Copywriting: worst client in the world – Jonathan Wilcock

Copywriting for the worst client in the world

Surgeons don’t perform their own heart bypasses and dentists don’t drill their own teeth. But, when it comes to copywriting, surely writing your own ad campaign can’t be that painful. Can it?

Well they reckon if you can’t sell yourself, you can’t sell anything. So I’ve been putting the theory to the test.

First things first, what’s the brief?

Objective. Show off my creative skills to attract new customers.
Target Audience. Creative Directors / Recruiters / Marketing Directors / Resource Directors.
What do I want them to think? “Ooh he’s good at copywriting”.
What do I want them to feel? “He’d solve all our creative problems”.
What do I want them to do? Have a rummage around my website / give me a project.
*What’s the USP? Ideas, Copywriting and Art Direction all in one neat package.
Tone of voice. Fun, but intelligent (just like me).
Deadline. When I can fit it in to be honest.
Budget. Ha!

*Even though I have years of experience copywriting and art directing, the concept of a hybrid creative polarises opinions. For some it’s a huge asset, others feel more comfortable with a single-minded proposition. So with my AD skills, I usually show rather than tell.

On with the creative bit

The mission began some months ago and after several false starts I thought I’d cracked it.

I put together a campaign under the general banner of: A different way of looking at the world.

Witty, clever, a bit different; it used the line ‘Alternative Thinking’ as the pay-off and all was well with the world.

Copywriting: worst client in the world – freckles

Copywriting: worst client in the world – bottle it

Copywriting: worst client in the world – bobble hat

Then self-doubt kicked in

Was it all a bit up itself? Would anyone actually get it?

I sent it to a few agency folk, including fellow Copywriters, to get their take on it, and 9 out of 10 really liked it. Then the MD of a marketing agency told me it went way over his head.

“What are you trying to tell me Jonathan?”

“Well”, I said, “I’m not your average wordsmith, I provide alternative thinking”.

“Yeah, but I don’t want alternative thinking, I want a copywriter”.

Damn, was this alternative thinking line a complete red herring?

I eventually convinced myself it still worked, so I plugged the campaign on my website and in social media. And it got some positive responses, even a couple of actual new clients.

Time isn’t always a great healer

A couple of months later, I was having serious second thoughts. I still liked the concept of alternative thinking, but I’d fallen out of love with the execution.

So, with the same brief in mind, I set about coming up with what I now think of as my Different way of looking at a different way of looking at the world campaign:

Copywriting: worst client in the world – polaroid

Copywriting: worst client in the world – pony

Copywriting: worst client in the world – cherries

What did I do with this campaign? Not a lot.

I liked it, but I had a strong hunch that it was marketing to an audience of one – me.

Perhaps I really wasn’t the right man for the job after all.

The worst client in the world

If the worst client in the world is an indecisive ditherer who keeps changing the brief, then guilty as charged.

It’s not that I’m not capable. It was just the ‘judging whether it’s terrible or not’ bit that was tripping me up.

So, I put it in the drawer marked ‘ideas that may be pretty good, but then again am I deluded?’, assuming that was that. Until a couple of weeks ago, I saw a great blog post from Dave Dye all about the lost art of the agency ‘house ad’.

In the post, Dave ponders why agencies don’t seem to do their own ads anymore.

“It could be that it’s just too hard to be the agency AND the client.”

But then he goes on to show dozens of fantastic examples, mostly from the 70s through to the 90s.

Absolute belters from the likes of AMV, DDB, GGT, BBH, O&M… all the best initials.

So, re-invigorated, I looked at the stuff I’d done previously and the penny dropped. OK, the ideas had merit, but they just weren’t anywhere near copywriter-y enough.

It was time to get back to basics. None of this arty stuff.

I needed something that was simple, bold, got its point across quickly, had ‘legs’ and would raise a little smile with the audience I was after.

And I think I’ve cracked it.

Or have I?

Am I just too close to it all?

Damn you, self-doubt.

Now I understand why my clients don’t do their own copywriting.

Is it on brief, does it tickle all the right bits? Tell you what, you be the judge.

