A little background
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a journalist, inspiration by Ceefax (these were pre-internet days). I loved the way news was not only so immediate but condensed into brief paragraphs which, I was to find out later, is one of the things copywriters get up to in advertising.
When did you first earn money from writing?
Aged 15 I wrote news stories for the local free sheet, Severn Source, for 10p a line.
Do you have any academic qualifications?
In terms of journalism, it wasn’t until ordinary college that I discovered I should have gained certain qualifications and attended a dedicated college – in the unionised days. If I’d known I’d have taken education a little more seriously. I do have a C in O Level English though.
So what did you actually do at college?
Played pinball, set up a card school, started a college magazine and became President of the Students Union. That sort of thing.
What was your first proper job?
At 19 I joined a company called Apricot Computers as Marketing Assistant. I started an internal sales newsletter and wrote my first piece of advertising copy – a leaflet about a dot matrix printer.
What happened next?
A colleague’s father ran a PR agency. I went for an interview, got a job and learnt how to write structured stories. A timeless lesson.
What went wrong?
The only part of PR I liked was the research and writing bit. I flitted between PR agencies, hating it more and more because apart from the writing I was crap at everything else.
When did you decide to become a copywriter?
There was a company called Brookes & Vernons in Birmingham with some pretty big clients. They did a thing called advertising which was interesting. I took a copy test, worked for a whole summer paid out of petty cash and was taken on as a Junior Copywriter in the autumn. At last. A perfect fit.
Long or short copy?
There are reasons for both and both are equally satisfying – and the ability to do both is essential. I love the economy of words in press advertising but also lengthier copy for print. The editorial approach of PR is good too if there’s a point to be made. The need for short or long copy really depends on the brief, the product or service, its market and the target media.
Ad, advert or advertising?
Ad is good, advertising is good. There is no such thing as an advert.
Writing wise, what was your proudest moment?
There are many but I guess the one that stands out so far, in terms of personal experience, was a series of British Steel videos I scripted, explaining the complete process of steel manufacture. During research I got to go inside Teesside and other steel plants. Awesome. There were five videos with a total run time of 2.5 hours. A long, intense project but sold by British Steel HR to many places around the world including Kuwait University.
What was your most embarrassing experience?
Learning on the fly, several come to mind. One I remember from my youth was trying to convince a client that a black and white press ad consisted of a two colour print.
I love all of advertising and the different skills each media demands. I guess the one I’m particularly fond of is radio – over the years I’ve had some great times in recording studios.
Not many. The phrase “when it comes to” is one. Another is radio advertising small print; that speeded up garble at the end of a radio spot that ruins everything for everybody. I’d like to see the rules relaxed but I’m not holding my breath.
Freelance, retained or full time employment?
So long as I keep thinking and writing I’m happy.
Any advice to someone starting out in copywriting?
Chances are, today, a young copywriter will have gone through University or a specialised course and I guess all the advice they need would probably come from that experience. However, what I did was save a copy of every single thing I wrote from the earliest newspaper articles. It got me a strong portfolio and opened many doors. Another tip? Follow Dave Trott on Twitter.
Have you any interests outside copywriting?
I love dialogue and dabble in that for screen and radio. No great achievements so far although I’ve had some success with international short screenplay competitions. I always knew I would be a late developer in this field and have confidence that out of my library of ideas something worthy will materialise before I peg it.
And your happiest copywriting moments?
When work I’ve been involved with gets the desired outcome for the client – why else do it?
What would you do if you won the lottery?
Pay off my friends’ mortgages (a promise we made to each other when the lottery started), move to Wales, continue freelancing and finish what I’ve started with my personal writing. Although, to be honest, I haven’t bought a lottery ticket since Camelot upped the ticket price by 100% and reduced the odds of winning to one in 45 million. Robbing…