Now and then we get to meet our heroes. Many people say you shouldn’t because it could burst the bubble you’ve created around them. I managed to do just that a few years ago.
There are many excellent copywriters out there. My inspiration and mentor comes in the form of Andy Maslen. He kindly did an interview for me, which I am posting again here.
I hope you enjoy reading it.
Interview with Andy Maslen
1. How did you get into copywriting?
My first ‘proper’ job was working as a marketing assistant for a research publisher. Copywriting was part of my job – for mailshots, press releases and catalogues. I discovered I was good at it and tried to do as much of it as I was able. I started buying books to find out how to do it properly and nagging my boss to send me on courses.
2. What is it about copywriting that gets you out of bed every morning?
Simply that I love writing it. No two days are the same and I get to spend my time working on some fascinating projects with some very nice people.
3. What has been your greatest challenge so far?
Sending in the first draft of my first-ever copy as a freelance, back in 1996. I could hardly bear – or dare – to let it go. I wanted to ensure it was perfect, which, of course, it never can be, before letting the client see it, and I was terrified it wouldn’t beat their control (it was a mailshot for an IT magazine). It did, for which I will be eternally thankful.
4. What has been your best copywriting experience?
I do like it when clients send me grateful emails without being asked. And I love it when we write something that helps a client hit their business targets. In straightforward copywriting terms, probably writing the Annual Report for a Swiss client – stakeholders up to and including the Chairman of a quoted company.
5. What has been your worst copywriting experience?
Ooh, tough one. There was a job I turned down – to write copy for a new product on which, as I was told, “Our Chairman and our CEO don’t agree, and we also have a few other directors of business units who don’t want to launch it. Oh, and we haven’t fixed the price yet. We thought you could help us sort it all out.” In general, I am grateful, still, for every copywriting job. Even if it ends up not going in the portfolio, we still get paid.
6. What would be your dream copywriting job?
Writing launch copy for a new Jaguar sports car – but I’d have to spend a few days driving it round country roads and test tracks to ensure I got all the emotion-led benefits copy just right.
7. How do you deal with difficult clients?
We try to avoid problems in the first place by taking on clients who think the same way about copywriting as we do. We’ve developed a very simple set of questions we ask them that helps everyone decide whether working together would be a good idea.
If they’re asking reasonable but challenging questions about the copy, we explain why we’ve written it the way we have. If they’re challenging our copy on the grounds of personal taste, we will argue the point but may decide to concede. After all, they’re paying the piper.
If they’re being difficult about paying, we send a series of emails culminating in a friendly note that we intend to seek legal redress.
8. Can you describe the creative process you go through when starting a new project?
You’ll have to forgive me for quoting my hero, David Ogilvy, who said, “I don’t want you to tell me you find my adverts ‘creative’, I want you to find them so compelling you buy the product”. In other words, I don’t see what I do as a creative process; it’s a commercial process. And it goes like this: I spend some time thinking very hard about what problems the client’s product or service solves, and for whom. I find out everything I can about the customer, and the product, preferably from the people who make it as well as sell it. And I get a very good written brief from the client.
Then, once I’ve done all this I usually go for a walk with my dog. I mull over the approach I want to take and come back to the office. Then I sit and stare at my screen very hard for a few minutes. If something comes, I start writing as fast as possible without looking at the screen until I run out of steam.
If nothing comes, I do some more thinking and switch to a different project or activity. I find that an approaching deadline stimulates my creativity wonderfully.
9. What advice would you give someone thinking about breaking into copywriting?
Go for it! It’s a lovely way to earn a living. More specifically, read everything you can lay your hands on about selling, marketing, advertising and, of course, copywriting. Know the kind of copy you want to write and the kind of company you want to work for, either as a freelance or as an in-house copywriter. Develop a thick skin and good diplomacy skills. And realise that you should break into copywriting because you love selling notbecause you love writing. If you love writing for its own sake, write fiction or poetry or be a journalist – copywriting is a business and it’s a tough one at that.
