Dave Harland is our guest on the 339th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast. After starting a career as a soccer (or should we say football) reporter in Manchester, Dave shifted to the world of copywriting where he’s known for coming up with big ideas and a method to execute them. In this episode, you’ll find out exactly how he makes it happen.
You’ll also learn:
- How Dave improved his copy skills with limited technology capabilities.
- Why he branded himself using “word” rather than “copy.”
- How he organized his portfolio when he first started his business.
- A typical day in the life of Dave and how he balances client work with his own business goals.
- Why writers need time to simmer in their thoughts and why they shouldn’t rush the critical thinking process.
- How to get bigger brands to notice you.
- The 3 question test Dave uses when coming up with a big idea.
- How many projects are too many projects?
- His method for attracting clients and building his brand using LinkedIn.
- How to find your voice, break the rules, and connect with your audience.
- Dave’s path to becoming the “copywriting comedian.”
- Why you need to create a connection in anything you write.
- How he uses AI as a firestarter and as a means to eliminate the most common ideas.
- Why he believes ChatGPT won’t replace dedicated, skilled copywriters.
Tune into the episode by hitting play or reading the transcript below.
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Rob Marsh: There’s a saying among copywriters, especially online conversion copywriters that goes back to Eugene Schwartz. He put it like this: sales copy is not written, copy is assembled. And of course that’s true. The messages that customers relate to best are assembled from interviews, surveys, and other research. But in subscribing to this idea, a lot of copywriters have inadvertently lost the connection to creativity and copy. After all, what’s the point of being creative if the words are in the survey responses?
Our guest for The Copywriter Club podcast today takes a more creative approach than many copywriters we know. Dave Harland, also known as the word man, walked us through his 10-step process for coming up with big, compelling ideas. And he shared three questions that he asks every time he comes up with a good headline or a good idea, to make sure that it is good. He also talked in-depth about his unconventional approach to posting on LinkedIn, one that has attracted a lot of great clients for his business. If you want to be more creative in your approach to copywriting, this episode is for you.
Kira Hug: But before we get to the interview, this podcast is sponsored by the Copywriter Think tank. That is our mastermind for copywriters, content writers and other marketers who want to figure out the next thing in their businesses. That could be anything from creating a new revenue stream or a couple new revenue streams to launching a new product or a subscription service or a membership or podcast book. You name it.
Our members are doing incredible things and we actually have a retreat coming up in early June. It’s a virtual retreat and in-person retreat in London in September. And so we are really excited to add a couple of new members to the Think Tank before the retreat in June. And if you think that could be you, visit copywriterthinktank.com to apply. Let’s kick off our episode with Dave.
Dave Harland: Probably like most people fell into it completely by accident. My, no, my background is journalism, so I did a journalism degree. I mean, before that, I loved writing as a kid, as I presume most copywriters. Had a love of words growing up. Got into Scrabble when I was six with my dad and just never looked back, really. Started writing poems and stories and loved English at school. So yeah, that led me down a journalism path. So I did work experience at the local paper when I was at school for a couple of weeks and just loved the buzz of that.
And then yeah, went to university to do a journalism degree. So I was a three-year undergrad degree in journalism, which really opened my eyes to all the different kinds of types and styles that were out there. I just thought when I went there, I was just writing about news. Didn’t for one moment think I’d be learning how to package up a radio news article, or we did a little bit of TV as well. I haven’t got a face for TV at all. So we tried that. And then watching it back, I just looked all kind of nervous and my tongue was hanging out. It was like “TV isn’t for me.”
And at the time they just introduced an online route. So it was online journalism. In your third year, you get to spec, specialize in TV, newspapers, radio, or this new route online. And in a class of a hundred, there were only two of us that went online. I mean, I’m talking 2002, 2003. So, Google was only in its infancy. There was no social media at all really. Maybe MySpace was just starting, but there was nothing like that. And I thought, “That’s where the world’s headed. Let’s do this.”
So I learned a little bit of Photoshop, learned about Dreamweaver and basic HTML and some of them things that I learned back then I still use today. Maybe not in the copywriting side of things, but certainly on my website, or when creating little memes and things. So that was the journalism side of things. But then I only really did four months of journalism. I worked as a football reporter, or, sorry, soccer reporter just for a website based in Manchester, which isn’t far from where I live. But I was only there for three or four months. My face didn’t really fit. So I was scrappy looking for a new job, and my old university came calling and said, “You fancy being the editor of our journalism department website?” So I went back there and I still thought that was like, “Oh, it’s great journalism. I’m interviewing students.” It was promoting the university in all the courses, really. I was a secret copywriter, but I didn’t know it.
So then, yeah, I was there for a couple of years and then got a job as an actual copywriter for a Christmas hamper company, which is a bit of a mad one. But yeah, it was around the corner from where I lived, and at the time I was kind of… I’d just met a girl, moved back home rather than being at the university. So it was just a nice little fit. Again, it was a copywriting role, but it did it. The job title was content and communications coordinator. I was like the editor of their customer magazine. So again, I still wasn’t a 100%, I’d never really heard the word copywriter before until about two years in when they asked me to start doing, they’re that direct mail letters and some kind of product descriptions for their catalog, which is when they official say, “Oh, so I’m a copywriter now, let’s Google that and find out all I can.”
So that led me to where I am. So that was about 17 years ago I joined that company. So I’ve been doing it ever since then. So yeah, I was there for 10 years and then got a bit bored. I will probably outstay my welcome by about five years. And then a friend of mine had just moved to an agency in Dubai, and started asking me if I wanted to do some projects for him. That was about two years before I left. And then after those two years, I was earning more on the side than I was in my day job, and it made sense to go it alone and be a full-time freelance copywriter.
So that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. So over the past seven years, yeah, pure generalist, everything from email campaigns and tone of voice projects to banner ads and conceptual stuff. I tend to leave the longer form blog posts and case studies and the more content market and stuff for the sector specialist. So I tend to focus more on the big idea, more leaning towards stuff with humor and personality of late. So that’s me, in a nutshell.
Rob Marsh: So as you talk about that, Dave, obviously you had the journalism training. Did you ever have any specific copywriting training or was everything learned on the job? And I guess, what would you say are the three or four big things that you had to learn in order to become really good at what you do, and this is me saying you’re really good at what you do.
Dave Harland: Oh, nice one, because I find it hard to take compliments sometimes. No, when you’re just kind of working on it and people say, oh, you really good, I’m just like, “Oh, whatever. It just fell into this.” I think it’s probably because I haven’t got that kind of formal training. So training-wise, when I was about three years into that job at the Christmas hamper company, they said, “Why don’t you do courses someday, just to learn some really intense skills?” So I did a few one-day courses. There’s a place called the IDM in London Institute of Data and Marketing. So they do some really good, just, I think it was just one or two-day courses, one on how to write more powerful direct mail letters. Another one, how to write a really impactful sales email. So I did about three or four of those, and they really gave me the foundation in most of the fundamental skills that I use today.
So put the reader first, and the importance of benefits over features and the staples of which form the basis of most of the stuff I still write today, and probably what most copywriters out there write. So by doing these courses, it gave me the confidence to see myself as a copywriter, and not so much a journalist anymore. So yeah, aside from that, nothing else. It was just learning as I went.
Did loads of testing at the company where we were at. So we were testing email subject lines, and because it was a Christmas hamper company, and orders were coming in all the time, you could see what was working and what wasn’t, so we could really hone the copy on the fly, which is good. We never really got to do much testing on websites or anything like that. That functionality came after I’d left, but I’d have loved to use that as well.
