David Ogilvy or David Lynch? I ask.
“As a copywriter,” Gareth replies, “I’ve got to go with Ogilvy. He’s the main man on Main Street. The don. I did enjoy Twin Peaks as a kid, though.”
Charles Bukowski or Charles Saatchi? I continue.
“Tough one that. Saatchi has done loads in copywriting and in art, but I’m giving Bukowski the nod. I like that downtrodden, underdog realism stuff. He championed the marginalised brilliantly. A good pair of Charles’s you’ve picked there, though.”
I go in for the big one:
Custard Cream or Bourbon?
“Phwoar! I’m going to go with Custard Cream. I prefer those in my tea. It’s a close one, though.”
With these all-important facts established, we continue our discussion along slightly more ‘work’ related themes.
You see I’ve a lovely little interview for you this week with a particularly pleasant chap and fellow writer called Gareth Hancock.
Gareth is the mastermind behind the one-man creative agency known as That. Content. Shed.
If you didn’t already guess why it’s called that, all will become clear. In fact, let’s keep the pre-ramble to a minimum and launch right into the meaty goodness with me asking Gareth what he’s been reading recently.
Gareth illuminates us:
GARETH: I’ve not long finished a book called Utopia For Realists And How We Can Get There by Rutger Bregman. It’s about how we can improve society through new utopian ideas like guaranteed basic income and 15-hour work weeks. It’s not pie-in-the-sky stuff, though – everything is backed up with research, stats and historical case studies. It’s a fantastic read.
GLENN: Sounds interesting. Assuming it’s not too heavy on copywriting advice?
GARETH: Nah, no copywriting advice in there, unfortunately.
GLENN: Though I’m guessing you agree it’s important to read a lot outside of the ‘the industry’?
GARETH: Oh yes. I think it’s really important to read outside of the ‘industry’. Copywriters are a curious bunch so I imagine most do read a wide variety of stuff.
A lot of copywriting books are good at teaching the mechanics of copywriting but if you stick within the advertising/marketing niche, you’re limiting yourself. Creativity is everywhere. You can learn about storytelling from fiction. You can get inside people’s minds with autobiographies and pick up tips on creative expression from books about art. If a book seems interesting to you, read it.
That said, before Utopia for Realists, I read 1+1=3 by Dave Trott, which is a masterclass in creative thinking. As far as copywriters go, Dave takes some beating. He says more in one sentence than some people do in an entire book. I’d recommend Dave’s work to everyone. In fact, take a look at his blog first. If you like what you see, buy his books.
GLENN: Trott is a great. I really enjoyed Predatory Thinking. It’s a book all writers should check out.
I get the feeling he’s fast becoming the new Ogilvy, which he’d probably hate us saying. I think his writing is very clever in that it is so succinct. And he uses metaphor very well.
GARETH: Yeah, I’m sure he’d dismiss any comparison to Ogilvy but I think you’re right. He’s a master of simplicity and common sense.
GLENN: Dave’s someone who posts a piece of content and within minutes it spreads like wild fire. On a wider note, not just in regard Dave’s work, but generally the ‘shareability’ of content, how much do you think the content itself drives popularity, versus experience and credibility?
GARETH: I think the content drives the popularity more than ever. The value of the content carries more weight than experience or credibility these days.
In certain industries (like ours) people try to create content that makes them credible to their peers, and experience and credibility are taken more into account when reading or sharing something.
In general, though, I think people just want to see something that entertains them. If it does, they’ll share it. They don’t give a toss who created it – they probably don’t even look.
GLENN: Here. Here.
GARETH: Buzzfeed, LadBible, Unilad and the like didn’t care about experience or credibility to get where they are. They realised quickly that popularity was a bigger money maker than credibility and made it big by publishing mostly useless, but entertaining, content that would go viral.
GLENN: That’s very true. OK. For those who aren’t aware of your work, the name comes from the fact you work in your shed, right? How did shed life begin?
GARETH: Shed life began when I was made redundant from my job working in a digital agency/ecommerce company. I used some of the money from my severance pay to buy a shed.
And it’s a proper shed – not a purpose built garden office. I’m talking an 8 x 6, £400 B&Q special. About as bog standard as you can get.
