So last week, despite being firmly in the middle of my lovely two week holiday, I strapped on my best copywriting helmet and braved the sodden winds of Bournemouth beach for Copy Cabana. I actually discovered this gem of an event last year – about three days too late for the 2016 event. So I swore to myself I would get tickets the second they went on sale for 2017’s shindig, and thanks to the lovely Vicki Ross, I damn well did.
For those of you who aren’t quite as sadly dedicated as I am – Copy Cabana is the name given to the gathering of over 300 copywriters to talk about words. And believe me, the very best words were on display. From the moment the first people sidled through the doors (and were then told off and sent away for being 10 minutes early), the room was buzzing with ideas chatter that could only come out of copywriters.
It. Was. Amazing.
It was great fun too. I’m really glad I didn’t bother with heavy eye-makeup, because the speakers had me staring wide-eyed in wonder, laughing so hard I was in tears (I’m pretty sure the guy next to me thought I was having a nervous breakdown) and moved to the point of tears. I left feeling inspired, uplifted, and I’m pretty sure I drove my husband mad on the drive home with my excitable chattering. But I also learned some pretty amazing stuff too, and I wanted to share that with you lot. Because you all deserve to learn too! Strap in guys, this is a long one.
Fall in Love With The Devil In The Detail
Sarah Topping was the speaker I was most looking forward to seeing at the event, so when they announced that she was up first, I couldn’t contain the excited squeal (again, sorry Andrew!) Sarah Topping has my dream job, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more jealous of a human being. She cut her teeth by waddling through the Puffin/Penguin/Penguin random house offices writing all sorts of exciting and colourful copy. Sarah taught us all about the devil in the details, and how you really do need to put the research work in if you want great results. When creating book blurbs of a few hundred words, Sarah will read the entire book cover to cover, just in case the main character dies in chapter 4. Likewise, when writing anything you should know all of your facts before you start, or else you could write something completely wrong.
Seriously people, do your research.
The Robots Are Coming
I have never heard such a simultaneously terrified and angry outburst as when Glenn Sturgess and Pete Stephen announced that the robots are coming to steal copywriters jobs. This fantastic and informative talk had us all panicking that in 20 years, AI will be so sophisticated that it can write copy better than us. They even gave us a lovely poem, written by AI:
‘But it’s not all doom and gloom!’ they cried. ‘Copywriters just need to adapt!’ So instead of fearing the robots, we should be using their unlimited analytical and pattern recognition to test and improve our own writing (while we still can). In 20 years, we may be calling ourselves digital anthropologists instead of copywriters.
Everyone Loves Ice Cream
Next up was the most delicious speaker of all – Kerry Thorpe, Communications Lead for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Once I had got over my sudden desire to work at Ben & Jerrys (dogs, picket fence desks and 2 pints of free ice cream a day?!), Kerry revealed to us that that carefully crafted whimsical tone we see plastered over ice cream tubs isn’t all it seems. Instead of being just a clever piece of marketing tone, the teams at Ben & Jerry’s really live and breathe the ethos. Social responsibility, cheeky fun, experimentation and truly amazing ice cream – that’s what they’re all about. Kerry reminded us that companies who truly embrace their identity are the ones that create these standout brands. They do what they love, and it shines through in everything.
Care, And Care Hard
A surprise insertion, the 4th speaker at this illustrious copywriting conference was….
A window cleaner.
Yes, you read that right. But he was a window cleaner who reminded us that we do our best work when we actually care about our customers. The same goes for any business, any service, anything. Care, and care hard. Or what’s the point?
Avoid Going Up Shit Creek
These ladies truly amazed me, in part because they run their content marketing school from a pub, and that’s pretty awesome. But they’ve also created some amazing graphics that describe exactly what the content marketing journey is like, and give you a compass to navigate it with. For example, their map of ‘content island’, which needs no follow-up:
They encouraged us as copywriters to get a bit more involved in the content strategy element of what we do, and help our clients do the same. Something I fully plan to embrace (watch out clients!) They also provided me with my first favourite quote of the day:
‘Dogs aren’t just for Christmas, and content writers aren’t just for web copy’
Something About Poetry
I’ve got to be honest here; there was a chunk of Rishi Dastidar’s section that completely flew over my head for two reasons:
- I have about as much poetic talent as a duck on stilts.