Kira Hug: What helped you transition from your agency time to going freelance? You mentioned you had, I think, one project from one client, but what else helped you make that jump?
Dave Harland: Yeah, so well, I started off with one project for my friend’s new agency, and that was, I think it was an IT website, a 10-pager. And I think I charged something. It was really low, it was a couple of hundred pounds, which is, I think I charged 20 times that, now, for the equivalent of what I did. So it was just, for me, it was just like, “Wow, I can earn money. I get paid actual money. I’m not waiting for the end of the month for my salary to drop in. I’ve just been paid from that.” So I was like, “How can I do more of that?”
So the agency themselves was sending me a little bit more work. It wasn’t like by any means regular stuff that I could really sack my job off and go all in on that. But it opened my eyes to what was possible. So I thought, “How can I do a little bit more of this, and not just rely on the agency?” So I thought, “Right, I need to do two things. I need to market myself.”
So I created this brand, so I branded myself, the Word Man, used the word, “Word” specifically rather than copy because I thought in the early days I’ll be targeting small businesses, many of whom will not have even heard the word copywriter. Somebody might have said, “Oh, your copy rubbish, you need to speak to a copywriter.”
As most copywriters know, at one point or another they’ve had an email in their inbox asking about trademarks and all of that type of stuff. So there’s that confusion. So I made sure, right, let’s ground it in the word “Word” rather than “Copy.” So that’s what I did. And then I put a portfolio together of everything that I’d really written that I was kind of proud of from the job that I was at, from stuff that I did when I was a kid. So even stories, some spec stuff, just little Twitter contests and stuff, where I come up with ideas for random brands or charities and stuff. So all of that, I just looked kind of lumped on that website.
And I spoke to a few SEO nerds as well that were at my previous company who showed me how to start ranking number one for all the local searches for copywriters. So where I’m based in Liverpool, Liverpool copywriter, I’ve been number one since I set that up, really. And at all at the kind of local towns and stuff, I’m number one when people search for that, so I was hitting the top of Google when any of those types of businesses were searching, and I made sure that you had the copy itself was just, it wasn’t talking about strategic innovations, or anything like that. It was just really down-to-earth stuff, speaking to Bob who runs a factory who’s been told “You’ll get more business if people understand what you do, because at the moment you’re just waffling on your website.”
So I was speaking to Bob on my website when he landed there, everything made sense to him and I started getting inquiries from local people as well. So I had this study agency stuff coming from my friend in Dubai, where I work. I worked with them probably for about six or seven years, and don’t do much stuff for them anymore. But I was doing stuff regularly for them for a while.
And then just projects coming in from local people. Like I said before, after about… I think it was less than two years, it was only nine months. Nine months after doing that first project, I set the website up, put my portfolio on there, started getting clients and was earning more on the side than it was in my day job. So I was just like, “Right, it’s now or ever. Let’s go for it.” So yeah, I handed them my notice, and that was 2016, so I’ve been doing it ever since.
Rob Marsh: And what does a typical day look like for you today, Dave? What kinds of projects are you working on, clients that you’re working with? I know you’re still working with a lot of little guys, yeah? Or is it bigger than that now?
Dave Harland: Not so much, nope. It’s probably 80% big brands or brand big brands through agencies and then 20% the odd smaller clients, if it’s a fun project, if they get in touch and say, “We want to have a bit of a laugh with our advertising,” or “Our stuff’s a little bit boring, how can you turn the dial up in terms of our humor?” So they’re the smaller businesses that I’ll work with, but yeah, I’d say four out of five of them are bigger brands.
So I’ll work either directly with those businesses who will find me, could be through the socials. I do an email every Friday. I get clients through that. And then there’s the other 50% of those of that 80% is agencies. So I’ll be working on their client stuff, or occasionally for their own lead gen stuff. I do quite a lot of that for agencies as well, who, especially at the moment, the economic downturn and more agencies are looking at how we can market ourselves and stand out. So yeah, it’s pretty much a 50/50 split I’d say with agencies and businesses. So my day normally starts by getting punched in the face.
I’ve got a little 20-month old little boy, so yeah, off quite early. I’m in an early bed as well, so I’m normally in the office before 8:00. Well, between 8:00 and 9:00, I suppose. But getting not as early as it used to be, I used to be a proper early bird. It used to be like 6:00 AM starts before we had Jack, but now, yeah, now, they’re few and far between. But yeah, it obviously depends on what project I’m working on, what it’ll be but I tend to do about three and a half days worth of client work a week.
So actual writing, thinking, project stuff. And then the other day and a half I’ll spend either… Permit myself on social media, writing my own market and email or doing any other bits and bobs that come with running a freelance business, which nobody really understands unless they do it. All of the admin, replying to emails, putting proposals together, taking photos of receipts so I can claim expenses, all of that stuff. Which people just… Yeah, if you don’t run a business, you don’t realize all that goes on.
Kira Hug: So, you have such an impressive portfolio after working with all these big brands. And for a copywriter who might be listening to this and is like, I want to do that too, I want to work with the big brands, what advice would you give them, especially if they’re just starting out beyond “Experience, get better,” what else can they start to do to position themselves for that type of work?
Dave Harland: Yeah, I think getting that type of stuff off the bat straight away is tough. I think unless you’ve been established for a while or you’ve kind of built that reputation or portfolio working with the bigger brands, I think it’s going to be tough for those types of… To get those bigger projects from the off. Certainly having a portfolio of all your best work so you can demonstrate straight away exactly what you are good at and what you can provide. I think that’s hugely important. But there’s a couple of ways that you can also target those businesses.
And I did a talk last week to some Gen Z copywriters and they were asking me the same things, “Oh, how can we stand out? How can we make a bigger brand notice us?” And I said, “Well, if you know Target a brand that you really want to work for, have a look at everything they do, have a look at their market and have a look at their website, see if there’s anything on there which isn’t particularly good, and rewrite it and send it to somebody who’s in charge of that. Whether it’s the brand manager, the market and manager, whoever oversees that bit.”
You don’t have to be like, “Oh, aren’t I great? I’ve rewritten this.” If you can demonstrate your skills as a copywriter, the first thing you should be able to do is market yourself, and talk about yourself and persuade people like you are the right choice. So yeah, one other way… I mean I’d probably take it to the extreme in my newsletter. So I tend to pick on the really, really, really bad stuff, and just go to town on what’s really bad in a… I’m doing it more for entertainment than being really vindictive. But yeah, that’s the approach that I take.
But yeah, I was saying to these more junior copywriters, that’s one way in, take something that those brands have done and if there’s something particularly not working, demonstrate how you could make it better and improve on it. So that’s one way to; the cutthroat way, of going straightforward really.
Rob Marsh: So, earlier when you were talking about some of the approach that you have to your business, you talked about the big idea, you’re the person that comes up with a big idea, I think that’s really obvious in your newsletter, in your social media posts, and we’ll definitely want to talk more about that, what your approach is there.
But before we do that, talk about coming up with big ideas. And I know this is a little bit nebulous, there’s not a process that necessarily works for everybody, but how do you do it? Where do those ideas come from? How deep do you get into the weeds in order to find those ideas? Just your thinking around that.
