Q&A with Richard Spencer
What does good writing look like?
There’s only one way to judge the quality of writing, and it’s nothing to do with fancy words or a lyrical style. Good writing is measured by results. I always like The Economist’s take on this: ‘Clarity of thinking leads to clarity of writing’. The best writers are often the people with the best insights.
Where did you learn to write?
I studied English at Cambridge but to be honest, academic writing isn’t really fit for business. I learnt much more as a copywriter in London’s top ad agencies in the 80s. With only a few words to play with, every single one had to make a difference. So whether I’m running a copywriting workshop or a business writing session, there’s a real focus on making sure every word counts.
Do you still write?
Very much so. I think trainers who are still active in their profession give more informed insights. And while much about good writing has been the same for generations, the internet has had a huge impact on the way we look at information. By writing for a mixed range of media, I keep on top of the latest trends.
Any tips for beating writers block?
Funny how a piece of A4 (or at least the electronic version can seem so scary. Beating writer’s block is our most common request. So we’ve got loads of tips on planning, sharing and structuring documents that don’t involve ‘writing’ – and that helps everyone get going quickly.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve written?
I’ve written for pretty much most products or services. Recent copy includes work for funeral parlours and gritting bins and I once wrote a Valentine’s card on the perils of Chlamydia! Whether I’m writing for luxury products or the less glamorous end of the spectrum the starting point is always the same: put yourself in the reader’s shoes.
How does copywriting relate to business writing?
They both need to get results. A little bit of persuasion goes a long way in a business report.
What’s your favourite bit of writing?
Really enjoy Caitlin Moran in The Times each week. Her ability to mix the colloquial with the erudite, the lyrical with the profane, pop culture with insight, always reminds me to try harder next time I write anything.
It might be better to describe Richard as a waffle-eradicator, persuasion-honer, chord-striker and wallet-opener, than writer. Having penned ads at the UK’s largest ad agencies for the likes of Virgin, Kellogg’s and Rolls-Royce, Richard knows which words cut to the chase, the funnybone, or the chequebook.
He started A Thousand Monkeys to help businesses and brands extract every scrap of value from the words they use. His team of monkeys tackle everything from humongous websites to small, but perfectly-formed, headlines. As well as writing sharper sites, ads, brochures, letters and emails, Richard also runs training sessions for writers around the country.