A new challenge

Posted: 29th May 2016

Pastures new

So, something exciting is happening. I'm off to work for the pretty excellent Shopify as their new content strategist. It's an amazing opportunity that I'm stoked for, and it means I get to head across the pond to Canada too.

Thanks to all my Distil clients and hopefully our paths will cross again. My love for words, messages and everything in between is sending me to Montreal. You can still stay in the loop thanks to my Medium posts, and via Twitter.

Thanks and give me a shout if you're ever in Montreal!

My Medium posts - Enjoy!

Posted: 6th Jan 2016

Medium love.

I've been using Medium for a good while now, it's cracking. I'm planning out and building my post bank up, hoping to add a post every week or so. Enjoy the collection and keep your eyes peeled for more.



Simple and swift ways to advocate the wonders of great content.

Posted: 4th Sep 2015

This is not just a mission for writers and strategists.

It’s one that every agency head, designer, developer, project manager etc should embrace wholeheartedly. If you care about quality experiences and results, you can’t afford to shy away from the importance of content. It’s that simple.

This post isn’t about how to create content — it’s about how to foster a company culture that actively appreciates the role that content plays everyday. Make a decision today to champion the content cause, be that advocate that your team, clients and audiences desperately need.

This advocation doesn’t mean you need to get on your soapbox and start slamming content-lazy competitors. And it certainly doesn’t mean demanding that your team become killer content creators themselves. Instead look at how you talk about content, the people you feature in that conversation and the company-wide attitude to this illusive asset.

Uncover the knowledge/interest status quo.

The best advocates feel things out before they start spreading the word. If you’re thinking of fighting the good fight you first need to scope out your team’s attitude to content. What’s their knowledge level when it comes to content creation, editing, strategy? Do they see content as a necessity, influence or burden to their ability to do a good job?

Tap into the general content consensus and cater your championing approach to your potential followers. Don’t advocate blindly.

Get back to basics.

Good content can’t exist without solid foundations. Stellar research skills, consistent collaboration, usable internal systems, all directly influence the effectiveness of content. There’s no point getting serious about re-approaching your culture’s relationship with content if you don’t have the understanding and resources in place to support that shift.

Fostering a content-loving culture takes time and proper commitment so don’t stint momentum by having lacklustre resources in place.


You’d be surprised how many see their knowledge as their property. When it comes to shaping or enhancing a culture you can’t be greedy. Remember, culture goes beyond what happens under your roof. If you can influence a sector and community, you can tap into that wealth of experience and insight to further your own value.

Writing isn’t a talent reserved for a special few, with the right knowledge and context anyone can create functional content. This doesn’t mean the copywriter (me) becomes replaceable, it just means that there’s a more succinct understanding of meaning, messages and audience experiences out there in the world. Feed into the ‘good content’ community, share your resources and expertise with fellow studios, industries, employees and all.

Personal and then internal.

As an advocate, get personal with the content cause. Practice what you preach on a personal level before you try to roll it out across a team. Do you as an individual have a blog where you speak honestly and passionately about this subject? Do you go out of your way to really get to grips with new ways to inject content’s importance into your culture? Do you network with other writers, agencies, creatives in the same boat? If you can illustrate a passion and conviction personally then you can breed more enthusiasm when it comes to introducing it internally.

Feedback training.

How do your team engage with content? Do they know what makes content relevant and effective? Content needs to be critiqued, reviewed, edited, adapted on a loop and this doesn’t need to/shouldn’t be the responsibility of one sole person. Train your team on how to study and improve content. Show them what usable content feedback looks like and actively illustrate how those changes are implemented. Offering feedback shouldn’t be an exclusive task, everyone on your team should engage with as much content as possible.

Essentially it’s about educating and empowering. Make content a consistent deliverable across the team board. Learning as a group is the best way to really advocate that change, be open and tell your fellow students that this will be a long-term culture project.

Creating an explainer video script - Tips & tricks.

Posted: 2nd Sep 2015

I recently worked with the very lovely Orman Clark to create the new Dunked explainer video. My job was to script the voiceover and it turned out just lovely.

Creating a great explainer video can be a tough exercise. There’s some great ones out there (Bigcartel for one) but there’s also some overly-wordy, feature-heavy attempts. Want to produce a succinct, characterful explainer script? Here’s a few tips.

Define your ethos words.

