• Dean Turney
    Hi. I'm Dean Turney, a freelance copywriter based in London. Have a look at my work, or read a bit about me. Or if you’d like to discuss your project, please get in touch. Call +44(0)7754 537 428. Or send me your details here and I’ll get back to you.
  • As I write, an important gathering is taking place in London. Heads of government and other leaders from the Commonwealth’s 53 member states are meeting here, all week. “Big deal,” many Londoners might say. And I, too, might have said it, in my ignorance of what the Commonwealth does. Like a lot of people, I thought the organisation was mainly about The Games, and leaders from the old British Empire countries – the colonies – getting together to have tea with The Queen. But then, last November, I was tasked with researching and writing the organisation’s biennial progress report. At the time, this didn’t sound very exciting, but it was different from my usual work, so I thought I’d give it a go. The project turned out to be one of the most interesting I’ve worked on.

    The website I wrote. Its publication coincides with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London this week. I worked on it over five months through agency Write Arm, and with agency 93digital, for our client, the Commonwealth Secretariat

    Here, briefly is what I learned.

    What used to be the British Commonwealth is now simply the Commonwealth, “53 independent and equal sovereign states, working to help each other and make the world a better place”. Most of its members are former British colonies, but some – Mozambique for example – have no colonial links with Britain at all.

    So, what does the modern Commonwealth actually do? Through a network of human networks – masses of them – it works to promote democracy, and  social and economic development, around the Commonwealth. It helps women’s progress, working to abolish child marriage, prevent violence against women and support them in leadership. It helps improves health and education. With a common shared history (British Empire) and common language, its members have a 19% advantage trading with each other versus trading with outside countries. A United Nations director even credited it for helping to make the Paris Agreement on Climate Change happen. So the Commonwealth is a formidable organisation, or “family of countries” as it prefers to be known.

    My job was to write about the people and projects that helped its members progress over the past two years. With my main audience being government leaders, my client, the Commonwealth Secretariat, required me to use a formal style.  So I had to leave out contractions (though a few still managed to slip past the proofreaders) and colloquial phrases I would normally use when writing copy.

    View the Commonwealth Biennial Report 2018

     

     

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    The way we work now

    January 22, 2018

    This coming week, I’ll be doing something unusual: working in an agency. I’ve not done that since last August.

    In the not-too distant past, I nearly always went into agencies. Increasingly though, I and other freelancers are working either remotely – usually from home – or directly to clients on their premises. Even when we’re teamed up with art directors, we’re often remote from them, too, collaborating in the ether, over the phone or via email.

    What would Bill Bernbach make of this? As you may know, he’s credited with inventing the modern creative team structure – a copywriter and art director working together in the same room in an agency. Before him, I’ve been told, creatives worked in separate offices. Never mind collaboration. Instead, writers would type their copy on typewriters, and then slip the copy document under their art director’s door. Bernbach believed that creatives would produce better work by talking over a brief and bouncing ideas off each other.

    Many art directors and copywriters still work in creative duos. But not necessarily in the same physical office. Now, thanks to technology, the office can be virtual, with creative partners thousands of miles apart in body, but still close as ever in mind. And the creative work we produce this way can be just as good as before.

    Some years ago, Ogilvy paired me with Minneapolis-based art director Bryan Michurski. Unfortunately, my broadband was misbehaving at the time, and Skype wouldn’t work properly. So Bryan and I communicated mainly by phone and text messages. Despite the obstacles, we still managed to create five good campaigns – all well received.

    During the past year I noticed more of us creatives working directly to clients, often on their premises. I did this myself a couple of times with art director James Ellis, first at Headspace’s offices in Angel, then at News UK (The Times and The Sun’s HQ) in London Bridge. At Headspace, we reported to the head office in Los Angeles. The eight-hour time difference wasn’t a problem. Thanks to video conferencing and email, it was easy to work that way.

    More and more, my home is my office. Here I write copy for agencies and clients, sometimes never seeing the people I’m working for and with.

    The view from my home office. On Tuesday, I’ll be back in a Soho agency.

    It’s surprising what you can get done working this way. I recently had to write about 50,000 words of content and source dozens of images and videos for 45 articles to go on a microsite. The deadline was tight so I needed to be focused.

    For 30 days in a row, my dining table was my desk. It was good that I didn’t have to commute to an agency every day and waste valuable hours. It was even better being able to work in the quiet of my home, where I could concentrate – essential when writing copy. Only by working this way could I deliver all that content by the agreed deadline.

    One of my most unusual arrangements is with a design agency outside London. The creative director there got in touch with me via email over a year ago. Since then I must have completed a dozen projects for him. Yet we’ve never met in person, or seen each other online, or even spoken on the phone. He just emails me a brief, I work on it and then send my copy to him. Everybody’s happy. It’s a bit like pre-Bernbach times, with copywriters slipping their copy under the art director’s door, except now that happens via email.

