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Copywriting for the worst client in the world

Copywriting: worst client in the world – Jonathan Wilcock

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 clients.
Target Audience. Creative Directors / Design Directors / 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 with an Art Director’s eye, 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 when it comes to my AD skills, I usually show rather than tell*.

On with the creative bit

The mission began a couple of years 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 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 several months later, 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 – 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 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

Brand voice, ideas, copy and the very, very occasional bit of art direction*; if you need a creative (and objective) pair of eyes, 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.

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

*I rarely, if ever get involved with art direction anymore, I’m much happier doing the ideas and words. 99% of my work now centres around brand voice, but if you want to send me on a photo shoot to the Maldives, I may consider it.

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