I owe my career in advertising to Iron Maiden. Yes, that Iron Maiden: the long-haired, leather-clad rock band famed for The Number of the Beast and the scary animatronic mascot that graces their live shows.
I wasn’t there to rock. I was there to interview the band. You see, I was working as a reporter in Mexico, and for some time had been thinking I might prefer making things up than reporting things. The interview with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden sealed the deal.
That was over 25 years ago.
I got my first junior copywriter role at a small business-to-business agency in my hometown of London. It was the first of many jobs at many agencies in London, mostly freelance (I wanted to play the field of agencies and creative directors, so to speak, to learn and grow as much as I possibly could).
In 2001, I moved to the US. Chicago, to be specific. I was enthralled by the idea of working at one of the famed agencies in that city – and I was lucky enough to hit the jackpot, securing a job at the Chicago agency, Leo Burnett. My main client at the time was the U.S. Army, an account that saw me drinking with Special Forces soldiers, riding in helicopters and visiting who knows how many small towns in America. It was amazing. One specific campaign for the U.S. Army helped me win my first major awards, including a Cannes Lions and a couple of One Show pencils.
Over the next ten years or so, I worked on clients as diverse as Nintendo, DeVry University, Altria, P&G and McDonald’s. It was McDonald’s that helped my career skyrocket: billboards for McDonald’s, titled “Sundial” and “Fresh Salads”, cleaned up at award shows around the world. To this day, “Sundial” – which was recently inducted into the Clio Hall of Fame – is still my favourite piece of work I’ve ever done.
I left Burnett and became a freelancer just over two years ago. And I’ve never looked back.
There is a tremendous amount of community among freelancers in Chicago, something that has both surprised and delighted me. People have put my name forward for jobs, I have done the same for others. We are truly in this together. And that was before the pandemic. Now, even more so.
But, for me, the big appeal of freelancing as a copywriter is the bewildering variety.
In 2020 alone, I’ve written TV campaigns, radio commercials, websites, social media posts, print ads, blogs, taglines, product descriptions and worked on numerous naming projects. Not only have I been able to flex my creative muscles across a range of media channels, but I’ve also been lucky to work across a broad range of clients big and small, across numerous categories.
A couple of this year’s standouts include creating online videos for insurance giant Allstate; writing product descriptions for fashion label Puma; print campaigns for Boeing; blogs for Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants; tourism campaigns for Aiken, SC and Clearwater, FL; multiple winning pitches including Hostess and Huntington Bank; and a multichannel campaign for an Illinois-based brewery and brewpub company called Tangled Roots.
My reputation in the industry, coupled with my passion for teaching, has also resulted in being invited as a consultant and corporate trainer for numerous blue-chip companies around the world: from Pfizer in China and the UK to Kellogg’s in Mexico and the US, from Philip Morris International in Russia and Switzerland to Tyson Foods and LinkedIn in the US.
Taking the plunge to become a freelancer isn’t easy. But, if my experiences are anything to go by, it’s well worth it. I’ve never been happier, never been more fulfilled and never gotten to work with such an amazing and diverse group of people all over the world.
The odds of Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden ever reading this are slim to none, of course, but I’m an optimist. So, I’ll end this by saying, Bruce, thank you.
Tangled Roots, ‘Carnivores & Vegans’
Aiken SC ‘Rush Hour’