She’s worked with some of London’s most sparkling integrated agencies. She once asked Zoe Wanamaker to repeat a line in a radio ad. Her client list looks like the FTSE 100. It’s London copywriter Katie Quaite.
I never knew what I wanted to do for a living, but I always knew I had to write.
I used to live a long way from my school, so I’d have to spend the summers composing letters to my friends to stay in touch with them. I loved the written word and also doodling and drawing. I always had either a pen or a book in my hand.
Some of my school friends have since told me they’ve kept the letters to this day. I’m not sure why, sounds pretty crazy, but I’ll take the compliment.
It took me a while to find out what copywriting was. I worked it out after graduating in English and starting my career in PR. Somebody had to be writing those Abbey National brochures and Honda ads, and I wanted that somebody to be me.
I started by cobbling together a portfolio and knocking on Soho doors. And luckily for me, the first one opened at TBWA/GGT and I never looked back.
What is it that makes you a good writer?
Well, I’ve had a lot of life experiences. I think when you work across a variety of industries and settings, you begin to understand people. And that helps you to create incisive copy for different audiences.
I’ve always worked hard at seizing every opportunity to try new things. Like firing live rounds in Officer Training at university or volunteering at the Sydney Olympics whilst travelling.
It’s somewhat of a privileged cliché now, but I’m curious by nature and love to meet new people and see the world through their eyes. And I’m not afraid of hard work and making sacrifices along the way – that helps a lot too.
You worked at Wimbledon. I’m a big tennis fan. Tell me more. Meet anyone famous?
Oh my goodness, working at Wimbledon was a people-watcher’s dream come true. I was 19, and was handed a walkie talkie and given free rein to roam the grounds for two whole weeks. Don’t shoot me, but I helped Maggie and Dennis Thatcher get out of their Bentley. I also got to see Peter Ustinov… the original Hercule Poirot – imagine!
I’m pretty sure my love of sport has helped me to write successfully for the NFL, Sky Sports, ESPN and the Commonwealth Games to name a few.
Do you prefer creative directing or copywriting?
I love copywriting – but I also know the value of good creative direction and sound strategy. It’s the difference between your campaign being slated on Twitter or being held up in awe on LinkedIn.
I’m lucky to have worked with some marvellous creative types – I wish there was a button you could press to beam them all into the room with you when you’re working solo at home. That’d be good.
What’s been your finest hour?
Every day that I get to do this, I’m happy. Copywriting is brilliant in so many ways, and the variety of client conundrums is the brain nourishment my restless spirit craves.
A great moment was when I directed Zoe Wanamaker in a TFL radio ad whilst at a WPP agency. I’ll never forget saying, “Sorry, Zoe, could you just repeat that line, please?”
Hey, I can relate. I once wrote a script about holiday homes for Andrew Castle to read. He got a villa in Barbados. I got £300. You got any low notes like that?
I don’t want my answer to be the fact that our role isn’t always taken seriously. From ‘copy tests’ to ‘not having budget for the words’, it’s still remarkable how many people think creative is the pictures and the copy is a separate, less important requirement. Plus unnecessary subjectivity can sometimes ruin a perfectly good day.
What’s an ideal assignment?
I love just about everything that’s thrown my way. I’ve worked across just about every industry, sector and channel and discipline, so literally no job is too big or too small. Proofreading too – I really enjoy it. Told you I was a nerd.
You’ve been freelance and in-house. Which is better?
When you work in-house for a creative agency, you do have belly laughs – and you get to learn from the people around you – junior and senior. Equally, the freelance network is very supportive, and as I say, you can’t beat the variety of briefs that freelancing provides.
One minute you could be watching horror film trailers for a NOW TV Halloween brief, or the next, you might find yourself sampling beer brands and studying rugby references. Or you might be writing direct-response emails for some amazing charities or even the NHS. Copywriting can be truly varied and eye-opening, and that’s just brilliant when you’re an inquisitive soul.
What are your best qualities as a copywriter?
To use the words of the late Sir Ken Robinson, a creative spirit isn’t afraid to be wrong to stand out. You need to be clear about your convictions – fence sitters and beige need not apply.
I have unwittingly adhered to this throughout my life and it totally helps if you’re presenting new ideas and copy. It’s important to be balanced as well and to understand business pressures whilst maintaining your integrity as a good copywriter.
I’m always full of questions and like to see scenarios in my mind’s eye and all of that certainly helps when approaching briefs. It’s just knowing which questions to ask…
Which copywriting books can you recommend?
Is this where I talk about the university of life? I think ‘doing’ is better than reading manuals as such, but I’d recommend arming yourself with the Oxford Style Manual or Hart’s Rules and an IRL paper thesaurus. Or better still, seek out a good creative director to work for.
Any advice for clients?
A relative told me she’d written her own website copy but then needed to pay an SEO expert who changed it all. I get frustrated with stories like this. If a company wants decent exposure, they need to invest at the outset in the design AND the words.
If they don’t, or worse, try to write it for themselves, I can guarantee it will likely cost the business more money later on. And nobody wants that. Also, not all writers are created equal…so here’s my business card. Get in touch!
And what did you have for breakfast today?
I think it’s my Irish genes, but I can’t start the day without a bowl of tea. And some crunchy nuts. And another bowl of tea.