Dave Harland: It varies from project to project. I suppose the ideal project would be where I’ve got complete access to that brand or that business’s customers, the people that work for the brand speaking to them, it’s just so invaluable. I know there’s copywriters out there, who are writing stuff, having never even spoken or heard anything from the people who are actually buying from that brand. And it’s such a quick win to be able to speak to those people.
So wherever possible, ask to speak to one or two, or even up to five, maybe, of their client and just ask them about what’s it like, what’s this brand like? What’s your past experience with them? What are the products like? Have they ever failed? What do you tell people about these products? Nine times all the time. It’s like, “I don’t give this stuff a second thought, I just wash my hair with this shampoo. I don’t care.” And that’s the way it should be. Really no one, one wants a shampoo brand to be their best mate as much as they try.
But the process, certainly looking into or doing that research into the voice of the customer. And it’s handy to speak to people that work for them as well. So speaking to their staff and various people involved in whatever processes go on behind the scenes, especially if I’m writing a brand story, or any kind of social media stories which really explain what that brand does, and the process that they go through to deliver the service or create a product. So that’s definitely the first step. Sometimes they won’t be available to you, so you’ll have to do a little bit of digging. So I’ll have a look on forums or I’ll have a look on review sites and Facebook reviews and stuff like that.
You can actually pick a load of really nice little sound bites up there. Just a lot of customers when you speak to them, maybe it’s like when you’re filling out a survey, they feel a little bit on the spot. They should be only saying nice stuff about this stuff. Whereas when they’re slagging off a brand or a company on the socials, that’s where they’re using the real hearty emotive stuff. So yeah, that’s a crucial one as well to dig into forums and review sites and have a look at how they actually talk.
So that’s the way I get the voice of the customer in my head. So, now and again, they’ll have a tone of voice documents or some kind of previous copy, which is “This is how we sound, this is how we want to come across.” But by listening to how the customers talk as well, that allows me to get almost an entirely new vocab in my head. So when I’m writing the stuff, I can really play back some of those phrases back to them, even if they’re not contained, or not within the constraints of the brand’s tone of voice guidelines. So that’s crucial.
I mean, there’s other research as well. I will always try and get hold of a product. So I’ve been writing for a headphones brand recently. I’ve got the product, so I’ve got three of their products. So I’ve had to play around with them, you can feel… I think when you can feel something, and the case for these headphones, it’s got a little velvet interior, you feel the quality. So when I’m describing them, I wouldn’t have been able to describe them without having them in my hands and playing with them.
So, whenever possible, get hold of the product, which again, it’s not always possible. If you’re writing about super yachts or whatever, you’re not going to get a free week on a super yacht, are you, you’ve just probably got to wing it. But if they’re services or products, try and use the service or at least get a demo of the service. So I’d say that as far as the kind of research side of things should go, really as long as you research the customers, the clients, as long as you know the product inside-out so you can get a feel for the benefits, the pitfalls, and how it’s going to improve people’s lives.
And then the big idea, I mean it’s a hard one to articulate, because sometimes it can just come from anywhere. What I tend to do is plow through all of that, the reading and the research stuff at the very start. So that’s all in there. And then I’ll just leave it for a few days. I’ll go away, just let some thoughts fester in there. Usually after about 24 to 48 hours of that, I could wake up in the middle of the night, the baby will be crying or whatever and I’ll be like, “Ah, what’s that?” I’ll get my phone out. There’ll be a couple of headlining ideas or even just a couple of angles, which I know is an angle into how I’m going to build this big idea. And it might just be a couple of words.
So if I’m writing about headphones, if it’s like I want to talk about comfort, I might go into, “Okay, oh I could talk about the comfiest things in the world.” So what’s that? “Okay, you’ve got… What’s the fluffiest thing? Pillows, clouds,” so that I’m in the middle of the night, just going, jotting all of this stuff down. It might not come to anything. I might read it two days later and go, “Yeah, that was a load of… What’s the point?”
But usually there’s something within those really early rough notes that will form the basis of an idea that I can take to the next stage. And those ideas, yeah, they’re just connecting to usually disparate things. So when I’m thinking about the product, like you said, if my angle is common comfort, I’ll have a thing, I’ll just go round the houses in terms of the word “Comfort.” So even as rudimentary as at the start of most jobs, I’ll get a sheet of paper, cut it into four boxes, and in the top left box I’ll do experiences. So my own experiences of that product and the top right box are synonyms. So other words for that product, the bottom left is idioms. So, common phrases and cliches. Most of that’s just to discount all the obvious ones really. And then in the bottom one rhymes.
So I go from an initial inkling of the big idea, to having a load of suitable words that I can play around with. So once those initial ideas are down, that’s when I start building on, it’s almost like an idea… A vocabulary that I can use, per big idea. And then again, I’ll just play around with that, leave it a day or two. And again, it’s crucial, back to the advice I can give to junior copywriters and copywriters wanting to take that next leap. Time is just crucial. And I know at agencies, you don’t really get it as much as you should. If you free your lunch, try and build two weeks into it, coming up with an idea. Don’t say, “Oh yeah, I’ll get back to you in two days.” Because your brain hasn’t got that time to process it and do all that crucial thinking.
So yeah, back to the idea. I’ve done my initial research and thinking I’ve got the words down and then that’s where the connections will start firing. Then I’ll be playing around with the word. So one of them rhymes or one of them idioms. If it was music, it might be a popular phrase with the word music in for earphones, you know, “Music to your ears”, I might change the word ears around, “Music to your eyes” if they add a visual connection, or “Music to your…” And I’ll just be playing around with all of these different phrases, and that might just magically form the perfect line which the idea can hang off.
And then I’ll look at how that idea can then extend whatever the deliverables are, whether they want an email, whether they want… It’s an out of home ad. I’ll then start… do the elevator pitch of what the idea is, and then just test it within. Will that flex for an out of home ad. What are some headlines I could write about this idea? What’s a couple of subject lines that might make people open an email if we wrote it? And just kind of flesh it out.
Sometimes if the idea doesn’t work, you’ll notice it within those early stages. And I wrote about this in my newsletter the other week, whenever I’ve come up with… normally not this… it’s not normally the big idea I’ll do this with, but one of the execution examples. So say I’ve come up with a headline to test that headline, I’ll run it through a little three-question filter, which is does it grab attention? Number one, because if it doesn’t get noticed, what’s the point? Number two is, will your target audience understand it? So is it clear enough? Again, if they don’t get it, you’ve wasted your time.
And then the third one is, will they feel something when they read that enough to go, “Oh, I’ll pick up the phone.” Or even just to go, “Oh, I’ll file that in my little brain’s filing cabinet so when the time comes for me to buy these headphones, that’s who I’m going to because that spoke to me.” Pass that three-question test, which you look out there, certainly in the B2B world, none of them headlines are passing that test already, let’s be honest. Unlock your futures.” It’s all gobbledygook isn’t it? Or the majority of it is. It’s not… certainly not striking a chord to people. So that’s it, really, in a nutshell.
Kira Hug: So many good ideas in there. I’m wondering how many projects you’re juggling at one time? Because I’m just imagining, you sit with an idea and then you come back to it a couple days later. So what does that juggle of projects look like on a regular basis?
Dave Harland: Yeah, I’ve been a glutton for taking on too much work in the past, and getting to that point where my brain just feels like “Blah,” it’s like full of bees. All of these ideas, it’s like headbutting each other as they’re flying around. So it’s taken a while. Also, I’m greedy. I love earning money, especially for myself. Because everything I do ends up making money for me as a freelancer. So I’m like, right, yeah, I want to earn that, I want to earn that much. Can I take that work on, and squeeze it in on Tuesday afternoon, yeah? Whereas now it’s like time’s so much more valuable to me since having a little one and slowing down the pace a little bit.