GLENN: Do you have any plans to move to a garage, or greenhouse? What’s the pros and cons of working in your shed?
GARETH: I’d bloody love to move to a garage – all that extra space. I’d be living the dream. Unfortunately, That. Content. Garage. doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Plus, I don’t have a garage.
A greenhouse is out of the question. I’m ginger, I’d be exposed to too much sunlight in there. Also, people who work in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – I don’t want to lose the option of hurling a brick if ever I need to.
The biggest pro of working in a shed is that I can work from home, but not in the house. There are a lot of distractions in the house. The shed offers a bit of peace and quiet.
The biggest con is that it’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. I could do with it being April all year round, really.
GLENN: Brilliant. Maybe a shed extension is the way to go as you grow. I always thought a garage would be good, as per the Weezer song. But my fiancée set up a studio for her art in ours and it’s freezing.
You mention distractions whilst writing – do you always write alone, or do you find you need to spend time in cafes?
GARETH: A shed extension would be nice. Or maybe a shipping container. Then again, if your fiancée’s garage art studio is freezing a shipping container would be brutal!
Most of the time I write alone, but I do try to get out as often as I can.
It’s good to have a change of scenery now and again. I’m lucky in that I’ve got a library, cafe and Wetherspoons pub all within a 10 minute walk of my house – free Wi-Fi for days!
One of my clients has set up a desk for me at his office too, so I can go there whenever I like.
Everyone should get out of the house to work at least once a week, I reckon. It’s good for creativity and, more importantly, it’s good for your mental health.
GLENN: I agree. I try to get out of the house a couple of times a week minimum. It’s great to have the freedom to be at home. But it can be very insular too. It’s important to be conscious of that and strike a balance. The worse thing is for Ruth to come home and I’m sat there with a wild look in my eye like some caged beast that needs to get out.
GLENN: OK. I want to talk about the creation of content a little. I realise the concept of ‘content’ is a big unwieldy thing that isn’t easily defined. But what does it mean to you?
GARETH: Good question. Very good question.
It is unwieldy, isn’t it?
GLENN: Like a buttery elephant.
GARETH: Like a drunk moose.
GLENN: Like a tired horse in silk pyjamas.
GARETH: Like a pair of sumo wrestlers in a Fiat Cinquecento.
GLENN: Like a baboon stuck on a bidet.
GARETH: Yes. It is unwieldy in all of those ways. Content to me is something that entertains, informs and enlightens people. I try to make everything I write do all three of these things. Not sure it always does, mind – but I certainly try.
Content is a like a big hamper of stuff really. “Here’s your content, buddy. 10 blog posts, 15 social media updates, an About Us page and an infographic. I’ve chucked in some SEO for you too. Can you manage?”
Often the client stumbles with a giant box, putting down the back seats in his car and trying to figure out a way to cram the content into the boot.
I think a lot of people are comfortable with using the word ‘content’. Sometimes what they really need is copywriting or blog posts but asking for content is a good starting point, after which you can get into the nitty gritty of working out what it is they’re after.
GLENN: Ha. Before I ask anything else: how do you cost up social media posts? It’s one of those things that really throw people. It’s idea generation so it takes time but to the client it seems like very little copy.
GARETH: Yeah, it’s a tricky one. I charge a monthly fee or an overall fee if it’s a one-and-done project. You’ve got to make it clear to the client that coming up with ideas is a massive part of the process.
I explain what I’ll be doing: competitor and trend research across social accounts, and creation of social posts across the various channels. Then, I provide the monthly quote based on how much time I’ll need to dedicate to the project.
GLENN: Makes a lot of sense.
GARETH: Yeah. A good way to show clients that they’re getting their money’s worth is to keep in regular contact. Email them with ideas or content you’ve spotted that might interest them and ask for their feedback… “I’ve been looking at what’s trending at the moment and… what do you think about doing something like this?” This lets them see that you’re not just putting 10 tweets in a document. Instead, you’re investing the time to come up with quality content.
GLENN: Great advice, I like it. Okay, so when it comes to the creation of the stuff itself, what’s your process for writing a typical blog post for a client? I’m thinking in terms of research, writing, editing.
