Blog

creative titbits and marketing gubbins

How do freelance copywriters conquer writer's block?

How freelance copywriters conquer writer’s block

Freelance copywriters write copy – at least, that’s what they’re supposed to do.

On a good day, ideas come thick and fast. Words pop into the mind and flow through the fingertips to dance across the page with an elegance that would make Darcey Bussell look like a newborn elephant taking its first steps.

It’s what freelance copywriters do. Words are their stock in trade – ads need devising, blogs need populating, stories need telling… and then it hits – the copywriter’s nemesis – writer’s block. Like a sleeping buffalo; push all you like, it feels like nothing’s going to shift it.

So, how do we get over writer’s block? Are there any tricks that can help us turn a sticky keyboard into a glorious piece of customer-grabbing prose?

Writer’s block can strike at any time, but freelance copywriters have deadlines to hit and in the commercial world it’s usually only the client that has the power to change the target date.

Before you write a single word

Know your brief – Before you write anything, you need to know the who, what and why of it all. If there’s no formal brief, it’s up to you to ask the right questions. Learn more about writing a creative brief here.

Getting into first gear

The brief’s agreed and you know your deadline, now what?

Find your sweet spot – The absolute worst place for me to concentrate on a piece of copy is in the agency. It’s the perfect arena to discuss the brief, share ideas and catch up on gossip, but for me personally, 8-hours of banter and other people’s telephone conversations are as effective at killing off my writing mood as throwing a bucket of cold water over an amorous pooch (RSPCA, please note, I don’t even have a dog). If you want to get maximum return on your time investment, find a place where the ideas flow freely – in the park, locked in the boardroom, in a hermetically sealed glass booth with a ‘Do not disturb’ sign stuck to your forehead… whatever it takes.

Freelance copywriters – do not disturb

Choose your weapon – Especially at the beginning of the writing process, getting your ideas down quickly is important. If you’re a one-finger-one-thumb typist, get a note pad, smartphone or dictaphone (and keep it with you throughout the day) for getting your thoughts out of your head. The pen, pencil or keyboard you use can make a huge difference to your flow. It’s all about comfort and familiarity. When you’re writing with an instrument that feels right, you can concentrate on the words, not the means.

Remove distractions – People perform better without unwanted brain bait and concentration confuddlers. And boy, are there a lot of those to contend with in the modern workplace. The three biggest culprits are email, social media and phone calls. I started this post at 5.40am and had the key ideas, structure and at least 20% of the final words cracked by 7.00. Not a single email (switched off), tweet (tab closed), or conversation (clients and collaborators are fast asleep or eating their cornflakes) got in the way.

Now let’s write something

Get your first words down – Blank page syndrome is enemy number one. For a novice, a blank page staring back at you is like facing Mike Tyson in the ring. The answer is simple; get the first punch in. Write anything down that comes to you – lists of related words, your first un-edited ideas; just throw them down and then there’s no more blank page to taunt you. Even if you just write a flood of semi-legible nonsense, at least you’re writing. Writing something is definitely better than writing nothing. You may be under the illusion that sitting and thinking (or waiting for the creative muse) is the way that writer’s work. Maybe some do, but thinking about words and actually writing need to be split seconds apart. A germ of an idea sparks a sentence, which fuels a paragraph and the next thing you know, you’ve written that brochure you’ve been worrying about for 2 days.

Don’t worry about spelling – Spelling matters, but not when you’re getting your first ideas down. Write your first draft without the worry of getting everything just right. Deadlines permitting, there will be plenty of time to worry about the finer details in the second, third or fourth draft. Don’t edit as you go, just keep writing until the words dry up.

Freelance copywriters – SPELLING

Put the thesaurus down – Non-writers often think that their thesaurus will save the day. Cat stuck up a tree? Get the thesaurus out. Colleague needs CPR? Give Roget a call. A thesaurus (for speed, I use thesaurus.com) is great when you’ve already got ideas and you’re into the next level of refinement, but if you’re staring at a blank page, I really wouldn’t make it your first port of call.

There’s good noise and there’s bad noise – Ambient sound can have a profound influence on what you write. Have you ever been writing when someone enters the room and starts talking? It was all going great, the sentences were almost writing themselves then I’m doing a sandwich run, cheese and pickle, no make it falafel, oh bugger, where was I? Noise has a huge effect. Some freelance copywriters like to work in pin drop silence, some love music, the sound of the sea, whale song… experiment, it’ll soon be clear what kind of ambient sound works for you.

Don’t let a good idea get away – The mind is messy thing, ideas can come and go in a heartbeat. That fantastic idea can quickly be replaced by “Ooh, I wonder what’s for dinner” and then it’s gone, sometimes for good. If an idea hits you, scribble it down in the margin. You can always come back to it later and see if it still works.

Freelance copywriters – lost concentration

You write what you eat and drink – Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of writing about hydration for a healthcare client. The brain is 73% water, and if that’s where ideas and words are processed, then we owe it to ourselves to make sure it doesn’t shrivel up. Equally, writing on an empty stomach will only get you so far. Hunger will eventually become as distracting as a PPI phone call. If you’re hungry, eat, but don’t eat too much – a three-course lunch will make you sluggish, and slugs really don’t make the best copywriters.

Everything looks better after a couple of liveners – Some freelance copywriters are convinced they write with greater fluidity when they are more fluid-y themselves. Alcohol removes inhibitions; it opens up parts of the subconscious that otherwise keep themselves to themselves. Relying on any form of stimulant to fuel the creative process and remove writer’s block may be tempting, but it’s a slippery slope. I’m sure Jack Kerouac or Robert Louis Stephenson would have disagreed, but for every drug-fuelled genius writer, there are a hundred who’d wished they’d just said “no”. However, if that’s your bag (or pipe or glass), make sure someone who is alcohol or drug-free reads your masterpiece before it goes to print.

Don’t ignore your body clock – As evidenced by this blog post, I love to write during the wee, small hours. I can always have a kip later on, but if the brief is basically sorted by midday, then I reckon I deserve it. Everyone is different, but if your mind and body are telling you to write at stupid o’clock, then don’t put it off. Having said that, deadlines show no mercy, so professional freelance copywriters have to learn how to turn it on whenever it’s needed.

I’ve got a first draft, but…

Save it, never discard it – Have you saved it yet? No? Do it! 1,000 words can be difficult to tease out the first time, but if auto-save isn’t on (or the dog eats your note book), it can be twice as hard to write it all over again. If, for whatever reason, your first draft does get lost, my advice would be to engage stiff upper-lip mode, forget what went before and start afresh. Trying to remember exactly what you had first time round will only end in even more writer’s block.

If it’s not behaving, just ignore it – If you’re part way through and you get stuck, the best way to un-bung is to walk away and do something else. Change the scene, have a cup of tea. If it’s a temporary hiccup, a minute or two away from the screen or page usually does the trick. If you can afford the time, go outside, look at the trees – it’s amazing how easy it is to shift what seemed like an immovable object just by changing your outlook (don’t forget to take your notebook with you).

Don’t be afraid to get the axe out – Another great technique to overcome writer’s block is to hack whatever you’ve already got to pieces. It’s rare that the third draft isn’t an improvement on the first, but you just never know, so keep everything. If you want to know more, there’s lots of copy editing advice here.

Still bunged up?

When a short walk just won’t do – For those extra, cemented-in blockages, have a proper break and give it the overnight test. Do something completely different – work on another creative brief, go paint balling, deep-sea diving, Morris dancing… whatever it takes to completely lose the plot. You’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and a completely different perspective.

Bring in reinforcements – Ask others for their opinions, not necessarily other copywriters. Bounce your ideas off almost anyone, especially someone who doesn’t know the brief (or even better, someone who is part of your target audience) and see what their gut reaction is. Even a seemingly random comment from your Aunt Ethel can sometimes get things moving again.

