Creative Lives — Read, read, read: Copywriter Vikki Ross' inspiring insights into the world of copywriting

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

When she’s not tweeting overheard agency jargon or teaching budding copywriters in an old Brixton church, copywriter and tutor Vikki Ross is whipping up words for some of the UK’s biggest brands. Sky, NOW TV and ITV are just some of the clients that consistently turn to Vikki to craft effective and engaging copy for everything from TV ads to tone of voice guides. Here, Vikki talks to us about working for brands you believe in, the benefits of being selective over showing off and how you can travel the world with words. 

Vikki Ross

Job Title

Copywriter (1997–present)
Copywriting Tutor at School of Communication Arts 
Co-founder of Copy Cabana 

Based

London

Clients

Sky, NOW TV, ITV

Previous Employment

Head of Copy, Hotels.com (Expedia) (2012–2013)
Head of Copy, Sky (2010–2012)
Senior Copywriter, Virgin Media (2010–2010)
Senior Copywriter, The Body Shop (2006–2010)
Copywriter, The Body Shop (2006–2006)
Global Communications Copywriter, The Body Shop (2004–2006)
Assistant Global Communications Copywriter, The Body Shop (2001–2004)
Copywriter, Home Entertainment (1997–1999)
PR Assistant, Cathy Beck Communications PR (1997–1997)

Education

Workshop: Advanced Copywriting, Institute of Direct Marketing (2006)
Short Course: Copywriting Practice, London College of Communications (2005)

Website
Social Media

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
I write copy for some of the UK’s biggest brands. I specialise in branding and tone of voice so I regularly create a voice for a brand, write their guidelines and educate the client and their creative team or agency on how to execute them.

I’m also a copywriting tutor at School of Communication Arts (SCA) one day a week, and I run copywriting and TOV [Tone of Voice] training courses around the world for clients, D&AD, SheSays and Creative Equals. And I created Copy Cabana with fellow copywriter Andy Maslen, an annual event in Bournemouth for creative, media, marketing, advertising and branding professionals.

What does a typical working day look like?
My job is so varied that I don't have a typical working day. One day, I could be working from home and writing a campaign for a new TV series, another could see me in client meetings, presenting to a client or agency, or running a workshop.

When I’m at SCA, a typical day is incredibly busy. 38 students work on a number of creative briefs at once and, along with the other tutors, we brainstorm ideas, help develop ideas and make sure they create a campaign that’s effective, on brand and guaranteed to get them noticed. 

Where does the majority of your work take place? 
If I’m at home writing all day, I’ll move from desk to couch and back again. If I’m in meetings, these are usually at my client or their agency so one day I could be at Sky in Osterley, another at ITV on the South Bank, or at agencies in Soho and Shoreditch. If I’m at SCA, I’m in an old church in Brixton.

“I love what I do – really love it. After over 20 years, I still get excited seeing my words on TV, in press or on a billboard.”

How does your freelance work usually come about? 
I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with great people at great brands who have wanted to keep working with me wherever they go, or have told others about me. That’s what’s kept me busy and in the fortunate position of never needing to look for work myself. 

How collaborative is your work? 
If I’m creating a brand or working on a rebrand, this can be a very collaborative process with the client. It can involve lots of meetings and perhaps a couple of workshops with the team – one to understand the brand and their objectives, and one to present their brand’s new personality and how they can deliver it after my work is done.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love what I do – really love it. I love writing copy and after over 20 years, I still get excited seeing my words on TV, in press or on a billboard. I love the brands I write for so I really enjoy meeting with clients and talking about their plans and strategies. Working with entertainment clients is particularly fun because I also love watching TV and films so working on a campaign for a new series or release is brilliant – I’ll see scripts, trailers, episodes or stills before anyone else! 

And all this excitement makes my writing authentic. I never write for a brand or category I don’t know or like – a perk of being my own boss but I hate the admin! Especially the money bit. I don’t get on with numbers at all so I find that side of things boring and frustrating. Having said that, it’s a small price to pay for a brilliant job. 

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
I love working with my TV clients so I really enjoyed working on campaign launches for Lucky Man, Riviera and Tin Star with the Sky Atlantic marketing and production teams. Meeting rooms filled with TV scripts and show stills are a great place to be!