That’s said, I’m still probably working on a maximum of three projects at any one time. So I’ll be working on… Yeah, at the moment I’m working on a big email and email automation rewrite for one brand. I’m doing some tonal rewrites for a website, for a Cloud phone, these office cloud phone companies. And I’m also just starting a tone of voice project for the housing company. So they’re the three ones I’ve got at the moment. So I’m just, they’re the ones that I’m allowing to ruminate around my head. Any more than that, like I said, it gets a bit messy and a bit hard to manage, especially if you push for time.
Kira Hug: All right Rob, why don’t you kick us off. You know the drill.
Rob Marsh: I do know this drill. So there are a lot of things that I think are worth touching base on. Number one was just Dave’s framework for coming up with big ideas, and we should probably encourage everybody to just listen to that on a loop maybe three or four times. I’ll just quickly reiterate the different steps, because as he was talking about it, I started to bullet it out. I’m like, “Wow, there’s actually a lot of stuff going on here.” So number one, you mentioned looking at interviewing customers. Second, interviewing staff founders, people who are involved with the company or the product itself.Number three, digging into forums and reviews and trying to find the real emotive stuff, because that isn’t always in surveys, it’s in the places where people talk about things where the company’s not involved. So Reddit, kind of things.
Number four, getting your hands on the product to test and play with so that you can identify things that you wouldn’t be able to see if you don’t actually have it. Five is to do the reading, so reading through the briefing materials, anything that the client has provided, maybe previous marketing materials that have been done for the product or the service before. Six, just letting things sit for a couple of days. Seven is then coming up with the ideas and the angles that just come from letting it marinate in your brain. And then eight, as you start mixing those up, the ideas, the words, the synonyms, looking for something that maybe comes out of that.
Dave, then step nine talked about the four boxes that he draws, experiences, synonyms, idioms and rhymes, and just having that vocabulary of ideas to play with. Then he leaves it for a day or two again, and really starts coming up with the idea. So I think it’s a really good framework for thinking through how you do it. It’s no wonder that he said you should have at least two weeks to do it properly.
Kira Hug: Yeah, and there are a lot of steps in there. So I think maybe I need even more than that. I think just listening to him talk through the process, and all the steps involved and then just how you really do need to sit with it and how the ideas pop into his head at 3:00 AM. It just reminded me of how we do need to give ourselves time for these projects, and how we need to give ourselves space.
And I know that’s what so many of us are missing right now. It’s like we just feel like there’s no space to actually be creative, and to do the type of work we want to do. And so we’ve talked to a writer recently who mentioned that he works on a 100-plus projects a month and they’re smaller projects and he’s this incredible writer, but there’s not a lot of space to be creative, and when you’re cranking through 100 projects.
And so Dave mentioned that ideally he’s working on no more than three at a time and I think we all have to figure out what that number is. Maybe it’s probably not 100, but it could be for you, it could be 10, it could be six, it could be one. For some copywriters we’ve interviewed, they can only do one at a time because that’s how their brain works best and that’s how they deliver the best work. So just figuring out what that flow is for you can be really helpful.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, another thing that stood out to me as Dave was talking, he intentionally branded himself as the Word Man instead of using copy in his name. And this strikes me as something that more of us ought to be cognizant about. Not that we necessarily want to call ourselves the Word Writer or that, but just being aware that oftentimes our clients don’t use the same words to talk about what we do, that we use.
So they don’t think about the copy on their website, they might think about the words on their website or they don’t think about top-of-funnel materials, or bottom-of-funnel, or even funnel. So there’s all these words that we use and we need to be really careful when we’re talking about those, especially in marketing situations, when we’re trying to talk about the problems that we solve, we need to make sure that we’re using the words that they use. So he did it in a really clever way, just as he was naming himself, but it’s something more of us need to be doing in the ways that we talk to our clients.
Kira Hug: Which means you actually have to understand who your client is first, and how they talk, and their level of awareness of marketing. And that’s why it’s tricky and you can’t just market to everyone because “Word” will resonate with certain business owners and not with other business owners. So just goes back to knowing your ideal client really well, which Dave clearly did and does. He also mentioned his test that he runs his copy through and runs his messaging through, and the questions that he asks when he’s running it through that test.
Number one, does it grab attention? Number two, will your target audience understand it? And number three, will they give a crap? Will they actually care about it? I think that’s such a simple test, but we could run all of our copy through that test and do much better work because of it.
Rob Marsh: This reminds me of something that David Ogilvy used to talk about… or he wrote about it, and he’d say something like, the headline on an ad does 80% of the work because of everybody who reads a headline, only 20% go on to read the body copy. And I’ve always thought that that’s maybe not quite it. I think part of the problem is most headlines are so bad that this is the only part of the ad that gets read. And if headlines were better, more people would read more ads. And it’s those three questions, the attention, understanding, and do I care, that I think help make headlines great.
Kira Hug: All right, well let’s jump back to our interview with Dave to figure out how he uses LinkedIn a little bit differently in his business.
Rob Marsh: So Dave, I want to shift a little bit and talk about what you do with social media. So many experts are like, “Okay, you got to show up on LinkedIn, you got to be talking about the things that you do.” And my sense is that you don’t necessarily take the standard approach on LinkedIn. You’re posting conversations you’re having with scammers, you’re, like you said, poking fun at different companies or different approaches. Talk about your approach and why you take that approach as opposed to the expert’s advice as to what we’re supposed to be talking about when we talk about copywriting and marketing.
Dave Harland: Well the two big places I’m active on social are LinkedIn and Twitter. So let’s take LinkedIn. Twitter’s mainly my creative mates. Don’t really get much work on there, so let’s discount that, for this one, which is more about marketing me, and me picking up clients. LinkedIn, I probably get 70% of my clients off there. It’s the golden goose. It’s worked wonders for me. So I started, we started taking it seriously, it was when I really noticed that LinkedIn changed its newsfeed to look a little bit like Facebook in 2017, I think it was 2018.
I was contracting at the time and had a little bit of downtime every Friday afternoon when everyone had clocked off and I was still contracted, do half an hour and there was no other work for me to do. So I was like, “I’ll just plan some posts for next week.” So I did one post on the… which… Before I get onto that, at the time I’d already noticed most people are just seeing this as an extension of their CV, not really marketing themselves and any time they’re talking about themselves or what they do, it’s all “I’m delighted to announce we’ve just launched this new product” or “Such and such happened to me today.”
Nobody on there really that I was connected to anyway, was taking the proper marketing approach, hadn’t done the research and knowing exactly who they’re targeting. They had certainly had no strategy, and the tactic they were employing was just all talking about themselves. There was nothing strategic about it. So straightaway I’d identified, if I’m smart here, I can stand out just by being everything that they’re not. So what are they doing? So one, they’re all talking about themselves. So I was going to make everything about the people I’m speaking to.
So that began with tips, advice. I was giving away everything I knew about copywriting and journalism, I suppose even to a small extent, giving all of that away for free. So I was doing little tips, little guides. No one was doing it at the time. So that helped me stand out. But there was one post in particular which was a post, “How to charge more for the same thing.” And it was just writing about sausage on toast. Do you get that in America? Sausage on toast?
Rob Marsh: Sort of, sort of. I mean variations. Yeah.