Freelance copywriters – aardvark

Call it quits – Not everyone can write great copy. I’ve worked alongside people (non-writers) who insist on writing when they really should be getting on with the day job. 8 hours and a half-written paragraph later, everyone else has left for the evening and they’re still trying to wrestle a headline into submission. I understand the temptation to do everything yourself. I could buy a Haynes manual and spend a couple of weeks watching YouTube tutorials, but it’s probably best if I take my car to the garage for an MOT. If words don’t come easily, then spend your energy on working out what the brief is and get a professional in.

Further reading:
How to choose the right freelance copywriters
How to edit your copy
More about music and creativity

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Bryce Groves Advertising Art Director – So, What If… blog

Probing the creative mind #8 Bryce Groves

The eighth in a series of posts taunting creative people with the interview stick. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators; they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing Bryce Groves, freelance Advertising Art Director.

So Bryce, welcome to the So, What If… interrogation room. Please tell us what you do for a living.
The short answer is ‘Advertising Art Director (with a strong conceptual aspect)’.

In practice though, I find myself doing graphic design, copywriting, scriptwriting, photography, filmmaking (shooting and editing), production/project management, presentation design, and whatever else is needed to make good work come to life. I draw the line at doing spreadsheets though.

What sort of agencies or clients do you work for?
I love working in teams and enjoy being in a big, well-organised agency, but recently I find myself much more in with nimble little agencies and startups, plus collaborations with fellow entrepreneurs. There are lots of companies out there that have negligible inhouse creative knowledge or talent, so I often end up as a one-man-band providing not just ‘product’, but also advice and knowledge on processes and best practice.

So when did you realise that a creative path was right for you ?
My school years were spent chasing a dream of being an air force pilot, with no clues or opportunities around anything creative. The maths component of the air force entry exam was a harsh reality check that left me suddenly adrift, until an entry-level job at a signwriting company producing vinyl graphics became an unexpected doorway into greater things. Although I never picked up a brush, I learned layout and a love of type from old-school signwriters, and over the next decade my skillset evolved into graphic design and art direction (without realising what that was). But it was when I left the sign industry and started a Diploma in Creative Advertising that everything clicked.

Sounds like art school was a pivotal point in your career.
Late in my 20s I did a graphic design certificate at Auckland University of Technology, but after one too many design agency doors were closed in my face (literally), I took those skills (Photoshop 4!) back into the sign industry for another 3 years, riding a small wave of the rise of the large-format digital print era.

The real revolution was my Diploma in Creative Advertising. I swear I felt my brain changing shape in my head, especially being taught about pure ideas. It changed not just my career but how I looked at the world. It was a stressful year at times, but that was the point in some ways, so that life in an ad agency – like the days that followed working til 3am as a junior at M&C – wouldn’t be such a shock.

How did you land your first job in advertising?
Media Design School had a deep connection with the best agencies in town so I was lucky to have a pre-organised internship at DDB straight after the course. When this expired, my partner and I bounced into a placement at M&C Saatchi, which after some typical junior-creative slog, paid off with a real job. There was definitely an element of luck and timing, but certainly also sheer hard work and putting love into every brief no matter how small. I’d say it also pays to stand out as a person in an agency – all the hard work in the world won’t matter if nobody knows who you are, so if you’re a bit quiet like I was, it helps to team up with someone who isn’t.

Who have you worked with along the way who has influenced you?
I wouldn’t have said it at the time, but my first CD at M&C, Jason Ross, was a big influence. Often unfair, grumpy, and disliked, he nevertheless pushed me into really interrogating ideas, and executing them with a vicious level of craft. Jason also cared about junior creatives learning and developing, not just toiling away. Without fail, after presenting ideas to him he would say “what else?” (I still find myself saying that under my breath to myself when working on concepts) – infuriating at the time but it cemented good habits.

On a different note, my slow-burn, documentary-filmmaking aspiration was fuelled by meeting Orlando von Einsiedel, the director of the gorilla film Virunga. Sitting in a dishevelled grassy meadow sharing cider at a documentary festival in Kent, he told me how a couple of weeks prior he had been hiding behind a tree in the Congo with his camera as tanks rolled past. What hit me was not just his courage but also how he was, despite the stars in my eyes, still an ordinary bloke, and the implication that an ordinary bloke like me could also one day make such impactful work.

What inspired the move to the UK?
At the Auckland agency, Sugar, we used to gather around the creative director every Monday and check out bestadsontv.com and I noticed how much inspiring work was coming out of the UK agencies. Bewitched by the bright lights of London and the possibility of working in one of the world’s advertising focal points (thanks to my UK ancestry) I headed over in 2008.

The change was certainly one of scale – a small independent agency in the UK can have twice the staff of a big network agency in New Zealand, which does mean more protocol and politics, and makes it near impossible to get in the door of an agency unless you know someone.

In New Zealand, because of the scale – and perhaps culturally – you tend to do a bit of everything. In the UK you’re often put in a pigeonhole. Are you a print specialist? An experiential specialist? A fashion specialist? An automotive specialist? And so on. Obviously we benefit from collecting wisdom and not spreading ourselves too thin, but few things irk me more than someone saying, “Oh you’re a healthcare creative”. I’ve done a lot in that area recently, but that doesn’t make me a one-trick pony. Diversity of experiences and briefs is one of the drawcards of this career for me.

Which agencies do you particularly admire at the moment?
That’s a good question, I must admit I don’t ‘watch’ agencies as well as I could or should. But I’ve recently come across and been inspired by purpose.com. They have an enticing mix of media, all made really well, but really their name says it all (take a look at their ‘about’ page).

On a more traditional agency model, I’m a fan of Venables Bell + Partners in San Francisco – I don’t idolise the agency as such, but found them via their beautifully executed and insightful Black Friday campaign for REI outdoor equipment stores in the US. The visceral simplicity and scriptwriting of this Audi ad of theirs is enviable too. As agency ethos’ go, they have a tight, interesting and original variation on the usual spiels.

How do you get the creative process moving?
One of my key techniques is to try and imagine myself as the target market; both emotionally and rationally – almost like an actor. What are their day-to-day fears and aspirations? What matters to them the most or the least? Who do they look up to?

I’m a big fan of the ‘collision’ technique for visuals, although in the last few years the classic twisted visual seems to be dying – Joe Public has no time or attention span for decoding interesting twists, it seems.

Following the wisdom of Paul Arden, I also have a hefty scrapbook (albeit mostly digital, for the sake of portability) and whenever possible I will try to come up with ideas while/by visiting galleries and museums, to get fresh and unexpected visual inputs. Failing that I’m a fan of sites like thisiscolossal.com for inspiration beyond adland.

One of my favourite quotes I’ve gathered along the way that I mutter to myself is “If you’re selling boats, create a yearning for the ocean.”

What three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio and why?
Fearless Girl
It’s a bronze statue! In this age where everything is measured by clicks and channels, I love the beautiful, singular simplicity of this as an execution and a concept. The cause it stands for and the level of public engagement are great too.

Bryce Groves Advertising Art Director – Fearless Girl

Ghost Chips (aka ‘Bloody Legend’)
This anti-drink-driving TVC from New Zealand is targeted very specifically at Māori youth (hence the accents – scroll down a little in YouTube where someone has done a transcript, if needed). I love it not just for the offbeat approach to a subject that is mostly executed as an ominous voice from authority or with graphic carnage, but also because it had a significant impact on the target audience as well as much wider appeal – ‘ghost chips’ became a meme, effectively. And the idea of a ghost having chips, that the living can’t eat, is sheer conceptual joy to me.

