Senior Brand Marketing Manager at Penguin Random House UK
At the start of the year, Ladybird Books approached Sonder & Tell with a dream brief. In 2021, a year that’s been particularly challenging for...
In conversation with
Vikki Ross refers to her craft with a capital C. Through this small act of lexical defiance, she is empowering the humble Copywriter, reminding the world that wordsmiths deserve recognition beyond the infectious tag lines and quotable slogans that they create.
As a Copywriter with ‘Head Of Copy’ experience at the likes of Sky, The Body Shop, Virgin Media and ITV under her belt, Vikki Ross talks with confidence about the power of words and the writers behind them.
Having mentored for School of Communication Arts 2.0, D&AD, Creative Equals and SheSays, Vikki’s mission is to create a sense of connection within the writing community, and her project #copywritersunite has done just that: “In my experience, Copywriters often aren’t valued or respected, so the hashtag was to tell Copywriters that we are many, and we can support, motivate and celebrate each other.”
A celebration of writers and the words they write is a mission we can get on board with.
Oh blimey, a question to test my memory from the off. Enid Blyton’s stories had a touch of magic. And the Milly-Molly-Mandy series always had me escaping the city for an imaginary village and rows of cottages with thatched roofs. Later, Judy Blume. Obviously.
I knew I wanted to write adverts in magazines. I didn’t know that meant I wanted to be a Copywriter. I thought it meant I wanted to be a Journalist so I chose Media Studies and Graphic Design for A-Levels and as part of an assignment, created a magazine to rival Time Out. Of course, it didn’t.
I have worked in two. One was shit. One was fun.
In the shit one, they didn’t even bother to get me a desk or a security pass. I was freelancing. Without a desk, I had to sit in the reception area. And without a security pass, I had to ask to go to the toilet.
In the fun one, I had a desk and a security pass. And a right laugh. Pub lunches, a booze trolley, and Chas & Dave on the stereo every Friday afternoon to mark the end of the week.
I’ve spent most of my career in-house. The Body Shop’s creative studio was set up like an agency (pipe down, you in-house-creative-studio opposers). I loved it so much, I was there for eight years. I sat in a team of Copywriters and we each partnered with an Art Director. I went on shoots, I pitched, I presented and I travelled. And I wrote a lot of Copy.
“I’m probably most proud of the brand guidelines I’ve written. It’s quite a responsibility when some of the UK’s biggest brands ask you to create how they look and talk.”
Cue boring answer: I’m probably most proud of the brand guidelines I’ve written. It’s quite a responsibility when some of the UK’s biggest brands ask you to create how they look and talk.
The sexiest one I wrote was for Sky. I wish I could show it to you but these things are usually confidential. It’s sexy because it’s filled with full-bleed imagery of huge TV, film and sports stars, and it’s printed on seriously glossy paper.
The most playful one I wrote was for Paperchase. The Designer and Creative Director made it look absolutely gorgeous. Every page has an unexpected feature or flourish representative of their products – one page opens like an envelope, for example.
In my experience, Copywriters often aren’t valued or respected, so the hashtag was to tell Copywriters that we are many, and we can support, motivate and celebrate each other.
A couple of years later – and off the back of the hashtag’s huge popularity – Copywriters wanted to meet. Like most Creatives, I was happy hiding behind my screen – the thought of social networking in real life terrified me and I put it off until Andy Maslen took control and organised the first #copywritersunite night in London.
Five of us turned up. But it was brilliant – we had so much in common and wanted to meet more like-minded people so I organised the next one a few months later and about 30 people turned up.
Now 50-100 people turn up to quarterly #copywritersunite nights across the UK. I host the London ones and fellow Copywriters host them in Birmingham, Brighton, Bournemouth, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh. And this year, we go global – Berlin and New York City #copywritersunite nights are coming soon.
The nights are so popular that non-Copywriters come too. I call them “Copy Lovers.” And they’re a huge success – Copywriters have found creative partners, mentors, employers or people to collaborate with.
I take industry contacts in search of words in the wild, and we tweet the hell out of our findings using the hashtag #CopySafari. We look at in-store promotions and consider who the brand is talking to and what their objective is, and we judge their creative execution. It’s one thing to review Copy at work, but it’s another to see it in situ. The Twitter response has been amazing – I didn’t expect so many people to join in, and I’m now taking bookings for brands and agencies looking for a different way to learn.
Copywriting is a conversation so we must write how we talk. Even better, we must write how our audience talks. My three top tips for getting started are: get real, get personal and get active. These are the basics.
Get real: write naturally and use everyday words.
Get personal: write with a person in mind and talk directly to them.
Get active: write in the present tense and the active voice.
Long and clunky sentences, sloppy repetition, lazy clichés, meaningless adjectives, corporate jargon – shall I go on? I like to think these mistakes are not the fault of the Copywriter but of someone else in the business thinking they can write. Everyone can write, but not everyone can write Copy.
Ask a lot of questions. You have to really know a brand before you can start speaking for it, so I do lots of interviews and workshops with a client. Imagine you’re getting to know a person – that’s what you’re doing.
More workshops. Talk with the client, not at them. Show them by doing, not telling.
“Ask a lot of questions. You have to really know a brand before you can start speaking for it, so I do lots of interviews and workshops with a client. Imagine you’re getting to know a person – that’s what you’re doing.”
I read Women’s Health magazine purely for its writing style, not for its exercise regimes or diets. Ahem. Luxe City Guides are evidence of a Copywriter having fun on the job. And Chanel knows less is more, which makes for bold and beautiful print campaigns.
I’m most impressed when a brand’s voice is consistent in everything they do. Virgin Group Ltd is made up of a number of sub-brands located all over the UK offering different things to different people, but they look and sound the same at every opportunity. Nike is another great example. They’re all over the world talking to everyone about every sport but you’d recognise their voice anywhere because it’s consistent everywhere.
I think every Copywriter has heard the words, “We want to sound like Innocent” but if every brand sounds like one brand then their audience can’t get to know them. And Innocent’s tone is right for Innocent not for, say, a bank or an insurer or a scientist.
I don’t follow trends – I follow what’s right for the brand. Where they come from, what they do and who they’re talking to are all the starting points for creating its personality. A voice is an expression of that personality, and following a trend won’t make it sound authentic.
Senior Brand Marketing Manager at Penguin Random House UK
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