13/04/2012

By Jackie Barrie, Copywriter, Trainer & Author At Comms Plus

Q. What’s your definition of copywriting?

Painting a really good picture with words.

Q. How does business/marketing writing differ from academic/other writing?

Academic writing isn’t necessarily about trying to be creative. It’s generally more about stating the facts. Yes, it has to remain interesting but I prefer writing where you can take the facts and inject creativity to bring a friendlier tone and better sense of allure to the piece.

Q. How did you get into copywriting?

I worked for regional and national newspaper classified advertising departments before moving into advertising agencies. I actually applied to join my first ad agency as a copywriter but they said with my background I would be better suited to client services. I worked my way up to Account Director level before taking redundancy in 2001 and setting up in business as a freelance writer.

Q. What do you specialise in?

During my time at newspapers and advertising agencies I specialised in recruitment/employment communications. I have, however, broadened the scope of my writing services over the past 11 years and can turn my hand to pretty much anything that requires creativity with words.

Q. What type of clients do you write for?

All sorts. At the last count I had written for over 150 different organisations across the private and not-for-profit sector.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

Two web content projects – one for a charitable trust, the other for a startup recruitment business. I also have a few online job advertisements to write.

Q. Which comes first, copy or design?

I have always been of the belief that you should get the message cracked first and then focus on the design. In an ideal world I’m asked to come up with a whole concept/theme on which to hang the project and from there I produce headlines and suggestions for imagery that a designer can then work with. Worst-case scenario in the case of a web content project is that I get presented with a template and asked to simply fill it with words.

Q. Biggest frustration about being a copywriter?

As a freelancer, not having input into the final design a lot of the time. I can suggest imagery and headlines but bringing it to life on the page is generally outside my control.

Q. What was your most challenging job and why?

I was asked to rewrite the web content for one of the UK’s leading names in recruitment. It involved producing over 90 pages of copy, each to a set parameter of no more than 500 characters per page plus a maximum of 45 characters for each headline!

Q. Without naming names, what was your worst client and why?

When I was an account handler a particularly awkward bully of a client phoned me to ask if I could attend an 8am meeting in Hampshire the very next morning. When I suggested it would mean getting up at 4am, he said “Yes, life’s a bitch isn’t it?” to which I replied “It may well be a bitch, but I don’t get out of bed at 4am for anyone!” I don’t think he was used to anyone standing up to him, but he relented.

Q. What are the main challenges you face these days as a copywriter?

Apart from there being less work around? Online - people believing that SEO enhanced copy is more important than quality content that isn’t contrived. Press – there are less opportunities to make a creative splash due to the migration to the web.

Q. How would a total rookie get a start in the business?

In the current climate? With difficulty I would think. It’s tough being a freelancer during a recession and even some seasoned writers are struggling to get enough work to keep them busy full-time right now.

Q. Noise or quiet when you work?

Quiet. For years I worked with some copywriters who would sit at their desks, headphones on, contemplating their navels and giving us account handlers reasons why it took so long to produce a piece of work. I soon discovered that with a bit of peace and quiet you can actually work much faster and have a far more productive day.

Q. Are there any words you commonly mis-spell?

Not commonly, but sometimes I’ll get a mental block about a word I have typed a thousand times in the past. For instance ‘fulfil’ or ‘fulfill’?

Now’s your chance to crow about your achievements / awards / accomplishments…

I write comedy as a sideline and had a sitcom in development with the BBC back in 2004. I also wrote a show about the world of work that I developed for BBC Radio that made it to the final programme committee before being rejected. So near, yet so far!


Alasdair Murray had no idea what he wanted to do when he left school. He worked for the civil service for a while then fell into advertising and copywriting by chance and discovered he had a flair for writing. He honed his copywriting skills at newspapers and advertising agencies for nigh on 15 years before setting up his own freelance copywriting business in 2001. He now works with clients of all shapes and sizes and in all industry sectors and enjoys the challenge of never quite knowing what the next job will be http://alasdairdmurraycopywriter.co.uk