Bryce Groves Advertising Art Director – NZ Anti-Drink Driving

Honda Banana
This is a classic of course. It’s not just the quirky art direction (and a car ad without the car) but also the way it fires dual sparks of imagination and memory – presuming of course you have ever written on a banana!

Bryce Groves Advertising Art Director – Honda Banana

What’s your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?
Undoubtedly, the “Flying Lesson” TV commercial. This was a part of a second round of ads for TSB Bank (New Zealand), to follow on from the existing campaign. This execution harnessed insights around the daunting terminology and number-crunching of first home ownership. Aside from the excitement of having a real plane in an ad (and the pilot being happy to make his take-off “as dangerous and clumsy as you can make it look”), I took pride in crafting the script with specific, correct terminology for that type of plane so every detail was as accurate as possible. My only regret (of sorts) is how blaringly nasal the kiwi accent of the actor is, which I only noticed after living in the UK for a while.

Bryce Groves Advertising Art Director – TSB Flying Lessons

What’s the best shoot you’ve been on?
Although I’ve shot in a few interesting places such as a Hungarian Opera House, the shoot that still stands out in my mind was shooting for Tourism New Zealand’s exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show. The ‘Union Jack’ execution was made with a living forest floor built in the studio, with a lot of fishing line to manipulate our main tree fern. The ‘tube map’ execution was accomplished by flying to the wild west coast of the South Island, and hiking up into the native rainforest to find the perfect untouched section where we could also dig downwards (thanks to it being on the photographer’s sister’s property). Both executions were a lovely craft experience on top of one of my best ever visual concepts.

Bryce Groves Advertising Art Director – NZ in the UK

What ingredients make up the ideal client?
The biggest one for me is someone who has an investment and enthusiasm in their own brand/product – someone who is genuinely engaged in what they do, not just churning out ads as a way to get attention and promotions.

An understanding of the creative process is really useful, but not always feasible – so really it boils down to an open mind and willingness to take on board the experience and advice of the creative/photographer/director/producer etc.

I’m also a fan of decisiveness. Even if they disagree with me, I respect a client who sticks to their guns rather than saying yes then later weaselling away from their decision to curry favour with a board member.

Tell me something you’ve learned along the way that you’d like to pass on to other creatives.
Don’t make work that only other creatives can interpret. Ask your cousin, or the cleaner, and see if they get it.

As a junior, I presented concepts to the CD with hesitation and doubt (I knew they weren’t perfect but time was short), and he said “If you’re not excited about your ideas, why should I be?” I’ve taken that to heart ever since, especially in pitches. I remind myself to always present with passion, even if inside I know it’s not 100% watertight.

Much of the time, clients, consumers and colleagues don’t pick up the nagging nuances that make you doubt your work. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t craft your thinking to the best possible potential; but remind yourself that creatives can often be their own ideas’ harshest critic, when even the best ideas really need a friend.

What’s your dream brief?
This is very much a dream, in the sense that there’s no specific organisation or company I know of that would necessarily be able to fund this, but I would love to be part of a long-term project to shift (as in, eradicate) the beliefs and attitudes that create the market for the pointless destruction of endangered wildlife – for instance shark fin soup and “remedies” made with Rhino horn. Not just stopping poaching or fishing practices etc, but somehow culturally and emotionally discrediting the actual beliefs that make those animal parts valuable.

This hypothetical brief/project would be something like road safety and seatbelt campaigns – probably taking years, and needing to utilise advertising, documentaries, experiential, PR, VR, merchandise, games and just about every media channel you can think of. As a conceptual challenge it would be hugely daunting, but if I could be part of a larger creative team with rock solid research, cultural advisors, behavioural change experts, and of course decent production budgets, it would be a dream brief to bring such change to the world.

This book, Photographers Against Wildlife Crime, that I’ve recently helped crowdfund is a tiny step in that direction.

What one thing would make your job easier or better?
Despite the seriousness in some of my previous answers, I’d love the chance to be a bit more off-the-wall. As I’ve gotten more senior I’ve gotten more strategic and big-picture, and found myself having to think hard about all the mechanisms of digital engagement etc.

I’d love to work on some briefs where I could recapture the simple joy of being creative, with a focused piece at the end that would make people laugh or smile.

If you weren’t an Advertising Art Director, what would you be?
Probably a journalist. As mentioned, I’m also nurturing a slow-burn documentary-making aspiration, but that’s a hugely difficult path to earn any money with, and I still enjoy all the diverse potential that comes with insight-driven ideas.

Thanks Bryce. Good luck with your wildlife saving and documentary making dreams. Sounds like the perfect combination to me, so who knows.

Check out Bryce’s website
Connect with Bryce on LinkedIn
Follow Bryce on Instagram

Read the last creative interview here:
Graphic Designer and Art Director: David Taylor

Creative Ideas Jonathan Wilcock So, What If blog

Where do creative ideas come from?

What’s the difference between a creative person and a non-creative person?

This isn’t the opener for a self-indulgent joke, but a question that’s been nagging me for a while now.

I’ve worked with hundreds of creatives over the years and there is definitely something a bit ‘special’ about them. Over the course of their careers, creative problem solvers, be they copywriters, art directors or designers have to magically pull tens of thousands of creative ideas out of the hat. For ‘non-creative’ people, that would be a mind-boggling, and frankly, impossible task.

So where do creative ideas come from?

One theory that I personally subscribe to, is that there is nothing new in the universe. Everything is a manifestation of what was already there. Whether we like it or not, we are all rediscovering and recycling. It’s not a case of inventing, but re-inventing.

According to Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plots or themes that are recycled in movies and novels:
1. Overcoming the Monster
2. Rags to Riches
3. The Quest
4. Voyage and Return
5. Rebirth
6. Comedy
7. Tragedy.

Others expand on this list, but whatever the number, academics pretty much agree that every story ever told has been retold over and over in slightly different ways.

The same goes for jokes. After researching 20,000 rib ticklers; theorist, Alastair Clarke, concludes that there are only eight joke structures in the whole world:

1. Positive Repetition e.g. a catchphrase
2. Scale – such as oversized features on caricatures
3. Qualification – a familiar word said in an unfamiliar way
4. Qualitative Recontextualisation – when something familiar is changed
5. Application – when words have a double meaning
6. Completion – the audience has to imagine the end of the joke
7. Division – a joke is broken up and told by different people
8. Opposition – irony and sarcasm.

So if there really is nothing new under the sun, why does an idea come along every now and again that seems to shake things up? Well, just because there is nothing new as such, there are infinite ways of combining the universe of things that is already out there. William Boeing copied the Wright Brothers – who copied Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier – who copied Leonardo da Vinci – who copied the birds (not sure who the birds copied). At each stage, it may have seemed like a massive innovation, but really, each invention was a borrowed and re-engineered version of what had gone before.

13 million minutes worth of input

At this moment in time, I reckon I’ve been alive and conscious of my surroundings for at least 13 million minutes. How many words, pictures, stories, jokes, magical moments… have I been exposed to during this time? How many combinations of this data could I come up with?

There are 118 chemical elements, 26 letters in the English alphabet, approximately 10,000,000 colours (in the spectrum that we can see) and 1,831 types of cheese on cheese.com alone.

And that’s not including shapes, words, textures or savoury crackers!

The point being, there is no end to the influences that shape our thinking

So here’s the conclusion I’ve come to about creative people and their ability to come up with creative ideas. They are basically the same as everyone else, but they are spongier. They soak up everything they come into contact with and they have an innate ability to create ‘new’ ideas by filtering and mixing everything in their memory banks. Ideas don’t just appear from nowhere, they are constructed by combining memories.

