Don’t need a copywriter?

Ok – but we can be civil to one another still, can’t we?

Let’s have a chat…

Here’s a picture my daughter drew. It’s a Monster Beetle:


It doubles as a portrait of me.

Kids’ pics are great, I think. Adults’ pics just don’t have the same ‘draw’.

…I’m kind of like a kid drawing when I’m working on a copywriting job…or maybe more like a kid blinking up into my first snowflakes: wondering, and imagining…

…how and where we can take your brand…

…just like back when I did my first copywriting job. It was for Esso. “I know how they’ll sell more petrol,” I thought. I wrote a sign: Fill ‘er up and fill yer gut: Free sandwich with your petrol.

The promotion ran till I got fired – though I got a warning first: “Stop giving away the sandwiches, Richard.” …my sign got scrunched.

…My job wasn’t actually ‘copywriter’ – it was more like ‘petrol station attendant’.

But since then, it’s all been bona fide work…


Anyroad – enough about me. How are you this mornafternooning?

Your reply: ____ ____

I didn’t catch that. What did you say…?

…Oh – what did I do after I got the sack from Esso…?

I went off and bought some watches, snagged people on the street, sold my watches to them at a profit – never more than fifty-odd yards from the shop I bought them in. Then I got a job selling broadband, from a call centre. Pretty soon the boffins were trying to fathom what was wrong with my phone – because some days my sales outnumbered the calls they had down for me. It turned out calls to our direct lines weren’t being logged – and a ton of people were calling me back on the direct line to buy. Twasn’t any super-powered trickery: only a spot of simple thinking in the selling.

Then I landed a job as a designer in a Country music magazine. People would phone in their ads – selling their cowboy boots and things; I was the best speller in the office – so I wrote the ads.


That ad sold both boots!

With results like that, I was set to impress. I trotted off to persuade people in ad agencies, and in client companies, that I could make great work for them. …A portfolio case stuffed with cowboy boots ads actually did the trick for me. I got gigs on confectionery accounts, telecoms, banks, a bookshop, a DIY chain, a toy store, and a ton more.

What ways do you benefit your clients?

I get them results – through direct response copywriting, brand writing, strategy, and creative direction.

You might’ve run into the barricade that divides direct marketing and brand advertising. Most copywriters are on one side or the other. I sit on neither side. I reckon proper-good brand writing has art of persuasion in it, and it puts to work direct response principles. Likewise, direct response advertising can sell stuff and build brand.

I build voices suited and booted to different products / companies / people – to help build brands, both in general marketing, and in direct response…and with this priority: sell the product. I’ve spent a fair bit of time getting a nuts-to-nails knowledge of what works – doing direct response tests, nosing into tests other people run, filling my brain with the psychology of it all. I’ll find a way to hook people; I’ll build story into the marketing, and make it ‘talk’ to people…and convey the unique selling point in a way that shakes people’s brain cells…

I reckon doing the full caboodle – brand, and direct response, and well-built voice in direct response promotions – helps my brain get to solutions it wouldn’t reach without that span of influences. My work usually doesn’t get beat.

Here’re some places I fix the mix of direct response and brand / jigsaw words together that result in more sales:

• B2B companies. A common mistake: gobbldy-babble that sounds kinda businessy will do the trick…

…it won’t sell half as well as will solid communication. But I’ve rattled on about this on other pages on this site, and some more down below on this page, so I’ll spare your lugs just now.

• Funded startups: these peeps often need no-fluff communication that’ll propel people…copy that talks in a voice that pops off the screen – that is the organisation.

• High-potential SMEs: a lot of folk in smaller companies copy the wallpaper: image / brand-only marketing. …thing is, the big-brand guys can plaster ads everywhere – because they have cupboards of money. But a smaller company can’t. You might need to put millions in to see sales. A brand-only ad without enough investment in media, is like half a fart in a hurricane.

To get a better return on your money, get direct marketing at the helm: that’ll bag you more buys quicker. And build your brand as you go, with your direct marketing – and with the experiences you give your customers beyond your advertising. This way you’re funding your advertising with sales – not rainy day money.

• Bigger companies – especially Finance, Technology, Fintech, Telecoms.

• Ad agencies / marketing agencies: some big brand advertising can do its task better with more direct marketing ingredients baked in. Since a lot of folk in general advertising don’t have a lot of experience with direct, I help out with that – and with their brand stuff.

