Journal Posts: Copywriting

In Which He Takes a Strange and Wonderful Trip

Posted 30th March 2015

Apollo 11's Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

Apollo 11’s Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

With a heavy heart, I’m approaching the end of my Apollo 11 project. It’s been a busy and enjoyable few months. So busy in fact, that I’ve slacked a little on these Journal posts.

Fittingly perhaps, this assignment turned out to be a strange and wonderful trip. I’ve been inspired and intrigued by the secrets and stories of the first manned moon mission.

Along the way, I’ve learned new ways to think creatively using colours and shapes. It’s helped me tie together ideas that we’ve chatted about on here before. I’ll share these insights and experiences with you over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here’s a shot of astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon. Reflected in his gold visor you can see Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the lunar surface.

Can you imagine how much fun I had writing about their adventures?

Thanks for reading. 

If you like, I can let you know when my work goes live.

Don’t forget to check out NASA’s website too.

Guest Post: Get Into Shape and Bring Your Colour Up (by Caitlin Watson)

Posted 16th December 2014

Can visual thinking helping you write better copy? Are colours and shapes the keys to more creative ideas? Guest poster Caitlin Watson shares her thoughts. . .

As a medical writer rather than a copywriter, I’m a bit of an interloper here, really.

I am, however, almost evangelical in my desire to get people thinking more visually.  To me, the key to an engaging story/portrayal of the facts (which, ultimately, is the aim of both professions IMO) is the marriage of words and pictures.

I love words.  It’s why I left the lab – as much as I liked planning experiments, etc., I derived much more enjoyment from finding a stimulating way to discuss the results, including graphs and pictures.  I used to leave the diagrams til last; firstly, to allow my thinking on the matter to crystalise…but also because finding a neat visual way of explaining something is a fun game.  It’s a similar satisfaction I feel when I find an every day analogy for explaining a complicated scientific concept.

The scientific part of me is most likely responsible for my levels of organisation, and some people can be a little intimidated by my colour-coded systems etc.  What they don’t realise is that these approaches are actually pre-emptive laziness (or efficiency, if you want to use kinder language).  If I work out a good way to do something once, why would I waste my time thinking of it all over again? 

It’s fine to revisit ideas with a view to improving them, but starting from scratch each time uses up time that could be spent in other directions.  A great diagram or visual concept has the same effect – you don’t need as many words, as things become self-explanatory. 

Brave and effective writing

I think we’ve all read bad copy, where you feel the person doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about, and is just throwing lots of big words at the page in an attempt to cover it up.  Braver, more effective writing is concise and to the point, and can really be boosted by a great figure <wolf-whistle, cartoon eyes on stalks>.

Decisions I have to make most frequently, such as determining the best type of graph to show data are perhaps less likely for copywriters deal with, but there is plenty of cross-over where both could benefit from flexing different parts of the brain to think in pictures, particularly when it comes to presentations.

I did a bit of research into visual thinking a while back, and unless you’re willing to spend a lot on some books, most of the stuff on the internet tells us about not having more than 5 bullets on a slide, not to just read the slide out yaddah yaddah.  But what I’m really interested in is to dissect how one could start thinking in a more creative way.

Shape it

After sitting down and having a bit of a think whilst looking back at previous effective diagrams/presentations, here’s a few points that struck me:

1) Are you struggling to describe a concept? Is the paragraph you’ve written meandering and dissatisfying? A sure fire clue that you either need a diagram to figure out how you’re going to explain it, or that the diagram should actually go into the piece

2) Are you discussing a few different elements? How do they relate to each other? Is there a way to visually represent this?

Shaping up table3) Might seem like a bit of a shortcut, but have a look at the “smart art” options within PowerPoint – they show a few different ways of representing lists, hierarchies, flow diagrams etc. that might inspire you

4) This is definitely a cheat (within reason; plagiarism is not on, yo)– have you worked up an idea before that wasn’t used, or that worked well with another client? You could easily use this as the starting point, rather than going back to the beginning of the process.  Why go from scratch when something done previously might give you a leg up? (told you I was lazy)

5) It’s important to remember that diagrams shouldn’t be MENSA tests.  Sometimes something more abstract is called for, but if it’s too obscure, it’s going to detract from the copy.  Run them past someone, and if it requires too much explanation, you might need to think again

Experiment with colours

Finally, colours and diagrams can also make running projects easier – don’t save all the fun for your deliverables.  If there’s a project with a few looming deadlines, taking the time to create a quick table/spreadsheet by week (or day if the timescale is shorter), colour coded in a traffic-light system means you can see at a glance which bits of the project require immediate attention internally, or which bits are the client’s responsibility, rather than yours.

