Coffee, Cake and “Get Carter”: An Afternoon with Ace Jet 170

Lunch with Ace Jet 170

Yorks Bakery (Photo by Richard Weston)

Wonderful Swiss design from the 1950s and 60s. Vintage paperbacks by the score. Modern letterpress projects that make your heart sing.

Does this sound like your definition of style? Then you should check out internationally-celebrated design blog Ace Jet 170. (If you’re already a fan, you’ll know exactly what I mean.)

Ace Jet 170 is curated by Belfast-based designer and copywriter Richard Weston. He describes his blog as:

“The inside of my head turned into digital pages. Pages that feature typography, graphic design, books, print, rocks, algae, the bum tree and a dead fly.”

Richard is the perfect guide to his collection. He’s on hand to help, but the exhibits always take centre stage. This deft approach has won him a large and loyal following.

I interviewed Richard by email last year, for a series on top copywriters. We’ve kept in touch ever since. As you can imagine, I jumped at the chance to meet him in person recently.

We met for lunch in Yorks Bakery Cafe, Birmingham. (Their coffee and cake comes recommended. Likewise their Dandelion & Burdock.)

Our conversation went from Len Deighton to Howard Gossage, via 1950s Madison Avenue and the 1970s Newcastle of “Get Carter”. It was great fun, and gave me a valuable insight into where Richard gets his ideas and influences from.

So if you’re looking for some stylish inspiration of your own, head over to Ace Jet 170 today.

Thanks for reading.

Some classic Ace Jet 170 posts to get you started: 1984; Swiss Precision and Swiss Hospitality…Over Five Continents; Action Cookbook.

You can read my interview with Richard here.

Fancy that coffee and cake? Try Yorks Bakery Cafe.

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Guest Post: How Advertising Can Find Its Purpose (by Steve Harrison)

Top copywriter Steve Harrison

Award-winning copywriter, Creative Director and author Steve Harrison

Do you think that creatives should have more economic clout? Or that ad folk could do more to help young entrepreneurs and start-up companies?

Top copywriter, Creative Director and author Steve Harrison certainly does. In this thought-provoking article, he argues that the ad industry and private enterprise need each other more than ever.

Along the way, Steve takes in D&AD White Pencil awards, 60s ad maverick Howard Gossage, and even Bill Clinton. Be warned though, he doesn’t pull any punches. . .

In March, I brought out a book about Howard Gossage called Changing The World Is The Only Fit Work For A Grown Man. As the title suggests, it is the story of a 60s adman who aspired to do more with his talent than just sell things.

While Gossage’s views were wildly contrarian back then, they are today’s orthodoxy. Indeed, the book has succeeded because those views appeal to an ad industry eagerly seeking its own altruistic raison d’etre.

Would Gossage have been pleased by this? Probably not. Ever one to zig when others zagged, he had an ear tuned to the rumble of an oncoming bandwagon and an aversion to the fashionable consensus that is often that vehicle’s cargo.

In this case, I’m sure Gossage would have been appalled to see an argument that he originated being appropriated by Bill Clinton in the keynote address to this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

In that speech, “Slick Willie” implored the ad industry to use its formidable powers of communication and persuasion to get the world to understand and solve its most pressing problems. He went on to identify such problems as climate change, gender equality and personal empowerment.

While all these need addressing, Clinton missed the biggest problem of all – one that he was partially responsible for creating: the most potentially catastrophic economic depression ever. It is the biggest because if we do not put that one right very soon, then it will rob us of the economic resources, the political stability and the collective resolve to do anything about the other things that keep Clinton awake at night.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Gossage might have felt that way, for he had an uncanny ability to get to the heart of a problem and, I think, he would have looked at all the things that need fixing and reminded the former president: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It is a view we should all endorse. Yet, instead of focusing upon how we might use our “formidable powers of communication and persuasion” to help with economic recovery, we seem intent on finding our higher social purpose.

This is the detour down which the Cannes Chimera Project is headed. And it is being followed by that other august industry body, D&AD. On 27 November, D&AD holds its White Pencil Symposium – “a conversation about the power of commercial creativity to make our world a better place”.

