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.

Johnny Cullen

In Which He Joins Forces With an Evil Empress and Creates a “Build Your Own Haunted Wood Kit” (Available Now, Enquire About Shipping)

Posted 31st October 2014

Haunted Wood

Either the Earth’s grown a new moon, or I need to lay off the ragwort

Hallowe’en is the perfect time to hang out in a Haunted Wood. You can mingle with the mythos, or catch up with your cackling chums around a cauldron. Better still, you can relive your teenage glory days and get immortalled on cans of   “K-thulhu” cider.

Hold on though, what’s that you say? Not everybody has access to a Haunted Wood?

Well there’s no need to flap, my little vampire bats. Evil Empress Caitlin Watson and I have been busy creating a “Build Your Own Haunted Wood Kit”. It’s ideal for all you urban-based evildoers. So wherever you live in the city, here are the ten things that’ll turn your Hallowe’en home into a genuine Forest of Doom:

1) Spectre seeds

2) Young priest

3) Old priest

4) Bucketful of dank mist

5) Gramophone playing scratchy 78s

6) Black cat or dog

7) Rowan detector

8) Will-o’-the-wisp

9) A Banshee candle

10) MDF mini-gallows

You may be interested to hear that we’re working on an illustrated version of our “Build Your Own Haunted Wood Kit” too. To secure your copy, please contact

And if you’re not following Caitlin on Twitter, you really should. She’s @WantonItalics.

(Note: Please curse responsibly. Always test dank mist on an inconspicuous area of carpet first.)

Categories: Magick
Johnny Cullen

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
Johnny Cullen

In Which He Enjoys a Damn Fine Cup of Coffee and Draws a New Conclusion

Posted 24th September 2014

David Lynch

My sketch of Mr David Lynch

Have you read “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity” by the director and artist Mr David Lynch? It’s the great man’s guide to having more and better creative ideas.

I bought my copy recently, as recommended by the fine artist – and even finer fellow – Mr Dean Melbourne. Although I haven’t finished the book yet, already I’m feeling inspired to try new things. As such, writing a book review seemed a bit of an obvious tack for a writer to follow.

So I put down my  (damn fine) cup of coffee, picked up a Sharpie, and drew a quick sketch of Mr Lynch. You can see the results above. It’s the first drawing I’ve done since I left school back in *cough* *cough*.

And while my effort isn’t all that, it certainly shook up my way of thinking about creative problems.

Maybe you could try a different tool for your next job too?

Thanks for reading.

Mr David Lynch is the man behind Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet (to name a few). You can buy his book here.

You can explore Mr Melbourne’s work on this website.

Johnny Cullen

In Which He Makes the Most of an Unpromising Beginning

Posted 21st September 2014

Mr Brian Eno expands his mind and chest

Mr Brian Eno expands his mind and chest, New York 1979

Do you ever wish that you could have brilliant creative ideas all of the time? Ideas that would appear as if by magic, ready to dazzle and shine?

I know I do.

If you’ve ever been stumped by a creative problem, you may know what I mean. After a while, you start getting frustrated. Your idea feels like work you’ve done before. Worse still, it feels like work other people have done before.

OK, your idea might be above average. It will certainly do a decent job for your client. But you know deep down that it’s not really enough.

“Is this honestly the best work I could do?” you ask yourself. “ Will it shock and amaze everyone seeing it? Or is it just crap?”

An icy bucket of honesty

Having tipped this icy bucket of honesty over your head, staying positive can be a challenge.

“Why is it so hard for me to be creative,” you ask yourself, “when other people find it such a breeze?”

“There must be folks out there,” you might say, “who have great ideas every day. They simply sit down and dash off three concepts before lunch. The awards and the money just fly in! How can the rest of us possibly compete with such talent?”

Different kind of life?

At first glance, Mr Brian Eno would seem to fit the bill for this kind of natural creative thinker. Eno’s been a leading light in pop music and modern art for over 40 years. Along the way he’s worked with Mr David Bowie, Mr David Byrne, and Roxy Music – and influenced a whole many more.

Thing is though, Eno doesn’t buy this “us and them” notion of creative talent. In fact, he thinks it’s a trap. A trap that can condemn you to a pretty dull creative life.

Instead, Eno believes that you should take a different approach, and welcome your initial creative struggles. Not even the most talented people in the world, he argues, walk around with fully formed creative masterpieces in their heads.

“Things grow out of nothing”

It’s important to learn, Eno says:

“. . .that things come out of nothing. Things grow out of nothing. The tiniest seed – in the right situation – turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed – in the wrong situation – turns into nothing.”

If you do take this approach, he suggests:

“You could have a different kind of life where you say, well, I know that things can come from nothing very much – start from unpromising beginnings – and I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something”.

My unpromising beginning

So if this first Journal entry feels like an unpromising beginning, that’s because it is. But hopefully it’s also the start of something too. It’s going to record my attempt to change how I think, in order to have better creative ideas.

Hopefully it will contain some hints on tips on creating a more plastic mind, and finding better ways to crack creative problems. (Of course, there’s always the possibility that it will fail to do either.)

Much as I’d like to take all the credit for my change in direction, I can’t. My new Journal was inspired by Zelda Malan and Benji Taylor. So if you hate it, you can always blame them.

Thanks for reading.

You can watch the full Brian Eno interview here.

Categories: Creative thinking
Johnny Cullen

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

Posted 6th February 2013

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.

Categories: Style
Johnny Cullen

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
Johnny Cullen

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
Johnny Cullen

Guest Post: Sarah Seaton (Mind Hand Vision Hearts)

Posted 29th January 2012

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.


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.

Categories: Style
Johnny Cullen

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
Johnny Cullen