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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

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

30 Stupid Faces PagePic – Jonathan Wilcock

How do you doodle-do?

I got my rugged good looks from my Dad and my doodling skills from my Mum.

Being this handsome is a curse, but doodling… ah doodling.

There’s something about a bit of noodle-doodling that soothes my soul. And a stroll through my doodle-doings is just as rewarding.

I love flicking through old note books and looking at the contents of my subconscious mind scribbled in the margins. 9 times out of 10 it’s a face. They’re usually bizarre or grotesque (according to some psychologosts this means I am mistrustful and needy), but for some reason, the human face seems to be a recurring theme.

30 Stupid Faces
Last month, I set myself a little Twitter challenge: to draw and post a 30-second ‘stupid face’ every day for 30 days. The rules were simple, 30 seconds, just let the hand do the work with no thinking or planning, and no editing. Doodling with a direction, if you will.

Some came out pretty well in my humble-ish opinion.

I don’t think I’ll win many awards or commissions, but here’s November’s rogues gallery for your amusement.

30 Stupid Faces – Jonathan Wilcock

Doodling is fun, but there’s more to it than I’d imagined.

On the Epilepsy Action blog, handwriting analyst, Ruth Rostron says:
‘Doodling helps relieve boredom and frustration and the urge to doodle gets stronger as stress levels rise. Doodling is like a safety valve that allows pressure to be dispelled in a playful and creative way.’

On the Harvard Health Publishing blog, Dr. Srini Pillay says:
‘Doodling keeps you from falling asleep, or simply staring blankly when your brain has already turned off. The permission to “free-draw” keeps your brain online just a little while longer.’

And going even further, in her 2011 Ted talk, doodling evangelist, Sunni Brown says:
‘People who doodle when they’re exposed to verbal information retain more of that information than their non-doodling counterparts… it has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing.’

So, if you want to boost your creativity and brain power, switch off your devices, pick up a pen and get a-doodling.

But, quickly before you hit the off button, here’s one last tour around my doodle-addled bonce with 6 more stupid faces (as ever, I over-delivered on the brief).

30StupidFaces Extra 2 – Jonathan Wilcock

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

We're drifting apart – blog post by Jonathan Wilcock, freelance copywriter

We’re Drifting Apart (handling life in the creative department Part 2)

Are you a Copywriter or Art Director working in a two-person creative team?

You know the quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…?”

If you’ve been beavering away as a team for more than the honeymoon period, you’ll know why it goes on to say:

“…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

Makes you wonder if Charles Dickens was an adman.

Being in a creative team can be like waltzing on rose-scented marshmallow clouds. Ideas, banter and giggles. Riding the crest of a big fat sexy creative wave, winning awards, rising through the ranks; you and your mucker against the world.

Then again, it can be a bloody war of attrition.

We're drifting apart 2 – blog post by Jonathan Wilcock, freelance copywriter

How to survive in a creative team

I’ve worked with a dozen creative partners over the years.

Before I go any further, may I take this opportunity to thank you all for some magical moments and also to apologise for any episodes, tantrums or AWOLs that I may have subjected you to along the way.

Without you, I wouldn’t be half the creative Herbert that stands before you now, so here’s to you, Ladies and Gents.

A recipe for success

When the planets align, the synergy of Art Director and Copywriter working together in harmony is a joy to behold.

We're drifting apart 3 – blog post by Jonathan Wilcock, freelance copywriter

Now, this beautiful relationship can go one of two ways:

1) The creative work flows and the boss loves you. Your production rate goes up, you’re given the best briefs and the portfolio just keeps getting better.

2) You’re the star team and everyone wants to hang out with you. You’re having a right laugh. It’s all 8-hour lunches and sleeping under the desk. What deadline? One more for the road? Ay-I-reallyreally-luv-you-yermybezfreninth’world-fanzee-a-kebab?

It’s great to be mates. But, if the work isn’t being done, the cracks will eventually show. When you get to the end of the year and you realise that you’ve done nothing portfolio-worthy, and half of your salary went on fine wine and pork scratchings, you know trouble will be poking its snotty nose around the next corner.

A recipe for disaster

Creative teams can be thrown together in all manner of ways. You meet at college, through a headhunter, online at singlecreatives.com or you get hired and the CD shoves you in a cell with a stranger that you’re going to have to learn to get along with.

We're drifting apart 4 – blog post by Jonathan Wilcock, freelance copywriter

Here are the signs that it may not work out the way you’d both hoped.

