Copywriting

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Jonathan Wilcock is making it up as he goes along

I’m making it all up as I go along

A few years ago I was asked to help develop brand language for a charity. I didn’t have a clue. I’d never done ‘brand language’ before, so I thought it best to have a chat with someone I knew who’d done lots.

When I asked him what his formula was for approaching a brand language project, he admitted that he made it up as he went along.

No formula, he just applied a combination of accumulated experience in all sorts of copywriting with a bit of common sense and whatever felt right for the particular project.

He was a blagger. A bloody good one, producing great work, but a blagger all the same.

Trust me I’m a… what was it you wanted again?

You can’t believe how reassuring that was for me. It sounded just like the way I’d fumbled through life – sort of making it up as I went along.

And the more people I spoke to about this, I realised we’re all at it; making it look like we know exactly what we’re doing. Just like life in general, there’s always the first time, then when we’ve done it a couple of times or more, we believe in ourselves – you should taste my veggie Bolognese sauce, it’ll blow your mind.

Then along comes another challenge that shoves us right back into the discomfort zone. We can either embrace it and do whatever’s necessary to swim, or we can flail around in a panic and sink.

Or to milk the analogy a bit more, we can get out of the pool and watch from the spectator’s area.

Go with the fear

Throughout our lives we come up against tasks where we have no specific prior experience to lean on. On the one hand, it’s incredibly scary, on the other, it’s totally liberating.

If we just keep moving forwards, admitting to ourselves we’re making up our own rules and working out our own answers, anything’s possible.

As copywriters (or anyone in the creative industries for that matter), we have a chance to keep ‘making it up’, to keep re-inventing and stretching ourselves.

For me, that’s a huge part of the attraction. Doing the exact same thing over and over for 40 or 50 years may work for some people, but I don’t think it would for me.

Over the years I’ve written:

– Radio commercials for ferries
– Brand guidelines for haulage
– Press ads for watches
– Annual reports for a housing association
– Facebook ads for online family trees
– An e-book for dentists
– SMS messages for property maintenance
– TV commercials for a telephone directory
– Branding workshops for accountants
– Emails for a tourist office
– Press releases for ad agencies
– Sales videos for car brands
– Brand language for estate agents
– Brochures for a building contractor
– On-pack copy for vodka
– Websites for corporate training

I’ve Art Directed TV commercials in Mauritius, illustrated posters for a Kids TV channel, been a guest speaker at a fundraising conference, lectured to University students and sat for days with a photographer in the Brecon Beacons waiting for the perfect storm.

We are a sum of all the parts

For all of this, at least the first time round, I was a novice. Then again, not a complete novice. You see, even though I’ve never written a recipe book for kittens, I have a ton of experience in my personal data bank that means, given half a chance, I definitely could.

And it’s the same for all of us. We build up a base of core skills and confidence that we can draw on, to keep doing the next new thing.

So next time a client asks “have you ever…” don’t panic, just think to yourself, “no, not yet”. Then get them to have a look at this post on why they don’t need a specialist copywriter.

Addendum:

I had a bit of a wobble before publishing this post. Did it make me sound like a chancer? Did I come across as a have-a-go-hero rather than a professional freelance copywriter? Would it scare potential clients off?

So, I asked a fellow copywriter, the very lovely Alice Hollis, for her opinion and she settled my jitters better than a bottle of Dr. Scrottinger’s Herbal Nerve Tonic. Thanks Alice.

Hope you like it too.

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

The Anagram Murders (a short story…)

Last month I wrote a short story called Job Satisfaction using words suggested by some of my Twitter chums. It was a fascinating creative exercise, unlike anything I’d done in ages.

People liked it, so I thought about doing another.

Then I stopped thinking and started doing. Here’s what happened:

The Anagram Murders

A pair of bright red, 12″ stilettoes punctured the earlobes. A day-glow ostrich feather boa was tied in a complex series of sailor’s knots around the pharynx.

DS Mike McLoud had seen some weird things during his 40 years in the Met. But none quite as twisted as this, the latest in a bizarre series of killings the papers were calling ‘The Anagram Murders’.

In an act of obfuscation, the bodies had been moved from the scenes of all seven murders to different high-class commercial premises and entertainment spots around the capital. A cwtch in the back room of a posh Fulham haberdashery, a nail bar ‘to the stars’ in Notting Hill, underneath the carousel at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland… now this one, a newsagents in Soho.

Like the other locations, this was best of breed; probably the newsagentiest newsagent you’d find anywhere in London. They sold everything from ‘Pettigrew’s Monthly Compendium of Oddities’ to ‘What Somersault’ – the magazine for international gymnasts.

The murder weapons had all been equally curious. A milliner’s hat block, spiralizer, cello spike, spatula, Philippe Starck lemon squeezer… whoever was responsible, they certainly enjoyed a bit of theatre.

There was nothing frenzied or scrappy about the murders. In fact, each body had been carefully primped and preened. If it wasn’t so grizzly, you might say they were surreally beautiful, as if the killer was finding unalloyed pleasure in creating a series of morbid masterpieces.

And like the fridge magnet murders of ’73, he’d left a calling card. Sellotaped to the victims’ bodies were cutout type characters; deeply embossed in gold outline with a magenta in-fill, in what, McLoud had learned, was Cooper Black font.

In alphabetical order:

A B B C D D E I L M O O S T U .

The A adorned the abdomen, B1 and B2 the buttocks and so on, each letter representing an anatomical initial, like some kind of sick ‘My First ABC’ book.

But what did the letters mean?

Back at the station, McLoud opened the case file and leafed through the sheets of anagrams he’d been sweating over, to see if he’d missed anything.

Was it a reference to animal fetishism?
MULE BOOBS ADDICT.

Something to do with vampires and Harry Potter?
BAT ICES MUD BLOOD.

The smell of the bodies (some had lain undiscovered for days)?
SOILED DUMB CAT B.O

Or just a sick way of mocking whoever found them?
U C MOIST DEAD BLOB.