An explainer video isn’t just about selling the ease of use or relevance of a service. It’s just as much about creating a deeper philosophy and character. Select some keywords that represent the brand and its vision - creativity, inspiration, community, passion etc. Use these words to sculpt the tone and feel as well as the narrative points.

Keep it short and simple.

A good explainer video ensures that imagery and explanation compliment each other in an engaging, useful way. Don’t be afraid of pauses and be sure to pace yourself at around 120 words per minute max. Get your main message in there early, around the 30 sec mark.

Think story and benefits, not features and strict structure.

Of course you need to present the problem, offer a solution and establish a CTA but it doesn’t need to be so stale and uniform. What’s the story behind your product or company? What tone and style best tells it? What can people relate to and make their own? The How is important in an explainer video but you don’t need to run over a list of steps or reasons. Get more conceptual and create a culture around what you’re presenting. By establishing the Why, the How will become more human and defined.

Write naturally.

Be sure to read your script out loud. It needs to sound natural to be easy to follow and effective. When I create explainer scripts I draft up two formats - a flow draft (just the script in prose form) and a timed draft (script structured to the second/minute of the film). This means I can make sure I’m hitting both the functional and emotional points of the video.

Tone is king.

This keeps consistency and clarity at the top of the list. Take time to develop a tone for the video. Don’t take research you have to hand as gospel, embark on your own digging and really get to grips with how an audience identifies with the bigger brand. Tone can be the most memorable and effective tool you have in creating an explainer video so don’t just adopt what others have.

Connection is about clarity, directness and character. A good explainer video should embody all three.

Selling the importance of content to clients - Selected arguments.

Posted: 28th Aug 2015

Some clients get how important content is and some certainly don’t. As a copywriter I don’t necessarily blame clients for their lack of respect or appreciation for good content. If they’ve never had or seen stellar copy before how are they to know the good from the bad? Chances are if they’re after a site revamp their first port of call will be a designer. Great, your getting serious about your brand look, user journey etc, but what comes next in the list?

Many of my collaborators are freelance designers who are all for championing the need for great copy/content. I’ll maybe get an email saying ‘I’m working with a client at the mo and they really need some copy help, I’ll email you soon about it’. This is when I really start to feel for my designer buddies. They’ve got the unenvious task of trying to sell the importance of good copy to their client. In some cases this will be an easy conversation and I’ll get an email back with a date to meet. In most instances it’s been a battle my designer pals have not won.

Don’t fret friends, we’re all in the same boat. Many of the clients that come directly to me still need that final push towards deciding that they do indeed need a copywriter. And then comes the educating, the part where I really try to get them to understand their content needs and their bigger impact. This isn’t something every copywriter needs to do, and I’m not saying every client has no clue, but I see this as my way of offering long-term value.

Anyway, back to my long-struggling designer comrades. This post is for you, it’s for all that have to figure out how the heck they can convince their clients to get serious about content. What arguments and benefits can you present them with? Well, here’s a few.

#1 - Thinking content-first improves design.

This is an easy one for designers to get behind. If you have good content to work with you can design with real messages, real insight and a defined brand voice. It’s a simple argument that isn’t tough to translate. I’d recommend that you have a copywriter contact on call when presenting this case. Have a copy professional that you can direct your client to for a simple chat. I have no problem at all with taking over the reins here and directly selling the case for great content.

#2 - Increases collaboration.

This might not always be the greatest outcome as some creatives prefer to be briefed and left alone to do what they do best but it’s a great way of getting clients to really invest in their understanding of content. Give them milestones and tasks to meet regarding content. Ideally, a copywriter would produce 100% of the copy but I’m not against a client being involved to some degree. So much of copywriting isn’t about writing - it’s about gathering relevant info, insight, inspirations and defining content goals from the off. You need a client to do this.

If you’re the designer, why not send the client over to me while you do your thing? While you get to grips with the brief, I can be firing those key Qs over to the client and getting them accustomed to elements such as meaning, messages, tone, CTAs, all the things that you’ll be weaving into your design. All this ultimately means that you, the designer, have copy to work with early on. The best results come from content-first projects.

#3 - Plants valuable seeds.

