Creativity

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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

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