He’d been on the case for 18 months and worked through every letter combination he could think of. Then it hit him like a Phil Mitchell head-butt.

“DISCOMBOBULATED.”

Six syllables that perfectly summed up the state he’d been in ever since the first murder.

“Is that it, you stupid f…” McLoud wasn’t amused.

“Wassat chief?” DC Collier slid across the investigation room, cigarette in one hand, chai latte in the other.

“Codswallop! He’s taking the piss out of us.” McLoud threw a pile of angrily scribbled letters across his desk, “DISCOMBOBULATED! I’ve been playing the Countdown conundrum round for 18 bleedin’ months and this is the only real clue we’ve got.”

DC Collier drained his coffee and took a long draw on his Sobranie Black Russian, right down to the filter. He dropped the butt into the bottom of the paper cup and swilled it around to hear the satisfying ‘SSSSFFFT’ as the coffee dregs extinguished the last glow of his cigarette.

“S’whata we do now chief?”

McLoud straightened the collar of his filthy windcheater and pulled himself up to his full, plump 5 foot 9 inches.

“We’re gonna pootle ’round town and work out where ‘e done ’em.”

McLoud had made an impression since his first day in the force. He was an unsophisticated East Ender, prone to conniption fits and extreme violence. On occasions he’d been referred to as “a right obstreperous git”, “a rambunctious toe rag” and “a dog with a bone”.

But now he was old and tired. He’d been exposed to a cornucopia of nastiness. The contamination of 4o years’ worth of doom, gloom, blood and guts would knock the stuffing out of anyone. Even a hard nut like McCloud.

This was his last case and he only had 14 hours and 33 minutes until retirement. He was going to solve it, take the gold clock and the slap on the back, and spend his last days drinking home brew with his Jack Russell, Snippet, on Canvey Island.

But right now he had a fiduciary obligation to the good citizens of London town to catch a killer. “Collier, get your arse in gear.”

The two officers spent the next 12 hours rushing around the capital revisiting every scene where the bodies had been discovered.

Still, nothing really added up.

The clock was ticking, now McLoud had just a couple of hours until his leaving do. Like a conflagration ripping through a tinder-dry forest, panic fizzed through his nervous system.

Collier was his usual ice-cool self. “Calm down chief, you’ll burst a blood vessel. What was that word again?”

“DISCOMBOBULATED.” His boss spat the word across the inside of the windscreen.

Collier hit the breaks, casually took hold of McLoud’s jowls, swivelled his head 90 degrees to the right and pointed across the inky black side street.

“There you go chief, I reckon that’s what you’ve been looking for.”

Collier let go of McLoud’s jaw, which immediately dropped as he took in the neon sign over the nightclub door.

DISCO MBOBULATED.

This could be it, the missing link in the chain; the spot where all the murders had happened.

18 months of agony instantly disappeared. It was like someone had switched on the Regent Street Christmas lights in his head and poured warm custard in his pants at the same time.

McLoud could taste victory – stronger than a Fisherman’s Friend wrapped in anchovies.

But they had to get in without drawing attention to themselves. After all, the killer could well be in the nightclub right this second.

McCloud knew that anyone with an ounce of intelligence would spot his copper credentials a mile off, but Collier could blend in no problem. If anyone could inveigle their way in to London’s slinkiest nightspot without setting off alarm bells, it was Collier.

This was it, the culmination of 18 long months of detective work. McLoud’s fecund imagination was already painting a picture of retired bliss. Snuggled up on a La-Z-Boy, pint in hand, gold clock on the mantelpiece. The sun sinking majestically behind Morrisons, as it glinted off the Queen’s Police Medal pinned to his dressing gown lapel.

“Collier, you’re a genius, I could kiss y…”

A searing pain hit McLoud in the gut. He looked down to see a Montblanc special edition, white gold fountain pen protruding from his greasy mac.

He grabbed at it and blood spilled through his fingers. He looked up at Collier, who was taking an antique ink blotter from the inside pocket of his Burberry trench coat.

Their eyes met. Mcloud’s baggy and confused under a furrowed brow; Collier’s twinkling with mischief.

Collier dramatically flicked his fringe back as if he were a ’50s Hollywood starlet and purred like a cat that’d wandered into a creamery.

O… I STABBED MCLOUD. Sorry chief.”

The ink blotter slammed into McLoud’s head and he dropped to the pavement.  The old detective tried to raise his head up from the gutter. The world went dark as he slurred his last words, “Where’d the dot, dot, dot come from?”

Collier wiped the pen with a Liberty handkerchief. “It’s called an ellipsis you ignoramus.”

The end

A massive thanks to:
Dee @topcontentUK, Rowan @rmcopywriting, Elaine @Creative_Girly, Hollie @HollieWriter, Brett @iambrettcullen, Kev @reallyquitesome, Annie @Annie_Writes_, Ben @benjrmckinney, Somedisco @somedisco, No.16 PR @No16_PR, Gemma @gemmyred, Andrew @AGMonro, Gareth, @thatcontentshed, Mary @Word_Service, Kirsten @kirstofcomms, Craig @straygoat, Jake @Jakebrap, Underpin Marketing @WeAreUnderpin, Jason @huntaround, Lindsey @lindseyruss1, Jamaal @JamaalGriffith, Jo @jolilford, Emma @EJCownley, Leigh @words_person and Michelle @PRisUs

Without your words, this story would have never happened.

The words:
Discombobulated, Frenzied, Somersault, Codswallop, Newsagent, Newsagentiest, Plump, Spatula, Unalloyed, Haberdashery, Pootle, Obstreperous, Rambunctious, Obfuscation, Conniption, Contamination, Cornucopia, Fiduciary, Ellipsis, Inveigle, Conflagration, Fecund, Carousel, Cwtch and Snippet.

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

Jonathan Wilcock – Senior Freelance Copywriter

Recent guest blog posts (to April 2019)

There are blogs out there run by people who are brave/crazy enough to trust me to write a post or two for them. Apologies if I’ve brought those websites crashing to their knees.

