Become an advertising Copywriter: interview with agency, Elvis

This week I’m pleased to feature my 18th interview, in my series of how to get into advertising. Having spoken to Mat Prime from Elvis previously, this week I spoke to Hannah Riley, about how to become an advertising Copywriter and what advice she’d offer to future graduates and budding ad folk.

For just under 4 years, Hannah was a Copywriter for Wunderman, before moving on to her current role at Elvis, where she’s been for almost two years. At Elvis, Hannah works on accounts for Honda, Cadbury and Sky. Working on such large, public facing brands, I decided Hannah would be great to speak to about how to get into the industry and become an advertising copywriter. Take a look to see what she had to say and what advice she’d pass on.

become an advertising copywriter1. What is your day to day role like?

I work on a pretty diverse range of clients, including Cadbury, Honda cars, an animal welfare charity and Sky. Sometimes I spend my time concepting new stuff with my Art Director, writing for a brand’s Facebook page or overseeing another writer’s copy or presenting ideas to a client.

In between, I’m generally drinking a lot of tea and chatting about anything and everything with my fellow creative buddies.

2. How did you become an advertising Copywriter?

I did an English and French degree at Leeds University. I always wanted to do something creative and language-based and advertising fit the bill.

I wormed my way into a creative role by starting at a small agency in a ‘Jill of all trades’ role and bothering the Creative Director to give me briefs until I proved I could come up with ideas and write (and that I would be a crap Account Manager).

I then developed my book in my spare time, making up briefs and coming up with imaginary campaigns. I collected bad ads I saw and tried to come up with good alternatives. Then I trawled London agencies with that book until someone said yes.

3. What was the biggest challenge you faced to get where you are?

Of course, every creative job had hundreds of people after it, so you have to really stand out. My French was a big asset at the start because I worked on a Renault account and could talk to the Paris agencies and build a relationship.

My biggest challenge was that I didn’t have an ad-related degree. I had very little experience of real life briefs and processes, so I just had to be super enthusiastic, smart and determined with the work that I did in my spare time and self-teach as I went along.

“The best writers are obsessed with language, wherever they come across it.”

4. What do Elvis look for from future Copywriters?

There are lots of different types of Copywriter roles, but for me all the best writers are obsessed with language, wherever they come across it. They’re the ones who have a little chuckle when a pub’s chalkboard says ‘good food served everyday except Mondays’ and they usually take great pleasure in a really bad pun.

In terms of a Copywriter’s book, I’d say really strong strategic, surprising thinking is what does it for me. It takes a long time to learn the craft of good writing, but the solid foundation has always got to be a brilliant idea.

5. Where do you find your inspiration?

If you don’t find inspiration everywhere, then you’re probably looking at the wrong career. Creatives generally get excited by whatever’s going on around them, whether that’s a new movie coming out, something ridiculous they saw on the way to work or an exhibition they can’t get out of their heads.  The great thing about advertising is that it’s all relevant, because at some point that thing you saw / heard will filter into an idea.

Having said that, when inspiration’s a bit thin, a few places online never fail: TED, Ffffound, Boston Globe, The Big Picture, to name a few and I love Letters of Note.

It also helps to be a skilled, yet subtle eavesdropper. I’ve had loads of ideas from listening to people chat away on the train about their new phone or car, or how amazing the dancing dog was on Britain’s Got Talent.

6. How do you overcome a creative block?

Leave. The. Building. I need to be walked at least twice a day, so going outside and looking at something different from a blank piece of paper / the wall / a screen often seems to magically unlock a little bit of my brain.

Be strategic. Get placements. Write write write.

7. What advice would you give to become an advertising Copywriter?

If I had to give my top three tips (everyone loves a top three), it would be:

1. Be strategic about where you look for jobs and placements. It can be really valuable to work at smaller, less well known agencies first. You can really hone your skills and then keep moving on up until you’re taking over the world.

2. Placements are so important. When you do get one, make yourself useful and fun to be around. Everyone’s so busy sometimes, it’s easy to feel a bit lost. So be memorable, offer help and enthusiasm wherever you can. And finally, go to the pub and get everyone’s numbers when they’re drunk so you can pester them when when you’ve left.

3. Write, write and write a bit more. Write about anything you fancy and put it out there. What’s incredible about the digital world today is that you can get your words to millions of people, for free and get instant feedback. When you’ve done that learn to write less and write quicker. One of the biggest skills you’ll learn as a Copywriter is how to edit your own work and how to do it quickly.

8. What has been your career highlight so far?

I worked on a project for a charity called Compassion in World Farming. They believe factory farming is the world’s biggest cause of animal cruelty, so they campaign for better conditions for farm animals. To support this, we staged ‘the world’s first really live feed’. People could feed free range pigs on a farm in Buckinghamshire through a billboard in Central London, using an innovative bit of technical wizardry we created for their smartphones.

It was a huge challenge for such a great charity, but my favourite bit was that people could actually come down and feed the pigs at Westfield Shopping Centre.