• And I help people who’re putting out marketing communications that do the job, but will do the job better when it communicates with more character – or it might need psychology that’ll sell more; or the nailing of any number of other things…

My eyeballs are pretty good, too. I art direct and direct design.

Here’s another place I give a lot of value: Strategy. Right through the caboodles, you need to be answering the ‘why?’ your target will be consciously or unconsciously muttering in their mind. You might get a ton of gain with not a word of copy. It might be with a tweak to the product, or a tweak in how you’re getting the word out, or you might need to target a different type of a human to the one you were after. …Or tweak the message. Not every prospective client knows the returns they can get with a real copywriter, in this bigger picture. But people who measure results and look into why they’re thriving or dying – they know there’s good folding money to be got.

Can you give an example of strategy in your work?

Every word is rooted in strategy. That’s what makes it effective. Here’s one example:

One of my clients makes the machines that fill potholes on the roads. In the UK, his method of patching roads is known as ‘Velocity Patching’. In the US, people call the same process ‘Spray Injection Patching’.

My client’s problem was that the generic term ‘Velocity’ is also the trading name of a competitor…so he was trying to get people to use the American term.

That’s a mammoth job. Companies have put millions into trying to change the language people use, and got nowhere.

…But there’s a difference between my client’s system, and the Velocity-brand system: with my client’s system, no fella need step out of the truck – safer than having a bloke out the back filling holes, in a cloud of hot dust, with cars powering past.

So I advised he stick with ‘Velocity’ – the language people are using – and tack ‘SVS’ to the name of his truck: Roadmaster SVS, standing for Safe Velocity System – and define SVS as ‘no fella out on the road’ – so his competitors are by default as good as selling themselves as Unsafe.

Your solutions might change the product, change the target, change the media, change the message, change your career.

Where do your copywriting skills come from?

Setting out writing copy, I was uneducated (except in academia). But I think the selling I did face to face and on the phone is good training for a sales person behind a keyboard. And maybe I have a nose for the job. Here’re some things I think helped put a bit of sense in my nose:


All the classics on advertising. For a few pound notes you get 40 years of experience and more.

I reread the classics. But I read more books that’re not about advertising: my face’ll be in psychology, philosophy, fiction…fellas say ‘read trash’ – if that draws you, it’s mebbe the right thing for you; I’d sooner bait fish hooks with my eye balls – there’s more nutriment in real literature; sharper observations of people, our motivations; realer dialogue. I think things that show the shape of the ordinary are good for the copywriting brain cells. I revere the ordinary – it’s extra-ordinary.

…I read slow. Sometimes when I think the words are not hitting the mark, I’ll be rewriting in my head. Pure lunacy probably. To me, ‘what’s going to happen next’ isn’t the be all – it’s about the insights; what thoughts the words fire up; how the language pieces together. I love Ernest Hemingway’s writing, James Joyce, Daniel Defoe, Herman Melville. And queuing up for me to read, are books that fellas reckon are holy: Hebrew Bible, Christian Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Quran, other myths and histories – all that carry-on.


Photography to me is what drawing was to John Ruskin: he said what lands on your sketch pad doesn’t matter: it’s about learning to see.

Sometimes the task of shaping copy feels more a visual job than a wordologyist one – you need to get people to imagine things. When copy is made from only fiddling with words, it doesn’t get a punter’s head into the scenario…


Like I said, I worked in that. A good sense of what needs to happen visually in the marketing, is handy – it helps a person carve the copy. And it means you can art direct, which is also handy. If you’re not visualizing the thing, you’re not so keyed into how people will be soaking it in. Or not taking it in…


In cafés, I swing my ear trumpet into the chat at next-door tables. When you’re outside a conversation, dispassionate kinda – but attentive, the rhythm of the words surfing into your brain – I think that can help build your ability to ‘lift’ words off the paper.

But that’s not why I earwig. I’m just nosey as hell.

Putting my own money on the line:

I set up a job site ­– halfway between headhunter and job board. Before I’d put my own pennies into a project, writing copy for clients was a different game of fish. With your own money, you suss things out fast – you need to know what works.

Teaching English

…got me looking at grammar.

