For many freelance copywriters, working from home is the norm. Except there is no norm during coronavirus. (Who’d have thought that the sunny-sounding brochure copy I wrote two months ago, which waxed lyrical about arranging VE Day street parties and enjoying the strawberry-and-cream-filled atmosphere of Wimbledon under the headline of ‘Life’s A Picnic’, would need a complete rethink.)
Zoom … Teams … Workplace, my Mac is now jam-packed with apps and I’m always up for a Skyppuccino.
I interviewed four copywriters in different work situations about how COVID-19 is affecting them, and what they’re doing to keep their work flowing and creative juices running.
The copywriter who is home schooling: Richmond Walker
Richmond is a freelance copywriter with two children aged 6 and 8.
I massively underestimated the change with coronavirus. Essentially, you have to be more disciplined than ever. It’s an illusion to think you can do anything productive while teaching at home. I prep from 8:30 am, get teaching about 9ish and then I’m stuck into that until 1pm. During that period, I can’t even answer emails but luckily clients have been flexible about deadlines. My wife normally takes over after lunch but is fully employed, so I can’t ask her to take too much time out of her day to help.
The entire family looks forward to a daily alarm at 5pm. That signals the end of our home-school day, when the kids can use screens. It also marks the time when I can reward myself with lager in the garden. We call it glory time.
Little things are important for daily discipline like getting up at the same time, having a shave and wearing a shirt. They preserve the sense that you’re actually working. Knowing when I can find time that’s uninterrupted makes a massive difference in terms of productivity.
Most of my projects are ongoing though I’ve a suspicion that things will slow up a bit. Remarkably, some are product launches – progressing as if nothing’s going to change. Also, a lot of clients have asked me to write COVID-19 emails, letters or announcements to explain how they’re responding to the crisis and what difference it will make.
I’m looking forward to doing all the things I keep saying I’ll do but never find the time.
I’m also thinking a lot about how companies and brands will evolve on the other side of coronavirus and will consider their digital profile and digital tone of voice more seriously. One thing set to change completely is the way people use technology for work; everyone will become much more comfortable with apps like Slack, Zoom and Drop Box. Digital was used to enhance business; now it will be used to enable it.
The copywriter who is client-side: Brendan Staunton
Brendan works for a fin-tech company.
I’ve been working full-time for a company for five months, and was freelancing with them before then. I already had a pretty good setup here at home and can replicate the office structure fairly well. The biggest change is that we have a lot more Zoom meetings across the department to make sure everybody is fully aligned.
My company uses Slack a lot. I find it very flexible: it works like we work and really supports us. Previously, I always preferred dealing with people face to face because it’s quicker, but that’s not possible at this time. I’m also a big user of emoticons when communicating with colleagues so that I don’t come across too harsh or too direct.
Slack has other uses. The company created a #stayconnected channel for virtual office drinks, cooking sessions, exercise classes and even meditation! It’s good for morale and people use it a bit like a WhatsApp group with lots of photos of work stations and dogs. I’m not a big user, but it’s nice to know it’s there.
Today, with everything you write, you need to keep coronavirus in mind. We’ve all got to be conscious of it. I think Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert guy, put it best when he said we all need to think in a more collegiate way. A lot of people are having a hard time right now and I feel uncomfortable writing in a way that’s overtly commercial.
The most important thing from a working-at-home point of view, especially if new to it, is to work hard and not get too comfortable.
You may be sitting at home, but you’re still at work and you’ve got to make that show.
You also need to plan out your home situation and ensure you have all your food and everything in place. There’s no longer the option of popping in to Pret for lunch or passing a supermarket on the way home.
You should also use the advantages of being at home: I love a power nap for about 15 minutes mid-afternoon. It refreshes my mind so I can be really productive for the last couple of hours of the day. You can’t do that at the office!
The copywriter who is also an author: Ursula Brunetti
Ursula won the Royal Society of Literature’s V.S. Pritchett Short Story Prize 2019 with ‘Beetleboy’.
I have 4-year-old twins so I’ve shifted my work hours to accommodate home schooling and their routine. I’m able to get on with chunks of work when they’re engrossed in an activity, but I’ve made movie time a daily occurrence to carve out time to work. Planning is key. One thing I’ve found useful with clients is Voice Notes, for oral briefs and to keep the conversation going with clients, even if that’s at different times when we’re all juggling work and family duties.
I’ve continued to have enquiries as well as repeat business. It’s reassuring to know the world hasn’t completely stopped. I’ve liaised with clients to update their copy for services that need to pivot with the new WFH arrangements. For example, one of my clients is an executive life coach and mindfulness expert. With the COVID-19 pandemic, her offering has shifted to support clients with anxiety management and she needed copy for a new online mindfulness course. I’ve also put my copywriting skills to use by helping out on a community newsletter.
Because of coronavirus, I think people will change how they do business.
Creative writing is my passion and in the brief moments of headspace during lockdown I’m trying to prioritise my fiction and currently working on honing a 20,000-word extract of my novel.
If any copywriters want to flex their creative muscles at home, they could enter Visual Verse, which is championed by Bernadine Evaristo and Ali Smith. A visual prompt goes live on the 1st of the month and you’ve one hour to write up to 500 words of prose or poetry in response. Writing competitions such as the Bridport Prize can be career changing for aspiring authors; worth entering now!
The copywriter who is an agency creative director: Paul Domenet
Paul is Communications Creative Director and Partner at design agency Free The Birds.
Everyone at the agency started working from home on 16th March. There were a few inevitable technical challenges initially such as accessing the server – especially for the designers when downloading massive Illustrator files – and getting everyone set up on Zoom and Teams.
We try to replicate the office day, with meetings at the same time. (We’re off to the online pub at 5.30 today; in my head it’s called the ‘Cyberspace Arms’.) 75% of our clients aren’t in this country so, in many ways, there’s no big change to the way we interact with them or present work. From a writer’s point of view, every word is now seen through a different lens of sensitivity. We have B2C clients and need to make sure that the messaging doesn’t look like it’s capitalising on the coronavirus situation or exploiting it.
We’ve just been given a huge comms campaign to do; in an ad agency, I’d work with a partner on ideas. The design world doesn’t have writer/art director teams so our design director isn’t used to working this way, even in real life, let alone virtually. But he’s finding it really exciting, and the reality is that we’d have precious little time to create a campaign in an office situation whereas working remotely has been calming and we’ve got much more done.
The agency is in a good place, but that doesn’t mean we can be complacent or think we can just carry on as normal. I’m particularly interested in the consumer world post-coronavirus, and what it will do to our industry especially when our speciality is elevating brands. What will people think about brands? Will they care? Will they be more dismissive of them? Will they be more questioning? That’s where I’m trying to think ahead.
If your body can’t leave the building, at least your mind can.
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter. Having a career rethink during coronavirus? Check out my blog on How To Freelance As A Copywriter.
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