I am sure the people at D&AD are totally sincere. Likewise, so are most of the 44 luminaries who have signed up as white Pencil ambassadors. But if so, then one of the most prominent ambassadors, David Jones, does the cause no favours when, in an effort to distance the new idealism from the old ways, he writes in his book Who Cares Wins: “The marketer’s job used to be about creating the best possible image for any product. No matter how divorced from the truth that image might have been.” It is an amazing admission that, one can only assume, is based on Jones’ 20-plus years’ experience with top agencies. And if it’s true, then the industry’s Damascene conversion hasn’t come a day too soon.

Either way, by searching for “the creative idea that changes the world for the better”, D&AD’s industry leaders are ignoring the change that is needed most: getting the economy working by promoting private enterprise. While this may leave some holding their noses, they have got to accept that private enterprise and the ad industry are roped together like two mountaineers. If the former goes off the cliff then the latter will follow.

And, according to observers of all political persuasions, it is not just the ad industry’s fate that is tied to that of private enterprise. Pre-Lehman Brothers, the governments of Europe and the US compensated for years of uncompetitiveness by increasing government borrowing and encouraging personal indebtedness. Having run up bankrupting levels of sovereign and personal debt, their attempts to kick-start a flatlining economy depend largely upon the private sector’s ability to grow and prosper. In short, we need entrepreneurs – and they need us.

First, we need to change people’s attitude towards private enterprise. The economic crisis has shaken the public’s belief in the system. According to Pew Research Center, four years ago, 72 per cent of respondents said they felt people were better off in a free-market economy. This year, that figure has dropped to just 61 per cent.

Symptomatic of this is the belief that profit is synonymous with making a quick buck at the expense of others. Which, in turn, has led to what some commentators identify as an anti-enterprise culture.

The ad industry can help here by perhaps communicating facts such as this: in 2000, the UK signed up to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, the first of which aimed at halving the proportion of the world’s population living on less than one dollar a day. The due date was 2015. Earlier this year, the World Bank announced that the target had actually been hit back in 2008. And it was not international aid that achieved this target an amazing seven years early – it was largely down to the free enterprise system lifting 500 million Chinese and Indian people out of Dark Age-levels of poverty.

Second, the ad industry can use its skill to encourage people to start a business. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reported in 2011 that the view that “starting a business is a good career choice” was held by a minority in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and by just 51.2 per cent of the population of England.

If Britain is to replace public spending with privately generated revenue, then this is bad news – particularly in Scotland, where state spending as a percentage of GDP has rocketed from 27 per cent in 2000 to 52 per cent in 2010.

Starting a business in such a mood takes guts, and those entrepreneurs who set out in the face of such negativity need inspirational stories to sustain them. Given that every UK agency today claims “storytelling” as its core competence, surely this is where we can help.

If that seems too parochial for international bodies such as Cannes Lions and D&AD, then fine. The problems are global and those wonderful organisations have the authority and influence to co-ordinate a global response. For example, a few days before the White Pencil Symposium, there is another get-together in London called Global Entrepreneurship Week. The aim is to use the week to pass on the practical help, knowledge, resources and advice needed by early start-ups and individuals who are considering taking the plunge. Shouldn’t these people be the focus of the ad industry’s efforts?

Of course, but one wonders if going to talk to a young entrepreneur about briefs, targeting and ROI is quite as alluring as, say, going to Cannes to listen to an ageing roue get all misty-eyed about youth, hope and creativity.

Which brings me back to what Gossage might have thought, and a story he told his friend Barrows Mussey. One evening he chanced upon a drunk on his knees at the foot of a street lamp. The drunk said he had dropped his keys, and Gossage set about helping him. After five minutes, he turned to the drunk and said: “Hey, buddy, there is no sign of your keys. Are you sure this is where you dropped ‘em?” To which the drunk replied: “Nope, I dropped them near those bushes, but the light’s better over here.”