Tone, style, messaging, competitors, audiences, context, actions - all are defined by the early stages of content production. These aspects all inform better design but they also make for a more mindful client. Content needs to nurtured and updated. It’s the only way to make it effective and relevant over time. The same goes for design so prepare your client for a long-term commitment and investment in their business. A copywriter can introduce the idea of content auditing and even become a go-to resource as their business defines itself and grows. It’s all about good practice.

#4 - Good content will save you money.

Yes you’ll have to fork out for a copywriter but you’ll get your mitts on well structured and engaging copy that will prioritise consistency. Why have a beautifully designed site if it’s going to be filled with self-penned word gumf? You only get one chance to make a first impression so make it count. The last thing any designer wants is a client coming back with constant changes that are shaped around poor content.

#5 - Copywriters do more than just write copy.

If you’re getting a bit of resistance around the idea of paying for copy let your client know that a copywriter does more than they think. Every client I work with gets access to the following;

a thorough goal/brand evaluation in the form of a brand questionnaire. This runs over their messages, goals, content needs, tone, style and everything in between. This is invaluable info to both me and the client.

a tone of voice guidelines doc. This is an overview of the style and tone of their brand and acts as an instruction manual for all their communications. It’s theirs to share with their team.

access to a content strategist. Any good copywriter needs to have a good grasp on content strategy to do their job properly. CS is all about putting big picture brand needs at the centre of everything you do.

There it is, a few key arguments that might just help you get your clients on-side. You won’t win every battle but you’ll be responsible for raising the good content bar a little higher.

Who is to blame for crap content?

Posted: 18th Aug 2015

Who is to blame for crap content? A blow-by-blow blame list.

In short, everyone.

As a copywriter, I’m not exempt from this blame list (you’ll see I’m/we are right in at #3) and quite rightly so. You see, there’s a tonne of really rubbish content out there and it just keeps on coming. It doesn’t surprise me that there’s so much poor quality stuff making the rounds; it baffles me that people are willing to hang their business hopes on the production of gumf. And even more shocking is that ‘professionals’ are not stepping up to the plate and educating the misled among us.

This isn’t a shaming list, it’s a rundown of the ways that we’ve all been conditioned to treat the production and championing of good content. More than just the Who, this is about the How - what we all do to hurt the creation and existence of healthy words, images, audio and beyond.

So, here we go.

Culprit #1 - Agencies.

A client emails you and wants you to create a website, marketing campaign, whatever, for them. What’s on your task list? Brief befriending, summoning of suitable talents (designers etc), meeting making, research undergoing, the list goes on. But is content management on there anywhere? I know budgets are tight and timelines even tighter but this really is the place where a better content philosophy can be realised.

Under one roof you have a graduating tier of professionals who can wholly embrace both the creative and practical needs of content. And more than just embracing, they can literally make space for prioritising content needs.

Project managers - These guys can make sure that content is secured as a deliverable, as well as planting the seed that review and agility is essential to content. Content goals and messages can change and be realised as the design process moves forward so these managers can make sure ample wiggle room is afforded to the creation/re-creation of effective content.

Budget makers - Factor in content management and strategy. It goes beyond a copywriter fee, although that is a great start. Great content requires time - time to research, plan, create and most importantly review and adapt. If you don’t budget any cash for content makers, you don’t place any value on content itself.

Strategists - Make content a long-term deliverable, not just a project-to-project ‘perhaps’ consideration. Argue a case for implementing a content care program for your clients. This is simply about making sure that content is periodically reviewed and updated to ensure its effectiveness. Make content a consistent concern, applying a strategy of sorts to each and every project.

The whole ‘content first’ approach to design and development is making waves and is generally championed by many agencies out there. But as with all techniques and approaches, it has become some what buzzwordy and half-heartedly accepted. It takes actual effort and reshuffling to embed a ‘content first’ strategy into your way of working but the benefits are crazy good.

Culprit #2 - Designers / developers and such.

The relationship between designers and copywriters isn’t particularly famed. But by the same standards, it isn’t a doomed one either. There’s tonnes of great designers that know they can’t create without a content consideration but we can always do with more allies.

These folks are the real game changers, the people that can fundamentally change the role content plays in everything from UX to visual branding. Designers, demand a content focus on your projects. It’s obviously tough if you’re part of a bigger (copywriter-less) team but you don’t need a writer on hand. Ask the right Qs, questions that demand that those in charge have a real understanding of the principals of messaging, tone, audience needs etc - all the things that matter to content.

