Glenn Fisher is the former accountant who swapped numbers for letters. Today, you might know him as the podcast king, best-selling author, or just as a pretty handy direct-response copywriter.
Game? Why did no one tell me this is a game? How do you win? I think I’m losing. Help. Wait, that’s not the answer you’re looking for…
In truth, I’m still figuring out what happened to this day. I was essentially training as an accountant, but something clicked/snapped/blew up in my mind and I realised I didn’t want to do that forever.
I started reading and writing. A lot. Short stories, silly things. I went to an evening class to see what I could do and the tutor said I was half decent and I should carry on writing.
So, I quit my job and did a creative writing degree as a mature student to get some proof I could actually write. That led to London, where I stumbled into a job as a copywriter for one of the biggest direct-response marketing companies in the world. Pretty lucky, really.
Also, it turned out I was quite good at copywriting. So, I stuck with that and here we are.
How does your ‘past life’ help what you do now?
In the sense that my past life is, I guess, that of an accountant… well, it helps me write copy for a lot of different financial companies these days.
But also, studying business, economics and politics back then has served me well as a copywriter generally. The analytical skills you need for those subjects are useful.
Plus, studying those subjects has afforded me a wider understanding of the world, which I might have missed if I’d come into writing only through reading Emily Dickinson and Thomas Hardy.
Of course, my other ‘past life’ as a Victorian chambermaid serves no purpose today, but I have fond memories regardless.
You’re known for your direct-response work. Any reason you chose to specialise?
Again, it was chance. Or was it? Is this all merely a ruse?
No, it’s not a ruse. It was chance.
Little did I know but Agora was run at the time by direct-response master copywriters and I managed to train under them for many years.
I’ve later realised the principles of direct response are pretty fundamental in all types of copywriting, so that early specialisation has served me well.
What inspired you to host your podcast?
I’ve always loved listening to people talk about copy. I also used to run an internal copy call, where I’d speak to someone about copy and people would listen in. I knew I wanted to carry on doing something like that when I went freelance.
At the same time, I realised the podcast format allowed me to be a bit more creative too and scratch the itch I’ve always had to do a bit of comedy. Thankfully, the two seem to work together and people are enjoying it.
And now it’s become a live thing too, which is weird. I hope to be the first copywriter invited onto a BBC Three panel show. I think that’s a reasonable ambition.
What’s your finest hour as a writer?
10am-11am? Though if you’re looking for a less literal answer, I think it’s probably publishing my first proper book. That was a nice moment. And in turn, publishing the book has helped me connect with so many more fellow writers, which is brilliant.
Any notable disasters?
Copywriting is about ideas. And to get to the good ideas, you have to work through the bad ideas. So, believe me, I have had some bad ideas in my time. But I’m cool with that.
Disaster-wise, I am reminded of the time I accidently wrote ‘Dead Reader’ instead of ‘Dear Reader’ as the salutation on a sales letter and it managed to sneak through the various proofing stages and get sent out like that in the mail.
Weirdly, despite the strange salutation, the letter still converted very well.
And any pet peeves?
Quite a lot. But I’m trying to live a more stoic life and be more forgiving, so I tend to try and understand why the thing is annoying me and see it from the other person’s side.
I wrote a piece recently about people who make bold, absolutist proclamations about advertising. Some so-called guru will say: “This is the way it has to be, and it will work 100% of the time.” I hate that. In reality, there’s so much more nuance to everything in advertising and I think it’s important to discuss that.
But I guess those people are having to be so bold and assertive because they don’t have a deep enough understanding of the subject or lack experience. The more forgiving me should sympathise with them for the day they realise they were talking complete nonsense.
Who are your copywriting heroes?
Hmm. Hero is a strong word. And I’ve never really thought about it, especially in terms of ‘copywriting’. Immediately in my mind when you say heroes, at least from a writerly point of view, I’m thinking of Paul Auster, Milan Kundera, Stewart Lee. But they’re just people I think are excellent at what they do with words. They’re not copywriters.
A different way to answer is maybe to say I like people who are willing to take time to think and are generous with their ideas.
One of the great things about doing the podcast is I get to meet and talk to a lot of inspiring people in the industry who are like that. Most recently I’ve spoken with people like Rory Sutherland, Jane Evans and Joanna Abeyie, who are just three of many people I find inspiring.
And favourite books?
That’s too hard. I guess that’s why I recommend a couple at the end of every podcast. But ones I regularly recommend to people are: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera, How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.
They have nothing to do with copywriting directly, but I think you can learn a lot about the craft – engaging with people, structuring narratives, pace, tone of voice, empathy – by reading them. That ‘by reading them’ bit at the end of that sentence was a bit weird, right? Just goes to show you should always keep reading to figure out ways to improve your writing.
What did you last read?
The History of Philosophy by A C Grayling, which kind of broke my mind a bit. But it was good. On my bedside at the moment is The Hungry and the Fat by Timur Vermes, which I’m enjoying. He wrote Look Who’s Back, which is an excellent comedy about what would happen if Hitler came back today.
And what did you have for breakfast today?
A bagel with a friend egg in it. And coffee. I may or may not have had a coconut tart afterwards. I cannot confirm or deny this.
Any tips for newbie writers?
I mean, I have quite a few, hence writing the book. But I’m coming to the thought that the most important piece of advice is to not write a word until you know what to write. That sounds obvious, but it’s so fundamental.
And tips for clients?
Understand that the way you communicate with your potential customers is the single most important thing you need to worry about in business. In turn, realise that it’s worth giving a copywriter time to think about the best way to do that. Don’t let the copy become a secondary thing.
1 If you’ve not checked out the latest episode of The All Good Copy Podcast, you should. The feedback has been ace.
2 The Art of the Click is now a best-seller on Amazon and shortlisted for a Business Book Award 2019.
“Don’t write another word till you’ve read The Art of the Click.” Drayton Bird, former Creative Director at Ogilvy.