Heat up the branding iron

or how Henry misinterpreted lukewarm as cool

A crucial step in my seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER involved making sure that everyone in London knew I was the coolest kid in Hackney.

Out of 32 London boroughs, Hackney was definitely the coolest (how isn’t being 98% over the European legal limit for nitrogen dioxide emissions a middle finger straight up at the man?) and if I managed to become the coolest kid in Hackney, I’d probably be the coolest kid in London.

Easy.

Actually, it wasn’t.

I didn’t appreciate the challenge I’d set myself until I took a long look in the mirror.

Standing in my mirror staring spot I said, “mirror mirror, oh what do I see?

Knowing the answer, I gave it, “a 28 year old with great hair.

Suddenly an evil voice emanated from the frame, “look closer. What do you see?

A little confused, I replied, “unwavering determination?

The same voice hissed, “look closer and up a bit.

Then I saw it. I must have missed it because it wasn’t there – a hairline about to sink from mild recession into a deep and tragic depression. And this time the economy definitely wasn’t going to pick up – I didn’t have a job.

The priorities had changed. I needed a Turkish hair transplant stat. But before I could do that, I needed money.

Ah, money. For money I needed a job.

Damn.

Ok, the plan was back on. The parameters had just changed a bit.

I was going to have to become cool but without any hair.

Was that even possible?

Who’s the coolest bald guy?

I racked my brains.

Stumped, I put my favourite thinking record on, Sonic Youth’s Kill Yr Idols.

The title track roared:

I don’t know why,

You want to impress Christgau,

Ah let that shit die,

And find out a new goal.

Then it hit me.

The coolest guy in the world without any hair was Robert Christgau. You know, that guy who wrote all of those mean album reviews for Village Voice and publicly admitted that he knew nothing about music.

I didn’t know anything about music either! I was already qualified. PERFECT!

Robert Christgau almost bald
The self-ordained ‘Dean of American Rock Critics’ – ok, he’s got more hair than I let on. Maybe I wasn’t balding that much. (Photo by Joe Mabel – I found it on wikipedia)

And if I’d interpreted Sonic Youth’s lyrics correctly, he was so cool that even they hadn’t been able to impress him. I mean, he gave Confusion is Sex a C+ and that album’s radical.

I was going to emulate Robert Christgau. But how?

Becoming the dunce of British rock critics

To become the British Robert Christgau, I’d have to write music reviews.

But I didn’t know who any of the cool new bands were and had no desire to spend weekends scrolling through SoundCloud

Then it hit me.

I lived in London and there were loads of free gigs that only friends of the bands and weird groupies went to.

I could write reviews for those gigs!

It was a brilliant plan:

  1. Assuming I didn’t drink anything, it wouldn’t cost any money.
  2. It’d provide a ton of content for my great blog that’d make me look very, very cool.
  3. I’d be able to take pictures of grimy venues and put them on my Instagram account.
  4. Rolling Stone would probably give me a job and I’d be like that kid in the movie about the band who were in that aeroplane that falls out of the sky then the drummer tells everyone he’s gay (you guessed it, Almost Famous).

So I found three free gigs on Dice and went to them.

I then wrote about it here: Gig on Tuesday, Gig on Wednesday and Gig on Thursday.

I was becoming so cool already.

Then my father called.

Parents are made to inspire doubt

RING RING.

After picking up, my father just shouted at me.

Father Henry, “You need to stop doing those bloody music reviews Henry. They’re shit. It’s like you’re writing for Melody Maker.

I didn’t know what the Melody Maker was, but when he said that it was worse than NME I felt awful.

Why? Because NME’s a pile of shit and definitely not cool. I was worse than NME?! Surely not.

I took a look at NME’s best article ever, you know the one, their list of best 90’s EMO songs.

Jimmy Eat World before Jawbreaker?

I was reassured. Whoever wrote for NME was clearly an imbecile and I definitely wasn’t.

I still didn’t know what Melody Maker was though so I googled it.

Yes, Melody Maker was the Daily Telegraph of the music rags. I’m not even making this up, the editor actually wanted it to emulate the Daily Telegraph.

But, I mean, my music reviews weren’t overly long or complicated. I had an inkling that my father was acting out.

