Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writer Wednesday — Vikki Ross of Virgin Media — Never present copy you don’t like.

Each Wednesday I feature a fellow writer, and not just ad folks. I’m interested in anyone who makes a living stringing together words. Their answers are unfiltered, so I may not always agree with every last bit of advice. After all, what works for one writer may not work for another. But we all need fresh ideas and perspectives to keep growing. Interested? Please email

Vikki Ross is a London-based copywriter who’s worked for two of the U.K.’s most well-known companies. She’s in-house at Virgin Media and spent the eight years before that at The Body Shop.

Twitter: @VikkiRoss7

What’s your writing focus or specialty?

The majority of my experience is in retail, mostly for the cosmetics and beauty industry.

Writers often take winding career paths. What led you here?

At 16 I thought I’d like to be a journalist so chose not to go to university after college. I wanted to get straight into it. My first job was as a receptionist in a serviced office block, which I hated, and one day I just walked out. I called my friend at work to tell her but she was off sick so I ended up speaking directly to her boss, a PR. I told her what had happened and she got me in for a short-term contract.

Her husband ran a marketing and entertainment company next door so I made my talents and desires known. Pretty soon I was writing reader offers for the national press. My first offer appeared in Camping & Caravanning magazine! Then I went on to write regular offers for the Daily Mail, TV Times, Sky, Ministry of Sound and Woman’s Own. I also wrote science fiction mail order catalogues.

After two years, I left work to travel the world for a year and a half. On my return to London it was very hard to get back into copywriting. Companies will always think they can do it themselves if they need to cut costs.

I got a job as PA to the Product Director at The Body Shop. She knew instantly that I wasn’t really a PA and after just three months I was writing internal communications. I then moved into the Design Studio where I wrote catalogues, in-store promotional materials, web copy and advertorials in Elle, Glamour and Marie Claire. I also went on photo shoots and enjoyed many a free haircut whilst learning the tricks of the trade, and interviewing make-up artists of course!

Eight years later, and I’ve moved back into the world of entertainment. I’m creating new Tone of Voice guidelines for Virgin Media now, but you can still see my copy in The Body Shop windows.

Working for companies set up by two of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs is inspiration enough but I’ve also got Space NK, The Post Office, Fat Face and Pizza Express to thank for freelance work that’s allowed me to expand my creative skills.

Tell us a little about your creative process.

I love reading magazines and books and watching television. Words inspire me so whenever I see or hear one I like, I make a note of it and try to incorporate it when I can. I have a bank of words and phrases to refer to whenever I’m in need of some inspiration.

What do you do when you’re stuck? Any tricks for getting unstuck?

I hate getting stuck! I’ll usually leave something difficult to just before the deadline. I’ve always worked like that. I could spend a couple of days trying to craft copy and just not getting it, so I’ll move on to something else until it absolutely has to be done. Working under pressure works for me as I’ll go back to it and just get it there and then, and then I wonder why it was so hard in the first place!

Another trick is to just take a quick break and have a flick through a magazine. Usually a word in a headline will just trigger something!

Any side projects? If so, how do you make time for them?

I started writing a blog a couple of months ago about store merchandising and general things that catch the eye when I’m out and about. I don’t have to make much extra time for it because I’m always out seeing things that inspire me. London’s a great city and I travel a lot too so there’s no shortage of content possibilities! Writing up my notes is no chore—I love writing.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve been given?

Never present copy you don’t like. It’ll always get chosen! Then you’ll end up with a catalogue headline that makes you cringe every time you see it!

What’s one thing you know now that you’d wish you’d known at the beginning of your career?

Everyone thinks they’re a copywriter! It’s amazing how many people think they can do something that you have years of skilled experience in. And, more often than not, their grammar or spelling will be wrong, and they think you’re being picky when you tell them!

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