1) One of you is in 2 hours before the other every day, trying to make up for lost time.

2) You won’t share ideas until they’re almost fully formed.

3) You enjoy the days that your partner is off more than the days they are in.

4) You never do anything socially together, not even popping out for a coffee.

5) They close their laptop and look guilty every time you walk into the office.

6) You have their picture on a dartboard at home.

How can you rekindle the magic?

If you work with someone 5 days a week, you spend more time with them than your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse…

Like diving buddies or Arctic explorers, you rely on each other for your survival.

And like an old married couple that stare into space at the dinner table, sometimes you need to spice things up.

1) Get out of the office to walk and talk to each other.

2) Get out of the office to chat ideas over a cuppa or a pint.

3) If you’re not getting the best briefs, nick them or make up your own and come up with something for the book that gets you excited.

4) Be honest with each other. If they’re driving you mad, get it out in the open (don’t forget to tell them why you love them too).

5) Do something together that takes you out of your comfy jumper zone: white water rafting, karaoke, pottery classes, whatever makes you feel slightly uneasy, but in a nice way.

What do you do if the magic’s completely fizzled out?

If you’ve stopped learning from each other, if it’s getting progressively more difficult to tease decent work out, or if you want to smashtheirflippinfaceineverytimetheyopentheirstupidmouth; it’s time for action.

We're drifting apart 5 – blog post by Jonathan Wilcock, freelance copywriter

Stick two creative egos in a room together 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for two years and the oddest things can happen.

I worked with a creative partner who went completely off the rails. One minute they were their usual lovable selves, the next they were tearing up my layouts because they were convinced they could see the devil in them.

I tried to cope with it for a few weeks, but in the end I had to talk to the Creative Director.

Cut a long story short, we were split up and teamed with different Art Directors and Copywriters from the same department. My new partner was a genius and we had a fantastic time until mass redundancies hit (see my previous post ‘Problem Schmoblem‘).

Last thing I heard, my previous creative partner found his niche in fine art and the guy he ended up with went on to do great work at some of the best agencies in town.

If you’re in an unhappy, destructive or non-productive creative team; move on as soon as you possibly can. Life and your career are far too short to plod along miserably with a Copywriter or Art Director who’s the wrong fit.

And if you do find the Yin to your Yang, play nicely together. You’re career may depend on it.

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

Problem?Schmoblem! – Freelance Copywriter, Jonathan Wilcock

Problem? Schmoblem! (handling life in the creative department Part 1)

At the risk of getting a bit deep and philowotsical on you, I’ve come to realise that problems are our friends.

Without problems, we would grind to a halt.

Not that I’d wish great big problems on anyone, but the right problem has a habit of manifesting itself at exactly the right time for the right person.

Let’s take redundancy as a good example of a fairly juicy problem.

Being a member of the creative department in an advertising or design agency is a fairly precarious place to be. The curse of the big account win, followed by the big account loss, leaves us all vulnerable. In a money-saving exercise, even the senior creatives and creative hotshots are at risk.

If you’ve been in advertising or design for 15 years and not been made redundant yet, you’re either some sort of bullet-dodging superhero, so badly paid that it makes no sense in getting rid of you or you’ve always been self-employed.

Redundancy saga 1
Two years into my advertising career, I was called in to the Creative Director’s office and given the bad news. Something about recession, budget cuts, wiffle-waffle and the sound of mashed potato hitting a sponge in an echo chamber with the reverb button set at 11. The Head of Art bought me a bottle of Champagne and told me it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me (while I stared into space).

I spent the next 3 months in a daze, wondering what the hell I would do next. No one was hiring and more and more creatives were being shown the door. The competition was intense.

Then out of the blue, a senior Art Director who’d also been made redundant from the same agency (bless your cotton socks Keith) got me in for a chat with the boss at a big PR Agency in Bloomsbury. They’d been invited to pitch for a project, jointly funded by Harrods and the Spanish Government, to promote a month of Spanish fashion and culture at the world-famous Knightsbridge store.

This was my first foray into freelancing and culminated in three weeks in Spain (Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada and Toledo), Art Directing press ads and a TV commercial. I was working with a great photographer and commercials director, was on a fab day rate, being paid to see the world, staying in stupidly expensive hotels and hanging out with beautiful models. Crumbs.