Dave Harland: Yeah, yeah. So it was just, you can buy it from… There’s a van outside our office here, which does… You can get one on a Friday morning and it’s like a couple of pounds. So all I did was just three examples of flowery writing and to improve the product description of the sausage on toast, and you can charge more for it. So it was sausage on toast, one pound, and then two award-winning linkage or sausages on sourdough toast, three pounds. And then the last one was an advert for a really high-end Harrods, or someone, it was like “Two hand-reared, lovingly, warm, buttered toast,” all of that type of stuff.
And then at the end I put a call to action, if you want me to do this type of stuff for your products, give me a bell. And it just went nuts. That was the first viral post I’d ever experienced. It was overnight, a million views. I had hundreds of people landing on me, “Oh, can you do this for our stuff? We don’t know how to write about our stuff, can you do that?” And it wasn’t even really copywriting, it was just using these flowery adjectives to describe stuff a little bit nicer, but the fact that it hit a few sweet spots.
So it was really simple, so everyone got it. It was relatable, I wasn’t talking about IT tech here, talking about that’s something that everyone can relate to. So sausage on toast on a Friday morning. It was transferable so everyone could see it straight away, and either do it themselves for their business, or get me to do it for them. So we had all of the nice things, and it was just really normal, said about relatable as well. You see certainly now in the world of AI chatbots and stuff and everything’s manufactured and nothing’s got that real humanity to it anymore or there’s a lot less humanity.
And me doing that post, it felt like it stood out because everything else was all about business and clients and work and products, and this was just about an everyday thing, like having your breakfast. And I think that’s what worked for it.So that was the first time I started going on, “Well, I’m going to take this thing seriously,” but it was only really I’d say at the start of the lockdown where I doubled down on doing the funny stuff. So I’d switch from being “Copy with personality,” to full-on “This is the funny, the silly, the daft,” and I’m going to show you why this is going to help your brand win if you do this type of stuff. It’s going to help you stand out more, be more engaging. Not all brands obviously, but certain brands, for the right audience, it’s going to work. So that’s what I did.
So for the last two to three years I’ve just gone all in and doing the daft, the funny stuff, just trying to make light of as much as I can, really. So those different types… Back to the tactics you mentioned before, the scammer stories. So that was just… I just saw that… Like I mentioned before, if you see a bad bit of copy in the wild approach the company rewrite it for them, demonstrate what you do. When this scammer landed in, it was like, “Hi there, Dave,” with such-and-such Bitcoin. I was like, let’s just take the conversation down a weird little rabbit-hole just to see if I can come up with an idea on the fly. If anything, it’s testing my ability to just think of scenarios, think of character names, just take it wherever.
I never ever plan them. It’s just a little mental test to see if I can whip some kind of narrative out of this and turn it into a funny story. It doesn’t always work out. Some of them, they’ve bailed before I’ve even got to the silly stuff. But for a lot of them, yeah, they’ve turned out to be nice little, just weird little, almost like vignettes, just standalone stories. Yes. Straight away, I thought “Why not? I’ll just start sticking these on on LinkedIn,” which again, people are just talking about the businesses, they’re not putting stuff on there, which is basically just the silliest stuff.
And I’m talking like pure toilet humor, you know if you’ve read them. I make up ridiculous business names with acronyms, which when you spell them out, they’re just rude words. I make up silly character names. This stuff should not really belong on LinkedIn, traditionally, if LinkedIn’s seen as this big traditional business platform. So when I started doing that, I was amazed that I was getting clients off the back of us saying, “I’ve read that, I’ve shared it with everyone, but can you do that type of funny, daft stuff for us? We really need that type of humor in what we do.”
So I was like, “Yeah.” So I’ve got clients off the back of it and again, there’ll be people… There’s always three or four, I’ll publish one this morning, actually no one said this today yet, but there’s normally three or four saying, “I don’t know where you find the time. How have you got the time for this?” And I always reply, “I’ve always got time for business developments. This isn’t just me having a laugh, this is me practicing writing, it’s putting stuff on the socials to market my business, and it’s bringing in client work. It’s the furthest from me just messing around than it could be.” So yeah, that’s normally when the penny drops for them when they realize I’m not just doing this for a laugh. It’s all part of the strategy. And it has been since I switched to this full-on all guns blazing. Silly, daft, funny side.
Rob Marsh: You’re not doing it for a laugh, but it makes us laugh as viewers looking at it.
Kira Hug: So, I got a couple questions about it. First of all, I do, you mentioned AI, so we definitely want to ask you about your opinions on AI. The other, I sent you a LinkedIn request so we can be friends on LinkedIn and it’s pending, so whenever you can accept that, I just want to make sure we get that connection. And then third, the question is, I mean you shared what you’ve been doing on LinkedIn and how it’s worked for you. I think that’s really helpful. I guess if you could offer me advice or someone listening who is like, “Okay, I want to use LinkedIn in this same way. I want to be funny and my silly self and I want to get business off of it.” What do you feel like working today that could help them? Or is it just doing everything you just told us, it’s still working and we should just focus on that?
Dave Harland: Yeah, I’ve just accepted your LinkedIn, by the way. I’ve got my screen open.
Kira Hug: Glad we made that happen. Thank you.
Dave Harland: There you go. The connection’s happening live. I mean the first thing I’d say is don’t just rush into it and start telling jokes and being just this daft, silly self if it doesn’t come naturally to you because there’s people out there who just haven’t got that funny bone and forcing funny is the last thing they should be doing. Being themselves, I think they should do more of, especially the one-man bands, the freelancers out there and people looking to build their own, I hate the phrase “Personal brand,” but people looking to kind of build that stuff out. I think showing the real you is a good way to do that. Not necessarily just being all laughy and jokey and oh, nice, silly, whatever.
Mine is… I grew up in a working class family, North of England. Everything was just relentless piss-taking of each other, growing up. All my mates, even now when you know haven’t seen each other for a few weeks, it’s just constant ribbing each other. It’s just ingrained in how I’ve always been growing up. I was always a big fan of comedy and stuff, so I haven’t just got to this stage of my career and thought, “Okay, let’s just turn up this, get a joke book and throw it out there.” It’s been kind of a natural progression for me. So yeah, real one I’d say don’t just jump into that. I suppose to find a question I get from a lot of copywriters as well is like, “How did you find your voice? How did you find your natural voice?”
And again, it’s nothing that can really be rushed. It was only really… It was probably at the same time I started doing the funnier stuff where they felt the most kind of natural me. So at that stage I started getting rid, even just from my own vocabulary when I was writing about myself, started getting rid of words that I don’t ever say. So just really embracing the authentic, so like the start of emails… Where I’m from in Liverpool, we don’t really say “Hi.” Hi, it’s just not something we say. But I’d always started emails, “Hi,” because that’s how I was always told, but I say “Hiya.”
So now whenever I started emailing, whether it’s to one of my mates, one another, somebody who works in this coworking space where they are now. Or if it was the CEO of Nike asking me the write for him, I don’t know his name, let’s say his name’s John. I’d reply to his email and say, “Hiya John, yeah, I’d love to work on that. Cheers,” at the end I wouldn’t put “Kind regards” or “Many thanks,” I just wouldn’t. Not “Best.” Yeah, “Best.” Yeah, I’m waiting for somebody to end an email. “Worst.”
Rob Marsh: Yeah, exactly. Well there’s your next Friday. Your next Friday email, right there.