If, dear reader, you are curious, here are a few links:

Why Designers and Copywriters Should Collaborate More
“I can’t believe it. They’ve asked me to come up with brand names again.”
You could have planted potatoes in the Graphic Designer’s forehead furrows…
Read more on TheLogoCreative.co.uk

Negativity, creativity and our online, collective Karma
The Internet is amazing. It’s also a bitter and twisted place.
Supposedly educated, creative people use the Internet (particularly social media) to spread great big, stinky bucket-loads of tittle-tattle and twit-twattery…
Read more on Lucidity.org.uk

Who put the free in freelance?
Free is good. There’s ‘free as a bird’, ‘free to do what you wanna’ and ‘I’m free next Thursday’.
Then there’s the other kinds of free. ‘Can you just bang out a sample paragraph or two’, ‘we’ve asked two other writers to pitch their ideas too’ and the classic, ‘if you rewrote the home page, that would give us a better idea if you’re right for the job’…
Read more on CopywriterCollective.com

The designer’s guide to Brand Tone of Voice
This post is for anyone who needs to work with words, but isn’t a fully paid-up member of the Royal Guild of Copywriters. It’s a practical guide that should not only convince you of the power of defining a brand’s ToV, but will help you to bring words into play when tackling your next branding brief…
Read more on TheLogoCreative.co.uk

How to write better headlines
I can’t emphasise too much just how important headlines are. If you were in catering, they’d be your TripAdvisor review, menu and Fred the Maître d’ – all in one.
Like the smell of fresh baking bread, a good headline draws people in. If it’s really, really good they don’t have to read anything else – they’ll just live off the aroma…
Read more on TuesdayMedia.com

If you’re a site owner and would like to add a dash of my take on copywriting, creativity or anything else within reason, get in touch.

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

A short story by Jonathan Wilcock

Job satisfaction (a short story…)

This is for anyone who’s into chaos theory.

The story starts with an innocent, off the cuff tweet I posted six days ago:

‘What’s your word of the day? Mine’s ‘twaddle’.

A couple of replies popped up and without thinking it through, I posted:

‘Anyone else want to share their (keep it clean kids), let me know and I’ll see if I can write a short story that includes them all. x’

And the die was cast.

Several retweets and replies later, I had seventeen words to play with. Two of them I confess I had to look up, one was misspelled, one was made up and at least half a dozen of them I’m sure I’d never used in writing before.

Ooh what fun.

Now, before I reveal the story itself, there are three things that this exercise has shed light on for me.

1) Copywriters need a brief
If someone had said to me, “write a short story”, I’m pretty sure I would have frozen. Armed with seventeen random words, I had my brief (albeit a somewhat odd one).

2) Limitations are liberating
Seventeen words is easier than 117. Give an artist two colours + black and it will give them more freedom than a trolley dash in an art shop.

3) Creative collaboration is a good thing
Getting others involved in the creative process opens up all sorts of possibilities. This is perhaps the darkest thing I’ve written since I was a hormone-ravaged teenager.

Thank you to Dee , Jo , Leigh , Sarah , Michelle , B , Lindsey , Beth , Jamaal , Trudie , , Nik and Craig for donating the words.

So, are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Job satisfaction
(a short story using suggested words from Twitter chums, by Jonathan Wilcock)

Head, wall, bang, ouch, head, wall, bang, ouch…

It was one of those days.

Correction, it was yet another day in a long and painful list of days filled with disappointment, listlessness and procrastination. It was just that this day, the drip, drip, dripping scale of decrement in her quality of life had tipped.

Morag didn’t hate being a dentist. The pay was good, she got to wear latex gloves and drive a BMW. It was the patients.

They had become the cynosure of all her rage and bile. The cretins with crusty nostrils, the twits that talked twaddle through cotton wool-stuffed mouths, the dribblers that seldom bothered to floss before their appointments. Her patients added up to one apodeictic certainty; that mankind needed more than aligners to straighten it out.

“There was a kerfluffle on the A38, so sorry I’m late.”

It was Malcolm Twite. Muppet-featured, sweaty-palmed, always-bloody-happy, Malcolm-bloody-Twite.

“You idiot, it’s KERFUFFLE, not Kerfluffle.” Thankfully Morag had thought it, not said it; but the vein on her forehead probably gave the game away.

She had a list of all of Malcolm’s stupid malapropisms and spoonerisms etched on her brain. Poppyclock instead of poppycock, skedawddle instead of skedaddle, discombabulate instead of discombobulate. The man was a waste of (very bad) breath and he had it coming to him.

“Mr Twite, lovely to see you. Take a seat. Let’s have a look at your notes.” Playing the role of a jolly, benign healthcare servant lifted Morag’s mood.

“Eeek, three fillings. I think we’ll have to knock you out for this one.”

The timing was perfect. Her assistant had called in with another lame excuse for not coming into the surgery. The next patient had cancelled, the receptionist had left for the evening and the clinical waste bins had been emptied the night before. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad day after all.

“That’s it, just relax and breathe normally.”

The nitrous oxide was doing its job. Just a few more seconds and Malcolm-bloody-Twite would be sleeping like a baby. A plump, sweaty-handed, unsuspecting baby.

“Now it’s sleepy time Malcolm. Nighty night.”

A smile cracked her usual shoehorny, lemon-sucking, puckered face.

For too long, any joy she’d felt had been far too ephemeral. This was the closest to job satisfaction she’d experienced in years.

Forceps, probe, rasp, chisel, scalpel. Oh, the clinical perfection of sterilised steel. Morag felt like an artist, a sculptor with a damp ball of clay in her twitching, excited hands.

More nitrous oxide. More nitrous oxide. And a little bit more.

Six hours slipped by as she chuckled, and he snored.

“Torque wrench, root elevator, stitches, a slap round the chops – and we’re all done.”