About Steve Harrison

Steve Harrison is one of the most successful copywriters and Creative Directors in history. The former worldwide Creative Director of Wunderman, Steve’s won more Direct Cannes Lions than any other Creative Director.

When Steve left agency life in 2007, Campaign magazine called him “the greatest direct marketing creative of this generation and an icon of the business”.

Steve’s first book “How to Do Better Creative Work” is already considered a classic text. And it now costs a small fortune second-hand (if you’re lucky enough to find one).

His latest book charts the life and career of 60s ad man and maverick Howard Gossage. It’s called “Changing The World Is The Only Fit Work For A Grown Man”. Understandably, it’s won him a stack of plaudits. You can grab your copy here.

Thanks for reading.

Do you agree with Steve’s arguments? Or do you think that he’s wide of the mark?

You can join the debate by leaving your comments below. . .

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Raise High the Roof Beam, Copywriters

Steve Harrison's excellent book on Howard Gossage

Howard Luck Gossage was a copywriter straight from a J.D. Salinger short story. A magical and romantic figure, who died way too young.

His campaigns were something else too.

Pink air for your automobile. Name an airplane and win a real life kangaroo (the winning entry was “Sam”). A nervous skywriter who gets his words wrong.

Think these concepts sound kooky today? In the 50s and 60s, they were dynamite.

Award-winning copywriter Steve Harrison has just written a great book on Gossage. It’s called “Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man”.

And it’s some read. In it you’ll learn all about the guy they called “the Socrates of San Francisco”.

Gossage vs. the Mad Men

Down on his luck, Gossage took a junior copywriting post aged 36. Within 12 months he’d made Vice President. At which point he quit to form his own agency. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did he achieve so much, and so quickly? By ignoring every advertising rule and formula in the book.

OUT went the big-budget, carpet-bombing advertising techniques that made the Mad Men so rich.

IN came genuinely creative advertising. Advertising that relied on the quality of the ideas, not the media spend.

Natural born charmer

Gossage’s ads didn’t try to bulldoze you into buying. His writing was charming and funny. Whatever he was selling, he tried to start a genuine conversation his reader. And he was so darned good that it looked effortless.

Sometimes his copy started midway through a sentence. Or a line would cut off abruptly, only to start again in the next week’s ad. There were deadpan jokes and competitions, taken to extraordinary lengths.

One press ad for “Scientific American” magazine urged you to rip out the page, and make it into a paper plane. He encouraged customer feedback. And by using it in his ads, he made the campaigns feel interactive and alive (“Bob from Dallas just wrote. . .”).

As the book makes clear, Gossage pretty much invented social media and guerilla marketing.

And he did it with print ads and a typewriter.

It wasn’t about the money

Gossage’s irreverent approach caused quite a stir in advertising circles. Not that he cared.

He never wanted a large agency. Gossage thought that lots of the world’s problems were caused by companies and countries getting too big.

So he turned down the VW campaign that made Bill Bernbach famous. (Talk about “Think Small”.)

Gossage was proud to be an industry outsider. He worked with civil rights activists, avant garde designers, and Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. John Steinbeck was on the payroll.

But he was far more than just an ad man. A pioneering environmentalist, he helped save the Grand Canyon from flooding. Oh, and he gave “Friends of the Earth” their name (as well as their first office space).

Get your own “how to” guide

Steve Harrison is an excellent biographer. There are interviews with Gossage’s colleagues, family and friends. Top creatives like Alex Bogusky pay tribute to his ongoing influence on their work.

As Steve explains, Gossage’s ideas have never been more relevant (or valuable).

You can use this book as a “how to” guide for successful copywriting and digital marketing. There’s everything you need to inspire your next ad campaign, PR push, or viral video.

And it might even persuade you to ditch advertising, and start changing the world instead.

Why not pick up your copy today?

Thanks for reading.

Director Ash Pollak is working on a new Howard Gossage documentary. Here’s the trailer.

Want to know what makes Steve Harrison tick? Check out this interview.

And if you’ve had enough copywriting for one day, try J.D. Salinger’s “Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters/ Seymour: An Introduction”. (The story about Joe Jackson’s nickel-plated bicycle is one of my favourites.)