Dave Harland: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, “Worst.” So that was a conscious thing I did. So embracing my own dialect if you like, and really leaning into that in how I speak. Not to the point where I’m kind of just forcing stuff in, but just to the point where even rather than saying “Good,” I’ll say “Sound.” That’s what we say here. “Oh, sound, nice one.” Rather, again, rather than “Thanks,” I’ll say, “Oh, nice one.”
So I’ll drop that type of stuff within my own marketing. So when people are reading that, especially if they’ve heard me speak or they’ve met me, if they see me doing that in my marketing, they can almost hear my voice saying those words. And again, it just builds that trust, it builds that, “Oh this is the real them, they’re not putting on a front.”And I think if you can do that, you can break down so many barriers. So yeah, number one is probably… I don’t know why I’m numbering these, but yeah, really embrace your authentic self. And then with regards to trying out the funnier stuff, it’s all down to testing really. It’s speaking to Eddie Shleyner the other week, actually, one of my absolute copywriting idols, and I’m buzzing to say he is a friend of mine now, but we were talking about comedians.
It’s like, “Oh no, I’ve just signed up to do a talk, actually, in October.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m going to practice it.” He’s made sure you do your practice like you to know it off by heart so you can just riff it. He said, it’s like… what’s his name? Jerry Seinfeld. People always say to him, “Ah yeah, he’s so natural. How’d you come up with all that stuff?” And he’s like, “I practiced everything. That’s not just me making stuff up on the spot. I’ve covered every single base. It’s all learned.” So as much as you can put that practice in, we’re not silly. I’m not a no comedian. The people trying funny stuff on the socials to try and promote their business. They’re not comedians, but it’s certainly a place we can test the stuff that isn’t in your natural ballpark of marketing.
So it could be anything from just telling stories, with a few little funny twists in them. It could be anecdotes about something that’s happened within your business, or something funny. A lot of the stories, I’ll start with a quote. So something weird or strange. If someone’s ever heard a conversation or someone said something to you that makes your ears prick up, it’s probably going to make somebody else’s ears prick up when you read that. One of my… yeah, I think it is my favorite-ever story I’d put on LinkedIn.
It was just the time that my mum said, she looked at me dead in the eyes and said, “David, your face is going to explode.” And I was like… As she said it, I was just like, “Wow.” She was basically telling me I was getting a bit fat, but-
Kira Hug: Oh my goodness.
Dave Harland: Just saying “You’re putting on weight, David,” it wasn’t working clearly. So she went, “Your face is going to explode.” So I wrote an article, or a post on LinkedIn about why using more powerful words is going to make people sit up and take notice. So don’t just tell people they should maybe lose weight, tell them that the face is going to explode. So I just use something that my mum said as the basis of… As the intro for a story and then kind of wormed the thinly veiled copywriter moral at the end.
A really working class Aesop’s fable. And then just that that’s one way to… Or one angle you can come in at. So funny stuff that you’ve noticed and people have said. Parody is a good one as well. So stuff, I do quite a lot of parody. So you’ll see stuff, especially in LinkedIn, right, for people are taking themselves so seriously. For me it feels like there’s a very tiny community of people who are just looking at the growth hackers, and all the people sticking carousels on now about how to 100x your productivity when you do X, Y, Z. And it’s like we’ve only got so much time in a day. I ain’t sitting through a 100-slide carousel to find out how to 100x my productivity. Absolutely no chance. So I’ll parody that type of stuff. I’ll do a ridiculous, anti-version of that.
So there’s one, there was a quote years ago, which again, another story that I did, which got me business, you’ve probably seen this quote, but somebody had posted it on LinkedIn and it was, I can’t remember the exact word, I don’t know, but it was “Every time I get to the end of a rep at the gym push…” Or “Every time you get to the end of a set at the gym, push yourself to do one more.” So that was the quote. It’s all about just having that extra, finding that extra bit of fire in your belly, I suppose that’s what they were trying to get at. So I parodied that. Well, I said, “Whenever you get to the end of the set at the gym when you can do no more, do nine more.”
So I took it to the extreme, but then I started getting into how this overtook my life. So every morning, rather than just have one piece of toast, I was having to eat the whole loaf. I was leaving the house with nine T-shirts on, I started nine timing, my girlfriend just took it to a mad kind of parody level and then at the end bringing it back to reality. It was don’t try and do too much. The more you take on, the harder it is to cope. And same in your market messages. If you throw 10 market messages in an email, people are just like… go real single-minded.
So yeah, there’s always that. You’ve always gotta bring it back to whatever you do, I think, if you’re just writing funny stuff with no link to what you do, it’s like where’s the punchline? What’s the point of it? It has to have some link, not always directly the scammer stories, they’ve got no link back to… I put a call to act at the end saying if you want more scammer stories or silly stuff like this, get my Friday email. But when they get that email, there’s more stuff in there about what I do, copywriting, blah-dee-blah. And then further down the line I’ll have a course, a book, posters, something to sell to earn me a bit of passive income. So I’m not always sitting in this chair. I can earn a little bit of dough while I’m feeding the baby on a weekend. So there’s a few ways, just test stuff out. If something bombs, or as long as you’re not insulting anyone or writing something really crashed that could put your potential customers or target market off. If you are confident that the people you are targeting can cope with it, go for it.
And if people don’t like it, are they meant to be your client, your customer, anyway? If they don’t like your authentic voice telling jokes which you think are suitable for your target audience. I get loads of unsubscribes. They’re like “That Friday email’s not for me. Few too many swear words in that one,” or “It’s just a little bit close to the bone with that,” and they’re gone. And that’s great because it means I haven’t had to waste time on a phone call with them in two weeks when they say, “Can you write these blog posts about this really techy thing?” And I’m like, “Clearly we’re not meant to be, are we?” So yeah, that’s a few ideas, anyway.
Rob Marsh: Good stuff. I’m going to steal curious question because she wanted to ask about AI. Tell us about your thoughts around artificial intelligence, how it might impact the work that you do and maybe the marketing world around us.
Dave Harland: I mean, clearly it’s my mortal enemy, and I think that the robots should be stopped before they do any more damage.
Rob Marsh: I think Will Smith is right there with you.
Dave Harland: Yeah, it’s more Terminator 2 for me. Cyberdyne systems where the robots take over and it’s just like “We’ve gone a little bit too far, yeah, these are starting to think now.” Or the Matrix… It’s like it’s crossed between about six different films. Yeah, I mean at the moment, like taking the piss out of the robots, I’m writing stuff which is just really just poking for that. There’s certainly a lot of copywriters, more so the content writers. So people doing the longer form stuff who were a little bit worried at the moment that these things are going to take their jobs.
And I come at it from… I don’t know, quite a brutal standpoint, if your stuff is that generic that a robot can take your job, you don’t deserve that job anyway. Your stuff should be so unique, full of real grit, humanity, lived experience, and empathy that no robot should have a clue how to write anything that you are going to be writing. That said, from a kind of content-marketing side of things where you’ve got these longer posts, which blog posts for instance, if businesses aren’t really that bothered about having this lovely craft crafted prose in their exact tone of voice, if they’re just looking for SEO stuff, which explains things, demonstrates a little bit of their experience, okay, it’s going to be really generic.