I was about to challenge him on it when my sister and mother said exactly the same thing: “Henry, you need to stop writing those music reviews. They’re just not very good.

Damn, all three of my readers had told me that half the content on my site wasn’t any good.

I took a moment to reflect. Looking over the reviews I just didn’t get what was wrong with them.

The exercise had even shown me how to publish threads on my new Twitter account.

What was going on?

Then I thought back to my copywriter training.

What did my readers have in common?

Understanding (and disregarding) your audience

Ohhh, yes! My father, my mother and my sister had never, ever been to a gig EVER and their favourite musicians were QT and Billy Bragg.

It was confirmed: their opinions didn’t matter!

I’d be damned if I was going to stop going to free gigs, drinking too much beer on a daily basis and writing bad music reviews about the bands I saw. 

Redemption sometimes comes in SMS (the joke doesn’t work if you don’t pronounce SMS as smeees. Get it? It sounds like threes)

And just as I realised that I was well on my way to becoming even cooler, I received a text from Dice.

I’d won tickets to All Points East.

Dice Tickets
I was sad. I really wanted to see the Courtneys.

The gods had spoken and they clearly wanted to read my review of everything that happened at All Points East.

I mean, it was clearly a sign and I couldn’t disappoint the gods now, could I?

Copywriting research starts at Homerton Library

or how Henry uncovered the Homerton Library conspiracy

I’d developed a foolproof seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER. Now I just had to execute it.

Where to start?

I rolled a one. Yes, I was going to Do Way More Research.

Where does research start? AT THE LIBRARY!

1. Getting to Homerton Library

I showered, squeezed into a button shirt and made my way to the library.

While walking I hummed everyone’s favourite song about libraries. Yeah, that one from Arthur.

Having fun isn’t hard,

When you’ve got a library card.

(That’s right!)

Having fun isn’t hard,

When you’ve got a library card.

Remembering the nation’s best-loved aardvark was a reassurance and useful for my future career (aardvark is a good copywriting word because it starts with two a’s). Surely the library wouldn’t be a bore at all!

Then I remembered that I didn’t have a library card.

Did that mean I couldn’t have any fun and more importantly couldn’t do any work?

Probably.

But I was almost halfway there. I couldn’t turn back. Valiantly, I strode on.

2. Enter the library

The foyer smelled like bleach and primary school lunches. It was only 10:00am but already uniformed children were stalking the corridors (probably hiding from bullies).

This all brought back painful childhood memories so I hastily passed through the metal detectors and entered the book room.

I was almost knocked out by the heat. It was tropical.

Now between the bookcases I pulled out my imaginary binoculars and took a moment to admire the wildlife:

  • A suit perched on a low padded chair. No book just a phone. He was definitely pretending to be there for a business meeting.
  • A hippy reading a vegan cookbook. He must be trying to figure out how to make his tinned spaghetti & sausages more palatable.
  • Three evenly spaced shadows hunched over keyboards all scrolling through Facebook. It must be that time of the week when people need to update their universal credit claimant commitments with job search activity.

I carefully placed my imaginary binoculars back. As the world spins it’s heartening to know that some things will never change.

I made my way to Librarian Island. 

I’ve lost my library card. I need a new one.

The only librarian sitting in front of a computer gave me a disgusted look, “I don’t know how to use the new system.” She turned to her coworker, “Darnell, can you help him?

And for once Darnell’s shaking head was a resounding yes! Of course he could!

Darnell sat me down and went through the secure library card recovery procedure, “What’s your first and last name?” – Yeah, that was it. He didn’t even ask for my address.

Library card fraud is an opportunity

Hell, if the whole copywriting thing didn’t work library card fraud might.

THE PLAN: Get someone’s first and last name, take out smutty books (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight), scrawl dreams of kidnapping onto the blank pages at the back, date them and proceed to blackmail whichever irresponsible person didn’t shred their junk mail.

Darnell found my account and promptly demanded £12. Apparently I’d never returned a book on the Rolling Stones. That didn’t sound like me. I way prefer the Stooges.

It was a difficult decision. I didn’t want to give Homerton Library £12. I was unemployed. But eventually I complied. I needed access to free books.