“Copywriting will take you further than you imagined – into people’s homes, onto high streets and on shoots around the world.”

Press Ads for Sky, 2012

Press Ads for Sky, 2012

Press Ads for Sky, 2012

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What skills are essential to your job? 
Writing, obviously but also understanding a brand personality and knowing how to write in its TOV. 

Are you currently working on any self-initiated/side projects?
I share a Twitter account called @AgencyQuotes with Creative Director, Nick Entwistle. We just finished putting our second book together, which will be on sale soon.

What tools do you use most for your work? 
Word documents all the way. Unless the client sends me a brief in Excel. I hate those briefs – often, I’ll copy everything out of it and into Word to protect my sanity and eyesight.

I am not short of notebooks – I get a couple every birthday or Christmas. And I have pens from every event or hotel I’ve been to so I’m not short of those either. Writing ideas and making notes with pen on paper is so much more effective than on a computer.

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
When I was really young, I wanted to be a hairdresser. Then at around 14, I took a real interest in creative writing and started thinking about becoming a journalist. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role? 
I took Media Studies and Graphic Design A-Levels with a view to going into advertising – I didn't know what a copywriter was yet.

What were your first jobs?
My first job was purely a way to earn money while I worked out how to get into advertising. I was a receptionist (a pretty bad one) at a TV production company and when I got sacked, I called my best friend to tell her. She worked in PR but was off sick that day – her boss answered the phone and invited me in to assist her for a month. 

At the end of the month, she sent me to her husband’s advertising and mail order agency to work as an assistant and when I saw the team writing reader offers, I asked if I could do one. I did, it was successful and from then on, I wrote offers and mail order catalogues. 

“Read, read, read. Words need to be drawn out of the mind and reading them in books, magazines and even leaflets will help get you going.”

Virgin Media, 2011

Virgin Media, 2011

Aromatherapy Associates, 2016

Tone of Voice work for Crew Clothing Company

Tone of Voice work for Crew Clothing Company

MyTrips, 2016

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Was there something or someone in particular that helped you the most at the start of your career? 
Franco Bonadio. He was Creative Director at The Body Shop and I was writing internal communications for the Marketing department. He moved me into the creative studio where I finally got to work as a creative copywriter.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
One mistake that still haunts me is when I was presenting cover headlines for The Body Shop At Home catalogue. Showing off, I presented everything I came up with, including the rubbish options thinking it showed how hard I’d worked but the client picked the worst line and I had to look at it in print every day for six very long months. Moral of the story? Think quality not quantity and never present work you don’t believe in.

Is your job what you thought it would be? 
It’s better! I get to meet and work with some of the most creative people around, I write for some of the UK’s biggest brands, I travel the world to talk at industry events – I even created an event – and I teach bright young creatives at one of the best ad schools.

The Body Shop Advertorial, 2009

Ministry of Sound Advertorial, 2005

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Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? 
More of what I do now. I’ve been writing copy for over 20 years and I still love it.

Could you do this job forever?
Absolutely. Well, until I retire to a desert island with all the books I haven’t got round to reading yet.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
When I was younger, the dream was to be Head of Copy. I’ve been in that role a couple of times but started working for myself to get out of it – too many meetings and not enough writing. Now I only go to creative meetings to talk about branding and copywriting, not strategy and budget. And I write every day. 

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a copywriter?
Enjoy it! It’s a great job – you get to write every day and no day is the same. Copywriting will take you further than you imagined – into people’s homes, onto high streets and on shoots around the world. 

As for the practical stuff – there’s lots you can do to help your career. Create profiles on sites like The Dots and Creativepool, go to events (Creative Social, D&AD), go to book crits at networking events (The Dots Portfolio Masterclass) or contact anywhere you want to work and ask if you can meet their Creative Director. Check out sites like YCN, Hello You Creatives, Young Creative Council and Single Creatives too. 

Follow my #copywritersunite hashtag on Twitter to connect with other copywriters and read, read, read. Not just books on copywriting – anything. Words need to be drawn out of the mind and reading them in books, magazines and even leaflets will help get you going. And if you’re looking for books on copywriting, try Steve Harrison’s How To Write Better Copy, Gyles Lingwood and Roger Horberry’s Read Me, and anything by Andy Maslen. 

Posted 10 March 2017 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Advertising
Mentions: Andy Maslen
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