Copywriters Need to be Weird

Are you weird enough to be a real copywriter? It’s a question born out of Sanam Petri’s piece in The Guardian last year and it needs an answer.

Petri is an associate creative director for a digital agency in London and just before Christmas, she put out a warning sign to the marketing industry:no-bullshit

“Because today’s advertising world is largely driven by accolades and awards, many communication schools are churning out kids who think like creative directors, not kids who just love to write.”

When I read this, the world’s tiniest bell started ringing inside my skull,,am I one of these churned out kids?

Am I shite.

That’s what I said out loud and luckily nobody heard (the majority of the office was out to lunch and the rest were wired into their headphones).

My dad’s a writer and since I can remember, we have always been sharing ideas for short stories, plays and movies. Now I get to create characters and storylines in my guest blogging. It’s a sound job for a creative writer who wants to earn some pennies.

What about you? Are you engineered to be a world-beating marketer or do you just like creating good shit?

Further along in the article, Sanam Petri says:

In my experience, the most successful creative agencies are the ones with the most diverse set of weird people. The web designer who moonlights as a furniture maker. The copywriter who started life as a children’s book author. Musicians, craftsman, game designers, the passionate and the obsessive.

Our office is made up of some of the best weirdos I’ve ever known. The conversations that crackle through the air above the SEO team are unrepeatable,,but perfect. So, I can relate to what Petri is saying but to be honest I’ve never known any different.

If you write for a suit & tie agency populated by personalities you would normally see on The Apprentice and still manage to enjoy your job – maybe you have a solid opposing argument for all of this.

Me? I’m writing this piece in my dressing gown and girlfriend’s pink slipper socks – I couldn’t be more on Petri’s side if I tried.

pink socks

 

Rob Philbin

Developing the Kevlar Skin of a Copywriter

Stab. You’ve just been told you didn’t get the job and the other candidate had more professional writing experience.

This is the first step to becoming a copywriter with thick enough skin to stick out a career, so swallow the wallow and start blogging.

You’re going to be sound.

I got rejected by a Cheshire-based agency and the stab left me wanting to blubber.

I did some other stuff instead and you can do the same:

Go on Holiday

A quiet holiday – one that doesn’t involve spewing on a beach. There’s plenty of time for those holidays. This is a time for sampling the life you’d like to permanently afford come the peak of your career.

We stayed at a small lakeside cabin which had a hot tub.

It was late September and so cold that every night a razor-thin layer of ice formed in parts of our temporary lake – though it was still fluid enough to set sail a couple of Chinese water lanterns. Before bed, I extinguished the lanterns by flicking stones into them and didn’t think of a single telephone interview while doing it.

Reset.

Write

I know that same thought keeps looming over your inspiration every time you click ‘New Post’ – what can I possibly have to share with the world?

Well here’s the bad news, even if you do have something interesting to say, the world isn’t going to read it,,your mum or dad might if they can be arsed.

The good news is that a readership of 0 doesn’t judge, so just write whatever you like.

I had a lecturer who went all floaty when it came to free writing – almost whispering to the class like a masseuse as she explained its ability to unlock creativity. Hippy bullshit aside, she had a point.

Copywriters produce thousands of words a day and so until you get used to doing that, you’re never going to be match-fit.

Eventually, you’re going to get a sarky comment or two on your posts. Save them and never delete them.

Read

I still don’t read enough. I read a lot of blogs and I find myself squinting at the copy on the back of cereal boxes,,but I struggle to chew on a novel these days.

The best advice on reading for writers I heard just last week on BBC Radio 2 (yes, I’m reaching that age):

“Remember you’re always reading the final draft of an author’s whole writing process, you can’t compare your rough draft to the final products you’ve been reading your whole life.” – Hugh Howey

It’s healthy to be self-critical but I took what Howey said as a reminder to stay inspired by the kings of copywriting, not intimidated.

By the way, here’s a quick trio of copywriting blogs I’m loving at the minute:

Drayton Bird Blog
My friend and colleague in SEO put me onto Drayton a while back – John Lloyd has an eye for ‘all sense, no bollocks’ writing.
CopyBot
The way Demian Farnworth positions certain, unexpected, words on a page makes whatever he’s writing about pop – it’s almost Beat Poetry in parts.
Kaboomis Copy
Matthew Loomis is right on top of today’s copywriting game – firing up some Farnworth/Bird type words on fresh topics like social media.

Volunteer

You need to be rejected from an interview, be apprehensive about starting a blog and be ridiculed by your early readers, in order to start developing a thick skin,,but it takes a little bit more to make it completely bulletproof.

Stop applying for jobs. Start offering to volunteer.

You’re probably not ready for a copywriting career yet, so why not make all your mistakes while you’re not getting paid?

It took nine months as a voluntary sports journalist before I had enough of that oh-so-sacred ‘professional writing experience’ and realised it’s not the actual writing talent the interviewer’s looking for – it’s the pro writing attitude.

We’ve just signed a new copywriter to the team who has that attitude, after proving it during her three-month internship.

If you reckon you (or someone you know) could be the next in line, just send me a Tweet or whatever and I’ll keep you updated on when we’re recruiting again.

