Katherine Wildman is the smart Newcastle-based copywriter behind Haydn Grey. Turns out she’s neither wild nor a man. We talk writing, training and parenting.
I started the business slowly when I came back to the UK in 2008 after a couple of years as an expat in Singapore.
It was a case of making it up as I went along, saying yes to everything that was on offer, and networking my way around the North East and then London.
Meeting Andy Maslen was a game-changer for me. I went from being a freelance writer-for-hire to being an actual copywriter, with valuable skills. He showed me how to be in business and has continued to be a great mentor and friend ever since.
I needed a way to make a living that I could fit around being a single mother to two young children. The early years saw a lot of all-nighters and not much travel. Now that the kids are older, I can get to meetings in London with ease.
What’s the story behind the name? You’re not called Katherine Haydn-Grey. Or are you?
When I first started the business, I did a lot of photography work as well as writing – and I went by the business name ‘Words and Pictures’. Then the writing side of the business grew – and so I changed it to Copywriter Newcastle. Original, eh?
Again, this was where Andy stepped in and asked if I wanted clients only up here in the North East. The answer was no, and so he said: “Well, change the bloody name, woman.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that.
I needed something that I can grow if I want to – so went with something very random.
Haydn is my mum’s maiden name. She’s a great writer and sends the best letters that make me laugh out loud. She also has a brilliant eye for detail. And Grey? Simple. It makes it sound posh.
Who’s a typical client?
I’m launching a new website and brand any minute now. The site I’ve had for three years now has worked very well. But my client base has shifted from small businesses that need websites and blogs to multinational B2B clients, many of whom are in London.
I tend to work on strategic copywriting projects that take a long time from start to finish – with a big fat dose of that creative thinking that means reading a lot, getting out onto the streets, talking to different people, and feeding your brain with good things.
I live at the coast and so can be on a beach within minutes, and there’s a park a couple of streets away that’s filled with birdsong and greenery. My best ideas tend to come to me when I’m near water… especially when I’m washing up.
A lot of the brands I work with now, I can’t talk about, and so I’ve worked with Tim at Courage Creative and given him the unenviable job of ‘please show people who I work with, but without saying names’. And I have to say, he’s done a sterling job.
All will be revealed in February.
I also do a lot of tone-of-voice development for brands – and investing in Nick Parker’s Voicebox kit has brought this process to life, both for my clients and for me.
I think Nick’s magic and I love seeing people’s faces when the process is over. During the last session I did, the agency director asked me if I was a magician. That’s gold dust. I was delighted with that.
Any work you’re particularly proud of?
I work part-time as an Associate Lecturer at Northumbria University. This year I’m with the final year students, and they’re creating some extraordinary work. It’s great fun to be even a small part of their process, and I take great pride in helping them to free their up their writing and develop their own voice.
I also write a lot of corporate scripts (my final MA piece was a screenplay) and last year I wrote a series of three very different scripts for an NHS awareness campaign about bowel cancer.
The fact that my work could save someone’s life gives me a real sense of pride.
Most fun job?
Yes, but I can’t tell you about it. Sorry.
It involved a long drive at 6am, a site visit, a hard hat, thick socks and a hi-vis vest. I was in my element.
And I wish my Dad had still been alive so I could tell him about it in secret code. He was an insurance underwriter, and he knew his way around all the great big buildings and industrial sites in Huddersfield where I grew up. He would have liked to have heard about that particular adventure.
There was this one gig in a warehouse with a crash test dummy and some ill-fitting boxer shorts.
Let’s just say that what happened next wasn’t a career highlight…
You also offer training. What’s your approach?
I adore running training courses. Every course I offer is different because every person needs something different to make progress in their work.
I spend a lot of time planning each session – and offer unlimited support for the people I train after the day. There are lots of analogies about food, lots of laughter, and I try and get a photo of John Taylor from Duran Duran into each presentation. Just because.
“I’ve rarely left any training as energised, engaged and excited as I did from Katherine’s copywriting workshop. Interactive and intensely practical, the course was delivered with humour and honesty. I felt I could immediately apply what I’d learnt. Highly recommended.”
John Bizzell, Events and Awards Manager, Market Research Society
What would you have done in another life?
I came to copywriting quite late, compared with the talent we see around us every day on Twitter. I still can’t quite believe I get paid to write for a living. And I work with some rather brilliant people.
Any tips for newbie writers?
Read. A lot. Then read some more. Then go outside and listen. Take the train. Take the bus. Watch people and listen to what they say and how they speak. Don’t lend anyone your copy of Write to Sell. And try to be really easy and fun to work with.
Many of my clients are under massive amounts of pressure and work in fast-paced businesses where there’s a great deal of stress. Be the person they can call for help, be the person who’s friendly, and one who can listen.
Do your very best work for each person who commissions you. Oh, and deliver when you say you’ll deliver. That’s the crux of it all. Be the person they can trust when everything else is in flux.
Any tips for clients?
Get in touch sooner rather than later.
There’s a part of each project that needs a writer’s thinking time.
The more time we’re able to think on, around and about your brief, the better your results will be. I promise.