Why did you enter The Majors last year?
I liked that it was free to enter and attend (and I’m a cheap northerner) so anyone can have a go and you’re not buying an award. It levels the playing field – but I honestly never expected to actually win. It’s nice to have a specific freelancer category too – we’re usually the unsung heroes propping up the entire industry. It’s also a pretty big deal – an award from Major Players and The Drum, and judged by proper industry big wigs. It doesn’t get much bigger than this for a freelancer.
What have you been up to since winning?
All sorts. I’ve always been busy but this year has been crazy. And the type of work I’m doing has shifted. I’m still writing copy and ad campaigns, but I’m also doing loads more tone of voice and propositional work.
Has winning Major Freelancer affected business?
Definitely. People see you’re Freelancer of the Year and the hard work is done. It’s proof that I must be okay at this creative stuff, and it’s opened up a lot of doors. If I’m good enough for Major Players, I should be good enough for most agencies.
How did you get into copywriting?
Like most copywriters, I totally blagged my way into an agency with no experience, and picked it up as I went along. My first two agencies were awful. But my third agency was big and creative and brilliant. Very copywriter heavy, I think I was one of 7 when I joined, and I had two really good mentors. Being told to do things again and again until they’re right, and making ALL the mistakes, is a good way to learn. There’s no substitute for working in an ad or brand agency.
What’s been your favourite job as a freelancer?
It was probably running the Twitter accounts for John Lewis’ Bear & Hare Christmas ad. Getting to work with Adam & Eve was brilliant, and they gave me so much freedom. I got to create the narrative for the 2 months before the big day, and had loads of fun coming up with silly personas for a whole forest of animals. It was pretty intense. When you work on something like this you just know the papers are waiting for you to balls up and give them a story – especially for a brand like John Lewis. But it went so well they invited me to do the same with Monty the Penguin the following year.
You’re also the John Lewis Gift Tag Poet – what’s that all about?
This is a great job, too. And the kind of job you say yes to first and work out the logistics after. But basically, for the last couple of years I’ve done tours around their biggest stores at Christmas and Valentine’s to write live custom poetry for customers. It’s great chatting to people and hearing their personal stories. Anything from their partner’s annoying habits or where they met 40 years ago – it all goes into the poem. I’ve written hundreds, all completely unique and personal – and I’ve had tears and laughter in all the right places.
How do you find work these days?
I don’t actively look for work – I find it really depressing. No one ever replies to emails or they have a guy they always use. I prefer to let work find me, either through referral, Google or social.
Your distinctive ‘Stu the copywriter’ brand must help.
Absolutely. I’ve got the best logo in the known universe – and even managed to get a registered trademark on it. I’m reasonably well known as that guy who trademarked the alphabet. The logo definitely grabs people’s attention, and I have some okay work to back it up. My Stureel always makes people smile. I have my own rap theme tune! It’s quite old now but people still comment on it – and someone even ripped off the idea earlier this year. But that’s okay – I have something even sillier in the pipeline, as soon as I can get my arse in gear to create it.
How hard do you find negotiating your rates?
I don’t have to very often. I’m pretty reasonable – and don’t have loads of competition up north. But if people do try to knock me down, I try to stick to my guns. My rates are my rates. I always think that if they knew someone as good and cheaper, or the same price and better, they’d be calling them. But they’re calling me. If I worked for less, I’d be turning down full paid work. And that’s a bit silly. One of the best bits of advice anyone’s given me is, if you’re too busy put your rates up.
What advice would you give to other freelancers?
Know when to politely decline a job. It’s really hard to turn down work, and I don’t always follow my own advice – but I’m getting better. It’s easy to think that you need to take every job you’re offered, but if your Spidey sense is tingling, walk away.
So what’s next for brand Stu?
Hmm…not sure, really. Where do you go from Freelancer of the Year? Bigger clients, bigger agencies? Lecturing or doing talks maybe – I’d like to have a go at that sort of stuff. I’ve got a pretty big gob and some reasonably interesting stories to tell – if you’re into copywriting, that is. They’d be really boring to normal human beings.
Looking for a Major title of your very own? Enter The Majors 2018 – applications are now open!