Problem?Schmoblem!2 – Freelance Copywriter, Jonathan Wilcock

Besides the fact that I’d managed to worry myself to the verge of a nervous breakdown after being made redundant, things were pretty good.

Redundancy saga 2
Fast-forward a couple of years, I was working in Soho’s Greek Street with the very lovely John Jessup. An old college friend had introduced us and it was a smashing little agency. I’d enjoyed freelancing, but it was good to be back splashing about in the full-time pool.

Then great news, the agency was going to merge with another bigger, better agency, headed up by some serious creative big-hitters. Exciting times, but they were going to be overstaffed, so it was back into the CD’s office for the “sorry, but…” pep talk.

Now this time I took the news very differently. No blind panic or “nobody loves me” dramas. With a nice little pay-off in my pocket, I picked myself up and waltzed out of the door with every confidence that things would work themselves out.

I disappeared to Kashmir for 6 weeks and forgot all about ad land, came back raring to go and pretty much walked straight into my dream job.

Redundancy Saga 3
A proper, big agency with proper, big accounts. A creative department of 32, two Creative Directors, smack-bang between Soho and Seven Dials… what could possibly go wrong?

Problem?Schmoblem!3 – Freelance Copywriter, Jonathan Wilcock

Ha! About 3 and a half years in, having survived one mini round of redundancies, a new CEO came in and decided to have a spring clean.

I was out on my ear again and fell back into freelancing. This was to be probably the most creatively consistent and stable patch of my career. 11 years, great work, wonderful people and no one could make me redundant. In your face – the man!

Then one thing led to another and I got back on the PAYE rollercoaster – Creative Director then Agency Partner then full time employee – and jumped back off in 2017.

The point is, on the surface and especially when you’re in the thick of it, redundancy is easily mistaken to be a bad thing. With the wrong mind-set, it brings pain, worry, confusion, fear, anger…

Seen from a different vantage point, every redundancy has added depth to my life experience and strength to my character. It’s opened new doors and shown me new possibilities.

It’s only life (or, it’s all good, especially the bad bits)
Nothing goes too smoothly for long. Life is meant to have ups and downs. We just need to work out how to deal with them.

So if you’re facing redundancy or any other life-changing ‘problem’, know that no matter how bad it may seem; it’s exactly what you need to help you move on to the next chapter.

It may be easier said than done and I’m sure that many will disagree, but for me, the best thing to do with a problem is welcome it in, tickle its tummy and make it your friend.

Oi, what’s your problem?
If you’re facing problems of a creative nature, give Uncle Jonathan a shout and he’ll help you you through it with a new blog post (maybe, no guarantees).

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

How to tell a creative copywriter their work sucks – Jonathan Wilcock

How to tell a creative copywriter their work sucks (without getting blood or tears on the carpet)

A creative copywriter is a sensitive soul. It doesn’t take much to shatter his or her funny little world.

The best way to make them cry is to tell them their work is rubbish. And if you want to twist the knife, don’t tell them why.

Besides a woolly creative brief, destructive criticism is a sure fire way to get the worst out of your creative resource.

They’re human beings. More than that, they’re artistic pixie people that need buckets of TLC.

So, how do you tell a creative copywriter their work sucks and leave them feeling inspired?

The first thing is to be honest with yourself. Did the brief have more holes in it than a pound of Swiss cheese in a Wild West shootout?

Basically, if you gave them a bum steer in the first place, it’s time to suck it up and pay for more of their time.

Let’s assume the brief was tighter than a bodybuilder’s showtime pants, but the creative results are disappointing. Where do you go from here?

1) The main point of the brief, ‘the most important thought to leave behind’, isn’t coming across.

Go back over the brief and explain why this is important to you/your audience. Ask them to look at ways of pulling this message out more clearly.

2) The tone of voice is wrong for your audience.

If you have a brand language document that they haven’t been exposed to, then it isn’t their fault if they’ve gone slightly off course. If there was no such document to share, the brief should have at least defined the kind of people you need to talk to.

Go back over this part of the brief and expand if necessary – point them at other brands that are talking in the right kind of way. Explain the sort of newspapers your target might read and the brands they buy. Pick out words the copywriter’s used that particularly jar.

3) The creative execution lacks impact.

It could be the headline, imagery, colours… If you feel that it would get lost amongst the competition, say so. Show examples that have the sort of impact you’re looking for.

4) You just don’t like it.