I’ve heard a boatload of copywriters saying ‘Don’t bother with grammar’…

Thing is, I see grammar not as a string of rules to inflict on language and stilt it – rather, it’s a record of how we put language together – just as a dictionary is a record of what we make words mean. Like I just made ‘stilt’ a verb of ‘stilted’, and the dictionary doesn’t know yet that that’s ok. Who’s arsed? If applying a supposed ‘grammar rule’ makes the work less effective, then just do what’s more effective; but grammar is still handy to look into – it helped me pick apart language.


I have a daughter yon end of Europe – so I travel back and forth a lot. I need a job I can travel with. Writing copy freelance ticks that box. I had to get good enough to not need to take a job on a leash.


For a longish time, I’ve been pretty aware of how I’m putting words together – whatever it is I’m writing. I think with focus, any writing builds your skill with any other writing: text message / tv ad / novel – it’s all stringing words together.

And rewrite. ‘Editing’ isn’t it – that’s only straightening teeth. The job is more like sculpting: shape / reshape; roll the beggar back up into a ball – flatten the fecker – scrunch it – reshape it – till it’s hopping off the page – alive

Who are your greatest influences?

Ernest Hemingway.

Alain de Botton.

In as few steps as possible: what is your creative process?

1. Take in info

2. Take a break

3. Ideas happen

4. Put shape on the ideas

You need to take a number 2 – take a break: the head needs to forget about the thing for a bit.

I reckon this happens with all humans: while you’re busy forgetting, little dudes at little desks way down inside your brain, with stacks of notes and teeny tubes of Pritt Stick, are slogging away at the job: powering through new info they just got from your research, and yanking old info out of filing cabinets, and seeing what new bits pasted to what old bits will make maybe-ideas – the dudes’ll scrunch the maybes into balls and bung them up into the front of your head – they’ll bounce out of your mouth – or roll down your arm into a pen: onto paper.

…the little dudes can’t work well with the continuous din of you thinking about the job. So shut your head up: take a break.

Of course – the break freshens up the eyeballs, too. A day away from a job can help a good bit; but to shrink the break to about an hour, I’ll go and jump in the freezing cold sea – or do something else that gets my head quick into another current – maybe lob a rock through my neighbor’s window and start a fight.

Then back to the keyboard, spit on the palms, eyes all fiery…

How do you research a company / a product, before writing?

Dig in – dig out everything I can. I’ll talk to the founder. To the sales people. To the people who buy the product. I’ll take a look at the company’s old marketing – and the competition’s marketing…

…you absolutely need to do that research; but:

I also get ideas out onto paper before that caboodle: after I’ve had a first chat with the client about the job, or just seen the brief.

…at that stage, often my Pritt Stick fellas come up with things that wind up giving the work ‘edge’ – things I don’t think they’d come up with after the ‘naïve’ stage.

…maybe kind of like the way young kids come out with little-genius things…

…and like how a lass new to an industry might come up with stuff that tips the industry on its nose – because her head isn’t boxed into all the bits and bobs of the way the industry trucks along.

There’s no need to force ideas at that early stage. But when the ideas worm their way out, get them on a slice of paper …while they’re wriggly-alive. Later on you’ll dump the ones that’re not working, and work up others – when you’ve done all the lovely research.

How do you identify, isolate, and solve problems?

I think it’s about cutting through the crap.

You grow a nose for it when you’ve spent a nice bit of time wrapping your brain around problems, and acting off the back of results – and reading, observing, doing business…you could even take a prescription from Socrates: live an analyzed life.

What technology do you use in your writing process?

Laptop sometimes. Biro on paper other times.

I think different tools make for different ideas and solutions…not that I use a ton of tools – like it’s a while since I wrote in mashed potato.

I reckon different environments can help in that kind of a way, too: I’ll work at home, then in a café; here there and wherever…the odd time I’ll perch myself on a train…in a train I mean to say… Not to go anywhere in particular – just to write.

Another technology I use: earphones. Music that bops in through the back door of my brain I find good. White noise is good. I listen to rain sometimes. There’s a bunch of rain-sound videos on YouTube.

…and while I mention working here and there – if you find yourself in a too-friendly place for work, and you need to get on with work: set a pen and paper beside you, even if you’re just laptopping. I reckon pen and paper say I’m working – not face-twittering.