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Guest Post: Sarah Seaton (Mind Hand Vision Hearts)

MHVH's Sarah Seaton

Your article today is less of a guest post, and more of a creative intervention.

The very talented Sarah Seaton from Mind Hand Vision Hearts will explain how you can dodge a career coma, and start making big leaps forward in 2012. All with the help of a couple of friendly ghosts. . .

It is most way through January and rather sadly I’m still clinging onto some kind of Christmassy vibes. Yesterday my saviour arrived in the form of Kermit the frog – a late delivery of “The Muppets Christmas Carol” from Amazon. So I settled to watch the cuddly toy extravaganza whilst sentimentally chewing on the disintegrating, turkey wishbone and rubbing my post crimbo belly. I have been a little worried of late that I could be compared to Mary (Mother of God) carrying the baby Jesus. Less holy and probably less immaculate but you get the jist. Anyway the film got me thinking … which lead me into a strange trance/dream like state that went a little bit like this:

It was a dark cold wintery night and I, asleep in bed suddenly woke to a strange groaning. No not my flatmate coming in from a drunken ramble again … I think there’s an actual ghost at the end of my bed (please bear with me).

“I am the ghost of Christmas Past” he said (he looked a little bit like Colin Firth in his younger days, so I thought I better hear him out).

He took me to this slob of a young girl (me) crashed out on an old sofa surrounded by smart price noodles and assorted road signs (collected from drunken nights out). We watched through two daily viewings of Neighbours and Hollyoaks, seemingly never-ending scrubs reruns, drunken epic nights out (forgotten instantly) and a whole lot of sleeping. In general there was a lot of avoiding any real work or effort. Colin Firth’s younger model showed me that I’ve always just happily surfed through life but with no focus the wave was always going to slow down. And it did…

In bed again- the next night…

“I am the ghost of Christmas Future” (he looked a little bit like Usher when he released “Confessions” so I thought I better hear him out).

O dear God… the ghost of Christmas Future brought me to that same image – the girl (me) watching the same bloomin’ re-runs of scrubs and neighbours. The only difference is it’s on Channel 5 now and the smart price noodles cost 4p more. Inflation is a bummer. I insisted that the Usher lookalike sing to me the reasons I had not moved on. He didn’t, but I did realise that I very easily could have slipped into some sort of career coma having lazily thought I could make something of myself without much trying and without the help of other people.

Muppets/Usher and Colin Firth aside what matters is the present and how we mould our future. So let’s get a little bit philosophical now. Life happens whether you like or not- you just make a choice. You live it or you let it just happen around you. When you’re gone you will no doubt leave a hole but it’s down to you how big that hole is. Is it geotagged? Does it have a website? Can it get you ROI ? And can anyone else fill it? Well, that’s your decision.

Since moving to Birmingham I have been very lucky to have found myself welcomed into a beautifully creative community. My friends illustrate, create music, write, design and are generally very passionate about their roles in life. It pushed to think about my identity and how I could fit into this world. Essentially I learnt that I wanted to be part of something that brings happiness and success to those dearest to me and I saw that many others shared the same vision.

What started from a conversation over a pint became the flourishing community of Mind Hand Vision Hearts (MHVH). I am now part of a collective that has grown from friendships, artistic collaborations and shared passions. The community allows everyone within it to have a positive voice including myself. From this, MHVH studios has been born. An organic development where we plan to celebrate the very talent that surrounds us by contributing to interesting and innovative projects.

Each individual of the community have their own style it made me understand that though you are in control of your own destiny – to be part of something bigger holds much more strength than standing alone facing the world. So it’s time to forget Christmas 2011 and balding Hollywood actors… The New Year can roll on – because 2012 is ours for the taking. I will leave you with a few of those hidden gems that represent us.

Troumaca

The Birmingham band with a publishing contract sealed. These boys have been given next HYPE by Hew Stephens on Radio One.

Find out more about Troumaca here.

Luke Halliley

Luke Halliley

The highly talented photographer has been gaining high profile client’s including Carhartt who, like many, were immediately taken by the emotive images that he captures on his travels.