So to generate creative ideas, all I have to do is juggle things around that already exist and Bob’s your Uncle:

Where do creative ideas come from? Jonathan Wilcock – creative consequences 1
Where do creative ideas come from? Jonathan Wilcock – creative consequences 1

Or how about…

Where do creative ideas come from? Jonathan Wilcock – creative consequences 2

Of course, it’s not quite so simple when you have to answer a real-world creative brief, but the principal remains the same. Creative people absorb more information and have a knack for spewing it back out in a way that makes their ideas compelling/convincing/attention-grabbing.

What else does it take to have creative ideas?

By my reckoning, there are a handful of qualities that any good creative person needs. Not all of them can be taught, but they can be nurtured and encouraged to blossom by keeping inspiring company and through discipline.

A love for it – If you don’t love what you’re doing, it shows in the work. There’s a great solution to even the most seemingly dull creative brief. Whether or not the client will buy it is another thing.

Curiosity – everything is fascinating once you start to scratch the surface. You don’t have to be an expert in anything, but the more stuff you expose yourself to, the greater the mental library you can draw on.

Child-like enthusiasm – it can be tough coming up with idea after idea. Every day, as much as possible, needs to be approached with a hop, skip and a smile. Creative people find the fun in what they do – ideas die on treadmills.

Perseverance – sometimes your first idea is the best one, but more often than not, it’s the one that you haven’t unearthed yet that’s the real killer idea. If the deadline allows it, great creatives keep sniffing around for something even better.

Openness – remember the kid at school who hid his work so no one could copy it? Don’t be that kid. Ideas love being bounced around. The best creatives aren’t scared to share them. For every idea that I’ve ‘had’, there are at least 2 or 3 that have morphed and been polished by sharing them with colleagues, family and friends.

A very, very thick skin – ideas are our babies and people are queuing up to tell us just how ugly they are. No matter how much we become attached to them, we need to be prepared to sacrifice our beloved creative ideas for something that the client is happier with.

Courage – “Yes, it’s a bit bonkers, and yes it’s not exactly on brief as such, and you’re right, no one else in the sector is doing it, but it just feels right.” Sometimes you’re going to have to fight to get an idea through. It takes guts to stand up and champion something that no one else immediately understands.

The ability to detach – no one liked your ideas and they’ve run with a boring old cliché. Now is not the time to shuffle off into a corner for a sulk. If we cling on to every great idea that is rejected, then sooner or later we become bitter and deluded (and often end up in rehab). You fought for it, you lost; now move on, there’s thousands more ideas where that came from.

The other quality that separates really creative people from the ‘normals’ is the ability to have creative idea after creative idea. When the deadline is looming, writer’s block won’t cut it as an excuse.

This, of course, is just my opinion. Creative ideas may actually be born under the gooseberry bush or be delivered by pixies, but I’m sticking with the above. Either way, I’ll leave you with this rather jolly quote from John Steinbeck:

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”
If you enjoyed this, you might be interested in Music and Creativity
Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk
So, What If… Probing the creative mind – David Taylor, Graphic Designer and Art Director

Probing the creative mind #7 David Taylor

The seventh in a series of posts wiggling around in the grey matter of creative people. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators; they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing David Taylor, Graphic Designer and Art Director.

Hello David, let’s kick this off by you telling us what it is you do.
Hi Jonathan and Happy New Year. I work at Saentys; I’m a Graphic Designer and Art Director. Our studio is based in London, Shoreditch, and we also have offices in Paris, Geneva and Lyon, bringing together ideas for real estate, corporate and retail branding.

I work alongside a fantastic team of well-rounded and talented individuals, and this year we became 10 years young. We creatively push every project we take on and ensure that our clients always receive a design that is uniquely theirs. Obsessing over the details and experimenting with finishes and formats is a thing I really enjoy. I love to deliver beautifully crafted ideas that inspire and visually communicate to an audience.

So what first got you into a creative career?
At a young age I would be constantly doodling, creating posters with friends, replicating logos over schoolbooks, bags, whatever the ‘fad thing’ of the time was. I would write short story books and spend days designing the cover, which in turn would give me further ideas on the stories I wrote.

Family and friends told me that I was the ‘artistic’ one in the family, but I wasn’t sure of which direction to take. One day a good friend, Nathan Hallet, put his college portfolio in front of me and suggested I take a look. I flicked through a mix of photography, hand crafted illustrations, bold and subtle lettering and proclaimed, “fuck, I want to create stuff like this”. He wrote me a brief to design a fashion label and I got started. Visually designing for purpose fascinated me and studying design felt like the next thing to do.

Where did you study design and how did you land your first design job?
As an Essex lad, I started at the South East Essex College of Arts & Technology with a BTEC in Graphic Design. From there I went on to study in North London at Barnet College, for a Higher National Diploma in Art & Design and then onto Middlesex College to study for a Graphic Design BA Honours. I met some interesting people and friends along the way, with whom I shared digs, crazy nights out and some very in-depth, late night design theory discussions.

A lot of my study work involved creating design elements by hand – back then the Apple Macintosh Power PC was pretty slow by today’s standards. I learnt a lot from lecturers, but a hell of a lot from other students. Looking back at my study days it wasn’t about what was taught; it was about the effort and enthusiasm put in. The level of creativity other students produced really pushed me to stand out with my creative ideas, which helped me build my folio and pursue my career.

My first job was as a Junior Designer at the North London design agency, David Mills Graphic Design. I landed the role through sheer passion and willingness to learn design, that and recommendations through good friends and businesses in the industry I met whilst living in the local borough. Once I had mastered the tea and coffee process, I would help to create illustrations, logos, typesetting etc. to add to the outgoing studio work.

As a Graphic Designer and Art Director, what’s your go-to starting point to get the creative process moving?
A pencil, paper, good coffee, Spotify and gut instinct. I research, pull ideas apart and then put them back together. It’s good to get lost inside a thesaurus, take note of words that leap out, doodle, gather related patterns, explore colours, textures and images, then research some more.

When on a Mac, I collate folders of photography, Illustrations, typefaces, colours, finishes etc. to help me clarify a starting point. If you’re able to sit down with other designers and get opinions back, then do; from then on just keep exploring.

Who have you worked with along the way who has influenced you?
I had the privilege of working with Brand Strategist, Peter Bonnici many years ago, who sadly died in 2013. We shared a similar visual language in how to see design from a different angle and pull apart the obvious.

Since my study years, idols in design and music, all have influenced me in one way or another. Glazer, Fletcher, Tschichold, Barnbrook, Crouwel, Carson and Brody opened my mind’s eye, made me question design, its form and function. Magazines like Raygun, Blah Blah Blah, The Face and ID all flipped ‘the norm’ on its head. Working alongside many fantastic Design Directors in the past at various design agencies, each mentored me creatively in their own unique way.

Putting you on the spot, what’s your favourite piece of work you’ve been involved in?
I’ve created brand concepts in various sectors such as The Crown Estate’s Regent Street and St. James’s, The British Museum, Shakespeare’s Globe and East Village E20 to name but a few.

Working at Saentys, I’ve produced a vast amount of property and marketing campaigns all over the heart of London, and each I’m proud to say I’ve been involved in. Currently I’m designing collateral for the transformation and refurbishment of The Minster Building in London’s ever-growing iconic business district. We are strategically re-branding and marketing the property to challenge the market’s preconceptions of the building and its location. The identity campaign has repositioned the building as a new leading City lifestyle destination for 2018 and I’m looking forward to the next stages.

Also, the re-brand for our Saentys identity was a great job to work on. There have been so many different design proposals, concepts and logo marks crafted with all the Saentys team input, thoughts and ideas. To help change the tone of voice of the company I began working for 6 years ago and to see how it has grown is really inspiring.

