A year ago, I launched my copywriting business, Sharpe Communications. At around the same time, Twitter was full of hashtags about the annual ProCopywriters conference in London. It sounded great but clashed with my new business start-up.
Fast forward 12 months and things have bedded down a little. This year, I was determined to be inside looking out and not just a Twitter voyeur. I snapped up a ticket and set off for Royal Victoria, staying the night at the Good Hotel (which, thankfully, wasn’t just a clever name), ready for CopyCon18 the next day.
In the morning, I trogged over to The Crystal conference centre and met up with Matt from Read Modify Write, a lovely copywriter I know from a Yorkshire Copywriters’ group. We naturally formed the Northern tribe, and contrary to popular belief did more than sit in the corner and moan about the price of a pint… We’d done that the night before.
The first speaker of the day was Dr Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at healthcare communications agency, Wellmark, who had flown in specially from Australia. In a flurry of no-nonsense expletives that woke up the room, Ryan moved through his presentation with agility and set us all straight about cutting bullshit out of our copy.
Ryan was an entertaining tonic to the many conference openers I’ve seen over the year, using plenty of real-life and hilarious case studies from adverting.
Next up, Anna Gunning (a copywriting and content strategist) spoke to the auditorium about the need for a precise client brief to get to the heart of any project and eliminate confusion and wasted time. Where Ryan’s talk gave broad brushstrokes of vivid insight, Anna detailed the well-researched methodology involved in teasing out a brief that could generate the perfect copy.
A tea break later – which, for me, was unfortunately spent issuing a press release for a client – we then went to our first breakout sessions. I chose ‘The Art of Successful Freelance Copywriting’ with writing professional, Jackie Barrie. She was a great advocate for freelancing and spoke candidly to the room about her experiences over the last 18 years. The questions kept coming from the floor and only ended as a result of time limitations.
A delightful lunch later, the next breakout session was ‘Bottle Your Brilliance’ with Anna McLoughlin, founder of agency Inkspiller, and was another solid session that helped to focus the mind on what you – as a brand – are really all about. It’s something I’ve tinkered with over the last year, so it was nice to see how others have tackled the who / what / why / when / how questions. We ended by drawing footprints and writing on them our takeaway action point. As you do.
Another quick break (checking which press release emails had bounced back) and the day ended with four guest speakers in quick succession. Each approached the art of copywriting from a completely different viewpoint.
Writer Anna Johnston delivered a quirky and informative session on ‘Storyselling: the Secret Quirks of Your Mind.’ James Daniel, a direct response copywriter, spoke of his award-winning hearing-aid campaign (which was more complex and interesting than it sounds!).
Celia Anderson was from Siblinc, an agency that specialised in fashion product copy. She talked about tone of voice, keywords, and branding. Every speaker was completely distinct, and each gave useful strategies that could be adapted and utilised by all delegates.
The day ended like it began: with a flurry of creative swearing and an entertaining and expert presentation. Doug Kessler, the charismatic American Creative Director of B2B marketing agency Velocity Partners, spoke to the audience about metaphors and their fantastical and emotive uses in copy and marketing, from the literal to the… well you get the idea.
Throughout the day, I chatted to just a handful of the 200+ delegates in attendance: a copywriter from a tech firm, from Strava (the running/cycling app), a travel and tourism freelancer, a lifestyle writer, agency copywriters, and someone with a background in Engineering. Some people had years of experience; some had only just handed in their notice weeks before and taken the plunge.
It really was a packed and energising day that affirmed my passion for the vocation and the diverse and creative pathways that can lead from it. It also taught me that Copywriters are extremely good at swearing, which is great because it means I fit in well.
Thanks to all involved in making it happen.