Luke’s website is here.

Nathan Chan

Nathan Chan

Illustrating his way through life with his hip hop inspired doodles.

Rachel Tighe

Rachel Tighe

An artist that captures strong, inspirational moments in her surroundings. She looks at the dominating architecture that surrounds her and the way space is used by the people who pass through it.

Rachel’s website is here.

Thanks for reading.

You can find out more about Sarah and MHVH on their website.

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What Makes Top Copywriters Tick (and Why)? Part Five: Mike Reed

Top copywriter Mike Reed

  • Want to win big clients and a bag of awards?
  • Looking for practical tips on high impact copywriting?
  • Keen to harness the power of ruthless editing?

Then meet award-winning freelance Copywriter and Creative Director Mike Reed.

Mike’s work has won the Design Grand Prix at the Roses, Gold and Silver at the Fresh Awards, an IVCA Gold, and an ISTD Premier Award. It’s also in the D&AD Annuals for 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

He’s been a D&AD judge (Writing For Design) twice, in 2009 and  2011. Mike’s one of the original members of writers’ group 26, and a Fellow of the RSA. As you can imagine, we were delighted when he agreed to talk to us today.

But discovering what makes any top copywriter tick (and why) isn’t always easy. So we asked Mike the apparently simple question: What influences your copywriting – apart from other writers?

Take your influences from everywhere

“It’s so hard to pin these things down,” Mike says. He tells us: “If you’re a creative of any sort, your influences tend to come from all over: music, film, painting, poetry… I’m a very, very amateur photographer, and it has struck me that the process of cropping a picture has interesting parallels in editing copy”.

Crop out any redundant scene-setting

Mike continues: “It amazes me how much you can crop out of what at first seems a pretty well-composed and finished picture. You start to realise how much redundant scene-setting is there, how much is actually just background.”

The parallels with copywriting are clear, Mike explains: “Often it’s like that with sentences and paragraphs. At first glance, they seem okay, but if you take a moment to chop away, you find there’s a lot you can get rid of without affecting the substance at all.”

Mike says: “I suspect I realise this more with photography because it’s so new to me. I’ve certainly had non-writer clients and colleagues express surprise at just how many words don’t really need to be there. Someone I worked with recently said he wished he could talk as I wrote, because everything would take half as long.”

Leave some space for your reader

But it’s not just photographers who can teach copywriters a few lessons about framing and editing, Mike believes. He says: “It’s also something you read about from screenwriters. The temptation is to explain everything, to make sure the audience gets what’s going on. But people are actually very good at inferring an enormous amount of context and background on their own. Often, your well-intentioned explanations just get in the way.”

Use few words – but make every one count

Mike’s a big fan of this intelligent, pared back screenwriting style. But it’s not just about making things simple or “plain”. It’s about giving each word weight and purpose. As he says: “It probably also reflects my love of writers like Raymond Carver, Alan Garner and Michael Ondaatje, who use few words but make every one count”.

Thanks for reading. 

To learn more about Mike Reed’s outstanding work, head over to Reed Words.

Missed our previous interviews with top copywriters? Then check out Drayton Bird, Steve Harrison, Lorraine Thompson and Richard Weston.

You can follow these links to explore D&AD, 26, and the RSA.

Fancy a spot of Christmas reading? Then take Mike’s advice and try some Raymond Carver, Alan Garner and Michael Ondaatje.

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What Makes Top Copywriters Tick (and Why)? Part Four: Richard Weston (Ace Jet 170)

Top copywriter, designer and blogger Richard Weston from @acejet170

  • Do you want to create the perfect blog?
  • Would you like an international reputation for brilliant work?
  • Are you hungry for genuine creative inspiration?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then we’ve got the ideal post for you.

You’re about to hear from top copywriter and designer Richard Weston. A truly talented individual, Richard also curates the wonderful design blog www.acejet170.com. (In our opinion, it’s the best show in town.)

Richard’s passion, intelligence and effortless cool have won him a large and loyal international following. We wanted to find out what makes him tick – and pass on a few of his trade secrets to you.