What ingredients make up the ideal client?
An open mind, honesty, enthusiasm and forward thinking. One that values your services and wont dilute the creative ideas. One that believes great design can communicate more effectively. A client that doesn’t mind being asked questions, then more questions, even the peculiar ones in order to strengthen a brief. A client that pays on time with a budget that lasts all year. Perhaps most importantly, a client that doesn’t drive you crazy with changes at the eleventh hour.

I could go on with a few more descriptors, but you get the gist. When you meet a client that you get on with, respects your opinions and gives you the creative freedom to do work you’re proud of… look after them.

Tell me one thing you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to other creatives.
Know when to shut up and listen, research and define your audience, observe trends, collect and share inspirations, always be learning (sorry you asked for one thing).

Collecting inspiration on Pinterest turned into an obsession for me, this led me to start a blog called Collected.

Sites like Pinterest are a great source for ideas, but I wanted to create a more personal go-to collection of inspiration that informs and inspires, often making me think “damn, I wish I had done that” and that keeps me on my toes.

At the beginning of the creative idea and talks, there is no such thing as a bad idea. Bring all of your thoughts to the table, as I have learnt that the bizarre and smallest ideas can ignite the first seeds of a great concept.

Keep in mind the ‘tell me I’ll forget, show me I’ll remember’ analogy.

As a Graphic Designer and Art Director, what three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio?
There are so many pieces of work that I’m inspired by right now. Three that spring to mind would be:
– The TV identity for Channel 4 directed by Jonathan Glazer, with fonts created by globally renowned design agency Brody Associates and commissioned by 4Creative.
– The 2016 Graphic Design Festival Scotland designed by Freytag Anderson.
– The design proposal for Norway’s new bank notes designed by Snøhetta.

I’m constantly spotting design that I wish I had worked on or could have been involved in, and those I’m particularly inspired and somewhat envious of.

Channel 4 rebrand

Graphic Design Festival Scotland

Design proposal by Snøhetta

What one thing would make your job easier or better?
I think all designers would agree that more time to explore ideas would be heaven sent, but that’s not always the way. Procrastinating about an alignment, colour or typeface can sometimes cloud the imagination, so my advice would be to sometimes go with it and move on, step back, step away from time to time.

If you weren’t a designer, what would you be?
I wanted to be a magician at the age of 7, a boxer at the age of 10, an author at 11, a musician at 14 and a painter at 16. As a designer now, and without sounding corny, at the moment I wouldn’t want to be anything else. Visual communication is always changing and I like to think that I’ve always got my eye on future design trends, doing what is right for brand and brief.

No doubt, as a Graphic Designer and Art Director, there’s a little bit of the magician, boxer, author and musician in everything you’re doing now. Thanks for the interview David, and here’s to the next 10 years of Saentys.

Connect with David on LinkedIn
Check out David’s ‘Collected’ blog

Read more creative probing here:

Scriptwriter and Producer: Mick Sands
Graphic Designer: Riz Jaffer
Photographer: Alex Bamford

Art Director: Mick Brigdale
Photographer: Stephen Ambrose
Creative Director and Graphic Designer: Chris Harrison

Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriting in 2017 So, What If…

What I learnt in 2017

What a year, no seriously, WHAT A YEAR.

I’m not talking hurricanes, terror attacks or The Donald. I’m talking about my little world. For most, pretty unimportant, but for me; well it’s all I have really.

The year got off to an interesting start – selling the agency that I and my business partner had poured blood, sweat and tears into for the best part of 14 years. It had been an amazing journey through thick and thin together, but it was time for change.

Come January 1, the curtain closed on Remedy Creative, the scenery changed and the stage was set for a new drama to unfold.

So here’s what I learnt in 2017:

Health first – unlike chocolate, you really can’t live without it. The build up to the business sale was traumatic. For months, three huge questions loomed over my head like inky black clouds:
1) Who, if anyone, would buy the agency and how on earth would I find them?
2) What would happen to the team and what was I going to tell them?
3) If I did sell it, then what?

As you might imagine, this dominated my every waking moment (and my nightmares) until the questions were answered. This in turn led to a knot in my stomach the size and consistency of the world’s largest ball of string. My blood pressure went through the roof and there were times when I thought I might seriously be losing the plot.

Later in the year, my best friend dropped the bombshell that he had aggressive cancer. Maybe we weren’t invincible after all.

Health, I have learnt, comes pretty high on my list of priorities.

Once the dust had settled on the sale (the team all kept their jobs in the new agency, my business partner now juggles two regular freelancing gigs and I am freelance copywriting again), I took the family on a month-long holiday in the sun. My blood pressure came back down to something like normal, the knot slowly loosened and things started to make sense again.

I’d forgotten how to look after myself, but lesson learned. AND, my friend just got the all clear – double Brucey bonus!

Playing to my strengths – hey, I’m a creative copywriter, plus a few other things; but ideas, words and pictures are what I really understand.

We’re all good at something, and whilst stretching myself is definitely a worthwhile pursuit, making the best of my natural talents is where I’m currently at. This is what I hope to continue concentrating on to keep the wolf from the door – at least for the forseeable future.

It’s my natural vocation, it’s constantly challenging, the variety keeps it stimulating and I love cracking creative briefs – so why wouldn’t I?

Social media can be fun – like gambling (don’t get me started on that), I’ve made the conscious decision to ‘keep it fun’. There’s enough bile out there to float a battleship, so I don’t think there’s any need for little old me to add to it. As my Mum used to tell me – “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.

It’s just too darned easy to slag other people off. Belittling others on twitboxface just isn’t my style, so I tend to use social to spread the love, be a bit daft and generally amuse myself (and a bit of sly self promotion too of course).

I’ve been tinkering with what I call #badphotoshop of the day, #madeupword of the day and #mildlyamusing name of the day on twitter. Here are my favourites so far:

#badphotoshop of the day – COUNT SPATULA
#badphotoshop of the day – COUNT SPATULA

 

#badphotoshop of the day – BLUE PETER
#badphotoshop of the day – BLUE PETER

 

#badphotoshop of the day – ALIEN V EDITOR
#badphotoshop of the day – ALIEN V EDITOR

 

#madeupword of the day: SMUNJE – borrow money off someone poorer than you
#madeupword of the day: FLUMPTYHOO – very happy
#madeupword of the day: BUMSQUAGGLE – non-specific detritus

#mildlyamusing name of the day: Annette Curtain
#mildlyamusing name of the day: Stu N Dumplings
#mildlyamusing name of the day: Wendy Boatcumzin

(if you can be bothered, you’ll track my nonsense down at @Jonathan50Wh4t1)

Besides being a little more grown up and businessy-fied on LinkedIn, I have (quite innocently) put the cat amongst the pigeons a couple of times.

In November, somewhat frustrated at freelance copywriting job posts insisting on ridiculously specific work experience (‘must have worked on South African women’s niche fashion brands and purple sandwich toasters’), I posted this:

[Have you worked in FMCG? Yes.
How about biscuits? Yes.
Chocolate biscuits? No.
Sorry you haven’t got the gig.
Why do clients/recruiters insist on such specific sector experience?]

I think I hit a nerve –

freelance copywriting LinkedIn conversation2 freelance copywriting LinkedIn conversation3 freelance copywriting LinkedIn conversation4 freelance copywriting LinkedIn conversation5

If you’d like to connect on LinkedIn, click right here.

Music, Music, Music – It’s a never-ending journey. As a copywriter, music can be my best friend or my worst enemy. Now that I’m freelance copywriting from home a lot more, I get to be DJ all day long. No more arguments about volume, invasive lyrics disturbing my train of thought or bad taste ’80s nonsense. Sorry, but anyone born in 1995 will never understand the mental scars that the New Romantics left on my impressionable mind.

