WOZ if that were true. These are what are known as grey areas (schools call them ‘red’ words and other fun things).

It’s thanks to all these numerous grey areas, that people like me can make a crust writing lovely company communications. So here’s my friend’s little copy conundrum:

“Apple was using multiple tools which were not integrated to its system properly.”

Why is it WAS and not WERE after Apple?

A good question eh? I’ll leave that one with you.

In the meantime, if you need a copywriter to be very black and white, decisive, incisive, creative and just good – as well as being a tea making machine – well, get in touch. I’d be happy to help.