The onus is on you to work out why you don’t like it. The absolute worst thing you can say to a creative copywriter is, “I don’t know why, but it’s just not doing it for me”. If that’s all you’ve got, don’t be surprised if by draft 7 it’s still not floating your boat.

5) You’ve seen it before.

Is it just like something you’ve seen in your sector, an idea that’s been run by a competitor or is it an obvious rip-off of a famous piece of advertising/design (but not a knowing parody or homage)? Don’t assume your copywriter knows the piece you’re referring to. Dig it out so you can show how similar the thinking is.

This is a particularly interesting area. The amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “It looks like XXX’s logo”, then when said logo’s been found, there’s no resemblance whatsoever. Be sure your memory isn’t playing tricks on you.

6) It has no redeeming features whatsoever.

Tricky one this. Your objective here should be to inspire, not deflate. Unless you know each other well enough to be totally blunt, find something that you can put some kind of positive spin on. It could be as simple as, “I know this is a difficult brief…”, “There’s some really interesting thinking here…” or “Not sure this is up to your usual standard…”.

Don’t be patronising, but find a way of letting them down as gently as possible. Then make your feedback constructive. Leave them with a clear understanding of which direction to head in and feeling fired up, ready to wow you when it comes to Round 2.

Getting it right first time every time is the ideal, but it isn’t a given.

Copywriting is an art, not a science. A tight brief, open dialogue and working with someone you know you can trust will get you 99% of the way, but then it’s down to interpretation, magic and taste – all the flowery stuff that can’t be bottled.

If you want to work with a seasoned creative copywriter, who can help with the briefing process and has a thicker skin than most, please give me a shout – but not aggressively in my face – even I have my limits.

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

The non-movie buff's movie top ten – Jonathan Wilcock

The Non-Movie Buff’s Top 10 Movie List

What makes a good movie great?

We all love a good movie, but what makes a good movie a great movie? Without analysing the mechanics of film making, these are the ingredients that keep me on the edge of my seat:

– Hooks me and pulls me in
– I care about the characters
– It entertains me
– It stands the test of time
– I get lost in the story
– I’d happily watch it again and again.

I thought it would be fun to quickly throw together a top ten list of films that tick all of these boxes. How deluded was I!

I reckon I’ve seen somewhere in the region of 7,000 to 10,000 movies. IMDb has 300,000+ features in its database. Rotten Tomatoes has given more than 350 movies a 100% rating and Hollywood alone releases 600-700 new movies a year. This wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.

Undeterred, I started to draw up a very long shortlist. Here’s what I learned along the way.

– My taste isn’t very highbrow, in fact I’m about 30% human, 70% popcorn
– I’m a sucker for sci-fi, comedy and action
– The 60s, 80s and 90s were great decades for film
– Somebody is investing millions in a load of straight to DVD dross
– Criteria 6 rules out M. Night Shyamalan movies
– A top forty is easier to compile than a top ten
– If you love rom coms and musicals, best you stop reading now.

Hold on a minute, what’s this all got to do with copywriting?

Good question.

Copywriting also needs to hook people, get them to care about something, entertain and stand the test of time (If you’re forced to watch a TV commercial 50 times, it ought to be pretty decent).

Great film writing is a masterclass in storytelling, memorable one-liners and dialogue. And when it comes to the posters, that’s where you’ll find some of the best taglines:

IN SPACE NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM – Alien

BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID – The Fly

THE FIRST CASUALTY OF WAR IS INNOCENCE – Platoon

Now we’ve cleared that up, it’s on with the show.

The BlancaKane Cuckoo Father – Jonathan Wilcock

Every movie top 10 list seems to include at least one of these usual suspects (but not The Usual Suspects): The Godfather, Casablanca, Citizen Kane or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. All superb films no doubt, but none of them made it onto my shortlist.

As my wife might say, “You always have to be different don’t you”.

I was determined not to be swayed by the opinions of the great and the good. Using my own Gogglebox-ometer, I plundered my DVD collection and memory bank, and soldiered on.