10. You’ve written a number of books about copywriting, how did that come about?
When I set up my agency, Sunfish, in 1996, I wrote our marketing strategy on a little piece of paper. In full, it read “Books – Articles – Speeches – Training”. So I always knew I would have to write a book. I wrote a draft of one that sat in my pending tray for about five years, then a friend introduced me to her publisher and he expressed an interest. I wrote a second draft and submitted it and he liked it, so that was that. It sold moderately well, so my publisher was keen for me to write more and I was happy to oblige.
1. What prompted your decision to go freelance?
I got sacked while on holiday and realised I didn’t want to be a marketing director any more.
2. How do you make sure you manage your time effectively?
I’m not sure I always do, but I try always to write copy between 8.30 and 11.00 a.m. because that’s when I do it best. I ensure we have deadlines for every project, then stick to or beat them. I have an office, not a space in the house. We have a dog and two children to look after as well, so there really is only a finite amount of time for working – that concentrates the mind, I find.
3. What would you say is the biggest challenge of working on a freelance basis?
It has to be money, doesn’t it? If you don’t work, you don’t make any. That would lead you on to selling yourself. So that’s the number one challenge. I happen to enjoy selling, but I know a lot of freelancers don’t.
4. What are the advantages of being freelance?
Where do we start? Freedom, up to a point. Earnings potential, ditto. No office politics. It’s very motivating running your own business, too.
5. Do you have any tips on how to network effectively?
To paraphrase JFK, ask not what this person can do for you; ask what they can do for your network. I’d also say, figure out who you want to work for then identify people who could help you enter that market. If you want to work for international oil companies, you probably won’t need to worry about your local business breakfast club. You might, though, need to fly to Dallas for a conference. And also, get over your shyness. Everybody feels a bit nervous, so practice your introduction: smile, shake hands and say, “Hi, I’m Andy. What do you do?” (You’ll get your chance to say what you do in a minute or two, but asking questions is an easy way to develop quick rapport.)
6. As a freelancer, which marketing tool have you found most effective?
These days, as MD of a copywriting agency, my reputation seems to open the doors. When I didn’t have a reputation, I used to telephone people I wanted to work
for,or write to them. My newsletter, Maslen on Marketing, is a great marketing tool, and we devote a lot of time building our list.
7. What advice would you give someone who is considering going freelance?
Build up a six-month financial reserve. And either be good at selling, become good at selling or hire someone who is good at selling. I’ve written a book called Write Copy, Make Moneythat gives a lot more detailed advice, including interviews with some pretty successful freelance copywriters – you included Sally!
8. Just for fun, what little known fact can you tell us about Andy Maslen?
I once went on a summer holiday with John Mackay, who went on to play guitar for Souxsie and the Banshees.
9. Is there anything you have in the pipeline you want to share?
We’re launching a new venture called The Andy Maslen Copywriting Academy. It’s a website with a free resource centre and we’ll be running a ten-week online course in copywriting twice a year, in March and September. The 2012 course starts on 10 September. The site’s in beta just now but it will be at www.copywritingacademy.co.uk.
Andy Maslen F IDM
Andy Maslen is Managing Director of Sunfish Ltd, a copywriting agency specialising in corporate publicity, direct marketing and subscriptions. He writes and speaks regularly on copywriting and corporate communications and is a best-selling author.
Andy has worked with, among others, The Prudential, Nobel Biocare, The Economist Group, Emap, the DTI, BBC Worldwide, Hamleys, The London Stock Exchange, The British Standards Institution, the RSPB, Time Out, The New York Times Company and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Andy is a lifetime Fellow of the Institute of Direct Marketing and author of Write to Sell: the Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting; 100 Great Copywriting Ideas: from Leading Companies Around the World;The Copywriting Sourcebook: How to Write Better Copy, Faster – For Everything from Ads to Websites, and Write Copy, Make Money: How to Build Your Own Successful Freelance Copywriting Business, all published by Marshall Cavendish.w