“You can wake up now Mr Twite.”

Malcolm stirred, as Morag admired her artistry.

“Or should I say, Mrs Twite.”

The end.

Words donated: ‘procrastination’,  ‘poppycock’, ‘skedaddle’, ‘sleeping’, ‘muppet’, ‘kerfluffle’, ‘apodeictic’, ‘discombobulate’, ‘plump’, ‘cynosure’, ‘dentist’, ‘shoehorny’, ‘ephemeral’, ‘seldom’, ‘decrement’, ‘eeek’ and the one that started it all off – ‘twaddle’.

Tinkered-with image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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

Jonathan Wilcock – freelance copywriting services

Why would anyone in their right mind pay for freelance copywriting services?

Last year I tried to fix a broken lock.

Someone (name withheld) managed to get a key wedged into the lock of our basement door. Then someone (name also withheld) managed to snap said key in half, leaving the business end jammed in the key hole.

How difficult can it possibly be to get half a key out of a lock?

Hammer. Screwdriver. Pliers. Powerdrill. Swearing. 2 hours. Oh, we had fun.

Then someone said, “Google it”.

Ah yes, YouTube, they always have the answers to life’s little DIY challenges.

Another hour later, instead of a door that wouldn’t open, we had a door that wouldn’t lock.

I removed the handles so at least no one could break in easily, then called a locksmith.

He showed up next day and it took him 20 minutes to fix. The right tools and expert knowledge are a deadly combination.

Unfortunately, the damage I’d done with my botched attempt meant the job cost more than it should have, but lesson learned.

You can see where I’m going with this can’t you.

If you know how to write, do you still need to buy in freelance copywriting services?

Most of the stuff you read online is probably not written by a copywriter. Most of the stuff you read, remember and react to is.

Non-professional writing fills gaps. Professional copywriting gets results.

The majority of my clients are educated, bright individuals who can write well. Spelling and grammar really aren’t an issue to them. When it comes to writing business plans, strategy documents, client emails and internal memos, no one’s better qualified for the job.

Copywriting and writing however, are quite different animals.

Thankfully, most of my clients understand this. Some, like me as an amateur locksmith, had to learn the hard way.

What will freelance copywriting services do for you and your business?

1) Give a new perspective
A copywriter can see things that you can’t. When you live and breathe your job day in, day out, it can be difficult to see the obvious. A decent copywriter will hack through the undergrowth of brand confusion and get to the sun-dappled clearing of what makes you special.

2) Challenge your thinking
Most clients know what they want. A large percentage of them aren’t so sure what they need. Your copywriter will ask probing, sometimes difficult or awkward questions. It’s not that they are difficult or awkward themselves, it’s just that they need to get to the heart of what ought to be communicated.

3) Find a new angle
Your copywriter won’t be bogged down with pre-conceptions or stale thinking about your brand. Put it this way, just because you’ve always done something a particular way, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. Your copywriter will analyse what you already have, then work out how to improve on it and approach things from a completely new angle if necessary.

4) Get to the point
Good copywriters can say more in 50 words than English scholars can in 50,000. Writing headlines and straplines, and conjuring up brand names is an art. Short and snappy is easily mistaken for easy and peasy. If you’ve been pushing words around for days, stop. Hand it over to an expert.

5) Deliver new ideas
I’ve banged on about this before and I’m not stopping anytime soon. People, quite logically, assume that copywriters write words. True, but before words hit the page or the screen, the best copywriters start with ideas. Ideas are what makes your copy stand head and shoulders above the rest.

6) Give you visibility
The tangible result of original creative ideas is visibility. If your communications don’t get noticed, they don’t get read and if they don’t get read you’re not even in the game. A copywriter will help you get your audience’s attention and then keep them engaged.

7) Set you free
While I was attempting to fix that lock, I could have been sipping cocktails in the garden, learning to tap dance or earning a crust doing client work. Calling an expert in frees you up to do the other stuff. You know, the sort of stuff you’re brilliant at.

How much should you pay for freelance copywriting services?

As with all things in life, you get what you pay for. For a junior Copywriter, you should expect to pay in the region of £150-200 for a day’s work. For a senior Copywriter, you can pay anything between £350 and £2,000 a day.

Cheap doesn’t necessarily equal great value and expensive doesn’t always deliver brilliant results.

There are people charging £100 a day who will leave you exasperated and in all honesty, you’d be just as well carrying on writing everything yourself.

Equally, there are Copywriters out there with the front to charge double what they’re worth.

Understandably, it can be confusing for clients. So where do you go? Who do you trust?

If I were mercenary I’d say choose me, but I’m an honest and caring kind of fellow, so have a trawl of the 700+ copywriters on ProCopywriters.

Choose two or three that look like a good fit, then visit their websites and go through their online portfolios. Don’t try to find someone who’s already done exactly what you’re looking for (they don’t exist), but look for consistent quality.

And going back to my experience with the basement door lock, don’t cut corners, it’ll only end up costing you more in the long run.

Find out more about Choosing a freelance Copywriter here.

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

Freelance Creatives; spare a thought for your clients – Jonathan Wilcock

Freelance creatives; spare a thought for your clients

Once upon a quite a while ago, I ran a market stall with the Missus, selling pottery.

I’d been made redundant from my cosy Soho advertising job and I’d had enough.

The romantic idea of buying and selling actual stuff you can touch was massively appealing.

Early mornings joggling for the best pitch; punter banter; cash-in-hand, real world haggling with real people handing over real grubby fivers. It felt earthy and back to basics, new and exciting.

Hard work for soft hands

It was also hard work and not quite as romantic as I’d imagined.

The early mornings soon lost there lustre and the banter with punters, who weren’t reaching into their pockets, wore thin very quickly.

By week eight, if you ignored the lack of salary, we’d just about broken even. Then the storm of ’92 came along and kicked us in the danglys – don’t look it up, this was our own personal storm, it probably didn’t make the headlines.