I think a lot of them are going to spend a little bit, a few quid on ChatGPT than they are on a content writer to do that for them. So I think those jobs are going to be in danger, but I think more so… The reality is more so… It’s going to be more like it’s… I think it’s going to replace Google almost. So when our first port of call, especially when we’re doing research is you go on Google, don’t you, type in… What do I need to learn more about to write this article, or to understand this product? Whereas Google will spit back 10 things and you’ll probably spend half an hour going, “Oh that’s rubbish,” or what’s that? Oh, that’s a business listing and what’s that? ChatGPT will probably give you the most, or the best, syndicated kind of best answer that you want, which is going to give you an overview, especially on stuff you don’t really understand the bolts.
So you might go on these headphones have active noise cancellation. If the brand themselves weren’t giving me any information on that, I could probably go… I’d probably be better off going to ChatGPT and say, “How does active noise cancellation work?” Then I am typing that into Google and having to sift through 20 different websites. It’s probably going to give me that rudimentary, real basic information that I need in as plain a way as possible.
But as a writer, that’s probably the extent I’d use it for, at the moment, anyway, for my research. In terms of the more creative stuff, I think it’s going to be, again, useful to get past blank pages and a nice little thought starter for when you’re completely stuck for ideas. We all have those days, don’t we? Where it’s just not flowing now, or I just can’t think of the angle, just typing in, “Give me eight ideas for what X, Y, Z.” It might just spark one little idea.
So I think, again, I’m taking the piss out of it. I will poke fun at the robot all day because they lack empathy, they lack that lived experience, but just as a little way of getting past the blank page, they’re going to be slightly better than Google at providing that, I think, because they’re just… You go to Google, too much choice is a bad thing, isn’t it? ChatGPT, it’s back in 300 words. It’s like, “Oh yeah, not actually a bad idea.”
Although there’s one really smart brand strategist called Tom Roach on LinkedIn. He wrote that his team within his agency, whenever they get a new brief, they get the agency team, the creatives to come up with different ideas and angles and then they type the exact brief into ChatGPT, and whatever ChatGPT spits back, if the agency staff have come up with the same idea, they discount it immediately because they see if the robots are coming up with this stuff, it needs to be a lot better than that.
So they’re using it almost as an anti-creative tool to discount the most common stuff. But yeah, I think that sums it up. Obviously the root of all future evils, but I think it’s going to be a nice little personal assistance, especially for people like I called it, someone picked me up on it actually, I called it a tool for the under-skilled and overwhelmed.
So for people who haven’t done the 17 years of experience that I’ve done, they haven’t got the hours in the bank, they haven’t done the day courses and the degrees, and they don’t know the long way around. They’ve probably got two or three or four years experience, learning as they go. I think it’s going to be hugely helpful for those types of people to get past that, “Oh, I haven’t got an idea.” Whereas I think the people who’ve been doing it for years and those are the top of the game and where we’ve been working at agencies, they know that you… It’s back to me drawing four boxes on the page. That’s my ChatGPT, the old school way of coming up with these words. So I think if people have got those little techniques that’ll help them get past the blank page, I don’t think they’ll find much use with the AI tech anyway. What about you? What do you think about it?
Kira Hug: Well, we created a whole podcast where we talk about it, a new podcast just so we can talk about it non-stop because we can’t stop talking about it so we can…
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I think we land where you are. I think that it is certainly going to have an impact, but people who use it as a tool, for learning, for brainstorming, for improving their own processes, their own work product are going to be a lot better off.
At this point, there’s a lot of things, like you mentioned that it doesn’t do, it doesn’t do emotional well. It cannot create real experiences that a person has had. That’s not to say the ChatGPT 5 or 6 or 10, or whatever won’t be able to do that someday, but I think you’re exactly right, at least in my thinking, the more original you can be, the more you can bring genuineness, and who you are to the copy that you write, or doing that for your clients, helping bring them out, the better off you’re going to be.
But don’t be afraid of the tools. They’re out there. They can help us in so many ways, and I think we’d be foolish to ignore them. But also I’m not quite ready to say all the jobs are going away.
Kira Hug: I mean, it doesn’t do quirky, it doesn’t do weird, funny copy. Like you said, the type of copy you write that we’re drawn to as writers, it’s not there yet. Will it get there? Can it channel that at some point? Maybe. But for right now, I feel like if you are a great talented writer who takes creativity and humanity seriously and brings that to your work, you’re going to be okay and you can speed up efficiencies like Rob said, using some of the tools.
Dave Harland: Yeah. I can certainly see that happening. I think, yeah, the humanity thing is just… If it can learn now I think we’re all screwed.
Kira Hug: Then we have bigger problems.
Dave Harland: Again, back to Eddie Shleyner, I don’t know if you saw this post a few weeks ago. He typed into ChatGPT, write about the first time you see your new baby boy.” And I saw that he showed ChatGPT’s version.
Kira Hug: Oh my goodness.
Dave Harland: And he showed Eddie’s version. Eddie’s version nearly made me cry. I had tears in my eyes reading Eddie’s. And ChatGPT’s was reading a stereo manual.
Rob Marsh: It’s very cold.
Dave Harland: Yeah, it was just like, “Ugh.”
Kira Hug: That’s funny.
Dave Harland: I want to read about my new baby boy, not a microwave. What are you playing at?
Kira Hug: Okay, so it’s not there yet…
Dave Harland: No, no, I can see a future where I could probably upload every email I’ve ever written and then within 10 minutes it’s going to go “Righty-oh, I’ll spit one back at you in your exact tone.” Using… Back to what I was saying before about learning the voice of your customer and their vocabulary, it’s probably going to be able to do that in the blink of an eye.
So yeah, it’s going to keep us on our toes anyway, whatever happens.
Kira Hug: Yeah. So before we wrap, I want to make sure we do ask about what’s happening for you next. You mentioned a poster, that you might have a poster you’re selling, you might have a book you’re selling. We want to buy these things. So please tell us what’s happening next.
Dave Harland: Nothing for sale right away. A couple of posters imminently. I’ve done a couple of posts on LinkedIn that went viral. So one’s a bit of a jokey, like a music festival poster called Copyfest.
Rob Marsh: That was actually shared in several of our groups.
Dave Harland: Oh, was it?
Rob Marsh: Yeah, so it definitely hit, resonated with a lot of people.
Dave Harland: Yeah, yeah. It seemed to at the time. And again, at the time I should have had posters ready to go, because I would have probably made a mint, but I’m a journalist, I’m not a marketer, so I’m learning this stuff as I go.
So, yeah, I thought, “Right, let’s get some…” there’s about 25 people, saying they’d buy that if it was a poster, I’d have that if it was on a T-shirt.
So there’s a graphic designer here who I’ve just commissioned to turn it into… I just used some poster generators. There’s me slamming AI, I’m using some AI little tool. Maybe not ChatGPT. But yeah, a design thing.
So I’m getting that made at the moment and working out how to use Shopify and Printful and all of that lovely technical stuff, which I’m terrible at. So, they’ll be for sale probably within the next month. So there’s that one.
And then there’s another one called the copy iceberg, which is… You’ve seen the classic, the tip of the iceberg and then there’s a big massive nasty bit under the water.
So at the top of the iceberg is all the stuff that people see, which is just do it and this means times. Whereas underneath the copy iceberg is “How long will it take you to write 10,000 words” and “What’s another word for this, Dave?” And all the day-to-day rudimentary stuff, which I know is going to be… At the time. I think I published that last year, but at the time there were loads of copywriters going, “I’d have that as a poster,” so yeah, starting small, two little posters, see how they go.
