By Amy Edwards
We know that the majority of our visitors are either digital job seekers or those already working in the sector so we thought we’d take a slightly different approach with today’s blog, in the hope we can spread some words of wisdom from those already working in the industry.
Rather than our usual rants, today’s blog takes the form of a Q&A session with the MD of UK copywriting agency Big Star Copywriting Derryck Strachan regarding his career, how he got to where he is and his top copywriting tips… aspiring copywriters, take note!
Bubble: What first attracted you to copywriting?
Derryk: It’s a great way to make a living as a writer – it’s creative, intellectually challenging and I get a lot of satisfaction out of the business side of things.
B: How did you get started?
D: The most important thing I did before I started my career was to get involved with student journalism, writing a regular music column reviewing records and gigs. When I was applying to jobs later I already had a few contacts in the music industry and a stack of cuttings that I was able to send out along with my CV.
I got involved in copywriting in the music industry through a little bit of luck but also a certain amount of persistence, hassling my contacts at Acid Jazz and EMI and getting interviews. With every rejection I got, I learned a little more about how the industry worked. Eventually I got a job at a company called Avex and spent a month stuffing record envelopes for club mail outs before I got a job as a staff writer for WEA Records, writing all press releases and biographies for the PR department there.
B: Where did you go from there?
D: I spent three and half years at WEA and became a junior press officer. Following that, I worked with a friend of mine at APB working on regional press for acts on Polydor, Virgin and others. PR wasn’t really for me though, so I went freelance, initially writing sleeve notes for compilation albums and writing reviews and features for Amazon, BOL, Tower Records and others.
B: When did you decide you wanted to run your own agency?
D: When I started getting so much work offered that there was no way I could handle it myself. I either had to turn it down or find someone else to help. Fortunately at that very moment I found a couple of freelance writers who are still with me so the transition was reasonably smooth.
B: What key skills would you say make up a great copywriter?
D: It’s a given that you need to be able to write. Lots of people apply to me who can put words down on paper but only a few are natural and gifted communicators with the written word. Good writing flows, makes sense and is a pleasure to read.
That on its own is not enough though. To be a copywriter you need to be able to sell something – a product, a service, an idea – so first and foremost you need to have some kind of understanding of business. What are they selling? Why are they selling it? What are their objectives? On the other side of the equation is the customer and you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes – what’s going to make them decide to buy? What information do they want? What’s going to make them trust the company you’re writing for?
B: What top tips could you give our readers looking to get their first job in copywriting?
D: First of all make sure you can write and that you love writing. If you’ve never written a poem, a blog, a diary or a short story just for fun the chances are it’s not for you. Be prepared to write for a low rate in order to build a portfolio. Copywriting is a business so make sure you can be reliable, punctual and consistent – often those qualities are more desirable than raw talent.
B: Similarly, what advice could you give to an established copywriter looking to make their next career move?
D: Specialise. Everyone wants to write about travel, fashion etc but it’s more difficult to find people who can write convincingly about less sexy subjects like insurance, finance, law etc.
Sometimes it’s worth doing difficult or low paid work if the client is going to look good in your portfolio. Get a website. Start blogging and tweeting. And perhaps most importantly understand the context of what your content is being used for – lots of writers are still pretty clueless about how search and social media works.
B: Are there any tips you could give to freelance copywriters or any copywriter thinking of going freelance?
D: If you can’t bear the idea of not having a regular wage packet, having to motivate yourself to go and find work or having to work long hours on occasion then don’t do it – it’s not for everyone so don’t beat yourself up if you lack the inclination.
If you can put up with erratic cash flow in exchange for freedom to work where you want and when you want (within reason), greater access to interesting opportunities and probably more variety than you’d find in a steady job then do it.