In classic “Euston, Do You Copy?” style, we asked Richard what influences his copywriting – apart, that is, from other copywriters. . .

Designing with words

Being both a designer and a copywriter, Richard’s got a refreshing take on creativity. He says: “I totally get the parallels with other creative endeavours. Art, definitely, and music. They’re so different and so similar. Rhythm, repetition, pause, drama, contrast; you find all those in all creativity don’t you?”

Interestingly, Richard sees close links between copywriting and design. He says: “I’m very conscious that techniques I draw on when designing feel very similar to those I need when writing. So I feel like I’m designing with words when I write.”

Words that rattle and twist

Richard’s clearly a natural copywriter, but he’s no creative big head. He says: “I would never claim to be even a good writer – not just out of modesty, I feel I really haven’t written enough to prove that I am,” he says.

“But when I write, I do think about syncopation. I try to write in a way that kind of rattles and twists,” he explains. “And that comes from music,” he says. “I’m a big Stereolab fan. They use repetition and also syncopation a lot. And they’re brave; they surprise you.”

Where to find some “goodly” inspiration

Richard’s great sense of fun and enthusiasm shines through in all of his work. It’s certainly a major part of his creative approach, he explains: “I just try to enjoy the words. I’ve noticed I have a habit of making up words. That comes from my children”.

His children are another important influence on his copywriting, Richard says: “When kids are really young they don’t know all the right word variations. My oldest boy used to say, “goodly”, when he meant, “fortunately”. I loved that.”

Richard continues: “It’s wrong but it makes sense. So I make words up. OK, not for client work, but if it’s for my blog, I have a rule that I do whatever I feel like doing, and try not to think too hard about it.”

Always look to your subject matter

Although Richard’s a very creative thinker, he keeps a close eye on the brief at all times. “I’m not a very “arty” designer,” he says, “and I tend to look to the subject matter to spark the idea. Practically all my work comes from the solid Tschichold premise that we should, “uphold the principle of identity between content and expression”. I’m pretty dogmatic about that.”

Thanks for reading.

Richard Weston is Head of Strategic Design at Thought Collective, and runs the fantastic www.acejet170.com. (He also knows an impressive amount about Len Deighton.)

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“A Night at Studio 54″

Copywriting is a tough job, but someone has to do it

If you watch “Mad Men”, you might think that copywriting is all about hard work, exciting clients and glamorous parties. And you’d be right.

At a recent “Night at Studio 54″, I got to hang out with some of the best illustrators, designers, artists, musicians, fashion bloggers and photographers in town. Step forward Ash O’Brien, Claire Hartley, Gavin Auty, Kate Manion, Katy Smith,  Mary Wakelam, Pete SloaneRachel TigheSarah SeatonSi Hall – and the lovely Natalie Pullin.

Freelance copywriting; it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. . .

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How to Get 20,000 More Blog Views (In 4 Easy Lessons)

The Wheel of Hunger

The Wheel of Hunger by Duncan Bloor (design by Adam Hinks)

  • Want to get 20,000 more blog views?
  • Fancy seeing your blog in the national press?
  • Need a crash course in effective web writing?

Then we’ve got the post for you.

Today you’ll hear from one of the best search guys in the business – the BBC’s own Duncan Bloor. Duncan’s the chap behind The Wheel of Hunger, a fab infographic that’s picking up stacks of positive reviews as we speak. (He’s also pretty nifty in a private helicopter, but that’s another story.)

In this exclusive guest post for Euston, Do You Copy?, Duncan reveals the four lessons that will send your blog views into orbit. . .

Wheel of Hunger Hangover

Hi everyone, I’m Duncan Bloor and I’m a producer at the BBC currently working on how to make our online content more findable and shareable (if I can use those words on here!). Johnny has kindly asked me to write a guest post (I think he’s in Studio 54 as we speak, sipping Whisky and Ginger with Don Draper). I’m not a copywriter by trade so apologies for any bad spelling, grammar and punctuation but if you can live with that then hopefully you’ll find this of interest. I’m going to write about the busiest post on my blog ever (yesterday) and the lessons I’ve learnt and can share with you from it. Here goes….