Here’s a few tips for weaving some content considerations into your design process;

Understand that UI is not the same as copywriting - UI is a giant step forward in terms of putting content first but it doesn’t take into account the art of copywriting. UI is for all content, from video to images, whereby copywriting is the wordy wizardry that’s all about tone, style and all that jazz. These things are the cornerstone of consistent, effective content. If you see that the content for your project is being created by a client, or even by your fellow agency team members, ask why a copywriter isn’t onboard.

Master tone from the off - It goes without saying that the words and images should both be playing for the same team. However, it rarely does. This is about tone and style - both are content favourites. It’s not just about having the content before you design, which would be ideal, it’s also about having a solid understanding of the big picture messaging that influences everything that follows.

Put the audience first - Preparing killer content is all about understanding an audience. If you have content to play with, you have insight to design with. There’s no such thing as future proofing an experience but having a grasp of content can enable you to make decisions rooted in people and behaviour rather than fads and features.

Culprit #3 - Copywriters.

Yep, we need to take our share of the blame. I’m a copywriter and I hold my hands up. As much as I might not be wholly responsible for shoddy creation, we can all take a hit for not always fighting the good fight when it comes to educating clients on what good content is really all about. Over the years, here’s a few things I’ve learnt/done my best to champion more aggressively.

Be a content strategist as well as content writer - It’s always surprised me just how many copywriters don’t have a good grasp on content strategy as a discipline. To me, this goes hand-in-hand with what I do. I do my best to explain my process and approach to my clients before I write a single word of content in a bid to show they the importance of tone creation, audience research and feedback.

Can I talk to the client direct? - If you’re working freelance for an agency, as I do regularly, it’s common not to meet or talk to the client direct. Don’t settle for it. Some clients may prefer for their design agency to brief/deal with the creatives but at least ask if you can talk with the client direct. You learn a ridiculous amount from a client conversation so don’t always settle for the middleman insight.

Why stay on the sidelines? - I often don’t meet the agency team I’m emailing with about a project. The design can be a mystery until launch, in fact so can the designer! I try to avoid being sidelined and at least attempt to get an invite into the studio for an in-house session. It’s the nature of freelance to be a Skype ID rather than an actual person but if you’re close enough why not offer to work in-house and actually interact with the team while they work. Content can be the last hurdle before launch so get yourself, and your craft, in the door as soon as possible. As a copywriter you have to fight for collaboration.

Culprit #4 - The tech.

There’s a shortage of good content platforms. Whether we’re talking about collecting content, sharing content or even writing content, there’s ample room for improvement. I’d argue that content pros need to get onboard and spearhead the creation of such resources but we don’t all have the tech savvy required. I certainly don’t. Anyway, the lack of great systems and software has made the prioritisation of content a tougher task.

There is a few solid resources out there that save the content day, GatherContent being the cream of the crop, but we need more!

Culprit #5 - Clients.

They want content but do they really care about its quality? To many clients, content is just something that will fill their site. I’d argue it’s not completely their fault that they have such a surface understanding of the importance of content. Clients are not whimpering novices with no idea of what good content is but many don’t have a clue about what goes into creating and preserving quality. It’s our job as professionals to educate them.

It’s a mixture of tough love, artful bargaining and rock solid principles. Here’s a few things to translate to your clients;

Content has a lifespan - Nothing lasts forever. Content needs to be nurtured, reviewed and updated so be sure to explain this from the offset. Audiences, messages and styles change and no one wants to be left behind. Content is relevance so sell it on that concept.

Anyone can write but it doesn’t mean they should - I do believe that quality content can be created by all. That said, there needs to be a greater, big picture understanding of context to be effective. I wouldn’t encourage any client to self-pen all their content but make sure they are involved in the process. Be specific in the info you require from them, explain why you need this. Educate them on how to review content properly and direct them in giving quality feedback. Create a conversation and open culture around the topic of content and you’re doing the discipline a great service.

Don’t undercharge - As a copywriter, I generally stay pretty solid to my rate guns. What I do is valuable so I don’t need to bargain my rate. I know a lot of copywriters that have faced the “I could write it myself so why would I pay that?” line. Don’t work with these folks copywriters. Champion your craft and relevance, part of that means advocating your value.