Five artists/producers provided the go-to soundscape for writing in 2017. Please stand up Aphex Twin (as much as I love the bonkers stuff, I can only work to the mellower tunes), FSOL (as beautiful now as it was in the ’90s), Solar Fields (G-G-GENIUS in my opinion – every album, sonic perfection), Carbon Based Lifeforms (it’s what going green would sound like) and Aes Dana (Oh My Gurnard, it’s everything I’d been looking for – THANK YOU).

For more on music and creativity, checkout my earlier blog post

Doing your own thing – ain’t no one gonna do it for ya! Freelance copywriting is a wonderful way to pay the bills. Different briefs, people, agencies, sectors, challenges… a great big wobbly pile of variety means no two days are quite the same. Hallelujah to that.

The down sides? Well, not every brief lends itself to being a portfolio-stuffer and often the really juicy bits are tied up in NDAs, so what’s a boy to do? Simple, work on your own briefs whenever the paid works slows down enough. No restrictions, no Queensberry rules – just a bit of harmless, extracurricular creative exploration. I’ve already got half a dozen ideas in incubation which, time permitting, should see the light of day at some point in 2018. With no one to tell me “the client won’t buy that”, no doubt I’ll go a bit off-piste, but that’s the fun of it.

Here are a couple of recent self-initiated briefs to tickle your eyeballs with – The Real Junk Food Project and Brompton Folding Bikes.

Anything can happen – and it probably will. So here’s to a stonker of a 2018, full of lovely work, new contacts and surprises.

Thank you to everyone who has added taste and texture to the year – you know who you are. x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

9x9 photography game – Jonathan Wilcock So, What If…

The So, What If… 9×9 photography game

Set your forgotten photographs free

We all have a gajillion photos on our phones and hard drives that never see the light of day. What a waste. All those pretty pixels laying dormant on a memory card never to fulfil their purpose.

This is why I’ve invented the So, What If… 9×9 photography game© (remember you saw it here first).

The rules are simple:

  1. Open up your phone’s camera roll or a folder of pics on your computer at a random image. This becomes shot number 1.
  2. Skip forward 9 photos. This becomes your second shot.
  3. Skip forward another 9 and this is your third shot.
  4. Repeat until you have 9 shots in total.
  5. To avoid airing anything private, embarrassing or incriminating, just keep skipping 9 shots until you’re done.
  6. Drop the shots into a 9×9 Photoshop grid as per above (900×900 pixels at 300dpi, RGB).
  7. Save as a HiRes Jpeg and provide some background info in the order shown.
  8. Send to me at jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk and I’ll add it to a gallery (there may even be prizes).
  9. Feel good knowing you’ve set those forgotten images free.

It’s a bit scary leaving the image choice to lady luck, but it can also be exhilarating if you just go with it. If you don’t totally subscribe to the ‘So, What If… anything’s possible’ school of thought, at least you have plenty of artistic licence, zooming and cropping within each square. At the end of the day though, it’s all about random juxtapositions and giving your sadly neglected images a chance to shine.

If you don’t have Photoshop

Photoshop gives you ultimate control, but if you don’t have it, there are various online tools and apps that you can experiment with. Here are a couple that may work for you:

PhotoGrid
Fotojet

Please let me know if you discover a simpler or more powerful tool for creating a 9×9 grid (without borders).

Key to So, What If… 9×9 photography game images above:

Main header image: Next door’s cats, sunsetting at low tide, 19 yr old me, sunset, beach snail trail, beach patterns, beach rubbish x2, rough sea.

No.1: Storm damaged beach beacon x 5, Exhibition poster, Beach Groyne, Geometric beachfront shapes x2.

No.2: Clouds, Image editing in progress, NCP typography, Promenade shadow, Bexhill seascape x3, Brighton’s West Pier, Sunset over the South Downs.

No.3: Me and one of the nippers on the beach, Bexhill seascape, Promenade houses, Ganesha temple Jaipur, Monkey temple Jaipur, Backstreets of Agra x2, Man and goat Jaipur, Shirdi Sai temple.

No.4: Inside a kids’ play area in Epsom x2, Accidental paddling in Hove, Me face-painted by one of the nippers, Cracked fridge door evidence, Café typo, West Kent College Art School exhibits x2, Graffiti in Hastings.

No.5: Pick up at Dubai Airport, A modest drink selection in hotel bar, Exhibit at Dubai trade show, View from Burj Khalifa, Sign at Jumeirah Mosque, Hotel Aquarium, Ski Dubai, Madinat Jumeirah, Armani Hotel sign.

And if that’s tickled your creative whatsits, why not try a bit of fun with pumpkins – ah go on!

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Chris Harrison – Creative Director – So, What If… Blog

Probing the creative mind #6 Chris Harrison

The sixth in a series of posts hoovering up the juicy bits from the minds of creative people. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators, they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing Chris Harrison, Creative Director and Graphic Designer.

So Chris, tell me about where you work and what it is you do.
I work in Brighton at the rather imaginatively named ‘Harrison Agency’. We’re a branding and design agency. On paper I’m the Creative Director, but you can also add to that credit control, project manager, stationery monitor and IT person too. I try and bring a little creativity to all the roles!

What first got you into a creative career?
When I was a kid, I found myself staring at a tin of Quality Street one day and thinking I’d quite like to be the person who puts the pictures on the outside. Fast forward to 1991 after graduating from art school, I landed my first job at Saatchi & Saatchi, working on branding and packaging projects. I never did work on the Quality Street brand – the closest I got was working on the doomed rival to the Cadbury’s Creme Egg, the ‘Mars Egg’, with ‘Marv the Rapping Rabbit’ as its mascot. No wonder it bombed!

Bizarrely, my first work placement was at Saatchi & Saatchi, working on Quality Street. How did you land your first job with them?
After art college I set myself up with a series of work placements. At each agency I’d ask all of the senior designers to write down the names of their friends in other agencies. Armed with their names I’d work my way through the list, and rather cheekily say “so and so said I should call you, he/she said you’d probably be interested to see my portfolio!” It worked. One name on one of the lists was a Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Design. I called up using my line, got an interview and then got a job. It was a case of right place, right time. They’d been reshuffling and there was space at the bottom – I slotted in and stayed for 6 years.

What’s your go-to starting point to get the creative process moving?
Panic. Followed by an acute sense of “Who do I think I am to be taking on such a challenge?”. Then I’ll start to read something, anything. I read reports, interviews, reviews, anything to get the inspiration started. When I look back at the projects that were the most effective, all of them started with an idea that sprang out of something I’d read.

A few years ago I did a project for London Sinfonietta – a campaign for their upcoming season of concerts. I started by reading an Arts Council report that said that London Sinfonietta were “hard to love”. To me that sounded like a negative just waiting to be turned into a positive. Long story short, we came up with the idea of “uneasy listening” for their campaign, based on the idea that London Sinfonietta aren’t for everyone, but for those that “get it” it’s a thrilling experience. To support the ideas we morphed exotic bugs with musical instruments.

Chris Harrison – Creative Director – So, What If… Blog London Sinfonietta

Who have you worked with along the way who has influenced you?
My first boss, Georgina Urwin, at Saatchi & Saatchi was a huge influence. She had a way of cutting straight to the heart of a brief and verbalising really inventive solutions. She taught me to visualise ideas in my head before committing anything to paper. She was bold with her thoughts and her design aesthetic too, and I like to think I’ve carried that on in my own work.

What ingredients make up the ideal client?
After an enormous budget and complete creative freedom(!), I’d say a good level of open communication, trust, and a shared creative vision. Trust being number one.