How do you present concepts to clients?

I’ll often give the client a fair bit of rationale – the ‘why’. Why I’m saying you need to do that, this, and the other thing.

It makes sense to lay out the rationale:

Your client has hired you because you’re better than they are at beating a path for buyers. So show your client the map…how the copy or the idea or the whatever will do what it’ll do: to be sure they’ll see the strength in it – to be surer they’ll say: Yep – let’s go with that.

What is the single most important part of copywriting?

Give a solution that ‘disappears’ the problem.

You land on that solution when you apply uncommon sense.

What’s the single best investment you’ve made in your copywriting career?

The lessons I learned putting a match to a pile of my money – failing with a headhunter business I set up.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your business?

I’ve a big stewpot of mistakes to pick from.

I’ll pick out ‘not moving fast enough’ – it applies to a lot of things I’ve done, and not done.

E.g.: I could’ve burned that headhunter cash faster – learned lessons quicker – moved on sooner.

What are your greatest motivators when writing advertising?

1. The queen’s head. I.e. Pounds Sterling

2. Euro – this comes second place just because a Euro buys me fewer bits than a pound does

3. Dollars – American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealandan, anyotheran…

4. Any other money

…that’s an overemphasis on the money. Truth is, money can’t be the full caboodle – because it wouldn’t drive a person to do his or her best. I think there’s a real drive in the desire to be a part of building things. …Plus doing copy is a mix of psychology and wordology. Two things I like.

How do you overcome writer’s block?

The phrase writer’s block doesn’t mean anything to me.

Once I know the market and the product, and the client’s putting money in my wallet, I can do the job.

I reckon writing copy is a different type of a job to writing fiction. Writing to sell a product, you have an easy place to go to ferret for ideas: the market and the product. And I think the constraint of the job: sell this thing – helps the head focus on solutions.

…though maybe when it takes a while to get to the solution – that might be a kind of writer’s block. Sometimes it takes a bit to make the hit.

…a person who doesn’t call him or herself a writer, doesn’t get writer’s block. I reckon if I can’t write, then in the moment I can’t write, I’m not a writer = snag solved: trot off and do something else for a spell.

What media do you most enjoy writing for?

(i.e. Print, TV, Radio, Internet, Direct Mail, etc.)

All. By my measure of things, different media are not so different.

The task is to build solutions. The fundamentals of influence are the bricks. The media are plots to build on.

Would you be considered a good student by an English professor?

If we’re talking about a professor who grows fungus in the sweat of his armpits, and carps: “Don’t start a sentence with ‘but’” – that beast won’t like my work.

But the people at the Irish Writers’ Centre asked me to run a copywriting workshop, and they’re kind of a bastion of literary fiction (I think). And a fella who used to take the title ‘English professor’ – I saw the makings of half a smile on his face when he was looking at my stuff.

A proper-good copywriter is able to make all manner of solutions – and often a job needs well-worded patter.

…well-worded usually means simple – to keep a person with you when their doorbell’s jangling / when they’re juggling jobs…

I reckon the craft it takes to make copy simple, is one of the things it takes to make really good literature; but of course copy isn’t real art – it has a different job to do.

Have you written any books on your methods?

I wrote Grab ‘em by the vowels – How to Write to Connect, Persuade, and Sell.

What do you look to avoid when prospecting a new client?

You want to hear me mither? Ok:

I like a client who’s ‘invested’ in the product – looking to get results. Sometimes a person’s interest is elsewhere – in all types of tripe.

Like if you’re working with someone who’s afraid of slipping on a rung of their corporate ladder, you might get to see them gnawing on your work…slabbering bits back out…They want marketing that’s like every other thing out there – mebbe it keeps ‘em feeling safe in their corporate cage.

…Those peeps don’t call the shots in the client company.

But sometimes the people you really need to talk to are ‘tricky to get hold of’. Like I took a job a while ago working with a marketing director who wouldn’t tap on her CEO’s door. I was there suggesting things – she didn’t know if she could run them – she wouldn’t run them by her CEO. So I winded up giving her work way more restricted in what it could do, than I could’ve done.

Then there’s the client with a skull full of knowledge that’s wrong – you’ll need to shepherd that breed into the pen carefully – or they’ll make daft-headed changes.