We’d sold nothing all day, which was bad enough, but the wind was picking up, and coping with a trestle table of delicate pottery was becoming a bit of a challenge.

A gust hit the stall and seven pots crashed to the floor. I looked down and wanted to cry. Why hadn’t I invested in something a bit more resilient than biscuit ware? Maybe vulcanised rubber vases or something.

Breaking even was disappointing. Breaking pots and making an actual loss was a message.

Lesson learned, now back to the creative department

So, back to copywriting I headed and a good few happy years zipped by full-timing and freelancing. Foreign shoots, plenty of nice briefs and enough money to keep the family in bread and cheese shut me up for a while.

Then along came another redundancy and the bright idea of running a creative agency.

The agency lasted a bit longer than the 8-week market stall fiasco, but it was equally hard, if not harder.

This time, we (my business partner and I) had office overheads and employee salaries to fret about. Real, grown-up stuff that all of our clients have to deal with every day.

Both the market stall and the agency were huge learning opportunities. I found out about selling at the sharp end (it hurts), stock control (it sucks), HR (stands for Horrific Reality) and investing large sums of money with absolutely no guarantee of any return (it’s scary).

Spare a thought for your client

As I’ve said elsewhere, for freelance creatives, empathy is our best friend. Having an insight into a target audience’s lives and attitudes is gold dust, but understanding the problems and obstacles our clients have to face is priceless.

Our clients have bigger headaches than we do, so we need to do all we can to make their jobs easier and their businesses work better.

Buying in creative work isn’t straightforward. When your head’s filled with the other pressures of running a business or a marketing department, it can be tricky to spot a good idea or decide which creative option works best.

It’s our job as Copywriters, Art Directors and Graphic Designers to not only solve problems, but also to remove barriers so that our clients are confident they’re buying the work they need.

Even when working remotely (some of my clients have never met me), this is a partnership. It may be a cliché, but the best freelance creatives don’t work for their clients, they work with them.

Even when a client says, “I trust you, just do what you think works best”, it’s up to us to make sure they understand why we’re making recommendations.

Now, this may fly in the face of other advice you’ll read about client/creative relationships, but until I find something that works better, here are:

Three golden rules for freelance creatives

– Put yourself in your client’s shoes
– Give them creative choice (but help them to decide which choice is right for them)
– If the respect isn’t a two-way thing, it’s time to say goodbye.

And three golden rules for clients

– You may be commissioning the work, but invariably you aren’t the target audience
– Freelance creatives are experts, but without the right information, they know nothing
– If the respect isn’t a two-way thing, it’s time to say goodbye.

Working in the creative industries is a privilege.

Freelance creatives dip in and out of other worlds, solve problems, play with words and images and earn a decent living without having to wear pinstripes. We don’t have to worry about the stresses of running a business with all its overheads, risks and responsibilities.

Saying that, it’s not all roses and everybody needs a change of view now and again.

So if your job is losing its appeal, my suggestion would be to abscond for a while and find out how the other half lives.

Stack shelves, dig ditches, sell fruit and veg, become a Sorcerer’s Apprentice… my guess is, once the novelty’s worn off, you’ll soon be diving for creative cover again.

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

Anatomy of some rubbish copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

Headline unlovingly handcrafted in fluffy gray flannel, with a limp lining of blah blah blah etc.

Autopsy of a rubbish peace of copywriting

Hello there. I am a rubbish piece of copywriting.

First thing of note is my hedline. See how it is overwritten to make it as difficult to read as possibel. You may have also noticed that a American spelling has crept in. Nothing wrong with americans or american English, but the writer is English English, as is the audience what he is amining at. SO theres the first mistake. Naughty.

You may also notice the odd spelling mistake here and there. This is inexxcusibel.

It happens. Copywriters are human, but readers can be unforgiving.

In a recent poll, carried out by So What If Industries (aka me); of 366 respondents, 52% said that long rambling sentences were even more of a turn off than spelling mistakes or poor punctuation, you know the sort of sentences that go on and on and on and on and then go on a bit more.

Rubbish Copywriting Poll Results – Freelance Copywriter Jonathan Wilcock

Many wanted to vote for all three, but that’s not the way these things work is it, so…

Punctuation seemed to be the least of anyone’s concerns. Some thought this was because of the sloppy art of texting. Basically, we know it’s wrong, but we’ve given up the formality of using apostrophes and the like when faffing about with stupid little keys and touch screens. It’s easier to use a cheeky emoji and be done with it all.

Bad spelling got 31% of the vote. And I wud argeu that if you’re trying to convey authority or professionalism, spelling errors are a great way of doing just the opposite. Personally, typos (as spelling errors are often referred to in the trade) are one of my biggest bug bears.

Sew wat can yoo doo? The obvoice thin is too run yore copee thro spell chequer. Spelcheck knose bestest isn’t it? Where cud passibly gone rong. Weel lest find dout shallwe, Wen I put this para graph thro spellcheckers here am th suggest ons:

Sew watt can you doo? The invoice thin is too run yore cope thro spell cheer. Spellcheck knees besets isn’t it? Where cud passably gone rung. Weal lest find doubt shall we, Wen I put this Para graph thro spellcheckers here am the suggest ones:

I have a feeling this hasn’t solved all the errors, so like a good copywriting soldier, let’s run it through a well known online spelling and grammar checking tool instead. I’ll go with the first suggestion it makes for any highlighted words. And the result:

Sew what can you do? The obvious thin is too run yore cope thro spell chequer. Spellcheck know best, isn’t it? Where cud possibly went wrong. Weel lest find doubt shall we When I put this paragraph thro spellcheckers here am the suggest on:

Maybe if we put the spellchecked version through the online tool…

Sew watt can you doo? The invoice thin is too run yore cope thro spell cheer. Spellcheck knees, isn’t it? Where cud passably went rung. Well, lest find doubt, shall we When I put this Paragraph thro spellcheckers here am the suggest ones:

Rubbish Copywriting Final Poll Results – Freelance Copywriter Jonathan Wilcock

So, basic spelling and grammatical errors sorted, let’s move on to other improtant matters.

