La Dolce Vita
E ver wondered how to become a successful copywriter? Would you like to know what the life and career of a person associated with professional writing look like? Meet the copywriter who contributes to the success and development of global luxury brands. Meet the man who takes an active part in the cultural development of Bristol. Meet an enthusiast, hobbyist, and interesting, multidimensional person. Benjamin Norris speaks about everyday life and copywriting, in an exclusive interview with Fourth Son Project.
FS: There is an aura of gothic romanticism around you. A bit dreamy, a bit absent. At the same time firmly and definitely building his own career path. Who is Benjamin Norris?
BN: Well, I’m delighted you picked up on the aura of gothic romanticism - it’s an aura I’ve been cultivating for over twenty years. That teenage goth phase never truly disappeared, and probably informed a lot of my professional choices. Bad teenage poetry and a love of Victorian literature most likely found its way into a lot of my work, for better or for worse!
Like most people, I’m forever in the process of figuring out who I am. Right now, I’m a single father and a full-time writer, but these two aspects of myself on their own ensure that every day is completely different from the last… and that’s central to their beauty and appeal.
FS: You seem to be an interesting person. What - apart from work - does Benjamin Norris fill his time with?
BS: If you’d asked me this question two years ago, I’d have said travel. However, lockdown has forced me to return to some of my more grounded interests, which range from fashion to perfumery, old books, cooking, Indian musical instruments, and painting. I like to keep myself busy with creative hobbies, and I love to go out dancing when possible; there’s still a good handful of alternative nightclubs in Bristol where you’ll often find me at midnight.
FS: You have been actively investing in Bristol's cultural development. You were the owner and manager of the International School of Language Excellence, Bristol's highest rated language academy. You were the owner and manager of Nordic Cafe - the first Scandinavian bistro in Bristol. Is this need to appear on the domestic market lined only with financial issues or are you driven by deeper
BN: If I was motivated by finance, I think I would have neither opened a language school or a cafe! To be honest, both of those business endeavours were driven by this need to constantly challenge myself. Maybe I get bored easily, maybe I have an issue with authority - whatever the reason, I’ve never been great at following traditional career paths, and I’ve never been particularly good at sitting still for too long. Despite being a fairly secretive and introverted person, I do enjoy interacting with the community and being a face on the high street. It’s the perfect counterbalance to the hermetic life of the freelance writer.
FS: You've been a copywriter since 2010. Tell us, how is it actually with this copywriting? What and who do you need to know to become one and are you equipped with special skills that make you a copywriter?
BN: Being a copywriter involves being creative, being a perfectionist, and thick-skinned enough to deal with the indecisive nature of the industry and the often frustrating nature of clients.
I’ve often said that if you can write, you can make a living from writing. There’s so, so, so much content out there that needs to be written every single day, and a real lack of good writers to do it. Whether you want to do what I do - which is mainly writing adverts and shorter, snappier pieces of writing - or want to be paid to write blogs, articles, website copy, or whatever else covers your interests - there’s work out there.
FS: Contemporary marketing is copywriting's paradise. It is even said that the 20th century is the age of its heyday and, consequently, the competition is enormous. Please tell us what to do to become an outstanding copywriter.
BN: Find your niche, and specialise in it. In this industry, it never helps to be a generalist, or to attempt to try and please everyone. I work exclusively in the luxury sector, writing for fine wine, perfume, and skincare brands, and rarely go outside this box. By specialising in this way, not only do you get to develop and
sharpen a signature style, it also becomes easier for clients to find you. I’ll never forget the day - just a few months ago - that Dior’s marketing team got in touch with me, completely out of the blue. However, it never would have happened if I hadn’t stayed within my niche, and become a recognisable name on a fairly exclusive scene.
FS: Tell us what were your beginnings in copywriting? How and where did you acquire clients and how do you recall your first steps in the arena of the profession?
BN: I had recently become unemployed while living in Hungary, and was desperate for work. I think that sense of desperation was absolutely key; it led me to reach out to people I’d never have approached otherwise.
I’d done a bit of journalism when I lived in Berlin, way back in 2007. However, what became my copywriting career started when I contacted a wine festival in Budapest, and asked whether they needed any help with brochures, labels, or advertising on social media. They said yes, paid me with a free ticket, and through them I found my first paid gigs as a wine writer, which was my first specialism. From there, I found a freelance writing network online, and marketed myself as a wine writer - within weeks, I was working more or less full time for a wide range of clients, some good, some bad.
Author: Benjamin Norris
FS: We are in 2021. You have a huge baggage of experience in the profession. By looking back and assessing your own techniques and strengths, are you able to highlight a few that have helped build your career?
BN: As I mentioned, I think specialising is really important. If you’re passionate about cars, then look on a freelance site for clients needing car reviews. If you love computer games, there are literally thousands of paid jobs writing gaming blogs. The same goes with a huge array of subjects and areas of expertise, and passion is your greatest tool in this industry.
I think there’s an element of ‘fake it until you make it’ in this job, too, especially in your early days. You have to convince clients that you’ve got the skills they need, even if you’re lacking in experience. Obviously, you can’t fake good
writing… and being able to write is the key skill, at the end of the day.
FS: What is your greatest professional success and can you also tell about your greatest failure?
BN: I don't really believe in professional failure, to be honest. Every downfall is a learnable moment, and one which makes you stronger and wiser for next time. I've taken on writing jobs which I probably shouldn't have… but knowing what you don't want to do is as valuable as knowing what you want to do.
Success-wise, I think the fact that I make a living from writing, and am raising my daughter with a highly flexible job, is about as big of a success as I can claim as my own. Working with big brands has its perks, but it's even more exciting to work with a tiny brand from the very beginning, and watching them grow from strength to strength with your words and ideas helping along the way.
FS: The definition of life success according to Benjamin Norris?
BN: Being able to eat well, dress well, smell good, and dance all night. Even at my age.
FS: How - in your opinion - will the copywriting market develop in the next decades?
BN: Inevitably, there's a huge debate right now about the rise of AI in the copywriting industry, and this sense that a lot of copy will be done by robots in the coming years. There's probably some truth in this, but I can't see AI threatening many creative jobs any time soon, especially not with brands that really care about their messaging.
The other big, but less exciting, change has been the shift from the established bricks-and-mortar writing companies - Mad Men style - to a massive emphasis on using freelancers. Writers like myself, whose loyalty lies with the brands rather than with agencies, seem to be the future.
FS: In these difficult times, people more and more often change their branches and choose professions related to social marketing. Based on your own experience, what advice would you give novice copywriters?
BN: My advice would probably be to know your worth as a writer. It's tempting to start off with the lowest possible prices, but this simply doesn't attract the right sort of jobs. Speak to a copywriter about how to set your rates properly, and consider getting a profile on a reputable freelancer's network to boost your visibility and help you search for jobs.
Those first few gigs are going to be tough, and most likely you'll spend far too long working on them. Once you get some positive feedback and have your confidence boosted, you'll be flying.
"Working with Benjamin was probably the most appealing part of the project so far. He came onboard bringing with him his great work ethics, creativity, wonderful attitude, and above all, an exceptional ability to create fantastic content out of thin air. Benjamin did an exceptionally great job and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. "
Samer Chouer, Roberttos.com
"" ... in the absence of will power, the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless. "