As the rain pelts down outside, we take our seats in the main hall.
I guess this is what they call a buzz. To me, I’m not so sure, it’s more of a warmth. A glow maybe?
It might just be the lights bouncing off the wood-lined walls. Maybe it’s that most people have a day off work. But I think it’s more than that.
Looking around I get the sense others feel the same. This isn’t just an online platform anymore… this is real. Look, they’re right here, all around you, in the flesh… 150-odd copywriters who do the same thing you do.
Perhaps it’s too romantic, but I think the glow could well be 150-odd people simultaneously realising they’re not alone.
And with that, we begin…
@andy_maslen strides onto the stage, representing my preferred field of direct response copywriting.
He talks well, reminding people of the importance of numbers in copy. Or rather, the importance of understanding the end game: you’re writing to sell.
Stretching his old-school braces, he paces the stage. It’s important to test things, he points out. Quite rightly he argues that all copy essentially works; it’s just your job to write something that works a little bit better.
On the argument of short copy versus long copy (which seems to carry with it the unspoken argument of indirect versus direct – or is that just me?) he suggests it’s not long or short: it’s longer or shorter.
He’s on the side of longer.
To prove this he unravels an Agora sales letter, which (I admit) gives me some sense of pride.
Sadly, he becomes embroiled in a silly discussion about the pros and cons of Courier font. It often works better, he says (which it does as I’ve tested it both online and off), but people think he’s chiselling a commandment on stone: that Courier is THE most profitable font.
As I say, a bit silly.
But a good talk overall and in the panel discussion later he gives the pointlessly overused phrase ‘content marketing’ a good beating. I smile as he does, hoping I never have to read or hear the stupid phrase again.
@davetrott addles up next and what a clever fucking guy. You can just see it in the way he takes a moment before he begins. Oh, and I’m writing ‘fucking’ because he swears beautifully throughout his speech, which, being a bad-mouthed northerner myself, I can fully support.
As I say, the guy is obviously a clever man and where Andy’s speech could be summed-up with the words ‘just test’, Dave’s can easily be boiled down to ‘just think’.
And what thinking this guy does. It’s like he’s casting good ideas down on you from on high. Brilliant examples of what he terms ‘upstream thinking’ are rife. You just want to rush out of the hall to start… well, to start thinking. He works his way into your mind and says: come on then, let’s fucking sort this out.
He rightly points out that the changes in modern media and the formats we use to sell are pretty irrelevant – that it really comes down to understanding the customer.
He’s right, of course. Absolutely spot on, in fact.
So, if you’ve not read his books: do so. If you can go seem him talk: do so. And if you want to swear in speeches or blog posts: fuck it, do so.
In a smaller room, just before dinner, I sit down with @richardspencer to take part in his breakout session on planning.
It’s interesting and he shares a number of different tools for getting your ideas down on paper, making it easier to understand and tackle them when writing.
Particularly interesting is his suggestion to try using the outline function in Microsoft Word.
Sure, it sounds like a simple thing. But it gives me an idea to see how it can be used when working with a long copy sales letter. I have a feeling it could lend itself well to my current approach. I make a mental note to try it, though Dave Trott’s upstream thinking is still demanding attention in my mind.
I have a chance to catch up with Richard later on and he’s a very pleasant and thoughtful chap.
After lunch @graemearcher nervously takes the stage. When most people are nervous, they act shy. They retreat inside themselves.
The alternative is to tackle the nervousness head on. Doing so can sometimes result in appearing a little like Woody Allen at his neurotic, comedic, whirling-dervish best.
Graeme is just that. He literally bounces and staggers his way through an incredibly honest and authentic speech about style.
I’ve not come across him before, so whilst watching his insightful and inspiring speech, I’m already searching for him on Twitter and seeking out his work. Though only with one eye, as the other is trained on him still working off his nervous energy on stage, explaining why Virginia Woolf was a bit of a bitch.
I don’t want reduce what he was trying to talk about down to a few sentences, so I’ll say that his talk resonates with me most when he speaks about writing unpretentiously, simply and honestly.
As he nears the end of his time on stage, he finds one more chance to take a dig at Paddy Power press releases. He shows a disdain for them throughout his speech and to be fair, hearing his case against them – I feel the same.
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to Graeme is that I’m now less inclined to keep saying no when Lin suggests we move to Brighton. If there are more thoughtful and intelligent people like him there, it might not be such a bad idea.
@deeblick ends the day by sharing her experience of self-publishing, as well as a few thoughts on marketing.
Standing bold and centre stage, she launches into a rousing pep-talk about respecting our art. She calls for good copy above all else. We’re with you, Dee! We’re with you.
Dee’s story is one of grit and determination and is a particularly inspiring way to finish the day.
She surprises a lot of people as she speaks openly about her RSI problems, which make it very difficult for her to type.
But she explains that not being able to use her hands to express her thoughts only spurs her on further and with the help of voice recording software she’s been able to write two Amazon best-sellers.
A bold woman, with a bold message and as she runs though a few general (but incredibly important) marketing ideas, you know that the next time you see her will likely be on TV somewhere as her drive seems endless (she give all the Dragons a run for their money).
If you didn’t make it, I’d recommend you check it out if they do it again next year.