When doing my survey, some people were kind enough to share other copywriting no nos that get their backs up:

Words in ALL CAPS in headlines, Daily Express style. c/o André Spiteri @Andre_Spiteri

A Perfectly Normal Sentence Using Capitals For Every Single Damn First Letter Of Every Word, YouTube Video Title Style. c/o Nik Jones @HelloNikDesign

Ego-driven jargoneering. c/o Lauren McMenemy @TheContentType

Talking crap that they can’t articulate well, regardless of any of the above. c/o David Gyertson (Digital Director at Zest The Agency)

Then I would add to the list:

– Flowery, multisyllabic words plucked from a thesaurus.
– Too many. Very short sentences. That are placed. Back-to-back.
– Anything that makes the journey arduous, burdensome, laborious, hardwork, tedious, boring, stale, stodgy, uninteresting and repetitive, or tries too hard to make its point.
– Like a goat in a top hat, nothing’s as annoying as a random analogy.

Another common mistake that may also be hampering your reader’s experience, especially here in the online world, is large chunks of text and a lack of, now what are they called again…

Sub-headings like this one

Aaaand another thing that’s even more mind-boggling than the most mind-boggling thing in the whole wide world (other than ridiculous hyperbole) is the fact that the readability tool I’m using reckons that this blog post’s readability is ‘OK’.

Here are the stats. Apparently stats don’t lie, but let’s just say they may be a little misguided.

• The copy scores 74.4 in the Flesch Reading Ease test, which is considered fairly easy to read.
• None of the paragraphs are too long, which is great.
• 13.7% of the sentences contain more than 20 words, which is less than or equal to the recommended maximum of 25%.
• 36.5% of the sentences contain a transition word or phrase, which is great.

What is also a little concerning, is that when uploading the entire contents of this blog post, the aforementioned online grammar tool tells me that: This text scores better than 55% of all text checked by (brand name removed) where comparable goals were set.

How bad can that other 55% actually be?

Still with me?

If so, thank you for your resilience.

There was once a magic rabbit called Keith who was always getting up to mischief. Back-filling entrance holes to the warren, putting his elbows on the dinner table, getting facial tattoos; the usual teenage rabbit tomfoolery. But the worst thing he ever did was lead the reader down a dark alley that strayed away from the point and didn’t really go anywhere. Oh Keith, what are you like.

Conclusion (for goodness sake, let’s get to the conclusion):

Bad things:
• Ridiculously long sentences
• Spelling mistakes
• Poor punctuation
• Lack of sub-headings
• Relying on algorythms.

Good things:
• Clarity
• Simplicity
• Brevity
• Consistent tone of voice
• All the obvious stuff that most people don’t do.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, you might fancy a wander through these:

The seven deadly skills of a great copywriter
Why you need to leave a g p in your copywriting

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

Bratwurst_Lamazing – Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter

From German sausages to made up words, a Freelance Copywriter never stops learning.

One of the best things about being a Freelance Copywriter is the variety.

New clients and new projects add more juice to the old creative brain sponge.

Not least of all, I’m constantly discovering new words and word combinations.

Here are a few, that before 2018, I’m sure I’d never had the occasion to use in copy, some I hadn’t heard of and one of them I think I may have invented.

KAMALARI
This word came up when working with the international development charity, Nepal Youth Foundation.

‘For generations, the Tharu community of Western Nepal has adopted a practice known as Kamalari, whereby girls as young as six years old are bonded into domestic slavery.’

But it’s not all gloom and doom, because…

KATHAA
‘Kathaa, ‘story’ in Nepalese, is a contemporary, ethical fashion brand owned and operated by NYF in the UK. Everything in the Kathaa range is made by freed Kamalaris and our very first collection is a range of stunning, waterproof down jackets.’

VIVE LA DIFFERENCE
‘Let’s get one thing straight before we go any further. If you’re looking for just another firm of Estate Agents, you’re going to be disappointed.’

I knew my grade ‘D’ in GCSE French would come in handy one day. Never thought it would be for a posh West End estate agent though.

LAMAZING
Anyone who played Christmas copy bingo last year would have got extra points for spotting this in my copywriting for Church Urban Fund:

‘So, please join with thousands of others this Christmas and raise your voices with us to do something fa la la la la la la lamazing.’

If you really want to push the boat out with new words, healthcare copywriting takes some beating:

DYSPHAGIA
‘We all know that water is essential for life, unfortunately, not everyone finds it easy to drink enough. If you have been diagnosed as having dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), you could be at risk of dehydration.’

I got to write ‘dysphagia’ dozens of times – in leaflets, training aids, ads, posters video script… It’s a funny old world being a Freelance Copywriter.

PHILANTHROPIST, TRAILBLAZER, RULE BREAKER, HERO
No, I wasn’t writing about myself, this was part of a 100 years Remembrance Day social media campaign for genealogy website, findmypast.com

BRATWURST
How much German do I know? Not a sausage. That’s why working for the German Tourist Office was such fun. To put it into context:

‘IT’S NOT ALL BEER AND BRATWURST
How about a slice of Flammkuchen, some Königsberger Klopse or a Prinzregententorte? If you think that’s a bit of a mouthful, just wait ‘til you taste them.’

Being a Freelance Copywriter isn’t always about using obscure words, but with so many available, it’d be a shame not to squeeze the odd ‘Bratwurst’ in now and again.

Goodness knows what 2019 will have in store; I’ve already managed ‘Kippers and custard’ for a VW script.

For more wordy fun and frolics, have a dip here:

How to tell a copywriter their work sucks
The Seven Deadly Skills of Copywriting
Copywriting for the worst client in the world

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

Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter – Thick Skin, Self-belief

A copywriter needs thick skin and self-belief

Are you setting sail as a Copywriter / Graphic Designer / Art Director / Illustrator?

