Creative Lives — “Keep things short. Don’t use fancy words” DesignStudio’s copywriter Liam Hill

Posted 09 May 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad

From vandalising banknotes and sticking them around the NYC subway, to penning user guides for a new Sky remote control, copywriter Liam Hill’s role is one of many guises. Now working at DesignStudio, while his initial studies in American History and Literature gave him a great cultural education – a “super-important” asset to his work – Liam believes that there is no single course that could have prepared him for his job. Forgetting everything he knew about essay writing, he’s developed a knack for no-nonsense wording and strategically shaping a brand or campaign’s message as a whole.

Liam Hill

Job Title

Copywriter, DesignStudio (2015–present)

Location

London

Previous Employment

Creative Producer, TransferWise (2015)
Copywriter, venturethree (2012–2015)

Education

BA American History & Literature, University of Manchester (2010–2011)

Social Media

Liam at work

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?
Being a copywriter at a brand agency is a bit different to your typical advertising copywriter. Our role in a project can vary massively from general brand writing (headlines, scripts, campaign ideas, guidelines) to helping with the more strategic part of the project.

In this role your time usually gets split across quite a few projects – with the plus side being that you get to stay involved in lots of different stuff, rather than just working on the same thing for two months solid.

How did you land your current job? 
I started freelancing at DesignStudio to work on the Premier League rebrand. As a long-suffering Spurs fan, this was obviously a pretty cool project to be involved with and I really enjoyed working with the team here, so when I was offered the job full-time it was a pretty easy decision.

What does a typical day look like?
Our studio hours are from 9.30am to 6pm, but we have a passionate team that really cares about the work, so there are late nights when stuff needs to get done. Some days involve just finding a quiet space in the office to pull together a presentation. Others involve day-long workshops at our clients’ offices, interviews with their staff to help understand their business, or naming workshops where lots of weird words get stuck up on the wall and everyone makes a bit of a dick of themselves. We’re lucky in that we get to travel, as our clients operate all over the world. One of our teams is headed out to São Paulo next week, Shanghai the next, and I was out in Toronto last month.

“Ultimately you’ve got to be able to think quickly, creatively and articulate yourself in an original and compelling way.”

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

DesignStudio’s work for Artfinder

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How collaborative is your role?
We’re a pretty open environment where everyone gets their say – both internally and externally. We have very transparent relationships with our clients; often they come in for relaxed working sessions instead of formal presentations, and we will come up with the solutions together.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
The start of the project is always exciting. Getting under the skin of a business, hearing the founder’s dream of where they want to take it. You’re helping build an idea that’s going to influence the way thousands of people connect with a company, so it really matters that we get this part of the project right. Once the strategy part’s over, the project becomes a lot more design-focused. As a copywriter, your job at that point is to support the design team with any writing help they need.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Since last summer we’ve been working with an organisation which aims to tackle poverty in developing countries by empowering girls. My role has varied in each stage of the project; the first was helping write a response to their RFP [Request for Proposal], which meant answering questions about how we’d tackle the project, and why we were right for the job. Then we were invited to pitch, and my role was to present our naming ideas for a product relaunch.

Once we won the job, we divided into three different teams and travelled to different parts of the world to conduct workshops with young girls and boys as research. I travelled to Bogota with one of our clients, and other teams went to the Philippines and Nigeria. Since our return we’ve created a whole new brand for the product – this involved lots of naming workshops to arrive at a brand new name, developing a whole new visual identity and tone of voice.

“I’m not sure there’s a degree for what I do. You just need talent, a decent attitude and someone good (and patient) to learn from.”

What skills are essential to your job?
Being able to write helps! Other than that, I think ultimately you’ve got to be able to think quickly and creatively, to articulate yourself in an original and compelling way, and be ruthless in your ability to cut your writing down.

Another key thing, which might seem obvious but really is important, is being a generally switched-on person who understands the world, culture and current affairs. The way a company communicates will always have to be sensitive to whatever is happening in the world. Understanding what’s going on around you is super-important if you want to make something meaningful and interesting.

Inside DesignStudio

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
A spy. A marine biologist. The captain of Tottenham Hotspur. I still haven't given up on the last one.

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I think learning about American culture, its history and some of the amazing creative and political movements has definitely shaped the way I think. But I'm not really sure there’s any degree that you specifically need for what I do. You just need talent, a decent attitude and someone good and patient to learn from.

What were your first jobs?
I interned at my first agency, venturethree, for three months and ended up staying for three years.

Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career? 
I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some seriously intelligent, talented and patient people during my first few years in the industry. To this day, their approach shines through in everything I do.

Was there an early project that helped your development?
Without sounding clichéd, I think you take something from every project you work on – even the nightmare ones. A specific mention would be the first pitch I ever worked on, which we lost. But it was a big moment where I go to prove myself as a junior and the work is still in my book. 

“Forget everything you learned about writing in terms of essays. Learn to be brutal. Keep things short. Don't use fancy words.”

Liam at work

What skills have you learnt along the way?
Presentation has got to be the biggest learning. Having good ideas will only get you so far, but having the ability to share them with your team and clients in a clear way, without fluffing your lines, is really important. This was something that I was pretty weak at for the first few years of my career, but the only way to get better is practice. Even as a junior you should try and have at least a couple of slides in each presentation which you feel comfortable explaining. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
After I left my first agency I actually joined a client I’d been working with for a while. We’d helped do their rebrand and their launch campaign in New York, so I felt like I already knew the company well. They were a fast-growing startup and it seemed exciting – company shares, offices all over the world and loads of travel. The reality was that I was unsure about the move from the start, and it was a bit of a mistake. I found the experience working in-house pretty frustrating creatively, but that’s not to say everyone’s experience would be the same. It just wasn’t an approach I agreed with or was used to.

Is the role what you thought it would be?
It’s hard to say really. It’s a role that varies massively depending on the client, the agency, your boss. I’ve done everything from vandalising banknotes and sticking them all over the NYC subway for a financial startup, to writing how-to manuals for a new Sky remote control. Obviously the former was more exciting than the latter, but both were still good experiences. I’m not sure if I had any misconceptions when I started, but I would say it’s just important to keep an open mind and good attitude to every project as they’re all an opportunity to learn and improve.

Inside DesignStudio

Thinking Ahead

What is the natural career progression for someone in your current role?
As you gain more experience it’s only natural to start to become more interested in the strategic part of what we do here. When I started I was stoked just to see my words being designed and shown to clients, but now I try to think about why we’re saying something, rather than just the final words themselves. However, both are equally important and I wouldn’t want to sacrifice one for the other. Being able to blend strategic thinking with creative writing puts you in a good position, so my advice would be to keep your options open.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a copywriter?
There aren’t many brand copywriters out there, in comparison to designers, and even less good ones. So if it’s something that interests you, I think most agencies would be open to hearing from you. If you studied something like english literature or history, I’d say the best thing to do would be to forget everything you learned about writing in terms of essays. Learn to be brutal. Keep things short. Don’t use fancy words. Read some [Ernest] Hemingway, who was famed for his to-the-point writing style. And maybe send some good ideas to the head copywriter at the agencies you like.

Posted 09 May 2017 Interview by Laura Snoad
Photography: Jake Green
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design, Journalism
Mentions: DesignStudio, Ernest Hemingway
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