A concluding thought…

Essentially, us the audience are the biggest culprits. We constantly create, read and share poor content as a habit. How many shitty ads, emails and posts do we read everyday? Loads. I’m not suggesting that you track down the copywriter of that annoying campaign and hurl abuse their way but we can all make the culture that surrounds content a little more pleasant and prominent.

New portfolio, New blog routine.

Posted: 13th Aug 2015

It has been a while...

Yep, it has indeed. There's no excuse other than the fact that I've been busy/a little lazy but with a new portfolio comes a new blog routine.

I'll be filling this very Distil blog with news, tips and everything in between but I'll also be creating a few posts a month on Medium. These posts will centre on a few grittier subjects such as content strategy and the creative industries in general. My first one will be published at the end of the month so keep your eyes peeled.

So I launched my new portfolio this week and it wasn't as easy as I thought to pick projects to feature. In the end I selected a mish mash of my favourites plus the briefs that challenged and delighted me. In the coming weeks I'll be putting together a few case studies for some of the projects that I just couldn't fit in, the first of which will be my project with Double Double

Well, that's it for now. Remember to follow me on Twitter (@distilco) for all manner of news and wordy stuffs.

Content Strategy & Me.

Posted: 19th Feb 2014

The Gather Content Collection.

Here are all the guest posts I created for the Gather Content blog. If content strategy is your bag, here's a lovely wee collection for you.

How to write great web copy.

What is Content Strategy - Theory vs. Practice.

Engage your audience through a quest narrative.

How to collaborate - The creative and the practical.

The A to B to Content - Planning website content.

Structure and meaning - The principals of creative writing in Content Strategy.

Getting your team Content Strategy savvy.

Welcome to the fold - Be copy-savvy.

Posted: 18th Feb 2014

'I've never worked with a copywriter...'

This sentence is no stranger to my inbox. This isn't a post about copywriting taking the world by storm, it's about effectively managing the reservations and preconceptions many have about working with a copywriter.

What do you need from me?

I get asked this a lot. Many potential clients aren't sure how this copy fandango works or what level of knowledge they need to possess.

A full brief is a rare thing these days, even the most experienced agencies or clients struggle to produce a proper brief. If a client is new to the copywriter thing, they should be encouraged to learn the importance of a full brief. I often work alongside clients in producing this. Through a series of brand, tone and company history questions we get to the heart of the project together. This aligns our aims and builds some trust.

Keep things simple as this point, ask them about the nature of the project, proposed timelines, a little about their content history and then, if it floats your boat, arrange a more detailed chat. Be sure to not overwhelm and try to keep them in-tune with the true goal of their project.

Are you the right copywriter for me?

If a new client is unsure of the copy process there is a good chance that they don't know their copywriter options. Yep, there's more than one type. The worst thing you can do is take on a job that doesn't fit your skill set, you waste everyone's time. If their only aim is to pop up on the first page of Google, I'd be inclined to send them elsewhere, not before imparting some valuable advice. It's a case of speciality and personality. For instance, I work with a lot of start-ups as I love the high levels of collaboration but this isn't for everyone.

How much will it cost me?

It's a meaty subject and not one I want to go into a heap of detail about. Your rates are your rates so charge as you please but with copywriter first timers, I find it beneficial and educational to break down my process and give my quote some context. If it's too much for them, that's ok but at least they now know a little more about the intricate process of creating copy. Offering a simple quote is not only bad practice, as far as I'm concerned, but it also leaves you open to a host of questions later on down the line. Get this clear from the off, for yourself as much as for the client.

2013 - It's been emotional.

Posted: 30th Dec 2013

Not a bad one at all.

2013 has been a corker. Not only did I work alongside great folk on pretty awesome projects but I learnt a shit load.

We all say that we are always learning, developing and honing our skills but I can honestly say that this year I truly did. Not to rub it in but this year I didn't have to cherry pick, the majority of the clients and projects I had were professionals, collaborators and entirely respectful.

I worked with start ups, corporations, charities and design agencies who all had a unique idea of copy and the role it plays. Many of these projects will feature in my new portfolio section in early 2014. I love my site so this will be less of a re-design and more of a bigger, more Distil-filled experience.

2014 will also see me host my own new series of copywriting podcasts, can't wait. I'm not a huge newsletter fan so I'll be opting for my pod pals and a few e-books instead, hopefully these will be a valuable resource to all writers out there and those looking to see what I'm up to.

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