Wow.  A day like yesterday makes you realise why you started to blog in the first place.

I’m still reeling if I’m honest from the attention that the wheel of hunger post on my blog received and have been thinking quite a bit about the lessons that I can learn from it. After a while, I discovered that essentially it was just a case of me taking my own medicine. I was part of the original User Building team at the BBC, working with great people like Caragh Salisbury, James Webb and Jo Pham and that team developed certain rules that must be followed if our production teams were going to make successful content for our websites. I just didn’t realise I could apply it to my own blog too!

So how did my blog go from getting 50 people a day (if I was lucky) to 20,000 yesterday?

Here are 4 lessons….

1.  Less is more

When I say less, I mean in terms of frequency of publication.  I’d often spend 3 hours at the weekend or on a train home from work writing up a blog post and that was cool because my purpose wasn’t to get visitors, it was more of a dumping ground for thoughts and miscellany. If people liked it, great but it wasn’t the objective in writing the posts.

However if your objective is visitors then I’d advise against writing more and more posts in the hope that something sticks and catches on. Spend more time putting together one great piece. The Wheel of Hunger took a year in total.

2.  Choose your content passionately

Sometimes it feels like you create content because you should. Because it fits in with the theme of your site or because you’re trying to become an authority on something. I can easily tell which content I’ve made for these reasons because when I revisit it, it bores the pants off me and has the fewest visitors. Choose your passion, even if you think no-one else shares it with you, and if you’re successful at step 3 then your passion will shine through and infect others – then you’ve content worth sharing.

3.  In your writing, be frivolous – in your editing, ruthless

The Wheel of Hunger was initially going to be an all encompassing look at the whole world of what people searched for around food in the UK.  It was going to have separate vegetable, meat, fish, pudding etc categories, timelines and fancy graphs.  We edited down and down and down again until we had something that people could easily digest and share. I agree to some extent with this commenter on the Guardian who said “To be honest, I’m not sure this graphic adds much to what’s essentially 12 lists of 20 things. You can’t track whether something goes up or down in popularity during the year, or just makes a one-off appearance etc.” in that I’d have loved to of shown the full extent of the search data we hold but in the end, the commenter missed the point – if we’d shown more, we’d have reached far fewer people.

4.  Build links

This is probably the biggest obstacle that people have in making their content found. People should naturally find, love and share my content, right? Wrong. The Wheel of Hunger sat unnoticed on this blog for weeks and would have remained so had it not been for a little research and one tweet to someone at the Guardian with a ready made audience for it that I didn’t have. Good link building is highly targeted and beneficial to both parties.

Thanks for reading.

For more expert tips, check out Duncan’s excellent blog Search insights.

The Wheel of Hunger was designed by the very brilliant Adam Hinks, who captains The Pirate Design Co.

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“Yeah, She Looks Like a Painting/ Jackson Pollock’s No. 5. . .”

The Stone Roses guide to copywriting

So The Stone Roses are back. Big love at the press conference. A tour that sold out in 14 minutes. There are even rumours of a possible third album. Across Britain, ageing Roses fans are asking questions like:

  • Can I get a German army coat on eBay?
  • Where have my cheekbones gone?
  • Does Waitrose sell Mad Dog 20/20?

Here at Euston, Do You Copy?, we’ve been digging out our vintage Stone Roses vinyl, with its ace Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork. The man behind the art is – famously – Stone Roses guitarist John Squire. 

John’s mix of musical and artistic influences is an exciting part of The Roses’ identity. But it’s not just musicians who look to visual art for inspiration – top copywriters do too.

Mad Men’s Don Draper, for instance, liked a bit of abstract expressionism. Legendary ad man Charles Saatchi is a major player on the international art scene. In fact, many copywriters say their work is influenced by visual artists (say hi, Lorraine Thompson).

All of this got me thinking: If we understand how artists influence writers. . .

How do writers influence artists? 

