Copywriter of the week : Tim Williamson

Hi, my name is Tim.

I came into advertising at the tail end of the glory years.
Heineken was refreshing the parts other beers cannot reach, and happiness was a cigar called Hamlet.
My old man was a copywriter at a place called Garland Compton that was bought out in a reverse takeover by some brothers called Saatchi and Saatchi. And from there he worked at Ogilvy under the notorious and violent Midgley and Bacon.
In those days when you were interviewed they didn’t ask to see your work, they asked what you’d done.
Imagine that nowadays.
He was able to claim inventing the Fox and Bear for Foxes Glacier mints, working on the original Tiger in a Tank for Esso , Delectabubble for Aero, the “avant you read it?” avante Guardian, and Try a little VC10derness.  You might not know them now, but trust me, they were all great ads and they all won big awards.

Po Ferries Tim

Po Ferries Campaign

Disneyland Resort Paris Tim

Disneyland Resort Paris


Anyway, enough about him.
This is meant to be about me.
So what attracted me to advertising?


Was it the opportunity to do fantastic work?
Or to meet with stars?
To be able to write for a living?
Actually it was the lunch hours.
That, and the glorious women who worked in the agencies, in an era when you were allowed to call them that.

I’d seen the inside of Saatchi in its heyday first hand.
And although the desks and offices were fantastic compared to a desk in an ordinary office, I’d seen that no one ever sat at them. Everyone was either in the pub, or the wine bar, or the restaurant.
Having a fantastic time – and getting well paid for it.
So I thought “I’ll be having some of that”.

After a surprising lot of effort, writing spec ads, and platform copy I did manage to get on the lowest rung of a small West End ad agency.
And I slowly worked my way up.
Surprisingly swiftly I ended up working on interesting accounts, writing TV ads for Thorntons chocolates and Interflora and the Kenwood Chef.
Plus huge national poster campaigns for British Steel that won my first award.

But, most importantly, what about those lunches?
Well they were pretty fantastic too.
I remember that if a panic came in they used to send a couple of girls from pub to pub to see where I was hiding with my Art Director.

One lunchtime near Christmas, I had my clothes ripped off me in the back of a taxi coming back from the restaurant by some female account handlers and a giant of an art director. They left me naked in the street outside the agency and then, as an afterthought, threw a coat over me to protect my modesty.

I wrapped it round myself and went into the reception and started flashing everyone. As you do.
I probably thought it was quite funny at the time, but the next morning I was called in to the CEO’s office.
Apparently it was the receptionist’s first day and she was not amused.
“You’ve let everyone down in the creative department” he said.
“Now they think all the copywriters have small penises”.
Which was his way of saying don’t worry about it.

Then of course it all began to get very serious.
I’m not sure whether it was me, or the times, but probably a bit of both.
No longer could you go out for lunch and not come back.
And it wasn’t enough anymore just to do the work.

I’m jumping ahead of myself a little, but I was freelancing at Ogilvy most of last year and they no longer send out hunting parties to the pubs to get absent creatives to return to their desk.
Rather they leave messages on desks imploring people to go out and take a proper lunch.
Apparently it makes you more creative.

As for me, back then, not only did advertising become more serious, but also the media became less exciting. So instead of national press and TV it began to be the dreaded “below the line”.  And the start of online.

Weirdly though, as my media size diminished, my income grew. So it softened the blow somewhat.
Plus, I found that having worked on all the disciplines made me a “through-the-line” copywriter. And media neutral and seamless integration was becoming all the rage.

The other thing that happened to me over time was that my accounts became more serious too.
I moved from chocolates and cars and coffee and – would you believe it – panty liners to insurance and investments.

Shipshape Tim

A small word of warning here to anyone who is still with me.
The moment your first financial ad gets through you become a “financial writer”.
That makes it twice as difficult to get anything that’s not financial. But is very useful when times are hard, because it is a specialist skill that not everyone can do.


Working on it can also be as exciting as working on anything else.
The best thing I ever worked was on was financial.
And the worst.
With the same art director.
Only the agency was different.

I don’t really want to name names, because I don’t want to get into trouble.
But the account was Fidelity.
And the advertising we did was dire.
It was bland and unconvincing with people who weren’t real giving boring testimonials. And most of the headlines had “choice” or “quality” or “value” in them. Or all three.
The client made us work at outrageous speeds.
So you’d go from brief to final draft – which was also first draft – in a couple of hours.
The hours were long, and no one wanted to work on “that account”.
And then we got fired.

