Mandy Speechly has worked as a copywriter in the advertising industry for over fifteen years for leading international advertising agencies on a range of different media, including television, print, radio, brochures, promotions and websites.
Mandy is now Head of Copy at the AAA School of Advertising in South Africa where she works as the Graduate Copywriting Lecturer. Mandy has tutored the online Copywriting Course at The Writers’ College for the past five years.
Here are some of her views on writing, and the copywriting industry.
Q. How did you become a writer?
I have always loved books, words and great writing. I enjoyed writing stories and poems at school and eventually studied English and Linguistics at university.
It was in my final year that I discovered there was a career in writing for advertising, called copywriting. I was intrigued by this industry as it seemed to combine many of my interests; writing, psychology, sociology and basic people-watching. (And you could wear jeans to work!)
I managed to get into the business through a graduate internship programme with the Association of Advertising Agencies, before it became a college.
I worked as a copywriter for about 15 years and continue to do freelance work for different clients and agencies.
I now also lecture in copywriting at AAA School of Advertising where I am able to share my passion for this unique craft – without the challenges of budget cuts and client politics!
My current focus has taken my writing in a new and challenging direction, in the form of developing course content for lectures, workshops and, of course, the Writers’ College.
Q. How do you decide what to write about? Where do you find ideas/ inspiration?
One of the main differences between copywriting and many other forms of writing is that you are creating communication for a very specific commercial objective. The creative thinking is therefore dependent on the strategy and the brief, as well as the brand and consumer.
The best place to look for ideas in advertising communication is in the connection between the brand and the consumer. That’s why one of the most important traits of a good copywriter is a curious mind, as the inspiration for great ideas can be found everywhere. I try constantly to observe current trends in different societies, communities, industries, technologies, even among my friends and family – I learn a lot from my two teenagers!
Q. How easy is it to make a living as a writer?
Copywriting is perhaps one of the few types of writing that offers many practical opportunities to make a living as a writer. Advertising is, however, a very competitive and demanding industry and it isn’t easy initially to enter the business or acquire regular work as a freelancer.
There are many different roles for the copywriter in the business world and communications industry. To work in a traditional advertising agency it is necessary to create a portfolio of work which is used to promote your conceptual and writing ability.
The work in an agency often demands long hours, tight deadlines and constant rejection so it does require considerable tenacity and a notably thick skin! However, it can be a very rewarding career. There aren’t many jobs where you get paid to write, think of ideas and spend most of your days with bright, eccentric creative people.
Q. What general advice would you give aspirant writers just starting out?
There is one important point for aspirant copywriters to note. The job isn’t actually about writing. It is all about ideas. Words are just the tools used to communicate these ideas.
The best way to have a “bank” of ideas is to get experience in life. The more “data” you have saved in your mind, your heart, your consciousness, the more material you have to work with when you are trying to engage with people in a meaningful way.
So, where do you start?
Study and learn, research, read, travel, explore new places, listen to all kinds of music, watch comedy shows, visit a library, watch people, take a different route home, try new foods, build something, cook something, plant something, be passionate, be creative in every way you can.
Advertising is not a science; the inspiration for great communication is happening around you every day.
Q: What do you consider to be the most important writing tip you ever received?
Read. Read a lot and read everything. Don’t be a literary snob. Read all genres, authors, adverts, magazines, newspapers, columns, blogs, articles, tweets…
Reading improves your general knowledge, expands your vocabulary, opens your mind and is sure to make you a better writer.
Q: When you mark your students’ writing, what are key qualities you look for in their work?
One of the most essential qualities of effective advertising communication is to stay single-minded and focused on the objective of the brief.
I have established three criteria which I use as the basis for evaluating project work. I discuss these points in more detail in the first module of my course.
R = Relevance
The idea and message should be relevant to the strategy, the target market and the brand.
U = Unexpectedness
It is always refreshing to see original ideas and writing; something that hasn’t been done before which makes the communication memorable.
R = Reward
This reward can be in the form of entertainment or information – the advertising should add some positive value in some way.
As a famous advertising man, Howard Gossage, once said;
“People don’t read advertising, they read what interests them.
And sometimes it’s an ad.”