How the heck did I end up here?
I’ve found myself down coal mines, up in helicopters, behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce and doing wheelies in a Massey Ferguson tractor complete with full plough rig. From car production lines to insurance company offices and the UK tax office; from management consultants and accountants to ferry terminals and on to luxury yachts, investment banks and mapmakers. From London to Helsinki, New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Berlin and Blackpool… So many places I never imagined I’d go, all in the name of copywriting.
There have also been many hours going nowhere at my desk (except in my head) wearing out the keyboard of my Mac while writing millions of words for my clients, but that’s all part of the fun.
Meeting interesting people and understanding their business in any sector is always a privilege. To be trusted to create brands and communications that tell their stories in ways that engage people and build that success is an honour. My approach is collaborative. I’m told I’m a good listener and I always look forward to getting under the skin of a brand at the start of a project.
Full-time to freelance
I began my working life in big ad agencies in London when it was the centre of the universe for advertising excellence (or so it seemed to me at the time). After a seven years of ad copywriting, I was ready to try something new. (To be honest, I got tired of the tantrums and tiaras in agencies in the 90s, so it was time to move on.) Freshly freelance, I found myself working with a brand naming company (excitingly called ‘The Brand Naming Company’), direct marketing agencies, design and brand consultancies and experiential agencies, with the odd direct client thrown in. It was the best training I could have hoped for. It let me build an eclectic portfolio and create communications across multiple media.
Back to the agency world
Jumping back into the agency world, I took these skills to an agency where integrated thinking was king and the opportunities myriad. I picked up a shelfful of awards on the way and it led to a Head of Copy job in an independent agency, where I soon stepped up to be Creative Director.
There followed stints as a CD at McCann Erikson World Group and independent agency Meteorite, before I decided to go back to the freedom and challenges of freelancing. The next chapter has been as packed and interesting as the first part of my career. On the way, I have gained deep experience with automotive brands, particularly the premium and luxury end of the market, working with Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Bugatti, BMW and Jaguar. And all the skills I gained working in agencies in different sectors feed into my work every day.
My superpower: Tone of Voice
When I first started working, I was introduced to a small box on the creative brief marked ‘Tone of Voice’. Usually, it contained three words, supposedly related to the brand but, more often than not, apparently chosen at random or cut-and-pasted from another brief. I decided to unravel this mystery and over the years built an in-depth process to define and refine tone of voice for brands. I turned this into a training course that ran with the DMA in London for 10 years, which led to working with all sorts of clients on their brand voices and eventually a role as Head of Verbal Identity in a brand consultancy.
As a result, a lot of my work revolves around creating brand strategies with clients. Tone of voice and verbal identity is always at the heart of what I do, whether it’s working on brand personality or writing websites, videos and ads for brands. I’ve been lucky enough to help some household names find their voices – from Rolls-Royce and Bentley to HMRC (the UK tax office), Ordnance Survey, the UK mapmaker and most recently Crunch – an online accountancy platform.
London, Madrid, Zürich and beyond
I’ve always worked out of London, even when I decided to live in the countryside for a few years (which added stupid commuting time to long days in the office). I did a lot of travelling around the world for work and would like to do more when the world gets its act together again. I’m lucky to have built a solid network here over the years and have contacts in all parts of the business. London continues to be busy for freelancers, though things have slowed during the pandemic.
My clients are a mix of multinationals and start-ups that offer plenty of opportunities to work with businesses of all shapes and sizes. Most of my clients come to me direct, by recommendation or through sites like Copywriter Collective. I also work with agencies when the right project comes up. I was bought up in Madrid, Zürich, London and Suffolk. I think of myself as European more than British in many ways. My wife and I daydream about setting up in Antwerp (her favourite city) or Berlin – she has a fast-growing start-up paint company selling in the UK and Europe, so anything is possible. I’m really proud to have worked with her to build the brand, which is going from strength-to-strength.
Thinking with words
I think much of what I do as ‘thinking with words’ and solving business problems through clear, concise and lucid communication. Behind all this are the clients and colleagues who trusted and continue to trust me to do great work, selling their business to the public, investors and the world at large.
I’ve just finished a brand refresh project for Crunch – an online accountancy platform. Working closely with the team, I refocused their positioning and tone of voice to help them communicate more powerfully as the business moves into the next phase of its growth.
Napier is an anti-money laundering software start-up. I worked with them to develop their brand strategy, personality and tone of voice. To their surprise, I uncovered their deeper purpose that has the potential to be life-changing, not just for banks and financial institutions but for every corner of society. I was particularly proud of the tone of voice positioning, inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Speak softly but carry a big stick’.
Over the last year, I’ve been working with Oyster Yachts to help them create and implement a consistent tone of voice to all their communications. This covers everything from their website to social media, brochures and video. Under new ownership, the brand is growing quickly and I’ve been busy helping them launch two new models. There has been huge interest in these at a time when the world is in chaos – the freedom of the ocean is quite attractive right now.
I’m looking forward to helping new clients build their brands and grow their business. At the same time, I’ll keep developing my skills. I’m currently working with a sonic branding agency and a film production company in Germany currently, along with a British bathroom business.
Outside work, I’m on the board of the writer’s organisation 26 – inspiring a love of words in business and everyday life. I’ve been involved in five projects with them this year. One involved a fine art gallery and 26 printmakers and writers called ‘A Common Place’, which has spawned an exhibition, a book and a documentary – www.26.org
Who knows, but I’m sure it will involve words, words, words. Bring it on.