Shaping up excel sheetThis type of status sheet can also make client calls go more smoothly, as long as you keep it fairly simple.  Too many colours and you might feel trapped in a kaleidoscope, equally unclear as to what’s going on.

Hopefully these ideas might provide a starting place for livening up your copy – I’m always looking for new ideas and would love to hear other people’s tips for thinking pictorially.

Thanks for reading.

About Caitlin

Caitlin is a medical writer with a special interest in thinking more visually. If you’re not doing so already, you can follow her on Twitter here.

In Which He Writes a Letter That Makes His Hands Shake

Posted 11th December 2014

There's no skool like the old skool. . .

There’s no skool like the old skool. . .

How some old skool print helped boost an online campaign in aid of Parkinson’s UK. 

Earlier this year, I helped promote “Bud’s Run” and “Bud’s Bash” to raise cash for Parkinson’s UK. These two athletics-themed events were held at The University of Birmingham in October. They were the idea of international running coach Bud Baldaro. Bud’s based at the University, and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2009.

I’d written the website, media releases, and social media strategy. As we got closer to the big day, all was going well. But I had a hunch that a bit of old skool DM could lift our online profile even higher.

“There’s no skool like the old skool”

So I drafted a four page hand-addressed A4 sales letter to try and drum up some more corporate sponsors. Written in Courier, it had cross-heads, quotes in italics, and a PS that repeated the call-to-action. It’s the kind of job any old skool copywriter would jump at.

Then I wrote “When was the last time you got a letter that made you hands shake?” on each envelope. I used a Sharpie held in my left-hand (I’m right handed). This gave the line a slightly sinister look, which I hoped would feel like a threat or a ransom note.

In short, I wanted to write a teaser message that would be hard to ignore.

The copy inside linked the “shaking hands” teaser to everyday life with Parkinson’s. It introduced Bud and his story. And it explained how Parkinson’s UK needs funds to find a cure for his condition. Then it sold in the benefits of attending the events to the reader.

Bud’s daughter Becky signed each letter. Becky and her brother Jamie organised both events. Their hard work and enthusiasm turned Bud’s idea into an amazing day and evening.

Reaction and results

The letter created quite a stir on social media. We had tweets, re-tweets, and positive blog mentions from all over the UK. Top creatives like Sue Keogh, Sarah Turner, and Richard Weston name-checked us. Parkinson’s UK also helped us spread the word.

The DM boosted an already successful campaign. World marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe flew in from her Monaco home to start the Run. The national and international athletics press gave us excellent write-ups. The BBC website featured our events twice, and Bud was interviewed on BBC One’s “Midlands Today”. Our Facebook page had over 1000 likes. A video of Bud we posted reached more than 11, 000 people.

Most importantly, both events sold out in advance. We beat our targets by raising nearly £25, 000. I’m now chatting with Parkinson’s UK about working together on other projects.

So the next time you’re doing an online campaign, why not try mixing in some print? You may be surprised by the results that a letter can deliver you. . .

Thanks for reading.

Sue Keogh interviewed me about the DM on her company website.

You can discover more about Parkinson’s UK on their website.

In Which a New Way of Creative Thinking Begins to Take Shape

Posted 25th November 2014

Here’s a one minute creative task to get your brain going.

Grab a pen and paper, and in sixty seconds draw the word “year” as a shape. Mark on the months if that helps. Go!

Finished? Nice job.

Understandably, many people set this task draw one of two shapes – a straight line or a plain circle:

Two Ways to Think About a Year

Two Ways to Think About a Year

But can basic shapes like these really convey the idea of a year? Maverick 1960s ad man Howard Gossage didn’t think so. To Howard, a year was “an irregular figure closer to a triangle than anything else.*” Here’s how he drew it:

Howard Gossage's Idea of a Year

Howard Gossage’s Idea of a Year

Like lots of folks, Howard felt some months flew by more quickly than others. That’s why the shape of his year dips, flattens, and then climbs sharply from September until Christmas.

So while Howard believed that ideas have shapes, his drawing suggests they’re often more intriguing and personal than you might first think. And that by thinking about your ideas more creatively, you may be able to have more creative ideas.

