The Naked Copywriter
“Today I received one of the most challenging copywriting assignmentsin 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 possibly 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 kids of your age!?”
After xxxschool, advertising was still on top of my whish list and despite my father’s warnings, I went to Glasgow to study design at Glasgow School of Art and Lancashire Polytechnic. After graduation I met a very good Art Directorin 1988 and we put together a portfolio of sketched campaigns, determined to concur the world of advertising as a team Instantly we got a job at McCann-Erickson in London. An agency where, at the time, 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, serious stubbornness and obviouslythese 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 and selected a few campaigns we had in reserve. We came back seven dayslater with eight new campaigns. We got the job.
Advertising can be volatile. Clients and personal ambitions come and go and so do jobs. After GGT I had the opportunity with famous agencies like Lowe and even more fantastic creatives like the late great Paul Arden at Saatchi (author of “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be”). Working on British Airways, which even in 1992, was a £30 million advertising account! How lucky can you get.
Though I really enjoyed my London advertising bubble I was aware that there was more out there. Maybe I was ready for a bit of adventure. Something different, but what? I got myself three interviews a day for three weeks. Headhunters, Creative Directors I knew and liked, Creative Directors I knew and didn’t like. Everybody and anybody. 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. With our newly set-up branche we won international business and prizes. I learned about the Dutch way of doing business. First I was puzzled, even slightly shocked as I was used to the English clients : “very interesting” or “let us think about it and we’ll get back to you”(which is code for thank you but no thank you) to Dutch clients :“we love it, let’s do it.” Or “we hate it, we want something more like…”I learned to appreciate the directness. You know what to do.
After three years Garbergs decided, despite success, to focus on Sweden again. I started at TBWA/Campaign Company. Working with Lysbeth Bijlstra, who I consider and I would say is widely considered the best female creative in the Netherlands. An offer I couldn’t refuse.
After she left TBWA for love, I left for my own agency, frank. Honest and to the point. Made more nice campaigns, won more advertising prizes. Successful at first, but it didn’t last. After three years, more money was going out than coming in. Generally, not seen as a good sign. frank merged with another agency, LaMarque, an interesting experience.
It was time for something completely different. It was time to change lanes. Digital, not my area of expertise at the time. Room to grow. As Creative Director of Lost Boys I learned how to go digital. Making websites, platforms, online games and campaigns. Even won a Spin Award for creating the best online game.
Then, proximity part of the BBDO group, an international network agency making“through the line” campaigns. Combining the best of online and offline advertising. Well, that’s what I think I was told…The advantage of a big international agency is that they are usually part of other big international agencies. 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 where I wanted to be. 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 Holland. 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 wondered 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 not that the petfood industry was a dream come true. Still, it was time to go back to Amsterdam. I wasn’t going to take any chances, I said yes. 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.