Creative Lives — Freelance copywriter Roshni Goyate discusses the ever-changing work of a ‘writing chameleon’

Posted 15 March 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad

A self-described ‘writing chameleon’, London-based copywriter Roshni Goyate crafts efficient, personality-packed text for brands like the BBC, British Gas and O2. Sometimes her wordsmithery can be as succinct as a one-word brand name, at others as hefty as an annual report. She’s named new museums, encouraged National Trust donors to reach into their wallets and even rallied consumers to eat more spuds – at all times working closely with agencies or brands. In her spare time she runs The Other Box, a platform for increasing diversity in the creative industries, and is currently studying for an MA in Culture, Diaspora, Ethnicity at Birkbeck.

Roshni Goyate

Job Title

Freelance Senior Copywriter (2013–present)

Based

London

Clients

BBC, English Provender, Southeastern Railway, Royal Holloway University, Lloyd’s of London, Thameslink, SOAS, Danone, Mars, FSA, The Wildlife Trusts, BBC, British Gas, Pernod Ricard, O2  

Previous Employment

Head of Verbal Identity, Elmwood Design (maternity cover, 2015–2016)
Copywriter, Futerra (2014)
Writer, The Writer (2010–2013)

Education

MA Culture, Diaspora, Ethnicity, Birkbeck, University of London (2016–present)
BA English, Queen Mary, University of London (2008)

Website
Social Media

Roshni’s home workspace in East Dulwich, London

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
Every single day is different; it really depends on the client and the project. One day I might be coming up with a name for a start-up, and the next day, I’m running tone-of-voice workshops and designing a verbal identity for an established household brand. Other times I could be writing the words to go on jars of a chutney company. Or I could be brainstorming with creative directors and design directors to come up with a whole new brand concept from scratch. I also train people to be more effective writers at work, which I’ve always loved – getting people in suits to write haikus!

What kind of companies do you work for? 
I mostly work with design agencies and studios, and sometimes I work directly with smaller companies and start-ups. My work is very much in the design and branding world, rather than traditional advertising, although I think the lines are a lot more blurred these days.

Where does the majority of your work take place? 
It really is a mix. I would say I spend a third of my time working from my East Dulwich living room, a third of the time from cafes and co-working spaces, and a third of the time working in-house at agencies and design studios with designers and clients. 

How do projects usually come about?
Although I’ve taken on a couple of short-term full-time roles in between, I've been freelance for four years now by choice. I’d like to think I’m able to continue as a freelancer by being really good at what I do, but also by being easy to work with. Open communication – whether by email, face to face or over the phone – plays a big part in that.

“At one point I wanted to be a Bollywood star. A bit later I wanted to be a garage MC. My mum really wanted me to be an accountant or lawyer.”

What are your hours? 
I’m a big believer in having a healthy work-life balance, so I stick to office hours and try not to work evenings and weekends. Some weeks and months are much busier than others, but it always balances out. I also think it's really important to feed and nurture creativity, so you'll often find me at talks, exhibitions and screenings always looking to learn something new.

How collaborative is your work?
My role is extremely collaborative. I learnt early on that the creative process is learning what clients don’t want as much as it figuring out what they do want. In that way, every project is an iterative process. It means you can’t be too precious about your work, but it helps to communicate openly and ask all the right questions to make sure you nail it sooner than 16 drafts in. When working directly with clients, I work with people at all levels, from CEOs and CMOs to their in-house communication and brand teams. In the past few years, I’ve been able to work much more closely with designers and design directors in agencies too, so I've become more of a visual thinker, which I've really enjoyed. Collaborating with designers means finding the balance between compromise and conviction in your own ideas.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
Freelancing comes with a level of freedom, so I can work remotely and set my own hours. Of course, the flipside to that is when it goes quiet (which happens sometimes) and you don’t know when the next job will come in, it can cause a great deal of anxiety. Since day one I’ve loved being able to work with words, to bring ideas – my own and others peoples’ – to life, and be able to defend the thinking behind it. And when I run writing workshops, I love it when people start to understand the power of their own words.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
I worked with Matt Morgan, creative director at Fact Studio, to come up with the words for a agricultural-tech start-up called Zazu. We had to capture the simplicity of a new platform without undermining the massive difference it could make to the farming world in parts of Africa. It was a real collaborative effort and a tough brief to crack, but we persisted and the result is a nifty identity with some fun messaging.

What skills are essential to your job? 
Of course, you have to have a way with words. But I also think defending those words and ideas is really important. You need to be able to make a solid argument as to why you’ve made certain decisions. And that requires solid thinking. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
Microsoft Word, MacBook Air, phone for recordings during briefings, meetings and workshops, Skype for client calls, Google Drive to save and share documents, Evernote – I’ve recently started using this for collecting ideas and collaborating. 