It’s a bit of a cheat, but after a lot of deliberation, here are four top tens, all cracking movies (in this reviewer’s opinion) and all worthy of a couple of hours of your life. Unleash the geek:

The ‘almost made it into the top 30’ top 10:

• Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
• Blade Runner (1982)
• Die Hard (1988)
• Home Alone (1990)
• There’s Something About Mary (1998)
• The Truman Show (1998)
• The Bourne Identity (2002)
• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
• Inception (2010)
• Avengers Infinity War (2018)

The ‘almost made it into the top 20’ top 10:

• The Maltese Falcon (1941)
• It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
• Scrooge (1951)
• Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953)
• The Magnificent Seven (1960)
• Planet of the Apes (1968)
• Jaws (1975)
• Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
• Predator (1987)
• Delicatessen (1991)

The ‘almost made it into the top 10’ top 10:

• The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)
• The Servant (1963)
• Carry On Screaming (1966)
• Enter the Dragon (1973)
• Raising Arizona (1987)
• Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
• The Big Lebowski (1998)
• Van Helsing (2004)
• The Incredibles (2004)
• The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Top 10 movies of all time – Jonathan Wilcock

So here it is: the ‘non-movie buff’s top 10 movies of all time’ top 10 list (of all time):

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)
Rear Window (1954)
Goldfinger (1964)
Easy Rider (1969)
Gremlins (1984)
Aliens (1986)
Big (1988)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Toy Story (1995)
The Matrix (1999)

And just in case you’re screaming at your screen, here are the others that almost made it:

Un Chien Andalou (1928)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Key Largo (1948)
Passport to Pimlico (1949)
The Lady Killers (1955)
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Some Like it Hot (1959)
The Great Escape (1963)
Repulsion (1965)
The Party (1968)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Gandhi (1982)
John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Back to the Future (1985)
Wings of Desire (1987)
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Wild at Heart (1990)
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Trainspotting (1996)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Snatch (2000)
Be Cool (2005)
Ip Man (2008)

Question is, which movies do you think should be in the top 10 and which ones ought to be thrown into the alley behind the Scala?

Now back to that choc ice.

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

Why you should never compromise on creativity

Guest post by Sophie Wilson, CEO and Founder, Tuesday Media

Every day, an overwhelming number of new campaigns are launched. They range from advertising to email marketing to PR; from big to small, flippant to serious, conscience raising to product touting. As a career creative and now CEO of communications agency Tuesday Media, I’ll admit to having developed a debilitating campaign habit. I devour new campaigns with a passion, examining them to see what the special ingredient is that makes some shake things up, others push a brand into the spotlight, and a select few even change the world. The answer is simple. Successful campaigns all have creativity at their core.

As Jonathan has already discussed on this blog, creative ideas aren’t as much new in themselves, as a combination of things that already existed. This is also true of campaigns; the issues, products and ideas that they deal with aren’t new, but the fusion of subject and approach is what makes creative sparks fly.

With all this in mind, I’ve drawn together a list of thoughts, or a stream of consciousness if you will, on the common features of the most brilliant creative campaigns.

1. Creative campaigns don’t just rehash what others have done
How many times have you seen an iteration of ‘Keep Calm and…’? Some concepts may have been novel to begin with, but they have since been flogged more times than the proverbial horse.

I often encounter brands that want to launch campaigns based on things that have worked for others. But the clue is in the past tense – they’ve already been done. On these occasions, we have to be clear in our convictions and challenge potential clients – at the risk of losing business – to be bold and to place genuine creative thinking at the centre of what they are doing.

2. Creative campaigns engage with the thing that makes a brand special
If a brand has nothing special about it, it won’t last long. Businesses that stand the test of time do so because they have a unique reason for being. Even so, there are thousands of campaigns that fail to interact with their organisation’s special quality. The best campaigns I have seen use the brand’s essence as a springboard for creativity – creating campaigns that aren’t just interesting but embrace their raison d’être.

3. Creative campaigns are bold
On occasion, a campaign may need to ruffle feathers. A strong creative campaign will be bold, clear and willing to challenge, provoke or even upset some people to drive its point home. A good example of this is Blood Normal, BodyForm’s recent campaign to normalise periods. This has shocked, appalled and delighted in almost equal measure – and most importantly, has sparked endless debate and set the wheels of change in motion.

4. Creative campaigns feel fresh – even when they’re dealing with tired material
A mark of excellent creative implementation is when ideas that aren’t new are presented in a way that feels innovative and fresh. Take Trash Isles, the campaign led by Plastic Oceans Foundation and LADbible, as an example. The looming catastrophe posed by the mass of plastic in the ocean is not a new discovery – plenty of people are talking about it. But by flipping the issue on its head and running a campaign that aims to gain nation status for the floating island, the team have got the attention of members of the UN Council and the buy-in of the public.

