From FMCG to finance to fashion to food and fags, London copywriter James McDonald’s probably written it, and even some things that don’t begin with F.
I’d say so, yeah. I had short-lived dreams of becoming a journalist and following in the footsteps of Kate Adie, but when I realised I’d have to actually go to war and learn shorthand and whatnot, I decided to do something else – getting my hands dirty has never really appealed.
How did you get into this crazy game?
I dabbled with newspaper journalism briefly, then got a job at a finance media company churning out awful content that nobody read.
It was so soul-destroying that I actually went back to interning for a bit, then got my first ‘proper’ job at John Lewis, working a year-long contract doing e-commerce bits. They paid me money and I used that money to pay my rent. It was mind-blowing.
I didn’t get my first agency job until a few years later after I’d done various in-house gigs, then got my big break if you like with BBDO in 2015. From there, I went back to freelancing, then back to perm, then back to freelancing.
What would you have done in another life?
I’d have a driving licence and be married with kids, living round the corner from my Mam and Dad. I chose the thug life instead. Or rather it chose me.
Like me, you started out in journalism. How did you learn how to write copy?
I’m not sure I ever have to be honest. Like a lot of writers, I fell into copywriting. I quite often found work on the basis that the client wanted someone from an editorial background, so I suppose I’m still dining out on having worked for a newspaper for ten minutes.
I’d probably have to admit that I have a natural aptitude for writing and storytelling, despite being prone to waves of impostor syndrome from time to time.
So what I think I’m saying is, you can’t learn it, and I’m a prime example of pure, raw talent. I don’t always feel like an impostor. I think today’s one of those days.
How’s the house-hunting going?
I’d actually forgotten how nightmarish the whole process is and how awful estate agents are. I’d accepted an offer on my flat and found somewhere to move to and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Then of course the buyers pulled out at the last minute.
If I was being sensible I’d use the pandemic and remote working to save a few bob and relocate to somewhere cheap and cheerful, but I’ve been knocking about Hackney for nearly 13 years now, so I think I’m here for keeps.
How has lockdown been for you?
I didn’t work at all between March and November last year, so that was a bit rubbish. I seemed to spend a lot of time twiddling my thumbs and trawling through LinkedIn and various job boards and getting no bites.
By the time the nice weather came, I turned my attentions to topping up my tan, expanding my waistline and spending my bounceback loan on cases of wine.
Workwise, things picked up again in October, and things have been really quite well ever since. Now they’ve announced the roadmap, I’m looking forward to being able to visit my family again, and a holiday somewhere warm wouldn’t go amiss.
And what do you do for breakfast?
I yearn for the days I’d poach a sausage and egg muffin en route to the office before shuffling off for a Pret cheese and tomato croissant for elevenses.
These days, I have to make do with a peanut-butter smoothie after my morning jog around Hackney Marsh. Weekends would be leftover pizza.
Would you ever niche?
I’m a jack of all trades in the copy world, and I feel like that’s my USP at this point. But then I come across ads for UX copywriters and I start seeing pound signs, so you never know.
What’s the best agency you’ve worked with and why?
I’ve freelanced at Antidote a few times and they’re a really nice bunch to work with. They’re a small, independent agency and there’s absolutely no bullshit. They’re a close-knit group, really friendly and you just slot in as part of the team immediately.
I’ve had the fortune of working on some fun briefs too, whether it be radio scripts or product naming. Just a really refreshing experience all round.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever been given?
“Get some bloody graft done, then we can go to the pub” – my first Creative Director.
What’s been your best work?
The aubergine makhani I made the other night. Lip-smackingly good.
Any low points?
Dropping a whole tin of saffron all over the kitchen floor. Do you know how expensive saffron is? Really fucking expensive.
What will you be doing in 5 years’ time?
Rifling through rubble and debris trying to survive, same as the rest of us.