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  • Writer's pictureChris Silberston

Long live Richard the first (monkey)

A Thousand Monkeys is now employee-owned! Our dictator, sorry, founder and copywriting guru Richard has moved from owner to employee. So, at the end of this era and the beginning of the next, we thought now was a good time to pass on some of the many insights Richard has shared over the decades of his copywriting career.

Whether you’re a freelance writer, a marketer managing a copywriting project in house or simply commissioning work externally, there’s a lot to learn from our fearless leader.

Wit and wisdom for the end of an era

Be bolder

The bold ideas are the ones that people will remember. Ads, email subject lines, vision statements – whatever you’re creating, bolder is often better.

But lots of businesses are scared of being too bold. It’s the writer’s job to push things – go too far, almost until it’s ridiculous. Then when the higher-ups try to tone it down, you’ll get to the level of boldness you intended in the first place.

It’s always easier to tone down something too bold than to make something boring sound bolder.

Stay objective

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to writing. It’s easy to look at someone else’s work and say, ‘I wouldn’t have done it like that’ and change it yourself. But it’s important to step back and think about whether you’re changing it to improve it or because you just want to do it your way.

On big projects with multiple writers, we have to constantly control our own desire to impose our personal preferences. For the good of the project, it’s best to focus on the outcomes and accept that different writers might take a different approach to the same goal.

Make the first line great

Emails not getting enough clicks? Product pages not converting enough visitors? Strategic document reads more like terms and conditions?

Your first line isn’t good enough.

There are many approaches to making a great first line. You could make people curious, you could dramatise a problem, you could front-load with description etc. Whatever approach you take, the first line needs more thought than almost any other bit of copy.

Plus, here’s a secret that Richard hasn’t shared that widely. If a fussy stakeholder isn’t happy with your copy, a lot of the time they’ve made their mind up in the first few lines. Change the intro and you can get away with keeping most of the rest of the copy the same.

An image is worth a thousand words

It might be a strange thing for a copywriter to focus on, but Richard has always emphasised the importance of a good image.

The right image grabs attention. And it can get a message across far quicker than text.

What most people get wrong is focusing too much on either the copy or the image, forgetting that both are equally important and need to work together.

Take a shower

No, it wasn’t a dig at the personal hygiene of the monkeys. Richard claims he has his best ideas at odd moments – in the shower, walking the dog, out sailing his dinghy.

If you’re stuck for creativity, get away from your desk and let your brain do its thing.

There’s nothing new

Show Richard a clever ad and he can probably point you to an older one that did the concept before. In marketing and advertising, the same tropes tend to go around in circles and it’s rare to get a truly original idea.

Instead of trying to come up with something completely different, sometimes it’s better to focus on putting your own clever spin on an existing idea.

Ask lots of questions

If you’ve worked with us before, you may have noticed we ask a lot of questions before we start a project. You can blame Richard for that.

A brief rarely stays the same throughout a project. Clients often have an idea of what they want – but can't put it into words, or things change or get missed. The more awkward questions we ask up front, the more we’ll be aligned on what the outcome should be.

The actual writing part of copywriting is one of the last steps. Getting the brief right is much harder but just as important.

Work as a team

A big reason many clients choose us over a freelancer or a collective is that we’re a team, with years of experience working together.

Richard has always drilled into the team that projects should never be completed by one person. The project manager works with the client and keeps everyone organised, the lead writer handles the copy, another writer offers a second opinion and proofreading etc.

Copywriters are often not the most organised people. Project managers are often too focused on details to see the big picture. Account managers are too chatty to get any writing work done. But put them all together and everyone can contribute their strengths while having any weaknesses counteracted. The project massively benefits.

Take a nap

Richard hasn’t exactly offered this as advice. But his regular mid-afternoon naps must be for a strategic reason, so we’ll include them here.

Welcome to the team, Richard

Richard moving from owner to employee gives everyone the best of all worlds. The monkeys have a stake in the success of the business so want to see client projects succeed. And Richard will be sticking around for a while yet to impart more wisdom. Win win!

1 Comment

Jun 13

Onwards and upwards - Congratulations! Thanks, as well, for the great writing tips (as always).

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