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