Copywriting: worst client in the world – than what

Copywriting: worst client in the world – nipple

Copywriting: worst client in the world – boy

Copywriting: worst client in the world – words

Copywriting: worst client in the world – details

I may well look back at this post in a few months and want to rip it up and start again, but there are projects to be won, comms to be written and bills to be paid.

If you’ve got this far, here’s the hard sell

(Read this bit like Cillit Bang Barry):

Are you pushing words around on a page in a bit of a daze?

Have you got a great brief, but no idea how to turn it into something that excites your audience?

Then you need new formula Freelance Copywriter – Jonathan Wilcock, with built in alternative thinking for those stubborn briefs that ordinary copywriters just can’t crack.

(Read this bit at double speed in a slightly mumbled way):

Alternative Thinking is not a registered trademark of Jonathan Wilcock, but he’d rather you didn’t bandy it about as if it was yours. If you find Alternative Thinking as a concept a bit confusing and simply need a Copywriter, pretend you never heard it. Terms and conditions apply.

Back to normal, internal voiceover style

Campaign ideas, long or short copy and a bit of art direction; if you need a creative (and objective) pair of eyes on your advertising and marketing comms, give me a shout.

Writing my own ads may be a kerfuffle, but when I’m on other people’s briefs, I make factory-fresh razors look like butter knives. Here are a few testimonials to prove it.

Back to the blog

Work examples

And if you’re up for it, any (constructive) opinions on these campaign ideas will be gratefully received.

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email

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

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The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter

The Seven Deadly Skills of a Great Copywriter

Anybody can be a writer of sorts, but what does it take for an ‘anybody’ to become a proper, worth-every-penny, great copywriter?

For dramatic effect, I’ve boiled it down to what we’ll call:


The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – ideas

1) A mind stuffed with ideas

Spelling and stringing sentences together are the bricks and mortar, but ideas are the foundations. A great copywriter isn’t just great with words; they’re also a great ideas person.

There’s an overload of marketing messaging out there, so copywriters use smart creative thinking to give their clients an edge. A great copywriter isn’t afraid to try something different to get noticed.

Copywriting rule number one says, ‘headlines should be short and snappy’. Great copywriter says, ‘Lipsmackin’ thirstquenchin’ acetastin’ motivatin’ goodbuzzin’ cooltalkin’ highwalkin’ fastlivin’ evergivin’ coolfizzin’ Pepsi’.

Perfect spelling and grammar don’t make copy stand out, ideas do.

A great copywriter also knows the difference between ideas for ideas sake and ideas that are centred in the product or its character, values or attributes.

Bill Bernbach: “Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems from your product. You are not right if in your ad you stand a man on his head just to get attention. You are right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets.”

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – detail

2) A love of the details

Idea first; telling the story second; then editing, editing editing. One word too many is one word too many. One typo stands out like a dog’s wotsits. A slip in tone of voice grates on the reader.

Details are important to a great copywriter.

At the same time, deadlines are deadlines and we have to cut-off at some point. Balancing the pursuit of perfection with the constraints of economic pressures is a constant reality for any copywriter. A great copywriter gets that balance just right.

Robert Fleege: An ad is finished only when you no longer can find a single element to remove.

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – up to speed

3) Up-to-speed-ability

Some people are born with it, but most require practice. The ability to write to order is gold dust.

I wake up one morning with a dull headache. The client’s changed their mind about a chunk of copy for the fifth time. I’m not in the mood. I’m no longer excited by the brief, the product or, with this throbbing bonce, not even the paycheque at the end. Now what?

Great copywriters can turn ‘it’ on when they have to. They cut through the problems to find new solutions even when there seem to be more problems than an over-order at the problem factory.

They’re not phased by compromise or the idea of ripping it up and starting again. A great copywriter is a great copywriter any day of the week*.

*A great copywriter will also know how long it takes to decipher, research, understand, write and re-write. Just because they’re great doesn’t mean it’s instant.

Dave Trott: But before we can do anything with other people’s minds, we have to be able to control our own.”

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – start and stop

4) Working start and stop buttons

Great copywriting always starts with a great brief, but just as important are research and asking the right questions.

