Following what could generously be described as a chequered career – construction site buyer, steel drum seller, follow-spot operator, banana cultivator, tour guide – I sort of had a go at copywriting in my late 20s. Asked to write a sales letter, my effort unwittingly adhered precisely to the widely accepted formula for direct mail letters. The formula is known as Aidca which stands for Attract, Interest, Desire, Conviction, Action. At last, I thought, something I seem to be good at. Something other than the bananas, I mean.
In the years that followed I have kept at it. Getting to the heart of products and establishing what will make people buy them. Coming up with impactful ideas. Writing eye-catching headlines and persuasive copy. Picking up the odd award. And along the way, generating sales worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Where I’ve been and what I’ve done
My career started at a direct marketing agency called DDM Advertising. The DDM stood for Donnelly Direct Marketing rather than the name ascribed to it by the creatives, Don’t Do Much Advertising, although that name was pretty accurate as the agency stuck to what it was good at: direct mail . To get experience in advertising as opposed to direct marketing, I went to Geers Gross. They were a big name in the 80s, behind such long-lasting brands as Homepride, Zanussi and, er, Wimpy.
I went freelance from there in 1990, and remained freelance until 1999 when a two-week stint at Lowe Direct turned into a year-long stretch. It was a fantastic agency to work for and when they offered me a full-time job, I could hardly say no.
Lowe Direct evolved into Lowe Live, then sort of devolved into Draft London and then merged with FCB to become Draftfcb. If there was one piece of advice my dad never told me, it was to never work for an agency you can’t pronounce. So after eight years I belatedly resumed my freelance career and, well, here I am.
You can view my full CV here.
What’s this ‘through the line’ business?
Some people in advertising agencies obsess about ‘the line’ and about whether what they do is above it or below it. Briefly, above the line referred to advertising which attracted commission. That meant TV, radio and cinema, press and magazines, and posters. Everything else – leaflets, direct mail, brochures, sales promotion – was below the line. Then along came the internet and jumbled everything up. The old distinctions were no longer so clear cut. Is a banner ad above the line? An email is direct marketing, so that must be below the line, right? My view is, who cares? Certainly not the consumer. A good idea should transcend media. Powerful copy should be just that wherever it appears.
This is not to say I am media-neutral in the sense that I’d write the same copy whether it was for a bus-side or a website. Just that I don’t stick rigidly to one discipline. Instead, I’ll happily come up with ideas and write copy that will exploit the unique possibilities offered by all media. That’s what I mean by through the line creative.
You can read more about the through the line here.
What about the results?
I’d love to be able to give you the actual results for each of the samples of work shown here. If it doesn’t provoke a response that ultimately translates as extra revenue, then all advertising is just noodling. The reason I haven’t is that response figures like 3.2% or 16% or whatever mean very little without context. So I might triumphantly announce a response figure of 4.5% for a credit card mailing, for instance, without revealing that the control pack which I had nothing to do with pulled an even more respectable 5.8%. Also, some clients are understandably very reluctant to release response rates.
I do know that one of the direct mail packs I created for Saab generated extra sales worth more than £25m. (Wish I’d been on commission.) And a party invite I did produced a stunning response rate of 100%.
In fact, it was over 100% if you count the gatecrashers.