There’re people who can see why particular communications are effective. But when they’re involved in the making, they don’t see it so well. These people are not arrogant. I’ll try to get them into a punter’s shoes.

Here’s a good client: they could do a pretty good job themselves; but they’re copped onto the reality that if they hand the task to someone who can do it better, they’ll get better results. These people know the value of the work. They make money.

Here’s another good client: they know they don’t know. These people are down to earth.

…I like working with people who’re driven by the change their business can effect in the world, or by the creativity they can put in, or by the help they can give their punters, or by the results they can get with better advertising.

A lot of my clients make better products than their competitors make, and they’ll be underdogs when they approach me. I like working with these people. I’m not keen on trading in trash.

What are the biggest trends you feel affect copywriters today?

Some people do ‘creative’ work that’s kind of somewhere near a sales message or thereabouts…

Your creative (your work) needs to be your sales message – it needs to be a reply to ‘Why buy?’ If you’re making your words the hero, not the product, you’re selling your words, not the product.

…nobody’s buying.

…when I was a kid – lobbed a rock at a can – missed …“Actually I was going for that lump of grass – so there…

Your creative needs to hit the can, or it goes in the can.

That moan is more about what happens in general advertising; it’s less about direct response.

Here’s an affliction I see in direct response: Witch doctoring – cooking up copy potion…

Of course, develop your sensitivity to what language can do. But get the meat on the plate: how are punters going to benefit from the product / what problem are you solving. And communicate: get to know the people you’re talking to, and talk to them.

…if your only focus is potion, you’re losing the thread of uncommon sense…

Sometimes I’ll call up a couple of people who’re in my target market: “I’m doing a thing; I need a guinea pig.” …they don’t usually tell me to feck off – I think often they feel appreciated. I’ll ask them if they’d sling my thing in the bin – my sales letter or whatever. And get ‘em talking…

Here’s another affliction: Corporate jumble mumble.

If you’re selling software to CTOs, you might want to talk in a different tone to one you’ll sell them ice cream with. But some writers sit their arses on ramrods, like they’re talking to brain-expired people who compute only clichéd ‘corporate language’.

You won’t bore people into buying. If that ‘corporate language’ could talk, it’d tell you it barely gets an eyeball on it.

Another affliction: Marketing language.

Maybe we’re immune to it, there’s so much about. …though there’s a plus in that: if you talk to people like you know they’re people, your ads’ll stand out easy in the tide of bullshit larketing mingo.

Another affliction: Tech language.


What characteristics make a great copywriter?

Wonderer, maybe. I think a wonderer brain mines into the seams of life, and can dig out hooks.

You need insights into the heads of humans. Dig (research) – observe – intuit.

In your digging, you’ll want to get people talking. Learn from talented interviewers. I loved listening to Gerry Ryan; and Kirsty Young is great.

Your ears need to be open.

Your mouth needs to know when to close.

Sensitive to how words can move people.

Sensitive to how words can make pictures in people’s heads. And to how visuals and other non-word things communicate.

Sensitive to bullshit. So you don’t write marketing-style bullshit.


Want to make things more effective.

Able to make things more simple.

Hard working.

What would you suggest to someone who wants to work as a copywriter?

Read the classics on advertising.

If you don’t have work to show, you could put together a portfolio of makey-uppy work. Or try pitching without a portfolio first – down the line, you can always go back to people who don’t bite this time around.

Pitch for business:

You could start with some of the people who leave their litter on your doormat or in your inbox. Give them a shout, and if you don’t have much work in your portfolio, give them an idea, so they know you’re not a full-o’-crap ache in the arse. Be sure they know you can make them more money. Make them an offer. You’ll want them to test your work against their other stuff and give you a percentage of the winnings.

Then your next job: take an upfront fee plus the percentage. Don’t be cheap – that’ll only get you pain-in-the-hole clients. If you earn a decent fee, you’ll get more respect.

…Or do dummy campaigns for brands, get them under your arm, poke your nose under the doors of ad agencies… Don’t choose cool brands for the dummies. Pick boring products with poxy advertising, and make something outstanding – the product’ll no longer be boring.