But then longer term, I’m working on a course at the moment, how to write funny copy, which is going to be out hopefully in the autumn. And then a book will probably follow that. I’m doing the course first. I’ve got a couple in mind.
Got one to do with the scammer stories. Another one around my illustrious Uncle Tony who forms the… He plays the lead part in many of my stories on social media.
Rob Marsh: He’s mentioned quite a few times in your newsletter as well.
Dave Harland: Yeah, yeah. More so when I’m debunking the truisms from the likes of Mr. Vaynerchuk, Mr. Sinek, formerly Mr. Oleg Vishnepolsky, all the LinkedIn celebrities who seem to put these vacuous truisms out on the daily. So Tony debunks all of that type of stuff. So yeah, a few little things in the pipeline. And I’m also working on another little project to open a copywriting agency, as well, with another one of my pals.
So it’s very, yeah, it’s very early, infant stage at the moment, which is hopefully going to make the whole process a lot easier for the smaller businesses, who at the start, I said that they’re just alienated by, they land on a copywriting website, a copywriting agency, or they search or that type of stuff. And I think everything feels… or a lot of the time it feels quite daunting and “Oh, I’ve got to fill in these briefs and what’s the tone of voice being, I don’t know what a call to action is,” and all of that type of stuff.
It’s going to cut through all of that whilst also providing I think quite a lot of work as well for other decent sector specialist copywriters out there, who I know… I’m in enough groups to hear that times are tough at the moment and there’s not loads of stuff out there. So if we can bring more work to more copywriters, all the better for it. So yeah, quite a few going on at the moment. I’m in the newsletter, yeah, every Friday. You’ll hear about all of that if you sign up to my newsletter.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, let’s plug that right now. So to connect with you, Dave, tell us where to sign up for the newsletter, where we should be following you on LinkedIn, Twitter, et cetera.
Dave Harland: Yeah, so the newsletter’s available, well if you follow me on LinkedIn, you can’t miss it because I mention it at the end of every post, relentlessly and shamelessly again. Yeah, that’s another one from my mate, he was like “Stick it at the end of every post,” but if you just want to sign up straight away, it’s at my website, which is the wordman.co.uk. There’s a big subscribe button there so you can get that.
It’s just me every Friday with unconventional copywriting techniques, silly stories, loads of just messing around, messing around with words really, which is what it’s all about. And I’m on Twitter as well @wordmancopy if you want to follow me there. But like I said at the start, it’s more of my creative mates just talking about copywriting. So making the jokes that people wouldn’t get on LinkedIn.
Rob Marsh: Yeah. Dave, this has been great. Just a view into your creative process and how you’ve run your business. So thank you so much for sharing so much about what you do and yeah, we really appreciate you taking the time. Yeah,
Kira Hug: Thank you.
Dave Harland: Yeah, nice one. My pleasure. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been good. I’ve been, yeah, I was buzzing when you invited me on. I’ve been a fan of the podcast for a while, so…
Kira Hug: Oh, that’s so nice.
Rob Marsh: We’ll make a few more of our listeners fans of you and.
Dave Harland: Oh, nice one.
Rob Marsh: And your newsletter.
Dave Harland: Cheers.
Rob Marsh: That’s the end of our interview with Dave Harlan. Kira, is there anything else from the second half of this interview that you want to talk about?
Kira Hug: We’ll talk down language. We talk a lot about brand voice and personality and sounding like who you are, helping your clients do that. And so we talked to Dave about that, and I just really appreciated how he used examples of words he would never say, and just how… and Language that we would never use and even signing off from an email and signing off as “Best.” “Best.”
Rob Marsh: Yeah, “Worst.” I wish I could do Dave’s accent. “Worst.”
Kira Hug: Right? Or warm regards. Just things that we use, and say in our language and we assume it’s just normal, but it’s like I would never actually say that in-person, so why am I saying that?
And so that conversation, even though I know that and I feel I specialize in brand voice, it was just a really powerful reminder that I should really listen to my own voice and then also pull that out of my clients, if they don’t use that word or that phrase, and make sure I cut that out of their copy too. Just the importance of that.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I was playing around with ChatGPT, writing some emails the other day and the very first line of the email was, “I hope this email finds you well,” which is the most overused, trite… Yeah, I mean the reason ChatGPT comes up with it is because it’s been said millions of times.
Kira Hug: We all use it.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, it’s a great example. Something that we all do way too much. Dave also talked about his approach to LinkedIn and social media in general, and there are a couple of things that he talked… If anybody hasn’t seen Dave’s LinkedIn profile or seen what he does there, you should definitely jump in there and just check out some of the posts, because his approach is very different from just about anybody else that I’ve seen there.
And he does some things that are obviously very related to advertising, but he also does some pretty wacky stuff and he mentioned specifically that he’s trying to stand out by being everything that everybody else isn’t. So he’s looking for content that stands out, but he’s also using ideas that are transferable. So when he was talking about the sausage sandwich that he can get for breakfast, and when he changes up the copy on that, that’s an idea that’s really easy to apply to other things that people might be working on.
Things that are in my business, it’s not a sausage roll necessarily, but I can see how changing the copy or improving the copy might help with sales. So those ideas are transferable. And then finally relatable, making sure that what we do there is human. And I think a lot of the funny stuff that he does there that’s not related to business at all, makes him seem more human, more real. The kind of person that you wouldn’t mind sitting down across the table and sharing a drink with, or lunch with and people like working with people that they like. It’s that simple. And so when we’re looking for content that attracts clients to us, those are the kinds of things we want to be doing.
Kira Hug: Yes, and I am now friends with him on LinkedIn. Oh, it’s not called friends, we’re connected.
Rob Marsh: Connections.
Kira Hug: We’re connected on LinkedIn. So thank you Dave for the connection. So now I get to watch him close up and learn from him because… I would like to show up in a similar way on LinkedIn, not doing the same things. That’s all for Dave, but I think trying to be funny. I’ll try to be funny like Dave, that’s what I want to do. That’s my goal.
Rob Marsh: So Dave also mentioned that he considers AI his mortal enemy, which I know he is having some fun with. Obviously, the tools are there to help us be more creative and we can use them that way and hopefully we don’t all end up as Detective Spooner from iRobot, and have the robot army trying to knock us all off.
Kira Hug: Well, we want to thank Dave for joining us on the podcast to talk about how he’s grown his business and how he’s created a prominent brand voice in the copywriting industry. If you want to connect with him and you definitely should, you can join his newsletter and connect with him on LinkedIn. We’ll link to his links in the show notes so you can become buddies with Dave.
Before we wrap, we are hosting a free AI copywriting five-day challenge that I guess Dave may not want to be a part of or maybe he’ll jump in with us, but it’s completely free and it’s a great way for all of us to come together and experiment with ChatGPT in Creative New ways so we can figure out how it works, how it can work for us so we can have more space for that creativity that Dave talked about today. And we can also provide more value with our clients. So it’s a no-brainer decision to work with us. If you want to join in with us, we kick off April 26th, and you can sign up for the free challenge thecopywriterclub.com/aichallenge.
Rob Marsh: Yes. And if AI is your thing, you can also check out our new podcast called AI for Creative Entrepreneurs, and that’s at aiforcreativeentrepreneurs.com. That’s the end of this episode of the Copywriter Club podcast. If you like what you heard, please visit Apple Podcasts or wherever else you listen to podcasts and leave a review of the show.
The intro music was composed by copywriter and songwriter Addison Rice. The outro was composed by copywriter and songwriter David Muntner. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next week.