Copywriting - how’s that work, then?

SPEAKING at September's LFB meeting, copywriter Jackie Barrie opened with, "Hands up if you think it's harder to get money as a journalist... hands up if you think journalism and your skills are under-rated." Jackie was appearing along with freelance photographer Jill Furmanovsky, founder of see here.

Jackie Barrie; © Hazel Dunlop

Jackie Barrie gives the branch a taster of her courses on copywriting for fun and profit

Jackie runs a course on copywriting for freelance journalists. She reported one of its participants as saying that it should be called "How to make money as a journalist and not get treated like shit." Skills "that journalists can naturally transfer" into copywriting include writing slogans (or headlines as we journalists call them) and "writing to a deadline, to a budget, to a brief," but copywriters are paid and treated better, according to Jackie.

Giving us a taste of her copywriting course, Jackie explained some of the steps in the "standard copywriting formula". Your copy needs to attract, probably in order, Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction and Action.

Her talk started with a "commercial break" for some people Jackie works with, LoveHeyMic, who sell Bluetooth mikes that clip with a magnet on to your clothing. This allowed Jackie to do the commentary for a short promotional video for the product while being filmed using two smartphones from the other end of the room "with no wires".

This in turn allowed Jackie to demonstrate the standard copywriting formula with a practical example:

  • First comes getting Attention (using "pattern disruptors" - suddenly someone comes out of the audience with a phone on a tripod and starts filming her).
  • Then comes Interest (getting people's interest: "It's a Bluetooth mike - what's a Bluetooth mike...?"); then
  • Desire - persuading people why they need it;
  • Conviction (adding credibility to the marketing claims - "a new product developed by professional speakers"); and finally
  • Action - in this case getting people to take a photo of LoveHeyMic's web address, so they can find out more.

Jackie asked journalists at the meeting to form pairs to write a headline in five minutes - to promote "The Big One", a truly massive chisel-tipped nib-board pen imported from Germany, that allows presenters to write really, really big on flipcharts so even the people at the back can read what they're written during presentations.

Most of the audience's efforts were along the lines of "Size matters."

She unpacked the "work process" for a copywriting gig, from an inquiry to an "initial chat", after which she will send the client 20 questions, along the lines of "Who are you? How are you different from anybody else?" There follows a "more detailed chat" and offering them a quote, at which point she'll then invoice the client for 50 per cent, without having written a word.

There follows the draft copy, then the revised copy. If they haven't responded to the revised copy in a month, they'll be invoiced for 25 per cent more. Then they get the final version with the invoice for the remaining 25 per cent. ("As you know and I know, most of the work is at the beginning of the job.")

Average daily rates reported by the ProCopywriters network ( survey are £339 or £426 in London, "£30 an hour for beginners", £100 an hour for the very experienced. Jackie charges "by the project" having worked out how many hours will be involved and "how difficult" the client is.

Her course includes "how to find clients": in a phrase "network hard" at the beginning is her advice. She has free tips at and posts gigs she doesn't fancy or is too busy to do at

A member asked whether there is a trade union that organises copywriters. LFB Secretary Phil Sutcliffe noted that the NUJ "does include PRs, we do include copywriters."

  • This article was updated on 25/10/17 to correct a two mis-spellings of a surname, for which the author apologises