Sometimes your job will be to get the agency awards – more than get the client sales. The work might not even drive sales – like if the ad is talking about itself, not the product. But effective brand advertising is made with real cop-on. You’re getting brains to see brands as friends – hands to drop things in trolleys…you’re building behemoths…

…Or apply for in-house copywriting jobs. You might get a junior job off the back of a good interview plus odds and sods you’ve written for whatever things: think back – there’ll be stuff you’ve written you can put in a portfolio.

…Or get talking to the owner of a small business in your town. Make them an offer. Don’t dilly-dally. Move on to the next business, and the next. Then follow up with the first ones. Then move on to the next, and the next – till you get busy.

Or team up with a designer or an art director and do some of those things.

Once you’re hired, get to know your client’s product, and get to know the punters you want putting their hands in their pockets. Get a thorough understanding of the goal you need to score.

Turn the brief into a precisely phrased question: “How can I such-and-such?” Then answer the question.

Spew out ideas – crap ones, good ones, any ones (don’t show the crap to the client). If an idea doesn’t work, figure out how to make it work. A crap idea can be the seed of a genius idea. Use other advertising, and other anything, for inspiration.

When you’ve written copy, take out the superlatives for a second. If there’s nothing much left, scrunch.

Pointless wordplay doesn’t persuade.

This might reboot your brain: give an impressive fact. And figure out what people need to see, to believe.

Figure out how you can dramatise the benefit. Maybe how you can show the ‘before’ your product, and the ‘after’….and suss out how you can ‘story’ the communication – if you show, through story – not only tell, with info – you’ll leapfrog more scepticism.

You want to get people thinking, That’s how I feel – you get to that, with an insight – which you get to through research. …so you might latch onto something that bothers your target person – you might agitate that feeling for them; you might show how other answers aren’t the solution – and your client’s product will solve the problem…

…comb your copy. A word that’s not doing something valuable, is getting in the way of the thing you need to communicate.

Ask someone to look your copy over. I find the handiest critters are people who’re able to give their gut reactions. Some people can’t: they’ll get analytical but not know enough to know.

Encourage your critiquer to lay in. If you have a tendency to be defensive, rein yourself in. When they say something you know isn’t the way to go, keep the thought: you might find something in it that points a fingernail at a related thing that needs sorting. And give your critter a gift for their generosity with their time.

Be the person who solves problems for your clients; not the person who creates problems. Sounds obvious, but lots of bods don’t work with that focus.

If a client becomes a big pain in the head, fire them, and put your energy into getting good clients.

Don’t let marketing restrain your creativity. I’m writing a book by the title ‘How to eat a banana and other recipes’ – with it, I let rip things out of reach of my copywriting leash. I reckon madness from it leaks through, makes madness-sobered-up – specks of color – on copywriting jobs. I’d say any creativity will help keep your mind in good fettle – doesn’t need to be writing. Another thing might even be better.

Taste moments. As you know, some of the great writers went to war and did all sorts of mad stuff…but I don’t think you need go invading your local towns or anything. Just tune into ‘now’, so you experience life more: the fuel to write. Plenty of opportunity for it, since it’s always ‘now’.

Keep your eyes skinned for influence…I’m not a disciple of any religion, but I pop into temples, mosques, churches…the other week I went to a service with this preacher fella who roused everyone (‘cept me) into a ripe ol’ fervor. Everything he did was like out of a how-to write-a-sales-letter book: getting people to stand on a crate and testify they’d been healed; giving out cross-shape bottles of healing oil – and for the full heal, you need to be back the next week and the week after, for more oils…and taking phone numbers, and following up; and a pretty much perfectly choreographed ask for alms, citing some-odd thing that Jesus fella said about putting your hand in your pocket.

Next on my list: a used-car lot…

Do you train protégés? Mentor new copywriters?

Yes, but only the odd one or two.

What are some untapped market opportunities for copywriters?

There’s a JCB bucket load of business-to-business marketing material landing on nearly every desk nearly every day…imagine: there might be more tree on the desk than in the desk.

Most of it’s crap. You’ll easily do better.

…though really we need to persuade corporate noodles to put a cork in the corporate gibberish – that’ll make cartloads of opportunities for good writers.

…I’ve seen copywriters turn their noses up at corporate brochures et al. Instead they’ll do crap work on ‘cool’ things. But that’s not cool. You might write a white paper; you might write an ad for toilet paper: how good you make it, is how good you are at it.