Tell me one thing you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to other creatives.
After 26 odd years in the business I still feel like I’m learning myself! I was thinking the other day that one important thing that has taken me a long time to learn is to chill the fuck out about client work – all aspects of it. Winning it, keeping it, doing good work for them, pleasing them, disappointing them, etc etc. I carried a lot of anxiety about “getting it wrong” in the early days of having my own business. Since I’ve lightened up I’ve enjoyed it more and done better work. So maybe the advice would be: “don’t be too hard on yourself”.

What three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio?
Damn, that’s tricky! I love the work of Jean Paul Goude, a French designer, art director, illustrator and photographer. His work is a lovely mix of disciplines and then applied to print, moving image and environments.

Chris Harrison – Creative Director – So, What If… Blog Jean Paul Goude

A more tangible answer might be anything by Peter Savile (maybe New Order’s ‘Low Life’ album artwork?). I also love James Victore, a US designer, illustrator and artist – maybe I’d choose one of his ‘Disney Go Home’ protest posters. And also Paula Scher, a fantastic graphic designer who’s also a partner at Pentagram NY. I’d put all of her work in my portfolio, but if I had to choose one project, it’d be the work she did for the Public Theatre in NY. Paula Scher is a genius.

Chris Harrison – Creative Director – So, What If… Blog Saville, Victore and Scher

What’s your favourite piece of work from your portfolio?
Our 2010 season campaign for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The idea came from a self portrait photographic project I was playing with that used colourful gaffer tape (that sounds narcissistic, but it was before ‘selfies’ had a bad name). Anyway, I showed the client my self portraits and pitched the idea of shooting the orchestra members in the same way. They loved the idea and it became a really successful campaign that went viral (again, this was before brands tried to force campaigns to go viral – ours happened organically). It earned the orchestra tens of thousands of pounds in free media. For me, it was a perfect mix of three things I love: graphic art, photography and whimsical ideas.

Chris Harrison – Creative Director – So, What If… Blog Saville, Orchestra Age of Enlightenment

What one thing would make your job easier or better?
I think more time away from screens. Technology has helped the industry to move on in lots of great ways, but I’m not sure that staring at a screen is the best place to do creative work. In fact, I’m certain it isn’t. I try and turn it off or turn away as much as I can. We’ve tweaked our working hours, too. Inspired by the Swedes, we now work a six hour day: 9.30–4.30, giving us a little less time at our screens and a little more time living our lives, and it’s had a very positive impact. We’re just as productive as we’ve always been, if not more so.

If you weren’t a Graphic Designer, what would you be?
A photographer and a member of Magnum. If you put me on the spot I’d like to be Elliot Erwitt or Harry Gruyeart, please. Either will do!

Thanks Chris. It’s really refreshing to hear that you’re addressing the work/life balance thing rather than just paying lip service to it. I hope the experiment continues to pay dividends. Oh, and keep on reading!

Visit the Harrison Agency Website
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn
Harrison Agency on twitter
Harrison Agency on Facebook
Chris’s Instagram page

You can read more creative mind probing here

Scriptwriter and Producer: Mick Sands
Graphic Designer: Riz Jaffer
Photographer: Alex Bamford

Art Director: Mick Brigdale
Photographer: Stephen Ambrose

Jonathan Wilcock, FreelanceCopywriter AND Content Writer.

Am I a copywriter or a content writer? Yes!

Let’s run this one up the flagpole

I’m in an industry that loves jargon and acronyms. They make us sound a bit mysterious and clever.

The buzz that’s been around for a while now is CONTENT. More specifically, there’s a swathe of twaddle on the web concerning the difference between the job of a copywriter and that of a content writer.

Same but different or different in a samey kind of way?

The Internet will tell you that there is a massive difference between the two. I have even read that the difference is almost as great as apples and bananas.

I am, and have been, a copywriter for my entire career. Many of my peers would tell you that that means I couldn’t possibly do anything else (or at least, not be particularly good at anything else).

Well, the fact is, I am also an Art Director, Concept Creator, Illustrator, Photo-Retoucher, Creative Director, Workshop Facilitator and Blogger. I’m also pretty good in the kitchen and behind a drum kit, and I got my map reading badge, but as I don’t get paid for any of these skills I won’t bang on about them.

Although clients come to me for all of the above creative disciplines, I seem to be spending more and more of my time writing for a living. But does that make me a copywriter or a content writer (or some kind of loveable mongrel)?

Open the box

We love to put people in convenient boxes, so what shape boxes does the almighty Internet tell us we need to put content and copy into?

Here is the sort of thing that you’ll find repeatedly if you Google ‘What is the difference between a copywriter and a content writer?’

“Copywriting is the art of selling people an idea, brand or ideology. Content writing is the art of creating content.”

“Copywriting means writing for the sake of promotional advertising or marketing. The purpose of content writing is to entertain and entice the online audiences so they stay longer on websites and engage with the brand.” Whoever originally wrote that one must be well miffed, because the exact same words come up time after time (and sorry, but here they are again).

Here’s my favourite: “A copywriter is a professional whose job is dedicated to producing copy, which is usually, but not always, shortform… a content writer can be anyone… not necessarily a professional writer, but someone who produces content.”

Most articles I’ve read, talk about shortform v longform copy, storytelling v optimising copy for search engines and ideas generation v journalism. Many start off by telling you that you’re deluded if you think the two disciplines are the same, go on to point out the differences and then grudgingly admit that a copywriter can also be a content writer (rarely, if ever, the other way around it seems).

Copywriter or copycat?

If you can be bothered to do that Google search, you’ll find that the vast majority of blog posts on this subject aren’t written, they are ‘curated’. I keep coming across the same sentences, paragraphs and even complete posts on different websites, the ‘authors’ can’t even be bothered to re-work them to put their own spin on things. To me that’s not content creation or copywriting, at school this was called copy-ing. By the way, I reckon if you want to be a curator, you should get a job in a museum; it would be so much more fun.

It’s all bananas

Not everyone reading this will agree with what to me is an indisputable fact – a good copywriter can also be a good content writer, because guess what, it’s not a case of apples or bananas, it’s more like selling the idea of a banana or selling an actual banana – they’re both ultimately extremely banana-y.

Shortform or longform, online or offline, if you aren’t able to entice, entertain or inform you’re not really any kind of writer, in a professional sense.

I’m probably risking a public lynching here, but I think ‘Content Writer’ may well be Emperor’s new clothes. “Ooh, look at me in my ermine-trimmed cloak and silk britches, I’m a content writer dontcha know.” (Mummy, why is that man at the cheese counter showing his bottom off?)

Argue all you like, but you can’t argue the facts

Fact: Clients pay me to come up with creative ideas. They also get their chequebooks out for headlines, strap lines, web copy, brochure copy, advertising copy, blog posts, video scripts, twitter campaigns and emails.

Fact: I’ve worked for Advertising Agencies, Design Agencies, PR Agencies and Integrated-Creative-Digital-Experiential-User-centric-Marcomms Agencies  – I can feel another blog post coming on.

So am I copywriter, content writer or contentoppitywriter (there you go, stick that in your marketing jargon pipe)? Well you can call me whatever you want, just call me! 07703 563241

Read more about Freelance copywriting, content creation and wordsmithery here

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

Probing creative minds – Stephen Ambrose

Probing the creative mind #5 Stephen Ambrose

The fifth in a series of posts shaking a stick at the minds of creative people. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators, they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing Stephen Ambrose, Photographer.

First off, congratulations on the recent AOP award wins. You must be well chuffed!
I know, I still can’t believe it.

So, tell me a bit about where you work and what it is you do.
I’m a photographer and my office is at home. I generally work on location in London and beyond/worldwide. I like to photograph people.

Were the AOP awards for your portrait work?
Both of the awards from the AOP were for one of my portraits (Non-Commissioned Portraits Single – best in category and a Discovery Award).

