The Naked Copywriter
“Today I received one of the most challenging copywriting assignments in my 30-year career. To write 500 words about something I know everything about. Intimately. Every single damned detail. All the “product” benefits. The whole 53 year history of the “brand”. Good times and bad, rich times and poor. Yes, today, 4 September 2018 at exactly 10:31 am I received an email from Jack Stafford, owner of the Copywriting Collective. “Congratulations Paul! We have selected you to be part of our campaign. Could you please write 400-500 words about yourself?” Then a list of bullet points for the content. I was hoping to get away with just writing answers to the questions, but no, Jack had that covered: “Please write a story, not simply answers to these questions.”
The one product that I cannot be objective about. Me. Okay let’s do this…
I’m not sure it’s up there with doctor, fireman or famous footballer, but my ambition at 12 was to work in advertising. Everything I did from that moment was to reach that dream. During my teenage years, I enjoyed watching TV commercials more than the TV programmes. My Father was worried: “Why don’t you go out drinking and smoking like other normal kids of your age!?”
After school, despite my father’s words of warning, my dream was still advertising. I headed North to study design at Glasgow School of Art and Lancashire Polytechnic. After graduation in 1988, I met a very good Art Director. We put together a portfolio of sketched campaigns, determined to conquer the world of advertising. Two weeks later we had a job at McCann- Erickson London. An agency, where we soon learned that good ideas were bad and bad
ideas were good. One thing to thank them for: my first appearance on the front page of Campaign, England’s foremost advertising magazine. “Seven made redundant at McCann- Erickson”. Could it get any better? Plenty of interviews followed, with comments like: “You really should try another job, you obviously have no talent for advertising.” And “Nicely sketched, but where are the ideas?” With hard work, stubbornness and these words of
encouragement, we reinvented our portfolio.
We had an interview at one of the best agencies in London: Gold Greenlees Trott. The creative we saw asked us to come back in a month with some new work and he would show our work to the Creative Director. I said: “Can we come back in a week with a whole new portfolio?” He thought we were crazy, but it was all part of our plan. We worked every day, 15 hours a day (we also had a few campaigns in reserve). We came back seven days later with eight new campaigns. We got the job.
I had dreamed of working at famous London advertising agencies and my biggest wish had come true. GGT, Lowe, Saatchi & Saatchi, winning Cannes advertising lions and working with the most famous people in the industry. People like Paul Arden (author of “It’s Not How
Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be”). How lucky can you get!?
Be careful what you wish for. I had achieved everything I wanted, what now? Maybe it was time for a new adventure. I got myself three interviews a day for three weeks with everybody and anybody I knew. By the end of the third week I had five job offers, three in London and two in Amsterdam. I could choose between working at an agency known worldwide, Wieden+Kennedy. Or becoming a partner in a Swedish agency, not even famous in Sweden, never mind Amsterdam. I went for Garbergs, the agency you’ve never heard of.
My one-year contract in the Netherlands became three. We won international business and prizes. I learned about the Dutch way of doing business. Quite a shock to the system. From the English clients: “very interesting” or “let us think about it and we’ll get back to you”. Which in British business English means they don’t like it. To the Dutch clients: “we love it, let’s do it.” Or “we hate it, we want something more like…” I appreciated the directness.
Three years later, Garbergs decided, despite the success, to focus on Sweden again. What should I do now? I was called by Lysbeth Bijlstra from TBWA/Campaign Company, she wondered if I would like to work with her. Lysbeth was and still is the most awarded female creative in the Netherlands. An offer I couldn’t refuse.
The world was changing, I needed to move with the times. I became Creative Director of Lost Boys where I learned how to be digital. Creating websites, platforms, online games and campaigns. Even won a Spin Award for the best online game.
There was still room for me to learn. I moved to Proximity, part of the BBDO international network, to make “through the line” campaigns. Combining the best of online and offline advertising. Well, that’s what it said on the website…
In the BBDO family, in the same building, a new opportunity knocked. FHV, “The Dutch Ministry of Advertising” as they were known. I was back. Some good national and international prize-winning work followed.
25 years of concepting and copywriting. It’s a long time. It makes you think. What would I still like to achieve in my career? At the back of my mind I had always liked the idea of working in a totally different culture. Top of my wish list: Shanghai. I made it happen. For 16 months I worked in Shanghai at an international design and communication agency, BSUR (also well-known in the Netherlands). Helping Chinese brands go West and European brands go East. Name creation, logo design, brand guidelines, corporate design and brand communication. Long hours and great Chinese food (especially hot pot).
Living in China opened up other new opportunities. One Chinese client (a billionaire) asked me if I would like to be Creative Director and Marketing Director for his new European pet food brand, headquarters in Amsterdam. Well, it’s not a question you get asked every day. And the pet food industry wasn’t quite what I had imagined for myself. However, it was time to get back to Amsterdam. I quickly said yes. I was soon on the cover of Pet Food International, another dream come true. The next twelve months, seven days a week, it was packaging design and copy, website design and copy, brochure design and copy, leaflet design and copy. Flyers, posters, trade print advertisements and copy. In English, Dutch, German, Norwegian, French, Italian, Russian and obviously, Chinese. My reward? “Paul, thank you. We now have all we need. We don’t need a Marketing and Creative Director anymore.”
That brings me to where I am now. Owner/partner of a small international agency creating five second content, restarting my agency, frank, and freelance copywriting.
Perhaps it’s time I mentioned the Copywriter Collective? (Jack: “Yes Paul, get on with it!”)
I joined the Copywriter Collective in January 2018. I thought that it might be an opportunity to have more contact with Dutch and international clients who needed copy and translation work. I was on to something…
“Paul, client needs a new payoff for worldwide use by tomorrow 10:00 am, can you help?”“Of course!”
“Paul, a Polish company in Denmark need English copy for their website. Is this something for you?” “Obviously!”
“Paul, an agency 200 km from Amsterdam needs an English copywriter for a couple of days. Can we suggest you?” “You can!”
“Paul, a Japanese client wants a safety text in English for their toy products. Has to work in all countries. They are willing to pay for one hour’s work. Can you help us with this?” “Yep!”
“Paul, a client needs 1,300 headlines for sunglasses next month. We thought you might be able to do this.” “Naturally!”
So, why would you choose to work with me rather than any other copywriter?
Well, it’s not just about 30 years of experience, it’s also about 30 years of experiences. Working at big agencies, small agencies, for household names and for companies you’ve never heard of. It’s about working with someone who has international experience. Not just the UK, Netherlands and China, but also with 38 other different nationalities. It’s about working with someone who has worked at advertising agencies, online agencies and design companies. Somebody who’s been around the block. A hundred times. It’s about working with someone who passes the 10,000 hours rule. Malcolm Gladwell’s popular theory about how many hours you need to be an expert at something. I have now spent over 120,000 hours learning to be a good creative and a good copywriter.
In the end, it’s about that 12-year-old boy. Still having the same love and enthusiasm for what you do. The best work I’ve ever made? The next job I’m working on.