And maybe this is not so tapped: decommodify yourself. If you do business-to-business or direct response, specialize in an industry you know. Or team up with a designer or an art director so you can give clients a full solution. Or sell your writing indirectly – e.g. set up a newsletter service: companies in different geographies rename the newsletter so it’s theirs, and they send it to their prospects each month. …that business might not suit you. But you might keep rooting about for different ways to monetize your skill.

What do you love about copywriting?

The job is like a stick you use to prod about in pieces of life – trying to see bits better.

Is there anything not great about being a copywriter?

I used to design and art direct. I find when my focus is on visual things, I can natter more, or listen to the radio. But I can’t write and rabbit.

What are your thoughts on honesty in advertising?

Thought 1:

Honesty is underused. It can sell well. Fish out useful truths about the product and the market – they’ll beat hype.

The default of your target buyers is mistrust, because they’ve been conned before – so you need to show you’re being honest – and build trust. Use testimonials. Maybe point out a drawback in the product – you can get attention doing that, it shows honesty, and you get to deal with the drawback – often you can turn it into an advantage.

A dishonest ad for a crap product, might get people to buy; but it won’t bring people back. And repeat custom is where most businesses make their money.

There are of course heaps of things you can’t be spit-and-sawdust honest about. That’s down to the client – to make changes to the product, or to make a new product they can be more honest about.

Thought 2:

You could say brands that don’t live up to their promises, are dishonest…I’d say that’d cover a lot of brands: like if the Coke promise is happiness, what’s the net happiness versus unhappiness in the full cycle from picking Coca-Cola leaves to piddling Coca-Cola pee…?

…or maybe: convey the Coca-Cola message effectively, and you really are giving people a little piece of joy when they open a Coke…

Because when we buy into a brand, we’re buying into a story. Like say someone’s buying a set of surf-dude sandals – maybe they need a bit of surf in their self. So you might write some label copy that’ll give them a bit of breaker buzz.

…though of course the product is never going to give the full buzz a fella or a lass is after – that might be half of why people keep buying new stuff – for a new bit of buzz…

Thought 3:

Maybe to manipulate is dishonest. But what if we switch the word ‘manipulate’ with ‘motivate’ – or even ‘fire the imagination’…? We might be selling child safety seats, or creative-kids stuff – not bottles of baby poison. Every communication is an attempt to influence. You say to someone: “Lovely day isn’t it?”: you’re up to a bit of monkey business – manipulating the mood. …and if you make the person smile: well done you: pat yourself on the back: good copywriter…

Thought 4:

Firing up fear and desire in your advertising, can help you sell shedloads. Maybe it’s dishonest to fire up those emotions. But if the product is good, and you’re showing the right people the real gain they can get, maybe you’re doing them a favor: spurring them to get their fingers out and get the thing that can help them. And sometimes you can bring in drivers of compassion, hope, connection, accomplishment, other betterment – when those drivers will key into the solution: the product. The more nous you have on what will drive people, the more success your campaign will see.

Thought 5:

A copywriter is a propagandist. Propaganda has a bad name; but we propagate good ideas – not just bad ones; we sell good things – not just bad things. I work on quite a few projects that help people: to build better businesses; help educate kids; relieve stress…

I have done ads for things that are not a hundred percent healthy – like confectionery. I’ve probably worked on stuff where the workers making the product are in a shoddy deal, or maybe the company is firing bits of bad into the atmos.

…sometimes there’re good opportunities for creativity and / or money, in the advertising of those items…

You still want to be digging for a truth, to sell with. Even if it’s ‘naughty but nice’. Because truths connect.

Thought 6:

I think ideas on what good business is, are bouncing about a bit more than they were a decade or so ago. A corollary might be: good business and transparency can help bring in more sales than they used to.

Effective marketing is all raveled up with the product. I pass the buck to the people who make the products. I suggest: make good, helpful, high-quality things. That’ll make for more honesty.

Is copywriting a useful skill in life – not only a way to make a buck?

If you want to stop people piddling on the toilet seat; or you want to start a revolution; or sell a thing – or achieve something else that involves influencing people: study direct marketing. It’ll help you figure out how achievable your goal will be, and what route will get you return on your investment quicker – not just money investment – investment of any energy.

…Maybe you need to get my brain on a job. You can catch me thru this form:

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...or sling a pigeon my way.