Or do you already have years under your belt, furrows on your forehead and awards on the shelf?

Whatever your creative bent and whatever stage you’re at in your career:

First rule: get your head down and work hard.
Second Rule: keep your head down and work harder.
Third rule: get tooled up.

Besides developing your craft, there are two weapons you’ll need, and without them you probably won’t survive life on the creative hard shoulder, never mind the fast lane.

You’re gonna need a thick skin
People are going to slag your work off.

There’s a battalion of grammar bullies out there looking for the one typo in the middle of your 1,500-word blog post. There are a million creative wannabes who only get out of bed to stick your lovingly crafted bits and bobs through the Twitter mill, telling the world they could have done better.

Being in a creative industry leaves you vulnerable to the lazily tossed rotten cabbages of armchair critics. But that’s a good thing. It toughens you up.

It’s never too early to take a beating
Turn the clocks back 30 something years to my first year of college, studying Graphic Design. This was a period of huge change for me. The year before, I’d been a schoolboy flailing around trying to pass GCSEs. Now I was expected to set my own timetables, make choices and work things out for myself.

This was a fab course with great lecturers and a fun bunch of misfit classmates. We threw paint around, watched movies and learned about colour theory, typography and art. But besides all the arty-farty-designery good times, there were two particular not-so-pleasant incidents that stick in my mind.

The mermaid with 10 tits
We’d been set a project to do a self-portrait as we saw ourselves.

I was a long-haired hippy. Kaftans, flares, afghan waistcoats… the whole unwashed freaky kit and caboodle. So I drew myself as a flower. Yes, you read correctly, a flower. My head was the stigma, my body the stem and petals grew out from where my neck joined my shoulders. I thought it was cool.

We stuck our drawings up for the group crit and when it came to mine, the tutor vomited out the immortal words:

“It looks like a mermaid with 10 tits”.

Everyone laughed while I died a little inside. This hippy was going to have to grow something else other than tits.

The second episode, another group crit, was following a life drawing session.

We stuck our work all over the walls. Rolling hills of flesh in charcoal, pastels and paint. The lecturer slowly worked her way around the collected masterpieces pulling out all the positives. “Love the use of light and shade”, “Great composition”, “The head is out of proportion, but it just works”…

We were all bathing in the glory of our collective genius; then she ripped into us.

“Look at you all nodding your ****ing heads like ****ing nodding dogs. It’s all a load of ***t. Don’t just agree with everything I say like a bunch of brainless ****ers. Now take this ***p off my walls and ***k off home”.

That told us, but most importantly it got our attention. And all these years later I realise what a huge favour her beasting had done us. It didn’t really matter how good or bad the work was, what mattered was that we learned how to take negative feedback and developed our own opinions.

Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter – Thick Skin, Self-belief Rocky-Ripped

Once you’re Rocky-ripped, all you need is self-belief
From personal experience, I’ve found that self-belief is a very fragile thing. Unlike a thick skin, which once developed is yours for life; self-belief can do a runner as soon as you turn your back on it.

While the negative opinions of others can hurt, there’s nothing more debilitating than you telling yourself how rubbish you are.

Having been a Copywriter since the mid ’80s, you’d think that self-belief would be a given by now.

Halfway through my career I spent a couple of years as a Creative Director in someone else’s agency, then several running my own (concentrating on everything other than being a Copywriter 75% of the time). But surely, going fulltime again as a freelance copywriter would be like stepping back into a familiar and comforting warm pool of rose-scented water.

Not one bit. I felt exposed, underqualified and smeared in rancid self-doubt jam from the sticky fingers of the imposter syndrome mind monster.

A couple of years freelancing later, dozens of very happy clients and a raft of new work, I’m well and truly back in the saddle of the self-belief pony.

Now that I’m out of the quagmire of non-worthiness, it’s weird to think that I was ever less than head-swellingly sure of myself. But when you’re up to your chinny-chin-chin in the muck of self-doubt you feel like everyone else is brilliantly creative and you’re a big fat dud.

It happens to the best of us
Yesterday I had a chat with an old friend of mine, a Graphic Designer (turned Creative Director, turned Managing Director, turned out-on-his-ear redundancy casualty).

This guy is very talented. Not only is he a very decent designer, he has the gift of the gab. He can hold the attention of a room. People like him; they hang on his every word, they believe in him; he has gravitas. Besides that, he’s just a bloody nice geezer. In short, anyone who snaps him up now would be getting a real gem on their team.

So with all this going for him, I was gobsmacked to hear him say that he reckoned he couldn’t cut it as a Creative Director anymore. To put this into perspective, he’s been CD at two agencies for a combined twenty odd years. Since hanging up his CD hat, he’s been MD of a high profile design agency for a mere six years, yet now he’s convinced he wouldn’t cut the mustard in his old Creative Director role.

Nonsense. The only thing stopping him is self-belief and I told him as much.

Knowing him, I’m sure the next time we meet up, he’ll be telling me the same thing as he breaks-in his £500 brogues, pacing the reclaimed oak floorboards of his Shoreditch Creative Director’s office. But that’s him, not everyone will find it so easy to find their lost confidence.

If your self-belief has taken a kicking, now what?
Let’s assume you already have skin that makes a rhino’s look like wet rice paper. If self-doubt has come knocking, what can you do to get on top again?

1) Work your socks off
You’ve seen your portfolio so much, even if it’s full of D&AD winners, it probably feels as stale as a budget airline donut. Do some new stuff to get excited about, even if it means making up your own creative briefs.

2) Collaborate
Without the wind of fresh input, self-doubt grows like mould . Get yourself out there and work with people you know and respect. If they’re not up for it, get in touch with new creative buddies via LinkedIn or platforms like singlecreatives.com The Dots or Freelance Heroes. Headhunters can also be a great source of potential creative partners to buddy up with.