    After all the time I’ve spent working from home, it will be strange this week, going back to work in an agency.

     

     

     

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    The word content seems to cause a lot of discontent. The term is so general that many people can’t agree on what it means. It’s become a catch-all for the “stuff” that fills the web. As a result, its usage leads to misunderstandings between copywriters and clients. The other day a client asked me if I could write some content for her new website. Having said yes, I then discovered that what she actually wanted is something I call copywriting.

    Strictly speaking, I define copy as a certain type of writing that persuades you to buy something, or do something (for example, a public service announcement or political ad). Essentially, copywriting is advertising. It might be lots of words, as you’d find on a website, or a brand idea with just a few words, such as a commercial.

    What about journalists though? Don’t they call the text of their story “copy”? Yes, but unless it’s a PR piece disguised as news, their copy is simply a report. It isn’t intended to make you do anything, unlike copywriting.

    As for content writing, in its purest form it’s like journalism or feature writing. I knew an ex-magazine features writer who’d become an online content writer. In her new role she wrote informative “how to” home improvement videos and articles for IKEA.

    Facebook, Twitter, YouTube videos and other social media are almost always content, as opposed to copy that sells. Of course, social posts are often interspersed with copywriting in the form of “suggested posts”, promoted tweets, and other ads.

    YouTube is a good place to see the difference between copywriting and content – and also where the two sometimes overlap. At the top of the home page, there’s usually a banner ad (copywriting). And when you select a video (content), you usually have to watch at least the first few seconds of a commercial (copywriting). Included amongst all the videos, though, are entertaining ads that people choose to watch (copywriting has become content).

    Then, to confuse matters more, there’s branded content – The Lego Movie, for example – which entertains and sells at the same time.

    You’ll find combinations of copywriting and content writing on many different websites. The main sections on such  sites are designed to inform, to a certain extent, but mainly to persuade you to take action. Meanwhile, blog posts – like the one you’re reading – are content, meant just to inform or entertain you, not sell you anything.

    A good copywriter should be able to write at least some types of content – blog posts, for example. But without copywriting training and experience, a content writer is unlikely to come up with good brand ideas and strong selling copy.

    As Aldous Huxley once said:

    “It is far easier to write ten passable effective sonnets [a type of content], good enough to take in the not too   inquiring critic, than one effective advertisement [copywriting] that will take in a few thousand of the uncritical buying public.”

    Perversely, a few words of hard-hitting copy – a great endline or slogan, for example – might cost you more than a thousand words of content. Why? Because it often takes a copywriter many hours of writing average lines before he or she produces a great one.

    Do you have any questions about copywriting or content writing? Or an opinion about anything I’ve said? Feel free to comment below.

     

     

     

     

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    Now that’s how to sell

    September 20, 2017

    Want to watch an entertaining video? It’s an infomercial for Chatbooks. I had nothing to do with it; US agency Harmon Brothers made the ad. They claim it’s had 75 million views and 467,000 shares. The version I saw on YouTube had only 16 million views. Even so, that’s a figure you’d expect of a […]

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    Get better work from your creatives at no extra cost

    June 26, 2016

    When you’re trying to solve a problem, do you just work on it flat out, come up with a solution, then move on to your next challenge? Probably not if you’ve got time. If you’re not under pressure to crack it, you’ll think about it a bit. Then put it to one side while you […]

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    Is your brand story this good?

    January 26, 2016

    Isn’t there a lot of talk about storytelling these days? Marketing gurus stress its importance. Apparently, 80% of UK adults want brands to tell stories as part of their marketing. There are now annual surveys of the Best Storytelling Brands. And a recent forecast on Campaign Live, The Year Ahead in Creativity, predicted that, once […]

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    Less is more?

    July 20, 2015

    When copywriters write headlines, endlines and slogans, we normally try to keep them brief. Our thinking is that short lines are more likely to grab the reader’s attention than long ones. And like a small snack, short copy is easier to digest than a mouthful of words. Short is simple. Less is more. That’s why […]

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    Why Maths Men need Mad Men

    May 25, 2015

    Data and technology help you reach your audience. But are they enough to convert them? Google knows you’re reading this. Amazon is about to recommend the boxed set of Mad Men, the final season, to you. And Facebook has decided the name of the child you’re having next year (just kidding on that one). Isn’t […]

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    How to avoid a £9 million copy mistake

    February 14, 2015

    What is the letter s worth? About £9 million according to recent news. That’s how much Companies House has to pay out to settle a law suit. Apparently the government agency mistook Taylor and Sons, a previously financially-sound, 124-year-old Cardiff company, for Taylor and Son, a firm that ceased to trade six years ago. The […]

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    How well do you know your audience?

    January 18, 2015

    As good marketers and their agencies know, there are two essential bits of information copywriters need before starting work: 1.        A description of the people we’re selling to (your audience or market) 2.        What needs to be said to those people (your proposition) Pretty basic, you say? Well you’d be surprised by a lot of […]

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