 

Every day’s a school day:

The backplate for the Motorola RAZR smartphone is made from kevlar and can seemingly withstand the force of a hammer.

 

Rob Philbin

Copywriting metaphor

Using Fiction’s Metaphors in Copywriting

I’ve never seen a slit throat in real life (touch wood) but here’s why I think about what one looks like every single day,,

I never realised how lucky I was to have studied under professional authors and poets, until about three months after graduation.

In my third year, Alicia Stubbersfield was my lecturer, who once read out the following extract as the perfect metaphor and I have never stopped trying to beat it since:

“His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat.”

It’s from Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and I’ll probably never come close to creating such powerful imagery,,but in the last three years that I’ve been writing for the web, I’d like to think my copy has benefited from at least attempting to.

With Alicia’s voice in my head, like some sort of literary (and female) Obi Wan Kenobi, I am reminded to use the English language freely every time I sit down to write. Even if it takes a little longer to craft a screaming metaphor instead of a yawning adjective, it’s worth it for the satisfaction alone.

The Extended Metaphor

In the second year of the LJMU course, I was taught short fiction by Jim Friel, who showed me the extended metaphor.

What Wikipedia says:
An extended metaphor, also known as a conceit or megametaphor, is when an author exploits a single metaphor or analogy at length through multiple linked vehicles, tenors, and grounds.

I tried using this technique in a scene for my short story assignment that semester and I got a First for the piece – so I’m egotistically taking that as permission to show you it here. For context, the story is written from the POV of a suicidal, who works for his brother-in-law’s high-end hotel.

Warning! The language here gets a bit colourful…

   ‘Zippo?’ He branded me with the nickname after I gave him a light on my first day. He was wearing his buckled shoes. I knew Elaine had picked them out for him. ‘What the fuck? I mean really, what the fuck?’

   I looked up; one of the hotel cleaners was buffering the marble floor at the back, like a lint roller on the lobby’s uniform collar. ‘I overslept.’

   ‘Where did you fucking oversleep exactly? Kuwait?’ It wore a red carpet tie, right down to the centre of the grand entrance, where we stood.

   ‘I overslept.’ The girls on reception, tucked in the top pocket, looked up like meercats.

   He dragged me aside by the arm. ‘Listen you little prick, just because I married your sister, it doesn’t mean I have to put up with your shit. Don’t speak to me like I’m a dickhead in front of the others again. Hear me?’ Cockram was the silver name badge.

   ‘Okay.’

   ‘And I’m not having you looking like a wet newspaper in this lobby, so fuck off down the basement. You’re on cameras again with the Cripple.’

   I was the stain.

That story was amongst the most depressing pieces of fiction I ever forged. Still, what Jim Friel taught me in just three months enabled me to shape this one extended metaphor and with that, I now have another weapon to use in my professional copywriting.

Metaphors in Copywriting

The extended metaphor can become the DNA of a page, linking everything together along a neat and complex string of description. The hotel setting lent itself to a uniform-themed metaphor and sometimes your subject matter helps you out in that respect (you can see another example from one of my first jobs in print copywriting here). Using metaphors in web content writing can be trickier, for a number of reasons:

  • Subject matter can be awkward
  • Your ‘fun’ as a writer can distract from the content’s purpose
  • Audience isn’t always reading for enjoyment

The latter is the most challenging from this trio in my (still fledgling) opinion; copywriters are confronted every day with what I’m naming as the ‘Reader Gauntlet’…

Who are you writing a guest post for? Your client, the owner of the blog where you intend to place the piece or the reader?

It’s all three. With the last one being most important.

Like it or not, your client will have a certain tone of voice they want you to use, as will the blogger you’re guest posting for – so you can’t just go throwing metaphors about willy-nilly (I love that nan phrase), because you don’t really have a poetic license.

Still, I’d argue this only adds the demand for accuracy.

Before graduation, I’d used a metaphor in a short story which compared varicose veins to noodles. This was fairly (and uncomfortably) accurate in terms of how they looked, but one of the writers in the workshop suggested that noodles do not tend to be blue.

Until then, I hadn’t really understood the level of accuracy that readers will, not demand, but need when metaphors are used.

So the same goes for copywriting – only metaphors that are easy to understand really work. My advice is never to be proud of a metaphor because unless it’s near Angela Carter accurate, it’s likely that at least one party in the ‘Reader Gauntlet’ will have a problem with it.

Thanks for reading my stuff

Enrolling on that creative writing course wasn’t the most direct route to a career in marketing but I believe that degree is the one reason why I can (and love to) write long copy.

Alicia Stubbersfield and Jim Friel are not the only authors I owe my profession to; Sarah Maclennan, Janette Stowell, Aileen La Tourette, Gareth Creer and the late Edmund Cusick, all intimidated me enough to write well and taught me enough to do it for the rest of my life.

If you want to enrol on the course in Liverpool, click here around autumn time.

Every day’s a school day: German actor, Daniel Hoevels, accidentally slit his throat on-stage when performing a suicide scene. His prop knife turned out to be real but thankfully he survived the ordeal.

 

 

 

Rob Philbin