Work for Zazu, with Matt Morgan at Fact Studio, 2016

Work for Zazu, with Matt Morgan at Fact Studio, 2016

Work for Zazu, with Matt Morgan at Fact Studio, 2016

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How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up? 
It was always changing. At one point I wanted to be a Bollywood star. A bit later I wanted to be a garage MC. My mum really wanted me to be an accountant or lawyer, but that was never gonna happen.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role? 
My English degree of course contributed to my job as a writer, but some specific modules helped pave the way. For example, a module called Ways of Looking, which was about contemporary culture beyond literature, where we covered visual culture, film, fashion and of course advertising. I was also part of an extra-curricular poetry group, where I started to really interrogate and hone the craft of writing, particularly saying a lot in few words and never wasting a syllable.

What were your first jobs? 
One of my first internships was at a reputation management company, where I did research and wrote up reports. I was quite naive and wasn’t really sure what I wanted, but also made sure I wasn’t ever lumped with just answering calls and making cups of tea.

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career? 
After a couple of years of interning, I had decided to go back to uni to do an MA in Globalisation and Culture. I was looking for a job to tide me over for a few months until it started, when I spotted the job ad for a junior writer at The Writer. It was written in such a warm, personable way, which encouraged me to apply in a way that showed my personality too. I got the job and never did the MA. It was a super-nurturing environment, where I was given solid training, constant constructive feedback and the opportunity to build my role as I went.

“Use your online profiles to demonstrate how you’re a skilled writer, without saying the words ‘I’m a good copywriter’”

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
One of the very first tone-of-voice projects I worked on with my creative directors. I was given the opportunity to create and develop a concept for our clients. I ended up getting it so right there were actual tears of joy when we presented it. Being given the chance to work on a real brief and so closely with the client that early on was definitely important.   

What skills have you learnt along the way?
I grew up speaking three languages and always loved English at school and university, so my love for language has always been there. I’ve learnt a lot about defending my argument, and some things, like how to interrogate briefs and manage client relationships has come with experience.  

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Words and language are ultimately subjective, so sometimes people will just say ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘it doesn’t feel right’, and when that happens enough times in a row, it can be demoralising. But having a tight brief to begin with always helps. English also wasn’t my first language – I spoke Gujarati at home before I started school – so I accidentally mix up idioms every now and then, and sometimes get paranoid that my vocabulary isn’t big enough. One of the best antidotes to that is to read a lot. Sounds like a cliché, but it really makes a big difference. 

Is the job what you thought it would be? 
I feel like I’ve had the chance to make it what I want it to be. I guess when I went freelance I thought I’d have more time to work on personal projects. But it turns out when you're not working, you need to work on getting work in. So again, it’s a balancing act. I’m currently juggling freelancing with a part-time MA, which has been tough but doable. 

Work for TRUE, with Carl Nas Associates, 2015

Work for TRUE, with Carl Nas Associates, 2015

Work for TRUE, with Carl Nas Associates, 2015

Work for TRUE, with Carl Nas Associates, 2015

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Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? 
I’ve been focusing a lot of my time and energy on raising awareness on the lack of diversity in the design and creative industry. I’ll be doing more of that through the organisation I co-founded, called The Other Box, where I’ll be putting on events, running interview series, and generally making some noise about diversity. Part of that will include working with young people from minority backgrounds, and showing them it’s possible to have a creative job like mine and be successful. 

Could you do this job forever? 
You know, I really think I could. That doesn’t mean I will though...

What is the natural career progression for someone in your current role? 
Even at this stage, there are all kinds of directions a career like mine could take. You could become the head of copy or a creative director at a creative agency. You could go in-house as part of a brand team.

Growing Healthy, Danone, with Futerra, 2014

Growing Healthy, Danone, with Futerra, 2014

Growing Healthy, Danone, with Futerra, 2014

Growing Healthy, Danone, with Futerra, 2014

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Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give a young creative wanting to become a copywriter?
Surround yourself with good, creative people who want you to do well. Use your online profiles, whether it’s your LinkedIn, your Twitter, or your portfolio to demonstrate how you’re a skilled writer, without saying the words ‘I’m a good copywriter’ (aka, ‘show, don’t tell’ which is one of the golden rules of writing). Don’t be afraid to ask lots of people for their advice too. Before I took the plunge, I asked loads of colleagues and peers out for coffee. Everyone was very generous with their wisdom and even passed on a few jobs to me. 

Posted 15 March 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Advertising
Mentions: The Writer, Fact Studio, Roshni Goyate
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