From Derbyshire Bobby to Dorset Freelance Copywriter

As a youth, I had no plans to become a copywriter. I doubt if I would have known what copywriting was! Having abandoned the idea of military aviation as a career, I tried following in my father’s footsteps as a psychiatric nurse but my heart wasn’t in it. I did meet the girl who was soon to become my wife whilst working at a hospital though. At 19 I joined the Derbyshire Constabulary. After training at a place called Pannal Ash in the West Riding of Yorkshire, I found myself posted to the industrial and market town of Chesterfield, best known for its parish church with the twisted spire. Legend had it that the spire became twisted by the Devil wrapping his tail around it centuries ago. Some say that it will become straight again when a virgin gets married there. A scurrilous story and patently untrue of course! The true cause, apparently, was rather more mundane, involving the use of unseasoned timber in the construction of the spire. Many people prefer the legend, which they feel makes a much better story!

There and later at what were then the mining communities of Creswell and Whitwell, I learned the local language. I learned, among other things, that, “Surrey,” was not a reference to the southern county but a form of address and that a “tuffee,” was not necessarily a toffee but any kind of sweet.

At that time the Derbyshire Constabulary held the quaint old fashioned notion that its officers should spend all their duty time on patrol and type up all reports etc. in their own time on their own typewriters. Thank goodness my wife was a trained typist! Having a sergeant who loved to send reports back with the smallest errors marked in red ink to be re-typed helped hone my writing skills no end!

As village bobbies we had to cope with everything that happened on the patch including sudden death in its various guises. The head in the gas oven suicides, it was coal gas then, North Sea gas had yet to be introduced, horrific road accident deaths and even an underground fatality in the Whitwell Colliery. There were no specialist coroner’s officers in the rural areas.

Our first child was born and thinking ahead to his education, my wife rather went off the idea of being moved across the county every few years as the norm in county police forces. In addition, I had become aware of the more enlightened working conditions in the city and borough forces that existed in those days. The upshot was we decided to move to a city or borough. The Bournemouth Borough Police was chosen to be honoured by my application and soon another chapter began.

An Old Beverlonian in Dorset

Because I’m based in Dorset and copywriting is what I do, I use the name, “The Dorset Copywriter.” It’s not because I need an alias, I’m not on the run; not yet anyway! No it’s simply a trading name I use within the local area. It gets a bit meaningless anywhere else.

Though I use that nom de plume (see, you get culture here too!) I am not a Dorset man. Like a great many other inhabitants of this fair county I’m an in-comer. Well, it’s a nice part of the country and the climate’s probably as good as you’ll get in England.

My origins are in God’s larger “own county,” Yorkshire. The East Riding in fact. I was born and grew up in the lovely old town of Beverley, the County Town of the Riding in those days, long before anyone had ever heard the name, “Humberside.” Many were the happy hours my pals and I spent playing on the Westwood during school holidays and weekends. We used to disappear all day and get home in time for tea. I suppose you couldn’t let kids do that now.

Anyway by some miracle I passed the old 11 Plus or “Scholarship,” as we called it then, and went to the world famous (so we were told) Beverley Grammar School. It was there that I discovered I had a bit of a flair for writing and English generally. I have to give credit there to our English Master, Mr Barrett. Sadly, the only other subject I did well in was French.

Nothing was further from my mind at that time than any thoughts of being a freelance copywriter. I did have a burning ambition to join the RAF and become a pilot. However my lack of mathematical aptitude convinced the RAF that it could better manage the air defence of the nation without my help. National Service had just been scrapped and after three years as a student psychiatric nurse, I eventually became a policeman in Derbyshire. Copywriting was still a long way in the future.

More on that soon: Watch this space!

It’s No Use Shouting Unless You Get the Tone of Voice Right!

Tone of voice seems a funny sort of concept when considering something written rather than spoken and yet it’s something that has to be right for the subject. Every brand we might be promoting has its own associated tone of voice. As a freelance copywriter I express that tone by the words I use and the style of writing.

For example, where the brand relates to a product whose sole purpose is to be used for fun we might well employ a jolly, bouncy and humorous style to jolly the reader along to the call to action. If the brand is something like a life assurance policy designed to pay for one’s funeral that tone of voice would be rather less appropriate.

For that brand we would employ a serious, professional and caring sort of style. Here it is important to inspire confidence and the more sombre tone aims to focus the reader’s mind on his or her own mortality and on considering the cost of a dignified departure from this world.

These are fairly extreme examples from opposite ends of the tone of voice scale. For most brands or types of service the right tone will lie somewhere in between. The skill of the copywriter lies in finding it. This is where the initial conversation between writer and client is so important. It doesn’t matter whether that conversation takes place face to face, by telephone or by email. It is the writer’s opportunity to listen or study the text and from that pick up a sense of the tone of voice required.

Just by asking questions and paying attention to the answers a picture begins to form in the mind of a B2B copywriter. On occasion the client can be even more helpful. On a couple of occasions a client has actually provided guidelines to follow to ensure that the tone of voice reflects the desired brand image. One actually supplied two lists, one of words to avoid using and the other of their preferred alternatives. Some seemed a little odd but they knew what they were doing!

So, get the tone of voice right and the right brand image will be conveyed. Get that right and the job’s half done. Well, nearly!