Do ideas have colours too?

Howard’s wife Sally has an equally interesting take on things. Sally sees all her ideas as colours. To her, a year isn’t like a triangle at all. Instead, Howard tells us, a year resembles a:

“child’s hoop. . .with the rim divided into brightly colored segments representing months, weeks and days. Holidays have special colours: Christmas is yellow, New Year’s is brown, her mother’s birthday is orange, and Halloween is black. I should also mention that only the holiday Halloween is black, the word Halloween is green.”

According to Howard, Sally’s visual year starts on August 4th – “halfway between the Fourth of July, which is fittingly pink and orange, and my birthday, which is emerald green.”

Follow the yellow brick road. . .

I think it’s important to be super clear about what we’re talking about here. Presenting your ideas in visual form is one thing. Chances are we’ve all used charts, diagrams, and graphs at some point.

But what we’re talking about now is thinking about ideas themselves as colours and shapes. As a creative from a writing background, this is a whole new world to me. And it feels a bit like a jump from black and white to Technicolor.

If you have a brain like Howard or Sally, you’re probably wondering what all the fuss is about.  But if you’re lucky enough to think in colours and shapes as well as words, what’s to stop the rest of us learning to join you?

I’ve already been chatting to Dean Melbourne, Jenny Theolin, and Cait Watson about putting this new insight to practical creative use.  As always, this talented trio have given me lots to ponder. Updates to follow soon.

In the meantime, why not try shaking up your own way of approaching ideas?

Thanks for reading.

All of Howard’s quotes come from his article “The Shape of an Idea and How to Draw One”. You can find it in “The Book of Gossage”.

To discover more about this remarkable advertising man, check out Steve Harrison’s outstanding book “Changing the World is the Only Fit Work for a Grown Man”.

The technical term for thinking in colours is synesthesia.

In Which He Discovers That Design May Be His Bag After All

Posted 21st November 2014

My winning entry

My prize for winning the #PrintPoetry competition. Ace!

Did you catch #PrintPoetry recently?

It was an online competition hosted by Bunch and Cerovski Print Boutique, in collaboration with Hyperactive. The rules were simple. Each entry had to be a four line rhyming poem with something to do with print. 48 characters max. Five winners would get to see their winning slogans printed on a Tote bag.

As you can imagine, it all went a bit nuts on Twitter. Top design mag Grafik also carried a feature on its website and Facebook page, which helped attract even more attention.

The curators Jenny Theolin and Dave Brown had to choose from over 1000 entries. To keep things fair, each entry was anonymised.

Happily, my slogan was one of the entries Jenny and Dave picked. (That’s it in the picture above.) A free bag and a mention in Grafik? Good times!

Thanks for reading.

After some links? Try the Print Poetry website itself, Bunch, Cerovski Print Boutique, and Hyperactive. And you can find the Grafik article here.

For more on the curators, check out Jenny Theolin and Dave Brown.

In Which Two Rival Wizards Unleash Furious Magick Upon Each Other’s Stuff

Posted 26th September 2014


Rhyming Curselets

“I damn your jam, K_Stal”

Have you checked out “Rhyming Curselets” yet?

It’s a new Tumblr about two rival wizards who share an untidy flat.

Sad to say though, our heroes are feeling somewhat underemployed at the moment.

As you may know, many magic jobs are now outsourced to Indian Magi and Chinese Wu. And then there’s “Instadam” – a new app that lets people cast their own basic curses.

(It’s enough to make your hang up your cape.)

So in between watching “Minder” repeats and traipsing down the 24 hour garage, these two slacker sorcerers fill their days hexing and enchanting each other’s stuff. In rhyme.

You can follow their progress – or lack of it – over at Rhyming Curselets.

Thanks for reading. 

“Rhyming Curselets” is my first project with Mr Daniel Adie. Said Mr Adie is both a comic book author, and the Genuine Twitter Sensation@ketamine_stalin.

You can visit Mr Adie’s website here.

Categories: Copywriting

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

Posted 7th November 2012

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. . .

Categories: Copywriting

Raise High the Roof Beam, Copywriters

Posted 5th April 2012

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.)

Categories: Copywriting

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

Posted 14th December 2011

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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Categories: Copywriting

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

Posted 23rd November 2011

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 (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 (He also knows an impressive amount about Len Deighton.)

Categories: Copywriting