Copywriters. Getting it right for decades.

Well this is interesting.

This is the Direct Marketing Association’s attempted analysis of the state of the copywriting industry. The film – Madmen v Mavens – poses several questions to two separate groups; one of seasoned agency writers, and another of young whippersnapper writers. The results are interesting – see for yourself and let me know what you think.

Welcome to the new site

Contemporised, amplified, beautified… The new site is finally here and I couldn’t be more pleased.

The whole process has been a pleasure, courtesy of the ever-talented-and-easy-to-work-with Lee Harding who made more than a few smart suggestions and creative changes.

My top ten ‘NO!’ words.

I was in a meeting yesterday discussing US English versus English English, when my client reported that a colleague of his found the words ‘powered-by’ too American for their UK market (not guilty).

The Great Wall

Guy Laramee

More incredible art from books. Guy Laramee and The Great Wall project. Take a look here.

Too many words, part two

I had a notification from my kids’ school this morning. It’s an update to their behaviour policy. Paragraph two says, and I quote:

“Students in Year 7 tell us that they are particularly concerned about disruption to their learning occasioned by a small number of their peers who do not find the immediate attendant sanctions sufficient to deter them from repeating such behaviour.”

I think the last time occasion was used as a verb, we still used shillings. And sanctions being ‘attendant’ – rather than just er, sanctions made me smile. But beyond all that, just far too many words. Try this: “Students in Year Seven tell us they are fed up with peers who repeatedly disrupt lessons.”

Tsk. Detention for the Deputy Head me thinks.

Brian’s Books

Following my post on Thomas Allen’s book art photography, I’ve been directed to Brian Dettmer’s work. Dettmer’s pieces are quite astonishing. They’re hugely detailed; a result of his using surgical tools to carve into a book one page at a a time. Take a look at his site to see work spanning five years.


Falling off the fence

I’ve written a couple of blogs for different organisations this month. They all had one thing in common;  they wanted to give their opinion on something relevant to their industry or area of expertise without offending or alienating customers and service users. Which isn’t that simple, because it’s very easy to offend when you critique. Not because you’re being aggressive, but because others may be defensive.

To really withdraw from this risk, you need to sit on the fence. In this position, you can balance the view from both fields. Which is fine when you want to produce bland copy that helps people explore both sides of a coin. But, when you’re looking for something attention-grabbing, sitting on the fence – as the saying goes – gives you splinters.  Personally, I don’t get on with opinion ‘from the fence’.  Not just because I don’t want to spend my evening removing splinters, but because I don’t trust it.

So, what do you do? You take a clear position. Here are the benefits:

Pulp Addiction

A great and creative thing to do with your old pulp fiction stock. These shots of quirky book cover art from photographer Thomas Allen. See the whole collection here. More on Thomas Allen and his process here. Enjoy.


How To Spell Spam.

An interesting piece popped up on Yahoo News last week; an account about a council tax scam where fraudsters contact you to say you’re due a financial reward as a thank you for paying your bill by direct debit.

Now I don’t know about you, but the concept of my local council financially rewarding me for paying tax would be enough to make me click  ‘SPAM’ faster than you can say ‘seriously unlikely state incentive’. However, clearly enough people were falling for this to warrant its broadcast, albeit hidden within the confused jumble that is Yahoo’s landing page. So I read the whole thing and there – towards the end – was a paragraph about spelling.

Illustrious stuff

I’ve been looking at a lot of illustration in the past few weeks which, for me, is a bit like christmas. Why you ask? Well, because in my dreams, I get to commission all of these talented people to illustrate the many stories I currently have out ‘there’ sitting in the vast bottomless in-trays of the demigods that are publishers’ and agents’ editors. Editors who, I’ve discovered, live on a completely different planet where the concept of time versus available life, has yet to be realised.

Am I ranting?

Fab Twaggies

A clever combination: Twitticisms + great illustration = Twags. From Kiersten Essenpreis at Twaggies.


My Own Private Ardagh-o

I took a guinea pig to the vets this morning. Before I tell you what the receptionist said to me when I walked in, I’m going to point out that the guinea pig in question was named by my daughter when she was five. It might also help to picture the receptionist as an extremely efficient, quite scary, very loud, immaculately turned out, rather posh middle-aged woman who looked like she holidayed in John Lewis.

Right, so, there I am struggling to get in the door carrying a cardboard box that’s lurching wildly from side to side when I hear: “Pebbles Starling?” I had an instant need to laugh out loud.  Which I know is quite childish, but I find the application of human surname to animal alias, really, really funny. I don’t know why. I just do.

Perfect Propaganda

Picture-146china-postersI’ve been a fan of propaganda art for years and have the beginnings of a poster collection that one day will require its own mini museum. Aesthetically, the combination of knock-out design, typography and (much-mimicked) text just enthralls.

Copywriter not required

A rather heated debate today with design friends resulted in my conceding to the view that a copywriter isn’t always necessary. I should point out that I was outnumbered by five to one for the entire duration of the debate and we were only talking about magazine ads. However, I’ve been presented with some great proof which, despite the obvious career suicide, I’m happy to share.

Here we go again

Another one? So soon?

Wikipedia call it jargon

Head meet desk.

Saatchi’s copy claptrap

Newspeak-006I know it’s not nice to slam other people’s copy efforts, but this one really is screaming out for a virtual red pen. Charles Saatchi’s new show British Art Now has an accompanying catalogue which honestly defies belief. Here’s an excerpt all about the artists:

“Articulated as doublespeak, they hand-make the virtual, cite history in fugue fervour, and find the poetic and enduring in the cacophony of pop cultural din.”