3) Expose yourself
Old Creative Directors, creative colleagues from previous agencies, college mates… get in touch with anyone who knows your business. Get them to look at your portfolio, especially new stuff that you’re not sure about. They’ll sort the wheat from the chaff more easily than you can. However, ultimately, you have to be comfortable with your own work; you’ll be the one defending it when the time comes.

4) Start a blog
Get all your self-doubting stupid ideas down. Write about what you know and what you’re learning as you make up new stuff. Publish it and get feedback. If it’s rubbish you can always unpublish it, but it’s good to get whatever self-doubts are holding you back, out of your head. Committing them to the public domain tends to pull your thinking into focus.

5) Do something new
Only using one muscle makes you lopsided. If you’re a Digital Illustrator, do a series of large-scale abstract pieces with real paint and canvas. If you’re a Graphic Designer, sign up for a life drawing class. If you’re a Copywriter, write a short story or two.

6) Spend time with the masters
Who inspired you in the first place? Get your old Graphis Annuals, Creative Reviews and Lürzer’s Archives out. Surround yourself with work that gets you excited.

7) Spread the love
Once you’ve found the old you, do your little bit to help others on their way. Take the time to give honest, constructive criticism to newbies and oldies alike. Just one word of encouragement can make all the difference.

Thick-skinned and pumped up; now my friend, it’s time to don your creative cape and fly. Have fun.

If you’re a freelance copywriter (thick-skinned or otherwise), you’ll also find these 40 survival tips handy.

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

Copywriting – getting the balance right between simplicity and creativity – Leave a Gap – Jonathan Wilcock

Why you need to leave a g p in your copywriting

When it comes to copywriting, ‘Keep it simple’ is brilliant advice.

It’s bonkers how much information our poor little brains are expected to process. I’ve read that we’re exposed to anywhere between 4,000 and 10,00 marketing messages every day.

I counted at least 5 this morning, but then I got distracted. All I know is, when we’re told to keep our copywriting simple, it makes a lot of sense.

Edit those headlines down.
Only sell one thing at a time.
Make it easy to understand what you’re getting at.

All sage advice from the University of Write Not Wrong.

Simple is good, but…

Simple is a good start, but simplicity alone won’t always give you the cut-through you’re after.

You also need to be provocative, witty, different…

Simplicity is an elusive enough copywriting goal for most people, but the creative bit seems to be out of reach for the majority – thank goodness.

However, if you’re up for the challenge, there is one trick that’s great for transforming simple into something that people actually want to engage with.

I’m calling it ‘copywriting with a gap’ or to give it its official title, opywriting©.

Can you tell what it is yet?

People love to play. We love puzzles and a great example is the good old dot-to-dot.

Copywriting – getting the balance right between simplicity and creativity – Jonathan Wilcock

Giving your audience the space to get involved is a smart way to draw them in, but it’s a balancing act.

The two images above are a perfect demonstration of the ‘can’t be arsed because it’s too simple’ and the ‘can’t be arsed because it’s too complicated’.

The great thing about two extremes, is they’re all the proof you need that somewhere there’s a happy mid-point – the ‘ooh that looks like fun, I’m in’ sweet spot.

Yes, people are busy, so we need to get to the point, but there’s a lot to be said for leaving gaps so that they can join the dots.

We should never underestimate the intelligence of our audience

People love to be entertained, but they also love to be part of the entertainment. If they didn’t, there’d be no such thing as Karaoke.

Was it Confucius or Mr. Spock who said:

Tell me, I will forget
Show me, I will remember
Involve me, I will understand.

Whoever it was, I agree.

Having worked with kids in classrooms and summer camps, I’ve seen it a thousand times. Making stuff simple is great, but if they’re not part of the learning experience, nothing sinks in.

It’s the same with marketing and corporate comms. If we’re not careful, keeping everything simple leaves no room for people to have fun.

And that’s where the best copywriting gets it just right.

Genius copywriters keep it simple, but don’t lay everything out on a plate. There’s something in their writing that’s unexpected or curious. It gives the person reading it the reward of cracking the code.

A word of warning. If it’s worth a double take it’s good, but if it leaves them scratching their heads for too long, you’ve lost. Like I said, it’s a balancing act.

Two things to remember

1) Generally speaking, people don’t give a sticky fig about your ad / brochure / Instagram post… Your brand is just a means to an end.

2) Girls (and boys) just want to have fun.

If your copywriting can cater to these two basic principals, you’re more than halfway there.

You need to be able to answer ‘yes’ to these questions to be sure of any level of success:

– Is it simple?
– Is it entertaining, quirky, intriguing and/or impactful?
– Does it convey the message you’re after?
– Does it stop short of being self-indulgent?

And ‘no’ to these if you’re going to be belt, braces and safety pin certain-sure:

– Are you aiming too intellectually high or low for your audience?
– Could it be mistaken for a message from a competing brand?
– Could it be expressed even more simply with no loss of impact?
– Does it leave you thinking “so what”?

Posters are the ideal space for immediacy, with that all important splash of opywriting©. At least they ought to be.

Here’s a bunch of stonkers that cut to the chase, yet still give the viewer the chance to go on a little journey to the land of ‘Oh Yeah, I Get It’.

Nike Poster – Creative copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

John Lewis Poster – Creative copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

The Tube and Public Health Posters – Creative copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

The public health ‘fly’ poster was pinned up in Doctor’s waiting rooms, hence the extra linger time. But lengthy headline aside, in essence it’s still incredibly simple. And the gap? No picture of a fly, no mention of diseases. It gives you just enough mental white space to do a bit of colouring in yourself.

Sorry to be predictable, but no post on opywriting© could ignore this little beauty. A fab five-word headline and a four-word punchline with that magic little gap in between.

Economist Poster – Creative copywriting – Jonathan Wilcock

The golden rule – simple is good, but boring is bad.

So next time you’ve stripped your copy back to the bare essentials, before you pat yourself on the back for its brevity, ask if there’s something else you could do to give the reader a bit of play time. Where’s the gap?

You can find more on the art of copywriting right here.

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