What first got you into photography?
My Dad was a keen amateur photographer and I was always fascinated with cameras. Then my parents bought me an SLR when I was 13 and my passion started there. I was discouraged by a careers advisor at school and didn’t think about photography as a career until I went to night school, where after two years, my tutor persuaded me to go full time back to Uni.

What did studying photography give you that just getting out there shooting couldn’t?
The course I did was very commercially focused towards advertising, design and fashion so it gave me knowledge of the industry and contacts. I’d say if you’ve got some sort of ‘in’ to the industry and your photography is outstanding, then just carry on shooting and get recognition from competitions and exhibiting your work.

What’s your go-to starting point to get the creative process moving?
Weirdly my mountain bike. There’s something about flying through the air in the woods on two wheels that frees the mind. Then it’s looking at what my peers are doing, what’s going on in my local area and further afield, depending upon how the finances are looking.

Who have you worked with who’s influenced you?
As a photographer’s assistant, I’ve worked with some of the best photographers in the country: Adam Hinton, Nick Georghiou, Andy Glass. My biggest influence has been Adam Hinton. I’ve worked with him for 12 years on loads of worldwide advertising campaigns, which has taught me the industry and how the collaborative process with creative teams works.

Any interesting stories shooting abroad you can share here?
We were on a shoot for the Ecuadorian tourist board with a TV crew. We did a week in and around Quito then we flew to Guayaquil. TV crews have very expensive camera gear, basically £100,000 in a box, so the production company and tourist board decided that we should be escorted by the ’Tacticas Especiales’ or GOE ‘Special Operations Group’.

We were met at the airport by a SWAT team with automatic weapons and escorted to our three crew vehicles, and were blue-lighted out of the city by three SWAT vehicles. Then once out of the city, two vehicles left us and three of the team stayed with us for the rest of the shoot. The funny thing was that we (the stills crew) had to try and escape from them every day as we were trying to capture a relaxed paradise, which was quite difficult with guys carrying automatic weapons following you around.

What ingredients make up the ideal client?
The most important ingredient is trust in the creative team. Art Director, Copy Writer and Photographer.

Tell me one thing you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to other creatives.
With regards to personal work, do it for you and no one else.

What three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio?
When I was at uni I studied the Vietnam war photographers and ‘Reaching out’ by Larry Burrows is a stunning portrait of the hell of war, as is Don McCullin‘s ‘Shellshock’. I also studied the American ‘Dust bowl’ photographers of the 1920’s and Dorothea Lange’s ‘Migrant mother’ was and is still a huge influence.

What one thing would make your job easier or better?
An agent.

If you weren’t a Photographer, what would you be?
A fork lift truck driver. It’s what I used to do. An older colleague once said to me ‘if you’re not careful you’ll still be sat on that forklift in 20 years’.

Thanks Stephen. At this rate, you may need a forklift to pick up the hardware the next time award season comes around.

Visit Stephen’s website
Twitter @steambrose
Instagram @steambrose

Checkout the first in this series – Probing the creative mind of Mick Sands, Writer/Producer

Copywriting monster – Jonathan Wilcock

We’ve created a copywriting monster

Internet + Idle Hands = copywriting monster

The digital revolution is a wonderful thing. It gives us, the people, the opportunity to be heard. Unfortunately it also gives non-designers the chance to design, and non-writers the chance to spray their ill-constructed rants all over the place. Yes, we’ve created a massive copywriting monster that’s taking over the online-iverse.

Having said that; YouTube comments, weird forums, blogs and social streams are a rich source of the truly bizarre. For any word lover (purists please look away now), this circus of the gross, preposterous and poorly educated is a gold mine. Here are a few corkers that I’ve found whilst dredging the stagnant backwaters of the Internet:

The new philosophers

“i rly like the cover of the album, it looks very monumental and yet very futuristic and melancholic..and music…pfff it squeezes out diverse emotions while being consumed…i like the 2nd song the most…it kinda reminds me of some post apocalyptic technological era,it reminds me of me walking alone in this jungle of steel and strict lines,lurking to find love…”

“KLOCK HURRICANES TIME EMIT CLOCK HURRICANES TIME EMIT RAINBOW SIX INXS KHALOTEKKWINGEDKINGEDHURRCANES”

“What if Emma Watson+My Little Pony=(Daenerys Targaryen÷Earth)×Stephen Hawking=German Banana=YouTube?”

“They knew exactlly how to manage music buziness and markerter supozitoire suckers!!! Every single and every keys of sound are or  is connected  to reality of monster CREATIVITY!!!! love them!!! And pleas keep burniing some….Art is all, All is Art …”

They’ve used English to create an alien language:

“joh diz shitz like mking me wana move like eish , oi jahhhhhhh”

“i bet thay had a schrpt riters metting the moth befor the show stars and tuns fo rehrsals”

“Barny is bola kuku fart”

“it’s like that sometimes five sometimes it is 10 piquiry piquire”

“ZGW ZAW tray hamster ham wisps Lif”

Some have virtually given up using actual words:

“IM CRYI G O LKST IT AT TBE FUCJJG SYNOHUM ROLLS”

“Hh.?. Uy”

“bdvb xgcdcSrcrhcz gvdg glutinous, Xerox 7”

“Fnaffkfkääffflspūssydbekfeb”

Ok, so Dr Johnson is probably turning in his grave, but I can’t help enjoying this butchering of the English language. As a tribute to all the Internet trolls and 3am web junkies, and with sincere apologies to the master waffle-trawler and dissector, Dave Gorman; here are a few poems made from a patchwork of the finest detritus found whilst rummaging around in the slimier bits of the web:

SAD POEM
Make me wanna hurt myself

on a sheet o cardboard
It’s so poopy
The green one scares me
she has like the little creepy eyes
dogs or puppys can’t swim
tOo maNy wUrdz
Go away please
I can’t take anymore of this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HAPPY POEM
i like babybus

I like it very
I Love Rock Frogs
I Like music
I love it even thou I am 57 (fifty seven).
My mother is a doctor
I be doctor
I’m proud of my self
Judith Chalmers bought me here.

ANGRY POEM
Delete yourself

yuck grrrrrrrr
Trash,trash,trash,trash.
You stink
You naughty cat
no one treats the Pharo like that
go watch strictly you mor on

END OF WORLD POEM
Is anybody’s else eyes sweating??

My brothers sick
kicked oxidised
Mr noodle is wet wet wet
What about angels
When Shade is throwing shade

CONFUSED POEM
Why sheeps ? 😉
Why do people even trust that animal?
It’s not even a animal!!
why is there a moon up in the sky
what am i doing in here..
what is a baby crying
probly thinking “why just why”
how did I get here
robot???

WEIRD POEM
I’m batface

you read this sentence twice
Daddy pig his head his head when upside down
The yoghurt
lease make ore
The funny rhoticity of Non-Rhotic.
hello hello I’m Christian
I am now… trascended.

EXCITED POEM
waaaaaaaaaaooouuuuuuuuuuwww

jumping jumping jumping jumping jumping jumping jump
Oh my gush
Ooh Johny Johny….
better than a thousand teudhrtwffgdbftreetygf
Vroom Vroom Chugga Chugga Click Clock!

Thank you to everyone who unknowingly contributed to this blog post. Keap onn kkopyriting y’all lol ubaubaub!!!!!!!!!!! lmao bruh.

Read more about copywriting here:

Choosing a freelance copywriter
Copy Editing – get to the point
Freelance copywriter – passing the copy test

And here’s Dave Gorman performing a ‘Found Poem’ on double-yolk eggs

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a freelance Copywriter, Art Director and Creative Director.
You can drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk