We’re very excited to welcome Glenn Murray to the Hot Copy podcast. Glenn is a hugely respected copywriter in Australia (and around the world) and we ask him to share his secrets of being a successful copywriter.
Tune in to learn:
- How Glenn got started as a copywriter
- Glenn’s possibly controversial thoughts on leading copywriters
- Excellent books Glenn has never finished (but recommends we read)
- His big business mistake that you can learn from
- The surprising emotions Glenn experiences when he begins copywriting projects
- Expert homepage copywriting tips
- Glenn’s writing fetish and perversions
- Glenn’s excellent tip for new copywriters – Not to miss.
Hang out until the end to hear the outtake!
Listen to the podcast below
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Glenn’s favourite books:
- Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
- Tested Advertising Methods
- The Adweek Copywriting Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Powerful Advertising and Marketing Copy from One of America’s Top Copywriters
- Minimalism Beyond the Nurnberg Funnel
- The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells
Glenn’s super post on tools:
Great brand personality:
Glenn’s contact details:
- Divine Write website
- Divine Write on Facebook
- Divine Write on Twitter
- Divine Write on Google +
- Glenn on LinkedIn
- Divine Write SEO ebooks
Read the transcript
Kate: Welcome to the Hot Copy Podcast with your hosts Kate Toon and Belinda Weaver. Over the next 20 minutes or so we’ll be sharing the secrets of successful copywriters including copywriting tips, shortcuts, writing resources, interviews and laughs, all focused on helping you become a better copywriter.
Hello and welcome to today’s podcast. We are very excited to have our very first interviewee on board. Hello Glenn!
Glenn: Greetings earthlings, how’s things?
Kate: Oh, it’s so good to have you here. The reason we asked Glenn to be our first interviewee is ‘cos he’s a hugely respected copywriter over here in Australia and probably around the world, and somebody who Belinda and I have been chatting with on social media for, gosh, about four or five years now I think. So he was an easy choice to be our first person to talk all about being a successful copywriter.
So I’m going to hand over to you Glenn, I’m going to ask you to introduce yourself to the listeners and tell them all about yourself.
Glenn: Well, I don’t know how to top that. [Kate laughs] I’m a copywriter. I work from my home on the Central Cost of New South Wales which is about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Sydney in Australia. I’ve been doing this for about 13 years, I think, and I was a technical writer in the software industry for nine years before that.
Belinda: Oh I didn’t know that, that’s interesting.
Glenn: There you go.
Belinda: I did that for a little while as well.
Glenn: Ah, well we’ve got lots to talk about.
Belinda: [laughs] We do. We could have more in common than we realise Glenn.
Glenn: Kate, you might have to leave for a little…
Kate: Shall I just go?
Belinda: [laughs] So…
Kate: You’ve also ruined our first question, which was what is your business, where are you based, what do you do, and who do you do it for. You’ve covered all those things already.
Glenn: Well, yes, kind of. My business is Divine Write, I don’t know if we covered that. I do mostly web copy these days, although I still do the occasional brochure and scripts, press releases, case studies, that sort of thing. And when I say web copy I mean a lot of SEO copy as well, although I think those two things are kind of becoming one.
Who do I do it for? About three-quarters of my customers are actually small businesses. I do do a lot of work for bigger businesses, corporations and government and they tend to provide a lot of jobs, but in terms of volume of clients about three-quarters are small businesses. And I think that’s because I rank well in the search engines and get a lot of off-the-street traffic, a lot of off-the street clients.
Belinda: Okay, you mentioned you did technical writing in the software industry, so what made you skip into copywriting?
Glenn: [laughs] Necessity. [Belinda laughs] To be honest, when I was working in the software industry I just had one too many arguments with my boss and started looking for a new technical writing job. And after six weeks I still I hadn’t found one because the bottom had fallen out of the IT industry and the junior jobs that were available I was overqualified for and no-one was leaving their senior jobs because they were a little bit smarter than me and they didn’t open their big mouth. [Kate laughs]
So it got to the point where I was thinking well, I’m calling lots of people and I’m writing for lots of people, what else can I do? I’ve written a brochure. When I was a technical writer they asked me to write a company brochure at one point and I thought what’s that called? I think that’s called copywriting. I’ll tell people I’m a copywriter. So I actually called around and asked if anyone needed copywriting as they didn’t need technical writing and it turns out they did.
A lot more people needed copywriting than technical writing, so I set up a business that day and been doing it ever since.
Kate: So the next question is about your biggest copywriting influence. Did you have one? It sounds like to a degree you kind of stumbled into the career rather than it being a decided career choice, but were there any people when you started out that you looked to for ideas and advice and things?
Glenn: I’ve always been a writer and writing copy was surprisingly similar to the technical writing. So no, I don’t really have any copywriting heroes or idols or anything like that. I’ve not really paid much attention to other copywriters. I’ve read a few books, but mostly around the business side of copywriting.
So, for instance, I’ve read Bob Bly, one of his books, and that was interesting from a business point of view. I’ve also read a bit from Joseph Sugarman and John Caples, but really because it’s all American a lot of it doesn’t really apply in Australia I don’t think and I don’t like a lot of their style. So I really read about them and read their material because they had been successful, not because I liked them.
Belinda: I agree with that difference in style. I know a lot of people say to me, “Oh, you must love this copywriter and that copywriter” and I’m like I don’t know who they are. [laughs] Should I know?
Kate: Everyone bangs on about Bob Bly and I’ve actually won the Caples Award, but I have no idea, I’ve never actually looked into who the hell he was. And I’ve not read Ogilvy and I’ve not read any of them really. I’m similar to you Glenn, I just kind of get on with it really and in recent years I’ve befriended more work-a-day copywriters, but no big influences for me either.
Glenn: Yes, well, I think that’s part of one of the things that I think is kind of lacking in copywriting, particularly amongst most of the aspiring or junior copywriters that I speak to. Maybe “lacking” is the wrong word, but I feel like there’s this overemphasis on doing things the way other people do them.
Yes, you have to look at the data and see what works, and particularly from a user perspective or a reader perspective you have to know what works, but you also have to trust your instincts, go with your gut and be creative, be bold and do what you think will work because you’re not stupid and you’re a writer, so if you’re good at writing you tend to write…
Belinda: Write good anyway. [laughs] I think it’s a really interesting way of putting it. I always feel like I’ve kind of blundered through my career making it up as I go along and I think probably the three of us have done the same. So I love this idea of trusting our instincts, that’s a much better way of looking at it.
Kate: Yes, totally, you don’t need to ape anybody else.
Belinda: So Glenn, as you’ve trusted your instincts through your career as a copywriter and building up Divine Write to be what it is, have you made any big mistakes and have they influenced you in any way?
Glenn: Look, I make mistakes every day. I think probably the biggest mistakes I’ve made were, firstly, outsourcing. I originally had this grand vision of world domination you see, so in my vision I would have a team of copywriters doing all the work and I would just smoke the cigars. But it never happened and when I actually tried to implement it I always just found that no-one ever did the job properly.
So when I outsourced to people, I don’t know whether it was because they were not as good a writer as I thought, I think that was part of it, but also because they just don’t care as much because it’s not their name on the line.
Glenn: And previously on my “About” page I had four or five people listed there and presented my business as a little bit bigger than it is thinking that that would be a good option. And then when it didn’t work out for me I thought, “Well this is a bit crazy”. And I’d had a few people asking me, a few clients asking me as well, “Do you do all the writing yourself?” and some people said, “I don’t want those other people doing the writing, I want you doing it”.
So I thought well, I’ll ditch that model altogether and I’ll just say front and centre that I do all the writing myself and that’s when I also switched from presenting Divine Write as a “we” to presenting as an “I”, so talking about myself rather than “us”.
Belinda: And I think that can be a really good point of difference that new copywriters sometimes overlook. They feel like they have to look like a big business, when in actual fact saying that the personal attention you get from just having one person, the owner of the business, write your copy is a real competitive advantage.
Kate: Yes. And I’ve done exactly the same thing as Glenn, I’ve definitely tried subcontracting work out and it’s just more trouble than it’s worth. You end up re-writing it all and not just the quality of the writing and, again, we might cover this in a future podcast, but hitting deadlines and delivering things as you want them delivered sometimes seems to be a bit lacking. And I just found it more stressful, so I’d rather just write it all myself. So I’m with you Glenn on that one. [laughs]
Moving on to the next question, which is to help out any copywriters who are listening who are looking for some good resources, are there any resources that you use regular, like tools or sites or books?
Glenn: Most of the books that I’ve relied on or enjoyed in the past have not been copywriting related. Some of them were books that I picked up in the technical writing world, like “Minimalism beyond the Nurnberg Funnel” which talks about writing the absolute minimal amount of copy that you can, get the absolutely minimum. In that case they’re talking about technical writing, but it applies in copywriting too.
Other books that I’ve enjoyed are things like “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely more because that’s about biopsychology, things like “No Logo” by Naomi Klein and “Groundswell” I read a little bit. I haven’t actually ever finished any of those books. I kind of got about halfway through and [Belinda laughs] just kind of wandered off, but I did find there was some really good value in them.
But I do tend to use a fair few tools, particularly for domain naming or business naming.
Belinda: We’ll have to include a link to that mega-post you did recently.
Belinda: The three hundred million thousand tools that you use. [Belinda and Glenn laugh]
Glenn: That’s right. I do like my tools. I rely heavily on systems a little bit there, mostly to supplement my lack of creativity. [laughs]
Belinda: So you’ve touched on your routine around your lack of creativity, but what’s your writing routine? So when you start a project how do you get ready to write, what’s the whole process until you’re done?
Glenn: That’s really, really hard. I always find when I get a new job I stress about it really badly because sometimes I just feel like I’m never going to be able to do this. And I’ve been doing it for 13 years, so academically I know I’m going to be able to do it. So I just kind of start. I’m assuming now that I’ve got all the information I need to start. I create a document using my copy deck template, I name the file, I put in the section headers so I know what pages I’m writing and then I save the file, and then I feel like I’ve achieved something already. So that kind of gets me…
Kate: I do exactly the same thing.
Belinda: Me too.
Kate: Really minor things, like have the brand name here and change the phone number here and do all that kind of formatting stuff that’s not creative at all, but it means that I’ve done something, I’ve started, I’ve broken ground. So I’m the same.
Glenn: Exactly, yes, and it does break that terror grip a little bit. And then after that I do try to start with the high level information first. So I like writing home page copy the best and when I start on the home page copy I generally start with the headline and the headline I write first usually isn’t the headline I end up with, although it can be.
And I try to start as dumb as possible as well. So I’ll read the absolute minimum I can to understand the general offering, who it’s for, what they do and the crux of the offering so that I don’t focus on the wrong things in the home page. Because the home page has to nail the general domain, it has to be generic enough and high level enough that people will understand, “Oh okay, that’s what they do”. And then you can get all the detail later.
Belinda: That’s a really good tip. I often write the home page last, but I can see the benefit of not having a thousand details bouncing around in your brain. Because you’re right, the home page does need to say, “This is who we are and this is how we can help you. You’re in the right place”. And it’s really easy just to pull in more and more and more explanation.
Kate: I’ve got a random question now, and this really is Belinda’s question but I’m going to ask it [Belinda laughs] because it’s a bit weird. Do you have a writer’s fetish? Now, take that however you want to take it, but.
Glenn: [laughs] You don’t know how dangerous that is.
Kate: Exactly. Keep it clean.
Glenn: [laughs] Fetish?
Belinda: Writer’s fetish Glenn.
Glenn: Oh sorry, writer’s fetish. No. [Kate laughs] I think the closest thing I could say to having as a writer’s fetish would be that I’d love to write copy a little bit more in a real voice. I wish clients were more open to the sorts of things that I think readers are open to.
I think a lot of clients are very risk-averse naturally and very conservative because they had English teachers, so even minor things like having clients who don’t want you to start a sentence with a conjunction because that’s what their English teacher told them at school. I mean, that’s a really minor example but if I’m told that I can’t start a sentence with a conjunction I find that it really hobbles me, it makes it very difficult for me to write properly for that job and to string my ideas together. And I do feel that it undermines the copy, compromises the copy, but that’s just kind of the tip of the iceberg.