5. Creative campaigns are on board with changing times
It may have taken a while, but the creative world is moving away from boozy client lunches and the ‘be here to be seen’ office culture, towards digital nomadism and atypical structures that allow the expression of talent at work. In short, traditional PR and marketing office culture is dying, and with it, is withering the traditional model of campaign. Tired-out ideas that focus more on the tools than the reason for using them are doomed to failure. The most brilliant creative campaigns I have seen take a step back from the way things have always been done and embrace new technologies, new practices and new attitudes.

Even with all this in mind, there is no magic formula for creativity. Coming up with a successful campaign takes time, effort, engaging in the creative process and a stack of false starts. But if you want to generate something that stands out from the crowd and tells your story in the most compelling way possible, it has to be driven by an idea. And that’s ultimately what you buy when you buy an agency – creative thinking from creative minds.

Sophie Wilson is CEO and Founder at Tuesday Media

Would you like to submit a guest post?

If your post is about advertising, design, marketing or related crafts, and is uniquely yours, drop me a line at jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk

The Rule Breakers – The blog of Jonathan Wilcock

Rules are great. Let’s break ’em.

Next time someone tells you the headline you’re writing HAS TO be 9 words or less, or that it HAS TO go above the picture, tell them that there are no HAS TO’s when it comes to creativity.

If they need proof, tell them to read this.

Here’s to the mavericks, the rule breakers; those who put their unique creative stamp on the world and left their mark in my heart.

Without rules there would be chaos, but if no one ever broke them, then where would we be?

Vanilla. Magnolia. Salt-free Rice Cakes.

Rule breakers give the world its pizzazz and open up new possibilities.

Without these rule breakers, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, so here’s a mini tribute to four of them:

Spike Milligan: Author, comedian, actor, playwrite, poet and titillator of the teenage me.

Born in 1918 in India to an Irish Father and English Mother, Spike Milligan was perhaps best known as one beautifully bonkers fourth of the Goons. Along with Harry Secombe, Peter Sellers and Michael Bentine, he introduced a generation who had grown up with Ealing comedies and Carry On films to a new style of comedy and paved the way for the likes of Monty Python and Vic & Bob.

The books he wrote that chronicled his wartime experiences as ‘Gunner Milligan, 954024’, found creativity and humour where many would have only seen darkness and desperation. I read and re-read Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall and “Rommel?” “Gunner Who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert, with absolute glee. I fell hook line and sinker for his use of language – a silliness that completely captivated me.

Sadly, Spike Milligan lived with a ton of depression on his shoulders, but for me he was a first class hero. Although his mental condition often made him spiral down into a whirlpool of grey, he still managed to bring joy, beauty and mischief into the world.

Favourite quote: “I’m not afraid of dying I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

David Lynch: Painter, film maker, writer, musician, photographer and weaver of dark tales.

If you’ve only seen Twin Peaks, you probably think you’ve seen the oddest nuggets of David Lynch’s imagination. If so, get hold of a copy of Eraserhead and strap yourself in. Here’s a trailer to test the water with.

I remember the first time I saw Eraserhead, I was completely blown away. Never mind the woman with a head like a cauliflower that lives behind a radiator, or the roast chicken that spasms and spews blood. There’s one scene where the camera pans around a group of people, like a spinning bottle observing a circle of oddbods and misfits. It completes its circle so slowly that it builds the most incredible tension. I’d never seen anything like it before. After the first minute, you find yourself screaming inside “please make it end”, but at the same time it’s like some kind of excruciating visual poetry.

In his book, Catching the Big Fish, Lynch describes Eraserhead as his “most spiritual movie,” but for me it taps into a dangerous and unpredictable style of storytelling. Like Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s short film, Un Chien Andalou, few dare to go there.

Favourite quote: “The ideas dictate everything, you have to be true to that or you’re dead.”

The Rule Breakers Art – The blog of Jonathan Wilcock

Mahatma Gandhi: Philosopher, spiritual leader, activist and rebel.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869 and was assassinated in 1948. For many of his followers he was Bapu, or Father, but most of us know him as Mahatma or ‘Great Soul’.

At a time when one half of India was trying to kill the other half, Gandhi stood out as a guiding light. He was principled, single-minded and driven by a belief that mankind could live in peace. It would be impossible to exaggerate the influence that he had on a whole nation (and on me).

His autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, is Gandhi laid bare. Here is a man who was truly on a mission to know himself and to bring about justice for millions of people.

