Creative Lives — Guts, grit and an open mind: Meet LOVE’s creative copywriter, Ellen Ling

Posted 25 October 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

“Some of your best ideas come out when you have something to prove.” Determined to move to Manchester, creative copywriter Ellen Ling spotted the perfect opportunity in the form of a job listing at LOVE. Previously an executive at D&AD’s New Blood and with a background in contemporary performance, Ellen took a somewhat unconventional route into the industry. But whether it’s pitching or channelling Sherlock Holmes to crack design briefs, it’s something that comes in useful on a daily basis. She tells us about getting to go crazy on copy, why ideas don’t need to be shiny and why the industry needs more all-rounders. 

Ellen Ling

Job Title

Creative Copywriter, LOVE (2016–present)

Based

Manchester

Previous Employment

New Blood Executive, D&AD (2014–2016)

Education

Contemporary Performance Practice, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (2007–2011)

Website
Social Media

Ellen Ling

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job? 
My job title is creative, and within that my thing is copywriting. Sometimes that’s fluid, so I’m all about coming up with ideas and thrashing things out with a project team. Other times it’s a bit more rigid and I’m responsible for copywriting on a project, or developing tone of voice. We work across so many disciplines here, so there are plenty of writing styles and ways of doing things, which keeps you on your toes. 

What does a typical working day look like?
I live in Chorlton, a Manchester suburby place. My partner is a designer and he has a studio not too far from LOVE so we come in together on the bus (with our pooch). I actually love having a bit of a commute to clear the cobwebs, chat about work stuff and generally get some headspace before hitting my desk. 

LOVE is so good at managing time. I never knew things could run this smoothly! You know what you’re working on and they clear you enough time to get your shit done. Working hours are 9am to 5.30pm and I rarely work super-late, because everything is so efficient. You have to sometimes, of course, but I think we’re productive in the time we have. 

“I’d love designers to have more of a point of view on copy. The industry needs all-rounders. I’m actively fighting against being pigeonholed.”

How did you land your current job?
I was desperate to move to Manchester but hadn’t seen anything I was remotely interested in. I saw the job with LOVE listed on It’s Nice That’s Jobsboard and was sold. The ad talked about not doing things the traditional way, addressed the whole ‘not in London’ thing head on, and listed a fair few dream clients. I got in touch via a contact I already had at LOVE. I didn’t actually have a creative portfolio at that point so I had a few late nights getting that up to scratch before applying through him. I got an interview, where I don’t think I totally convinced them I was up to the job. Luckily they gave me a brief to show what I could do. I just threw everything I had at it. Some of your best ideas come out when you have something to prove. I gave myself a day to show it to other copywriters and creative folk before the deadline. 

Inside the studio

Where does the majority of your work take place?
We’re all quite studio based. I take myself off to sit in corners or different places to break up my surroundings and fight fatigue. I’ve always found I work better scribbling away in a notebook, instead of constantly staring at a screen; I get less distracted that way too. To be honest, I often make a breakthrough on a brief when I’m out doing something mundane, or just having a pint. So it’s good to get out and about.

How collaborative is your role?
We don’t approach things in the traditional art director-copywriter partnership way here, which is refreshing. Writing can be a pretty solo sport most of the time, but I try to tap into the rest of the copy team, and share my work as much as possible. But you do need 360 thinking; if you get really into a project, you’ll be thinking about it in so many ways – not just copy, or design. And if you care about stuff, you have an opinion on everything. I’d like to have more involvement in creative output as a whole, and I’d love designers to have more of a point of view on copy. The industry needs all-rounders. I’m actively fighting against being pigeonholed. For example, I’m mega into film and production, so that’s something I’m always trying to stick my nose into. 

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love working on advertising briefs, coming up with ideas and brainstorming as part of the team. Taking something from a blank sheet, to pitch, to production is the best thing. Hopping from project to project, never getting to sink your teeth in, is probably the least satisfying way of working. I do a lot of copy heavy toolkits and guidelines, which aren’t always the most exciting. But I think it’s really important to have jobs that don’t stretch your brain to the very limits of your creativity all the time. Being on big jobs that require a lot of bitty tasks can make you feel really flat. But they also give you space in your brain for more creative stuff. It’s up to you to look after yourself and make sure you’re fulfilled. If you’re not getting something from your day job, look beyond your desk.

“I try and see briefs as Sherlock Holmes cases. You’ve got to take all the info as clues and crack it.”

LOVE’s work for LA-based store PERI.A

LOVE’s work for LA-based store PERI.A

LOVE’s work for LA-based store PERI.A

LOVE’s work for LA-based store PERI.A

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
I worked on a branding job for a new store in LA called PERI.A. It was an absolute dream job all round. The client loved the identity we’d come up with, and gave us carte blanche on basically everything. I got to go crazy on the copy. It was so much fun. 

What skills are essential to your job?
There are a few things that are a bit boring (but true): Good writing, obviously. For me, that’s not about reciting the dictionary or being a punctuation freak. It’s about understanding rhythm, how to create layers of meaning and how to say something and mean it. Communication – an idea’s no good squirrelled away unsaid. Problem solving – I try and see briefs as Sherlock Holmes cases. You’ve got to take all the info as clues and crack it. It really works for me as an analogy, I could go on and on about it. Then I personally think anyone in this game needs guts, grit and an open mind. 

