Inspiration

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Back to advertising.

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I'm always impressed by people who plan their career. Or rather people who plan their career and realise those plans. Planning stuff is easy, making it happen is something else - particularly in this business. Let's say, on your first day in the ad game, you decided you were going to work like crazy and end up as Creative Director of Agency X in ten years time. Actually achieving that goal would be miraculous. For one thing, the chances of Agency X still existing, rather than being bought and subsumed in year six, are slim to none. For another, you may win a fortune in a poker game and retire to Florida in year three. It's impossible to predict the future, which is why it's so impressive when someone manages to complete their scheme.

I never had a career plan. I vaguely fancied doing something in music, so I set up as a DJ. That led me to work in radio and then, completely by accident, a long-lived career in advertising copywriting. I still do some radio work and, as is obvious, write about the creative industries. Indeed, I'm still a copywriter. Across twenty years, I've done all sorts of things in this guise. Directing photo-shoots, producing broadcast spots, teaching students and building websites - all these tasks have fallen to me a 'copywriter'. For the most part, I've enjoyed them all too.
However, life has a funny way of coming full circle. Right now, I'm spending a great deal of my time writing advertisements. Once again, the contract arrived completely by chance, no planning involved. Interestingly (to me at least), this work isn't about large-scale, conceptual campaigns. It's very much about rapid turnaround, tactical ads for a sweep of clients; very similar to my very first copy job in Fleet Street in the early nineties.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to view this with some disappointment and dismay. Surely I should aspire to something more glamorous and authoritative after all this time? But not a bit of it. I've been a Creative Director, been on the stage at the awards bashes, travelled by private plane - and now, I'm back at the coal-face, seated at a desk, working through the briefs.  What's more, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. This might surprise you, but I enjoyed it twenty years ago and I'm pleased to report that hasn't changed.

While I'm reluctant to indulge in too much navel-gazing, I think the reason I've embraced this no-frills work with such enthusiasm is because I've always believed that, with all the decoration stripped away, a copywriter writes advertisements. There's something very re-assuring, pure even, about picking through a brief, extracting the key messages and shaping them into a piece of readable, compelling writing under a snappy headline. That's what a copywriter does, that's what I do.

So yes, I'm delighted to get back to advertising. I may not do it for the rest of my career, but maybe I will. If that's the case, then it's fine by me. Copywriting is a splendid way to earn one's living and I'm lucky to do it. After all, it's not as if I had a plan.

Magnus Shaw is a proud copywriter, blogger and consultant

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