I’d like to be able to, if your audience is okay with it, swear in the copy. If that’s what your audience wants to see then do it. If they want bad jokes include bad jokes. I know that humour is always touch and go, but if you know your audience well enough, particularly if you’re in a real niche, take some chances, be bold in the copy. And I’m using those as examples, swearing and jokes, they’re just examples, but just be real, be more real, try more creative approaches in the copy. Don’t just use the same rubbish that everyone else uses because everyone else uses it.
So it’s not so much a fetish as a perversion. I really find that that’s what I’m always tempted to do and what I’d love to be able to do, and it frustrates me a little bit when clients are a little bit too conservative for their own good.
Belinda: Yes, I think this is something Kate and I have talked about where we are both very excited when we have a client who wants to be bold and has the courage to have a truly unique voice.
Belinda: It’s exciting to write and it’s exciting to read as well. Kate’s was – you have to say this Kate because of what happened.
Kate: Well maybe I took the question the wrong way, but mine was I have to have aniseed balls. I have a big giant jar full of aniseed balls that I suck on when I write copy. God, that sounds so bad. [Belinda laughs] now doesn’t it?
Glenn: It’s a G rating here.
Kate: Yes, but they’re just sweets, so I have to have my sweets. Maybe it’s the sugar, but it does make me write better copy. So hey, that’s my fetish, don’t judge.
Glenn: Oh look, if we’re talking about stupid habits…
Kate: It’s not stupid! [Belinda laughs]
Glenn: No, I was thinking ahead to what I was going to say Kate, honestly.
Glenn: I’m just sitting here spinning my texta. I’ve got a chisel point permanent marker and it’s really well balanced and I spin it around my thumb, I’ve been doing this since high school. But this particular texta, it’s like a comfort blanket for me. I can’t think without it when I’m writing and I can’t consider a client brief, I can’t sit on the phone and talk without it. I even walk around the house if I’m on the phone to a client, I’ll walk around and I’ll spin this in my other hand.
And similarly, I can’t write well if I’m not on my keyboard. So I can’t write very well with a pen and paper.
Belinda: Yes, see I think that’s your real writer’s fetish.
Kate: Yes, me too. The weird pen thing…
Belinda: The crazy pen thing.
Kate: We want the crazy pen man with the beard. [Belinda and Glenn laugh] That’s what we want. That’s what we were after, that’s what we were aiming for. [Belinda and Glenn laugh]
Glenn: Well there you go, I delivered in the end. [Belinda laughs]
Kate: You got there in the end.
Belinda: So we’ve been talking about some of the things during this conversation, about new copywriters and aspiring copywriters. If you, with all your experience, could give one tip, just one tip to a new copywriter what would it be?
Glenn: It’s such a tricky one to nail down one. What you need to be able to do is to have absolute confidence in the way you write and take ownership of your idiosyncrasies and the mistakes you make deliberately. Not mistakes, the rules you break deliberately because typically it’s the rules you break deliberately that differentiate you from other writers.
Belinda: I think that’s a good tip.
Kate: I love that. I think that’s a really great tip.
Kate: So we’re done pretty much, those are all our questions. I guess we wanted to finish up with telling our listeners how they could connect to you, so where they can find you, what’s your web address and all that kind of stuff?
Glenn: My web address is www.DivineWrite.com.au so yes, you can find me there.
Kate: Which social media networks do you tend to find yourself on the most these days?
Glenn: Any of the three big ones, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. I’m @divinewrite on Twitter, on Google+ I think I’m Glenn Murray Copywriter, something like that, and I have a Facebook Page for Divine Write, I think it’s just www.Facebook.com/DivineWrite.
Kate: We’ll share all the links to all your different networks on our show notes at the bottom of this week’s podcast.
Kate: Anything you want to add Belinda?
Belinda: No, I’d just like to thank Glenn for his time and the giggles and the advice and telling your story. I think it’ll be really helpful for our new and aspiring copywriters, and even old jaded ones like us.
Kate: [laughs] Yes, it was great, thanks ever so much Glenn.
Glenn: [laughs] Thank you guys. It was nice chatting to you, nice to put a voice to the name Belinda.
Belinda: Yes, right back at you.
Kate: Well, that’s it from us, thanks for listening. If you like the show, please don’t forget to leave us a rating and review on iTunes and Stitcher – your review will help other copywriters find us. You can also head to HotCopyPodcast.com and leave your comments on the blog post for this episode. Until next time, happy writing.