Do you run any side projects alongside your job?
Everyone has plenty of pipe dreams and things they say they’re ‘working on’. I haven’t actually started any of my ideas as of yet…I hold my hands up. I do speak at events and give talks and I dip back into content at D&AD from time to time. 

What tools do you use most for your work?
Paper. Pen. Pages. Premier Pro. Photoshop. All the Ps.

Inside the studio

Ellen at work

Inside the studio

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be in a Spice Girls tribute act. Ambitious huh? I never wanted to do one thing or get boxed in, I’d get really passionate about something and then I’d want to do something else as well, and then something else on top of that, always in the creative sphere. That made thinking about careers a bit tricky. Lots of my friends had their sights set on a specific career, and they’ve followed through. But then lots of my friends did that, and ended up not loving the job they’d always dreamed of, now they’re stuck. 

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
I’d say the biggest thing is diversity. I come from a pretty standard north London suburb, but it’s filled with people from so many different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. You need that. I always assumed that diversity and equality went without saying, because that’s what I’d always known. But it’s not like that everywhere. You need to have your views shaped and challenged by different people. It makes you rounded as a person, and keeps your thinking fresh.  

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I get a lot of funny looks about what I trained in. Most people think the fact I did a performance degree is irrelevant, that I must have failed and made a career u-turn. It’s not as far removed as you’d think. The drama stuff helps for getting into different characters when I’m in full copywriter mode, but I think the most valuable thing is that I’m confident when it comes to speaking in front of people, or speaking up. So many creatives are terrified of pitching. Some struggle to even present ideas to a small group of colleagues. 

“Working late, ‘being crazy busy’ are, contrary to popular belief, not good things.”

What were your first jobs?
I did loads of theatre internships, which gave me weird and wonderful experiences. My first ‘proper, grown-up’ job was working for Damien Hirst, doing studio management. Cool, but I was made redundant pretty early into the role, which was a big blow. Ultimately it meant I had to get on and do something else. One door opens and all that. 

What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career? 
I went back to a job working in this little shop in Camden. I worked on my own most of the time, and when it got quiet I got bored. I soon realised that I could use that time. I’d been half doing this comedy double-act thing with a mate from Glasgow. I got back into that, writing material down in between serving customers. The lady who owned the shop was really supportive. She used to give me the quiet shifts so I could work on the show and sew costumes.  

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I did talks at universities with D&AD. When you’re put in front of 100 twenty-somethings with strong opinions, you can’t wobble. You had to know what you were on about and trust your instincts. After that, not much phased me when it came to talking to people. 

LOVE’s work for Häagen-Dazs

LOVE’s work for Häagen-Dazs

LOVE’s work for Häagen-Dazs

What skills have you learnt along the way?
I’ve learnt a bit of everything. Some skills I’ve taken time to craft and feel really confident in, others are still kind of a half knowledge. But the best thing you can learn is to do things for yourself. Someone can always help you fine-tune what you’ve done, or neaten it up if you’ve made a hash of it. But when it comes to ideas, they don’t need to be shiny to get the thought across. Make stuff happen. If you need something editing, have a bash. YouTube is a wonderful thing. 

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Overworking, putting unnecessary pressure on myself and burning out. Working late, ‘being crazy busy’ are, contrary to popular belief, not good things. Being stressed out shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honour, and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job. I’ve always pushed myself, and I think ambition matters hugely, but you need to know when to draw the line. There’s pushing yourself to get the best stuff out, and there’s pushing yourself to breaking point. Good work doesn’t come from there. Unless you’re Adele. 

Is your job what you thought it would be?
In some ways, yes…other ways, no. I don’t think you should be too worried about job descriptions or bullet points that tell you your remit. As long as you’re getting the work done, it’s up to you how you do it and what people think you’re capable of. 

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next?
I want to get back to the performance stand-up stuff. That was the most satisfying thing I ever did because it drew on all my skills, and everything I’m about. But I don’t work in a shop anymore, so I have to find the time and the space in my head to do it again. 

Could you do this job forever?
I don’t think anyone should. Doing the same job in the creative industry project after project, year after year runs the risk of becoming formulaic. Do yourself, and the work, a favour and change things up. I also believe in growing your role, stepping out of your box and evolving. The role you start in shouldn’t be the one you finish in. 

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
I try to ignore ‘pathways’. I ended up where I am via an unexpected route, and I think my outlook is richer for having done a bit of everything. 

LOVE’s work for LA-based store PERI.A

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a creative?
Stop hoping for success, go out and claim it. Get stuck in and do a bit of everything, see what you pick up. Speak to whoever you want and soak up whatever you can. Do stuff, don’t sit on stuff. Set yourself a standard and do everything you can to stick to it. Work won’t always be made the way you would make it and your ideas won’t always go forward. That’s OK, it’s important to be a team player, not always pushing your agenda, but if I present the ideas I believe in and push things in the right direction I know I’ve done enough to answer to myself. Finally, people say ‘accept the things you can’t change’. But that’s an easy get out. No one says ‘never accept that there are things you can’t change’. 

Posted 25 October 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Richard Kelly
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Graphic Design, Advertising
Mentions: LOVE, Ellen Ling, D&AD
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