Blog

creative titbits and marketing gubbins

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