He then handed me my magnificent new key to knowledge. It had pictures of cyclists in London Fields. GREAT!

But where to start? I knew the Dewey Decimal System by heart, but where do copywriting and technology fit into its ten categories? Was it general works, philosophy and psychology, religion, social sciences, language or history, biography, and geography?

Where would writing to trick people and make money fit into that list? Probably religion.

Luckily I didn’t have to ponder for too long, there were signs for those less gifted than I.

3. Who buys books for libraries?

I was directed to the technology section.

Pursuing the books was a disaster. They were dreadful.

Quick Steps Microsoft Word 2003, Step by Step Microsoft Word 2016, My Facebook for Seniors, DK’s Effective Marketing and Successful Marketing Plans in a Week. HG Wells’ War of the Worlds was there too.

Damn.

Once again Arthur had wasted my time. There definitely weren’t any decent books at the library and I wasn’t having any fun at all.

Maybe I was looking in the wrong section.

I accessed the online catalogue. I knew the title of one book that I wanted to borrow, Ogilvy on Advertising.

Apparently there were only two copies in London and they’d been missing in action since 2011 and March 2019 respectively.

PhotoEditor_20190522_140650658

4. Settle with what’s there

I knew then that going to the library was just like dating.

I was going to have to follow my parents example and settle with ripping trodden chewing gum from the pavement and making the best of it.

So here’s to making the best of it!

I borrowed:

  1. Persuasive Copywriting, Andy Maslen
  2. Writing Great Copy, Sallyann Sheridan
  3. The Golden Rules of Blogging, Robin Houghton
  4. Creative Advertising: An Introduction, Miriam Sorrentino (this one looked good, it had pictures)
  5. How to Write a Marketing Plan, John Westwood
  6. SEO for Dummies, Peter Kent

All six looked shit but they were going to have to do.

Who knew? They’d probably be the backbone of a later extremely well received post on my blog entitled Top Six Books Copywriters should Totally NOT Bother Reading. I was at an advantage. Unlike the other lists of top books copywriters should read (here, here and here) at least I’d actually read the books in mine.

Homerton Library had given me until 11th June to make this list. I was going to need to move faster than that though. I set a timer and said to myself softly, “Henry, you’ve got until Sunday. Go.

5. What I learned about the library

I had the books, but while at the library I think I may have uncovered something much more sinister.

Face it. Here’s what sinister looks like spelled out in black and white:

  • £12 library fines.
  • Unemployed patrons.
  • A selection of books that actually reduce your chances of finding work.
  • An extortionate staffing and heating budget.

You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you?

Yes, Homerton Library was in cahoots with all the self help publishers. It was delivering an effective plan to make sure people stayed unemployed and kept getting fined (I wasn’t sure how, but they must have been). It was like the Department for Work and Pensions but more creative.

It was my civic duty to expose them and uncover this conspiracy.

But first, I had to read all these books.

Seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER

It was settled. I was going to become the greatest copywriter EVER.

How it started

Easy. I needed to lay some sturdy foundations and figure out exactly what copywriting was.

To the foundations!

And where do you learn about laying foundations? Wikipedia!

I looked up the definition of copywriting:

Copywriting is the act of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing. The product, called copy, is written content that aims to increase brand awareness and ultimately persuade a person or group to take a particular action.

Copywriters help create billboards, brochures, catalogs, jingle lyrics, magazine and newspaper advertisements, sales letters and other direct mail, scripts for television or radio commercials, taglines, white papers, social media posts, and other marketing communications.

That was definitely manageable.

With an in depth understanding of copywriting I started looking for a new job.

Looking for that first copywriting job

I went straight onto LinkedIn (actually my girlfriend sent me some links. Impressed aren’t you? I’m getting pretty good at twisting the truth, aka advertising).

One position came out with a swift kick to the teeth: Junior Copywriter at Dr Martens.

Before I’d even read the ad I knew getting the job must be a piece of cake. Why?

  • People call those boots Doc Martens not Doctor Martens, hence it’s safe to assume that their head of advertising department can’t read and is highly incompetent.
  • They are probably desperate for a cool new, left-leaning junior with a lot of hair (yours truly) to help them shake off the image of skinheads and neo-nazis.