Anyone who’s worked in the business any amount of time must have been made redundant.
But fired?
We never did find out why.
But we did hear the Fidelity account was up for grabs.
So we started freelancing.
“At least we won’t be working on Fidelity” we said.
But the first job we got was for a West End agency pitching for Fidelity against the agency that fired us.

It was, actually a bit of a hollow victory for me. Because I knew quite a few of the people at the incumbent agency who were made redundant when Fidelity left. It’s a big account. But I guess at least they weren’t fired.

EC Money

Fidelity Investments

Fidelity Investments


Fidelity was the same monster, performing at the same outrageous speed.
And we were the same guys working on it.
But the advertising was different.
Fidelity moved from nowhere to the UK’s best selling ISA.
Cost per enquiries (which was how Fidelity measured everything and was all that mattered to them) fell by 400%.


And Fidelity started to win awards.
Best trade press.
Money marketing gold.
Campaign gold for best DM.
Campaign gold outright for best overall.
But it was the same people working on the same outrageous account.



Fidelity Campaign


I’m still not sure what it proves.
That you need the right environment to do the best work.
Or the right people to push you.
Or maybe you just need to work a little harder.

Not quite the same success story, but before the Fidelity win an account handler had once refused to show my radio to the client because he said I hadn’t tried hard enough. I came very close to thumping him. But my second attempt won a One Show award.

Winning that account got us into Publicis where we worked for eight or nine years on – as well as Fidelity – cough medicine and vans and coffee.

And then we were made redundant. But not fired.
And then I went freelance. And stuck with it.

I never thought I’d fancy freelance.
But I’ve turned full time work down three times now.
(Oh, OK, once I changed my mind two months later and said, “can I have that job after all please” and they said “fuck off”. But, if you can say “fuck off” in a nice way, they said it  in a nice way. And we’re still friends.)

I’ve now worked for quite a few clients directly, as well as agencies.
Zurich and USB and HSBC and the Post Office and even the Stock Exchange
The difference – apart from you work on lots of clients at an agency – is that working for clients they know the product and service in far more depth. But they are more cautious – plus you’re more likely to be writing explanatory copy than selling.

Dulux Green Tim

The other difference is everyone comes in on time and leaves on the dot for a client.
Rather than turn up whenever they try like and work ridiculously late.


And freelance is good and bad.
I think it’s worse when it’s quiet, and you think no one’s ever going to ask you for any work ever.
No really, ever.

But it’s also bad when you take on too much and it’s really really busy.
There is nothing in between.

My word of advice in this – especially to myself – is never take on too much. Even if you have been really really quiet before.

I’ve worked through more than one night in a row, more than once.
Plus I’ve finished one job in London to come back to Brighton and start on the other.
And eventually ended mucking up both, because it’s too much.

I’m pretty much doing that now, as I’m really busy working for a client in Tunbridge Wells at the moment, so I really shouldn’t be working on this now.

So I’m going to rush through the last bit – please forgive me.
I didn’t choose to live in Brighton, my wife did.
Even though I was working in Baker Street for Publicis at the time.
“I can’t do that commute” I protested.
So we house sat for my wife’s cousin in Brighton to test it out.
In those days, the trains ran normally, so I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for.

Brighton has got a vibrant ad industry.
There are lots of exciting places to work and freelance and I’ve been at several of them.
My longest and best stint here was at a lovely little (although they won’t thank me for calling them little!) place called Designate. I spent probably a couple of years freelancing here, although not all in one go. And even won an award for radio – and it’s difficult to win an award for anything when you are freelancing.

So that just about brings me up to the present.
And I’m presently working in Tunbridge Wells on healthcare cover.
Which I should have been working on instead of this.
So I’m going to call it a day (or late night) now.
And tomorrow morning I’m going to really regret having written this.

Tobacco Damages Health Tim

Tobacco Damages Health

Smoke Campaign Tim

Smoke Campaign

Hope I don’t have nightmares about old agencies and even older creative directors now.

1 reply
  1. Dave george
    Dave george says:

    Hey Tim, I think I came in about the same time. 35 years ago. Experiencing lunches then lean times…and experienced Midgly & Bacon fighting outside the pub.
    I loved the honesty of your historyand can related to it in many ways, though I have been lucky not to have to specialise in one area. I have travelled to survive.
    I wish you a happy prosperous new year
    Dave george

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