In one inspirational passage, Gandhi says, “If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even If I didn’t have it in the beginning.” This remarkable book showed me in no uncertain terms what self belief and the spirit of sacrifice can achieve.

Favourite quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Dr. Seuss: Author, cartoonist, artist, poet, animator, publisher and children’s mesmerist.

I can still visualise the cover of the copy of ‘Cat in the Hat’, that I had as a nipper. The pictures were amazing, but the words were on another level. Compared to Squirrel Nutkin or The Famous Five, The Cat in the Hat was pretty out there, but to an early years reader like me it was pure, unadulterated joy on a page.

In 1954, Life magazine published a report that stated that children weren’t learning to read because kids’ books were boring. William Spaulding, the director of the education division of publishers, Houghton Mifflin, compiled a list of words that he felt were important for young children to learn. Spaulding challenged Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel) to “bring back a book children can’t put down”, using 250 of the words on the list. Nine months later, The Cat in the Hat was born. Here’s a snippet:

‘now look what you did!’
said the fish to the cat.
‘now look at this house!
look at this!  look at that!
you sank our toy ship,
sank it deep in the cake.
you shook up our house
and you bent our new rake.
you SHOULD NOT be here
when our mother is not.
you get out of this house!’
said the fish in the pot.

Statistics vary, but according to most sources, by the time he died in 1991, Dr. Seuss had already sold well over 500 million copies of his children’s books. To put that into perspective, that’s more than Enid Blyton, JK Rowling or Roald Dahl. And more than 60 years since first being published, The Cat in the Hat still outsells most children’s books.

Favourite quote: “I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells.”

Although these heroes of mine all live(d) and work(ed) in different spheres, they have many qualities and values in common – all worth clinging on to.

– Self confidence
– A sense of humour
– A belief that anything is possible
– Creativity
– Determination
– Guts.

What’s that I hear you cry, “What about Christo, Florence Nightingale, Jimi Hendrix, Spike Lee, Edward Lear, Picasso, Aphex Twin, Walt Disney…” well maybe that’s another blog post for the future.

Enjoyed this? These articles might be worth a dip:

Where do creative ideas come from?
What I learnt in 2017

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

The Blog of Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter Jim Archer Banner Image

Probing the creative mind #10 Jim Archer

The tenth in a series of posts pinching the rosy cheeks of creative types. Copywriters, Art Directors, Creative Directors, Graphic Designers, Photographers, Illustrators; they’re an odd, mysterious bunch – or are they? Introducing freelance copywriter, Jim Archer.

Hi Jim, let’s kick off with what you do to keep the wolf from the door.
As a freelancer, you’re always aware of the hot breath and bared fangs of Canis lupus lupus on the other side of the woodwork. Real or imagined.

Currently I work for a small coterie of agencies when they need an extra pair of hands or a pitch is in the offing.

I’m pleased to say that recently I was instrumental in landing a large chunk of additional drinks business for a shopper marketing outfit and an influential health awareness incentive for a healthcare agency.

But as an independent, I’m always up for other opportunities. You can reach me on 07710 439 497.

So, what first got you into advertising?
I started work as a messenger at Ogilvy & Mather at the tender age of 16; this was when David Ogilvy was still at the helm and long before Martin Sorrell had got his accountant’s mitts on the place.

How did you transition to the creative department?
I was recommended to join another agency as their print production guy.

It was a small outfit and, along with my production duties, I was drafted in to draw up stuff when the CD/Art Director was away; and at that time, they used to use freelance writers, as and when.

Anyway, I started to put my own headlines onto what I was drawing-up. It soon dawned on the management that they were saving on fees. Plus, my headlines were often better, as well as cheaper! This carried on and then I realised that I was doing two jobs for the price of one.

So, I gave them an ultimatum, they either put me in the creative department proper, or double my salary. Not only did they make me an official writer, though junior, they hired me an Art Director to boot.

David Holmes was now the CD and partner at the agency (Holmes Knight Ritchie) and they partnered me with an Art Director who came down from the Midlands to work in London. This was Stuart Newman, who proved to be a good mentor to my gauche young self.

Do you feel that not having a formal creative education was a disadvantage?
I regret not having the art school experience. The freedom, the hedonism and the whole experimentation thing. But, can you teach people to have ideas?

I just seemed to have a knack of being able to do the job when I started out – and I believe that experience is the best education.