As my first potential position I knew I’d be more than happy to put in some extra work and help Dr Martens completely reinvent their brand for 2019.

Feeling confident, I looked at the job spec.

It was the first time I realised that copywriters are a pretentious as hell.

Getting my first ‘gig’ might prove difficult than I’d initially thought.

Take a look for yourself:

Doc Martens, Junior Copywriter

To be our Junior Copywriter, you will also possess the following:

  • Experience in a full-time copywriting role. Preferably in the retail, fashion or music industry
  • A love of music, DM’s, fashion and footwear
  • A track record of managing tight deadlines and multiple projects simultaneously
  • A passion for language and a flair for writing original, unexpected copy
  • Strong commercial awareness and knowledge of key copy KPIs
  • Enthusiasm and an inexhaustible supply of ideas
  • The confidence to tackle all forms of copywriting: from click-worthy captions to scroll-enticing articles
  • A degree-level qualification in a relevant subject such as English or Creative Writing

Damn the requirements were high and this was only for a junior role!

It presented a real problem.

I had no experience in a full-time copywriting role, I thought DMs (dungeon masters) were totally uncool, I was bemused by how words could have key performance indicators (‘boot’ needs to get at least 4,000 views today) and definitely did not have a degree in creative writing. Who does have a degree in creative writing anyway?

How the hell was I going to get a job like that?

I needed to tear down my soft, non-copywriting self and to begin rebuilding immediately. It was daunting but exciting – I was about to become the slickest creative machine in Hackney and I knew it would probably involve stickers.

So I decided to systematically strip myself down. The best way to do this: a foolproof seven point plan (to do list):

Henry’s seven point plan to become the greatest copywriter EVER

1. Do way more research

I needed to become fluent in the language of copy. Yes, I had to develop an understanding of advertising, marketing and all of the associated acronyms (CPM, CTA, IAB, SOV, SEO and more). I also needed to know something about psychology. Why? How else was I going to trick someone into giving me a job?

2. Get good at writing

I wasn’t immediately convinced that this was necessary but I knew that I needed to sell myself as more qualified to write than anyone else. To do that, I had to at least trick myself into believing that I’d got super good at writing. The first step was probably to write and read more. Decent outcome.

3. Develop a kickass portfolio

For a profession that spends all day playing with words it’s surprising that it can’t just take me on mine, but life’s confusing. I needed to develop a killer portfolio with a shed load of original and creative copy. It had to have the best adverts selling bubble mixture, jingles explaining the dangers of not eating enough carrots, all potentially topped off with a radio advert for the mayor on today’s most biting issue: public urination.

4. Get some experience (and references)

Just a portfolio wouldn’t cut it. I had to get some real experience so I had references. References would mean that other people would suddenly become accountable for my eventual employment. The easiest way to do that would probably be to do some writing for free. I needed to do some copywriting volunteering.

5. Find a special subject and stick to it

All the advice that I’ve read online says that generalist copywriters fail and copywriters with a special subject succeed. The problem was I didn’t know or really care about anything. The options were limited too. What subject can you specialise in as a copywriter? Trains, video games, legal regulations and hatred of men? I didn’t want to write about any of that. Then it struck me. I could write about technology or digital or ‘the internet‘. It seemed like a safe bet, as it could cover anything from sex dolls to how to talk to your toaster! Perfect.

6. Build a professional network

To secure work employers need to think you’re the real deal. Humans are social creatures so association with other humans is important. I was going to have to meet other copywriters and make friends with them. Maybe I could meet them at Westfield Shopping Centre? There are lots of things that need copy there.

7. Rebrand myself as the coolest kid in Hackney

The Doc Marten advert said it all: creatives need to be cool. I was already super cool, but deep down I knew that not everyone knew this. I was going to sacrifice some of my current cool to make sure that everyone found out (unfortunately self-promotion is not cool). I’d begin by developing a social media presence (here’s my instagram), take pictures of myself doing cool things and buy more thrash metal t-shirts.

It was settled. I should probably start.

What better place than Homerton Library?

I had a shower and set off.