It was a bitterly cold November day in 2012 when I arrived in Amsterdam with my two Canadian cats Zoe and Ooshi and two suitcases. My favourite cousin Erwin was here to meet me as well as the iconic I Amsterdam sign outside Schiphol airport. Of course I wanted a picture in front of it — like 9 million other people who visit The Netherlands. But I wasn’t a tourist. I was coming home.
Standing there shivering and grinning like an idiot, I was amazed at how my whole life could be reduced to so few possessions. I had no job. Just blind optimism. Starting a new life in another country and another culture is never easy. Or boring. But five years on, I’ve never regretted my decision.
I was born in Amsterdam and my family moved to Canada when I was still a baby. I grew up learning Dutch at home and English with my friends. Every few years, we visited the Netherlands and I felt so separated from my family and wondered what my life would be like here.
Learning lessons in the Netherlands
Ironically, my career has been successful here thanks to growing up in an English-speaking country. As a native-English copywriter, there are many opportunities and my understanding of Dutch has also helped. I’ve even added transcreator to my list of skills.
My first contract was writing for Rabobank International, a largely Dutch-speaking environment. I quickly realised my conversational Dutch was lacking a few key business terms. The first new Dutch word I learned was “belangrijk.” I asked someone, what does it mean? Everything is “belangrijk” around here!” He said it means: important.
The writing life is never dull
In Amsterdam there are many major brands and I’ve worked a few, including Philips, ING, NN Group, Linksys, Schiphol and Samsung. In Vancouver, it’s more of a tech start-up culture with a lot of smaller names. It also means you need to be versatile. Luckily I can write anything from websites, ads and features to video scripts and app copy. Except for speeches. Don’t ask me to do speeches.
I started my career in Vancouver as a feature writer for a consumer magazine before taking over as managing editor. This was pivotal because we wrote about technology for consumers in plain language. At the time everything was very technical. So this has become my speciality.
In Vancouver, I worked for JWT for two years as a copywriter and as a freelance writer and two-time magazine editor and marketing specialist. My clients included Recombo software, Nature’s Path Foods, City of Vancouver, Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation, Vancouver Community College, SAP, BC Pharmacy Association, TBWA and Westminster Savings.
My speciality: I keep it simple
I’m not financial or technical but, like a savant can transform the dry or technical text into the engaging, easy-to-understand copy. I actually use myself as a litmus test. If I am not interested in what I’m writing, no one else will be either.
Highlights and favourite projects
Winning an agency award in Canada was a highlight but two of my favourite projects stand out. One was writing a new tagline for the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation that raised funds for the largest trauma centre in the province. It took two weeks and my “aha!” moment was on the Skytrain ride home one day.
The tagline: Your care is critical. It works on a few levels, from the level of care to the need for community support. All in four words.
The other was a direct mail campaign for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. I interviewed a man who had lost his wife to cancer. She was brave enough to fight cancer but couldn’t find the courage to tell her two daughters she was sick. On the outside envelope, a child’s hand reaches for a mother’s hand. The headline on the envelope: How do you say goodbye for the last time? It was heart-breaking but generated almost 13% response and was only expected to get 7.5%. It touched people. And they donated over $100,000 to fight cancer.
When I moved here I wanted to work for ING. It took a couple of years until I did and I wrote quite a few global ads for their World, here I come to campaign. A high point was seeing one of my ads on a huge billboard at Shanghai airport.
My advice for other writers thinking of moving to Amsterdam
Get hired by a company first who can arrange everything for you. I did it all myself and there are miles of red tape and rules. It’s way easier if you can get a company to take care of it for you. Trust me.
It’s easy to set up a freelance company but there’s no support from the government. You need to really network and the copywriting community in Amsterdam is great. A lot of us know each other and support each other and share job postings and advice.
I love living and working in Amsterdam. I’ve made wonderful friends and travelled and spend time with my extended family. My cats are quite happy here too. Some things were hard to leave behind, like friends. But one thing I couldn’t leave behind was my 1995 Trans Am. I shipped it here and love driving it through charming Dutch villages. It’s completely surreal.
I also have more downtime and am working on my personal projects. One is Amsterdam, apart coffee table book and a memoir about life in Amsterdam with pictures from my Instagram account. And of course, writing my next novel.
Copywriter Collective profile
LinkedIn blog: How Schneider killed it on social media. #DeathofaPen
My Instagram account: @MyWriteIdea
Zoe and Ooshi doing their thing.
One of a series of ads I wrote. Client: ING Wholesale Banking
I could relate to this concept by moving to Amsterdam. Client: ING Wholesale Banking
A recruitment brochure for a start-up company. Client: Top of Minds