- Something he said sparked a fire in my brain, and I was scribbling down a children’s story idea so fast I’m surprised my page didn’t catch fire.
But in all seriousness, Rishi was great. His points about the creativity of copywriting and poetry (and their similarities), and how as copywriters we should always be trying to mix the magical into our everyday copy, just as poets do.
Guide To Wine Writing
Our celebrity appearance was Joe Fattorini (he presents The Wine Show on ITV) taught us that subject experts are quite shit at writing about their subject area, because they have the ‘burden of knowledge’. This is something I rabbit on about quite a lot (though I say ‘blinker vision’) and really shows when it comes to wine. Joe regaled us with tales of his days donating wine to the homeless in exchange for ‘real reviews’, and how the ‘fancy’ wine copy is often lying to you (ask me how later). Experts who use posh language to impress their customers rarely do, and instead, you should be looking for the real reasons people use your product if you want good sales. For wine – relaxation and because it’s enjoyable.
This spawned my second favourite quote of the day, when he described wine as ‘a wank in a glass’. And no, I’m not explaining that one any further.
I don’t actually have many notes from Karen’s speech, mainly because I was so engrossed in listening to her stories. As the fundraising manager for World Vision UK, she has to reach out and pry money from the hands of privileged Westerners and give it to poor children suffering in the world’s harshest places. All she did was read us some of the letters they send to their supporters – telling the stories of these poor children and how their donations helped. By the end, I was reaching for my wallet too. Emotion might just be the single most important weapon marketing has, and we don’t use it enough.
Tone Of Voice Isn’t Bullshit
Remember when I said some of the speakers left me laughing so hard I was crying my eyes out? That was this guy. Every other word out of Nick Parker’s mouth was a mixture of laugh out loud comedy and genuine genius, which made his talk about tone of voice all the more impressive. He shared some fantastic examples of good and bad tone of voice with us, and coined his own names for the 10 tones of voice that provide marketing gurus with the fuel they need. A few of my personal favourites included ‘Ronseal’, ‘Big Friendly Giant’, ‘Playful Children’ and ‘Foolbiscuits’. But more to the point, tone of voice isn’t all bullshit. It’s the hand of Midas that turns your ‘meh’ content into true marketing gold.
Everyone Is Biased
Making a complete U-turn, Elle Graham-Dixon made everyone take a good hard look at themselves. With some simple riddle, she exposed the gender bias of everyone in the room, making us all feel like awful human beings. Although she did try to make us feel better by explaining it’s our brains who are lazy and make presumptions, not us. Still, Elle’s half hour segment about bias and stereotypes sent every copywriter in the room away with a new desire to write more inclusively, use insights instead of stereotypes and be the change we want to see. Bravo Elle.
The Art Of Being Interesting
Our final speaker of the day was promoted as having written the most expensive marketing book of all time (£3000 a copy), and being an all-round ultimate copy guru. Unfortunately, as a speaker he just wasn’t my cup of tea. No offence to Steve Harrison, but sometimes people don’t gel. Maybe I was getting tired (it was very warm in that seminar room). It’s not you, it’s me. Etc etc.
Steve did make some really good points, even if I didn’t connect with him as a speaker. And I know a lot of other copywriters there loved him. He reminded us that we really should be focusing on the problems the end readers of our content have – and not the problems the client who commissioned it has. We shouldn’t be writing content to get the client more sales; we should be trying to solve their customer’s problem. That’s how you generate buzz around a brand and turn passive readers into real-world sales.
And that’s it. My first experience of Copy Cabana was inspiring and insightful, and it’s definitely changed the way I think as a copywriter. I can’t wait to see what they have in store next year! (No pressure Vicki and Andy!)
Oh, and thanks for sticking with me for nearly 2000 words. I promise the next blog won’t be as long.