It can be tempting to write a few thousand words based on a slither of information or a germ of an idea (and in the right hands, that can sometimes be enough), but a great copywriter is also a detective/forager/investigator.

Whether given a verbal, 2-minute briefing in a Soho coffee bar or a 20-page brief document in a 3-hour strategy meeting; a great copywriter will sift and sort, quiz and question until he or she has the right information at their fingertips.

Just as much as knowing where to start, copywriters know when to stop.

Clients sometimes mistakenly think that writing hundreds of words takes much longer than writing a few.

Getting to the point, persuasively, entertainingly and convincingly can take 10 times longer than writing paragraphs of meandering waffle.

A great copywriter knows when enough is enough. They know that their audience is busy and imapatient. They know all the tricks to get them to take in the juiciest bits of information and keep them reading.

The world is complicated and confusing. Our job as copywriters is, as much as anything else, to simplify. There is so much stuff to think about, so many decisions to make. After we’ve grabbed their attention, we need to make things as easy as possible.

Do I like the look of this? Does it speak my language? Do I know what to do next?

Great copywriters are happy to hack away, even at the bits they love, to leave just the bits that work.

Great copywriters Keep It Simple.

Leo Burnett: Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – nice people

5) A (nice) way with people

A great copywriter is on your side. They fight for you and whatever you are selling. They gain your trust and become a part of your team. They do this because it makes all round good business sense.

When a client is onboard, when they like and trust you, they will listen to your opinion and allow you to do the best possible job.

A great copywriter will tell you if you are asking them to polish a turd. If you want them to tell the world that your terrible product is the best ever, then they have the guts to explain why that won’t work.

They may be the experts, but they know that everyone involved has a part to play.

They listen as well as challenge. They fight their corner as well as empathise with the client’s position.

They are confident, but know when to back down.

The best copywriters are usually nice people to work with.

David Ogilvy: “We exist to build the business of our clients. The recommendations we make to them should be the recommendations we would make if we owned their companies, without regard to our own short-term interest. This earns their respect, which is the greatest asset we can have.”

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – visual

6) An eye for pictures

Words are powerful. Pictures grab the attention. When the two work together in harmony, then that’s often where the magic happens. Copywriters need to spend time with Art Directors and Designers. They need to pore over the pages of D&AD annuals, visit art galleries and fall in love with images as much as they have with words.

Copywriting is about communication, not just writing. An intimate knowledge of how words and pictures can work together to communicate is a huge advantage to any copywriter who aspires to greatness.

David Abbott: Think visually. Ask someone to describe a spiral staircase and they’ll use their hands as well as words. Sometimes the best copy is no copy.

The 7 deadly skills of a great copywriter – connected

7) A connection with the audience

‘Clever’ writers fill their prose with ‘clever’ words to show off just how ‘clever’ they are. A great copywriter uses the language that their audiences respond to.

Unlike literary writers, copywriters can’t afford to use their own style of writing over and over. Every job is different.

Last week I was working on scripts for a software provider. The week before it was web copy for an overseas development charity. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t cut it.

A great copywriter wears a hundred different hats: comedian, best friend, business adviser… Copywriters need to be actors, getting into the role and speaking in the appropriate voice.

Tony Brignull: “Great lines don’t have to be clever, they just have to speak to people.”

For me, these are the most important skills that any copywriter needs. Add to this a massive shovel full of patience, confidence and a sense of humour, and you’re going to be at least halfway to greatness.

– – – – – – –

While writing this post, imposter syndrome raised its ugly head and whispered in my ear, “So, are you a GREAT copywriter Mr Wilcock?”

I’m sure even David Abbott would have felt uncomfortable wearing that badge, but I’m practicing all of the above, at least most of the time. I reckon I’m better this year than I was the year before, so let’s just say I’m heading in roughly the right direction.

But here’s an idea; give me a brief and put me to the test, then you be the judge.

More on copywriting and creativity:

Why you don’t need a specialist freelance copywriter
Where do creative ideas come from?
How freelance copywriters conquer writer’s block

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email