Welcome to Bolt’s insider secrets series! The Insider series will take you behind the scenes into the worlds of writers from different industries. Here you’ll find out everything from what their jobs are like to how to get started in their field.
Rachel Chew, Copywriter, Tribal DDB
How did you get into the business?
I was working as a Pictures Sub-Editor at Thomson Reuters when a friend convinced me to join advertising because it was ‘fun’.
I’d never done any copywriting before so I sent in a few of my short stories and poems, including one entitled ‘The A-Z of why you should hire me as a copywriter’. And I don’t know what got into them but they gave me the job!
Unlike most people in advertising, I didn’t study marketing, comms or design. Instead, I read archaeology and anthropology at university, where I learnt about everything from Neanderthals to pyramids. No dinosaur bones though (everyone always asks!). That’s Paleontology.
Apart from writing, I’m also into photography and film. I take most of my photos when I’m travelling. I find it really adds to my travel experience because it encourages me to look at things and places in new ways. Not to mention the fact that I get to keep lots of beautiful photos as memories.
What do you do as a copywriter?
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As a copywriter, I usually work in a team with an art director. When we get a brief, we’ll get together to think up the ‘big idea’ that will help our client solve their business problem. Then I’ll scoot off to hone the writing (this could be anything from a Facebook post to a TVC script) as the art director works on the art. But this doesn’t mean that an art director can’t contribute a catchy tagline or that a copywriter can’t comment on colours. I sit next to my art director partner so we’re always exchanging thoughts as we go along!
What is your greatest moment on the job so far?
I can’t say I can pinpoint one single ‘greatest moment’. In advertising, we often slave over a project for months before the work actually sees the light of day. So each time one of my campaigns launches, it really feels like I’m giving birth to something special. And that feels pretty great!
What was the most challenging moment on the job?
Up till my first copywriting gig, I’ve been trained in academic writing which is pretty verbose. So even now I have to make a conscious effort to keep my sentences short. I’ve found the best way is to write out the essence of the thought. Then rewrite it again and again, distilling it into the fewest words possible without sacrificing style.
What are some things you wish you knew before you entered the industry?
That less is more.
Tips and tricks for your industry.
Don’t use big words to impress. Keep it simple and succinct. I once read an article by a seasoned copywriter. He said that when he first started out, he’d take a whole paragraph to express what he had to say. After ten years, he could do it in a sentence. And only after another ten, could he do it in just a few words.
How would a novice get started in your industry?
Be shameless. Write to as many people as you can. If not for a job, then for advice. People are surprisingly willing to dispense the latter. I also think most people get into the industry through a friend’s or friend of friend’s recommendation. So getting out there and meeting people will definitely help.
Can you recommend some of your favourite books, reference material, essential texts to read?
When I first started out, my Creative Director insisted that I read the Copy Book. It’s a classic with lots of great copywriting from legends such as Dan Wieden, David Abbott and Neil French. More importantly, read anything and everything. Reading voraciously is important for us copywriters because we never know when those nuggets of information will come in useful.
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