GARETH: Okay, so I’ll get the brief and clear up anything I don’t understand before I get to work. Then, I get cracking with some research. I’ll spend as much time as I need researching the topic, taking notes, and bookmarking anything that I think will be relevant to the post while I’m at it.
If I have an idea while I’m researching I’ll start writing. I don’t worry about where it’ll fit in or even if it’ll make the cut, I just get it out of my head.
I always outline the post before writing it – get the headers and sub-headers down. If I have the structure right, the writing flows better.
GLENN: Bravo. Too many people write without a plan and it makes it a real arse-ache. Writing is much easier if you know where you’re going.
GARETH: Sure. And unless I have something already in mind, I just leave the intro and get straight into the main chunk of the content. I write the post in full and then come back to the intro at the end – it always seems easier that way.
Once the post is written, I set it to the side and leave it for at least a day before editing. The first bit of the editing is a simple read through in Google Docs. I make any changes to text and structure there – putting things in, taking things away – and make sure I’m happy with it before it gets copy-and-pasted into the Hemingway app. The headline, meanwhile, gets a going over in CoSchedule headline analyzer. I don’t do everything that Hemingway suggests but there are typically a few things to tweak. When that’s done, the post gets sent to Grammarly to check for any errors there. And then back to Google Docs.
GLENN: That’s interesting you use all those tools. I might have to give some of them a try. It sounds like good practice.
GARETH: It helps me. But even after all that, it ain’t ready yet.
GARETH: First it needs another proofreading on my phone. Looking at the post on a device different from the one you wrote it on is a great way to spot any errors. It’s a tip I picked up from my buddy, and fellow copywriter, André Spiteri.
GLENN: That is great advice. It’s something I’ve been advising people do myself for a few years. Aside from the fact that so many people consume the content on their phones these days, I just find it’s a really easy way to disrupt the eye and help you spot errors you might have missed.
GARETH. It really is.
GLENN: That’s a really useful walkthrough of your process there, Gareth. Thanks. I think people will take away a lot from that. Let me ask, do you do that all with music or silence?
GARETH: I enjoy both. I tend to work better in silence or with a bit white noise, but I do like a good bit of music in general.
I’m sitting on the fence.
Can I do that?
GARETH: Alright then, music.
GLENN: See, that wasn’t too hard. I know you wrote a piece referencing Scroobius Pip recently. He’s great but not massively known. I always like to throw out new recommendations for people. What’s your top three underrated albums/artists?
GARETH: Love Scroobius Pip!
A top three is tough. I’ve been more into podcasts than music recently so I’ll go for artists. In no particular order:
Kate Tempest. She’s a genius. Her most recent album, Let Them Eat Chaos is a masterpiece. She’s in a genre all of her own.
Gil Scott-Heron. Going off the fact everyone I mention him to has never heard of him, I’d say Gil is underrated. He’s a soul and jazz poet and musician who hit the heights of his popularity back in the ‘70s. He’s no longer with us, unfortunately, but his music lives on!
Akala. He’s probably better known for his political activism now but his music is great. Intelligent, hard-hitting hip-hop.
GLENN: Irrelevant fact. Kate Tempest laid down next to my fiancée at Green Man festival last year. But anyway…we started this piece with some quick fire questions. Actually, we didn’t. We edited it like that because all good content should be edited and made to be more entertaining. But still, in the interest of symmetry for this particular piece of content, let’s finish with three more quick fire questions:
GARETH: Sounds like a plan.
GLENN: Two spaces after a full stop or one?
GARETH: One. Like this.
GLENN: Grammar Nazi or write how you speak?
GARETH: Write how you speak. Grammar Nazis are squares.
GLENN: And finally: what’s you ‘go to’ procrastination?
GARETH: Twitter or the fridge. Or both. I can scroll through Twitter on my way to the fridge.
And there we have it. A fine piece of content, thanks to Gareth at That. Content. Shed.
Indeed, my thanks to Gareth for taking the time to answer my random questions often asked out of context.
You can find out more about Gareth and the work he does right here.
Go on…have a look.
And if you do like reading these interviews I do, then you should certainly pre-order a copy of my book The Art of the Click, which features three brand new extended length interviews with three of my own copywriting mentors, Mark Ford, John Forde and James Woodburn.