I asked talented Birmingham-based artist Dean Melbourne this question recently. Dean’s reply will certainly surprise you – and may give you some serious creative inspiration of your own. Want to know why? Then check back here next week.

Thanks for reading.

There’s more on The Stone Roses reunion here. Don’t know the band that well? Try this classic track for starters.

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What Makes Top Copywriters Tick (and Why?) Part Three

Lorraine Thompson, top freelance copywriter

Top freelance copywriter and blogger Lorraine Thompson

In this exclusive interview with top copywriter Lorraine Thompson, you will learn how to:

  • Bring your copy to life – through your imagination and by empathising with your customer
  • Deliver on time, every time – with the French secret of “la répétition”
  • Have fresher, more imaginative ideas – by “letting go” of your copywriting
  • Clear your mind – with the help of some leading modern artists

Lorraine Thompson is a renowned freelance copywriter and blogger. Based in New York’s Hudson Valley, Lorraine has written successfully for organisations including: Novartis; American Express; and the Sadaf/ Sabic Suadi Petrochemical Company.

Many copywriters come into the business from other industries. But Lorraine’s story is more interesting than most. “My first career was in the theatre,” Lorraine says, “I was an actress.”

Here Lorraine explains how theatre and visual art influence her copywriting – and what lessons you can take from her impressive 20 year career.

How to bring your copy to life

Lorraine says that imagination and empathy are vital for bringing your copy alive. She tells us: “I believe I transfer my actor’s conservatory training to copywriting. I also believe the ability to vividly imagine an inner life and empathise with a character helps me write copy.”

She explains: “Often I’m tasked to write persuasive copy for goods and services I don’t need or want – yet I need to engagingly speak to the customer. As an actress I prepared rigorously for each role. I imagined the emotional make-up that motivated my characters to say and do everything the script required.”

Lorraine continues: “Acting training helps me put myself “in the customer’s shoes”, in a very real and immediate way, and to write copy that speaks in a warm, conversational tone. I also use what actors call “sense memory” when called on to use sensorial details in my writing.”

How to deliver on time, every time

Lorraine’s acting experience taught her valuable lessons about method, discipline and performance. “Theatre requires a very disciplined work ethic,” she says. “In French,” Lorraine continues, “rehearsals are called “la répétition”, because the players rehearse their lines, scenes, blocking and acting exercises over and over until these practices are deeply ingrained.”

Lorraine recommends the same work ethic for copywriting. She says: “Though I’m a freelancer, writing is a daily discipline for me. In twenty years I’ve never missed a deadline.”

How to have fresher, more imaginative ideas

Lorraine says: “I find if I can get away from my copy for some time, I come back to it with fresher, more imaginative ideas that improve the work and speed rewrites.”

“My copywriting is much better if I can “let go” of it,” she says. “First I must do the work – researching product line, competitors, customers, identifying benefits and conversion goals, and familiarising myself with the media and format. I mindmap, brainstorm, and get a draft out. That’s the work – but the copy will go through many revisions before I’m ready to deliver it. That’s where “letting go” helps very much.”

“Letting go” is another lesson Lorraine learned as an actress, she explains:  “Here’s the thing about the hard work of acting: You “let go” of it when you perform. You do all the thinking, planning, writing and exercising in rehearsal, but you don’t think about any of that, or “hold on” to it once you’re on stage.”

How to clear your mind

When you’re swamped with work, clearing your mind can be a tough job. But rather than hitting the bar like a modern-day Don Draper or Peggy Olson, this New Yorker prefers to head for an art gallery instead.

“Visual art is one of the best ways for me to take a break from the copywriting grind,” Lorraine says, “and come back to my work refreshed. I’m lucky to live close to great museums and galleries and to be able to visit them regularly. When I feel burned out, I refresh myself with works by Rothko, Pollock, Rauschenberg, Serra, Beuays, Elizabeth Peyton, new artists or an exhibition “on tap” at a nearby museum.”

Thanks for reading.

For more about Lorraine Thompson, please head over to her excellent business website MarketCopywriter.

Visual art fans can check out Lorraine’s local museum, New York’s MOMA.

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