Great isn’t it?

The real McCoy

Quote of the day from the hugely talented Rich McCoy:

“I think the whole world needs copywriters. The more I work with them, the more important I think they are in the mix.”


Rich’s quote is an extract from a brief online exchange we had earlier today about Saatchi. Saatchi and his quite gob-smackingly incomprehensible British Art Now catalogue. I shan’t sully this post with the details. It really needs separate treatment. Which I’m going to give it in just a minute.  In the mean time, here’s that quote again:

“I think the whole world needs copywriters. The more I work with them, the more important I think they are in the mix.”

Did you get that?

What JR shot

Back to photography for a moment.

A few years ago, I ran a photography project in a primary school where I took pictures of every single child in school. Using black and white film and focussing each image on just part of their face, we posted all 200 of them as a ‘wall of faces’ covering the entire back wall of the school hall. The kids (and happily the teachers) loved the process and the impact of the final result.

My inspiration for the project was JR, a Parisian photographer and street artist who has been changing landscapes and attitudes for some years now. His work on the Face 2 Face project pastes wonderful images of Palestinian and Israeli citizens side by side in prominent locations on both sides of the wall.



JR’s project ‘Women are Heroes,’ uses the same large-scale format to paste images of Women from Africa, Asia and South America in their own neighbourhoods.

Maths minus boredom

106I absolutely love this. New Math by Craig Damrauer – a wry approach to maths for word and language lovers. An addictive site – review at leisure.

365 word girl

This is fun. A comking-portrait-frontbination of photography, words and self-portraiture delivered with a little help from visitors.

Melissa King’s 365 Word Girl site was launched recently and showcases the results of her new collaborative project as they happen. King, from Sydney Australia, invites you to submit random words to her site. Then, taking 7 words in order for that week, she builds a mini story that in turn directs each weekly self-portrait. So, for example, Week 10 on King’s word schedule shows: Headphone; Smudge; Shrunk; Sepia; Revolutionary; Idealistic; Up. These words will build a short narrative to dictate a new self-portrait (should be interesting) and, if I’ve understood the schedule correctly, Week 10 will be launched this week.

As the name suggests, King intends for this to be a year-long project producing 52 unique and off-beat portraits. Add your own word before the schedule fills up and be a part of the art.

This post is about posters.

Goshka-Macuga-011With only a week to go, this is just irresistible.  Jonathan Jones introduces a feature in today’s Culture Guardian showcasing alternative takes on the political campaign poster from some of Britain’s leading artists. You can see their work here plus more detailed commentary from each artist (and Jonathan’s introduction) here.

I agree with the article tone that official campaign offerings are more than unimpressive, but I’ve really enjoyed the unofficial and not so underground stuff like My David Cameron. If anyone can teach the big parties a thing or two about clear copy, it’s the creators of some of these gems.

Very early comments on the Guardian site suggest there is a big gap between fine art and graphic design when it comes to posters. My own take – unsurprisingly – is it comes down to the copy and the connection the copy has with the design. Hence my favourite of the lot is this one by Goshka Macuga. Clear, clever, totally connected to its purpose and comes with a back-story.

The Fantastic Dr Lakra

If you happen to be  in Boston this summer, go and see this guy’s exhibition at the ICA. Jerónimo López Ramírez (aka Dr Lakra) is an artist and tattooist based in Mexico. I really like his process – the way he invalidates what he’s chosen to paint on and the slightly subverted tone. You can see a slideshow of some of his work here.

Converse Presents Dr. Lakra from Highsnobiety on Vimeo.

New friends

A busy few weeks in the Kate Starling copy room have kept me away from my blog for too long. *Imagine doleful, semi-troubled and slightly sheepish emoticon here. If only English punctuation could cut it.*


On the non-doleful side of things, I’ve got a stack of new stuff to share which I shall slowly nourish you with in the coming days. And even better than that… Net result of busy few weeks is a big Hello and Welcome to two new Kate Starling copy converts: Ferrier Pearce a rather lovely and talented bunch of designers from the South East and moving north: Beach Marketing an equally creative and technically clever team from Northampton.

Delighted to have them both on-board and looking forward to posting some of the results of our ventures on here.

Back sooner than I was last time.

Eye Drops Off Shelf – the wonder of headline writing

I spent part of yesterday advising on sales copy. My client felt their existing copy wasn’t punchy enough and was – in parts – ambiguous. We talked a bit about ambiguity and then got onto the inevitable conversation about ambiguity in newspaper headlines, like this: “Stolen Painting Found by Tree.” Clever tree. And these: “Miners Refuse to Work after Death” and “Police Found Safe Under Bed.” Lovely.

From ambiguous to apparent, it’s always possible to swing too far the other way. Two cherished but quite hopeless headlines from the States: “Official: Only Rain Will Cure Drought.” And this one from the Collinsville Herald-Journal in Illinois: “Economist Uses Theory to Explain Economy.” Great!

Finally, from apparent to accomplished, my all-time favourite headline from Private Eye – on the library strike in Essex: “Book Lack in Ongar.”



I was asked yesterday what the theme of my blog is. I thought I’d share my answer: I don’t have a theme. I write about things that interest me in the hope that you might:

a. Find it interesting
b. Discover how I write
c. Discover something new
d. Laugh

That’s it really. I’ll write about copywriting only if I think I’ve got something useful to share with you. Otherwise, you’ll see all sorts of comment from design and photography to innovation and (cough) dancing.

I’ll be making the comment function a little easier soon, but in the mean time, keep emailing me.