Who in the early days showed you the ropes?
Stuart (Newman) was instrumental in helping me realise the subtleties of communication. I made plenty of mistakes though, thinking I could run before I could walk.

You must realise, I hadn’t been to art college or Watford, which had an excellent copywriting course back then.

I was completely raw and untutored.

Adrian Holmes (no relation to David) was a young freelancer who used to pop in for the odd job and he gave me lots of practical tips about writing copy. It was he that told me to read and absorb D&AD annuals – this was the best tip or rope-show ever.

I might add that I received lots of help and encouragement from a good many account people who brokered my transitions and promotions.

Who else have you worked with who has influenced you?
The only other significant creative to have any real direct impact on me was Andy Reagan who I met at Hicklin Slade. You could throw any idea at him, no matter how left field, and he’d try and find a way to make it work.

He leaves no stone unturned, and his energy is incredible.

We’re great mates and still work together whenever the opportunity arises.

Which creatives do you particularly admire?
The people that I have admired are probably best summed up as old-school (not skool). David Abbott, Dave Trott, Tony Brignull and Tim Delaney.

From a time when you had the opportunity to build a story and weave a tale about and around a product.

Naturally, most of these guys had their names above the door for very good reasons.

Digital and data has had such a massive impact on communications and how it is served-up today, that the pure writer’s ability to shine is much diminished.

But this is now manifesting itself in blogs where the reader takes time out to consume the content. I can’t bring myself to use the term story-telling I’m afraid.

Which agencies are producing the best work at the moment?
Mother and Adam & Eve.

Mind you, some great work is being produced direct; I’m thinking Specsavers and Channel 4 here.

What skills and attributes do you need to survive in this business?
Be relevant. Be useful. Be on brief. Be up to speed. Stay curious.

What’s your go-to starting point to get the creative process moving?
Ah, the million-dollar question, with a million different answers.

For me. Read the brief, interrogate the product – though it’s more likely to be a service these days.

Then, if you’ve the luxury of time, let it marinate in your subconscious.

If you’ve no time whatsoever, it comes down to craft skills and muscle memory.

Tell me one thing you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to other creatives.
Remember, you’re replaceable. So, do your best. Always.

Tell me about the best and worst shoots you’ve been on.
The best. A week spent in Antigua on a photoshoot for a poster for AA Travel. There was only one flight in, and one flight out, both a week apart. We kept referring to the trip as a holiday by fruedian slip which made the photographer furious.

The worst. We had to cast a 14-year old teenager for Johnson & Johnson, after finding the perfect girl who had all the presence, personality and grace required, the client went against our advice and overruled us. We ended up with a girl who looked at least 27 and was wooden. The resulting film was a disaster, natch.

What one thing would make your job easier or better?
Just the one thing? Experienced clients.

What’s your favourite piece of work you’ve been responsible for?
A TV spot for Carlsberg. It was bang on brief and I got to shoot it in New York.

Man walks into a diner and asks for a coffee and a Danish, so naturally the waitress serves him up a coffee and a Carlsberg lager.

The Blog of Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter Jim Archer Carlsberg TV commercial

What three pieces of work do you wish were in your portfolio?
That’s a toughie. But I’ll take three of those great blood red Economist posters any day of the week.

The Blog of Jonathan Wilcock Freelance Copywriter Jim Archer Economist posters

What ingredients make up the ideal client?
One that appreciates that you are on their side and you’re trying to do some work that will help increase or better their business.

One that gives you the time and space to explore options.

One that pays on time.

You’ve been a CD and a copywriter. Which for you is the most satisfying?
Hard to say. It all depends where you are and what you’re doing at that precise moment. I reckon you have to make the most of whatever you’re doing, wherever that may be.

Being a CD has been absolutely wonderful – it’s also been a pain.

As David Abbott once said: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief.” I believe that’s the best place to be.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you have to have?
The BBC, The NHS and the complete works of Shakespeare.

If you weren’t a Copywriter now, what would you be?
Ah, the fantasy question. So, I’ll give you my fantasy answer.

If I couldn’t own and manage a vineyard somewhere, I’d love to be a wealthy art collector.

What question do you wish I’d asked?
You: “Jim, would you like this 3-day week, £100k a year job?” Me: “Yes.”

Thanks Jim, sorry I can’t offer you a 3-day week, but the next drink’s on me. Cheers.

Check out Jim’s website
Connect with Jim on LinkedIn

Read the last creative interview here:
Writer: Ed Pritchard