Reed Words’ senior writer Afy Nou on developing opinions, changing post-uni prose style and compiling a strong portfolio
London-based senior writer Afy Nou pens snappy copy at Reed Words, a brand writing agency that counts the Barbican, Argos, Disney, Chester Zoo and Greenpeace as clients. Following degrees from the University of Cambridge and Kings College London, Afy fell into writing almost by accident after she joined a branding agency as a bookkeeper. Since joining Reed Words she’s worked for everyone from orchestras to architects and fashion designers to coffee roasters.
Senior Writer, Reed Words (2014–present)
Bookkeeper, then copywriter, at Igloo (2010–2014)
MA English Literature, King’s College London (2010–2011)
BA English Literature, University of Cambridge (2006–2009)
How would you describe what you do?
I usually say: “I’m a copywriter...I work in branding, which means I...uh...uhm…” Because there’s a lot it could mean: writing a promo film script, restructuring a website, coming up with an ad headline, naming a product or helping a brand choose what kind of words it wants to use and what kind of brand it wants to be. I work in a writing agency called Reed Words – a studio of just copywriters. We’re a team of seven: a creative director, commercial director, client services manager, two senior writers, two writers and a partridge in a pear tree. It’ll usually be two writers working on a project together, debating, editing and enjoying each other’s writing. We partner with design studios and app or website developers too.
What does a typical working day look like?
Busy, with a few different projects on the go. I might be prepping a workshop, writing ‘how to write’ guidelines, thinking about whether to call the website page ‘About’ or ‘About us’. I like next day deadlines because they give you ‘sleeponability’, a thing I just made up, that means the time and space to let your subconscious come up with ideas for you. For same-day deadlines you can mimic sleeponability just by stepping away from your desk. It’s amazing how a line can just come to you on the stairs.
“Read about branding so you’re aware of news and projects. Develop opinions and takes of your own. Get fired up about things...it’s cool to care.”
What skills are essential to your job?
Clear thinking, empathy, active listening, noticing details, asking questions, editing (your own work and other people’s), explaining why a piece of writing is good, bad or successful (to people who might see writing as totally subjective). Later in your career you might be involved in pitches, presentations and the like: so standing up and speaking to people.
How I Got Here
What were your first jobs?
I did some internships here and there: one at Orion the publisher and one at Anglia Ruskin University (a kind of meta-internship that one, marketing an internship scheme). I did some volunteering at a community radio station and at Citizen’s Advice, cynically motivated not by human empathy but by fear of a CV gap. Then I moved to London to do an MA and got a part-time job as a bookkeeper at a graphic design studio called Igloo. I started to get involved in their projects, doing the odd bit of writing and some social media. Then, after reading more about design and branding and finding out that copywriters exist, I asked them to please make me a copywriter instead.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
There was a graphic designer when I was at Igloo who shaped a lot of my thinking about design and writing. They stressed the importance of simplicity and restraint, editing yourself ferociously, challenging and pushing the brief – these are all things I carry with me still.
“I like next-day deadlines because they give you ‘sleeponability’, a thing I just made up, that means the time and space to let your subconscious come up with ideas for you.”
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Way early on I helped rebrand a high-end printer called Point101, defining the voice, restructuring and rewriting the site, and coming up with a strapline. I was working directly with designers and developers, in the same room – you write a thing, get up, cross the room, see it up on the screen, see where it’s working and not working, go back and change it. It was one of those big jobs where you have to think about every aspect of the brand at the same time. I liked it. And noticed that I liked it.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
When I started writing my style was so academic: needlessly complex, more clauses than the north pole, pretentious. It was difficult to shake that style, then when I did, it swung too far the other way. It got staccato. It got like this. Lots of short sentences. Like, really. This bad. This. Bad. I think it’s better now.
What would you like to do next?
I’d like to keep writing. Maybe direct a little team of writers one day? But writing is the main thing.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a copywriter?
Get involved in the industry. You can start just by looking. Read about branding so you’re aware of news and projects and stuff. Develop opinions and takes of your own. Get fired up about things...it’s cool to care. Then start commenting and writing. Start a blog. Set up a Twitter account and say hello to fellow writers – there’s a nice community on Twitter who are very generous and share news and jobs going. Assemble a portfolio of work. If you don’t have access to briefs, briefs you set yourself are better than going commando. Try one from D&AD New Blood. You don’t need loads of projects in your portfolio: choose five or so that you’re proud of that you can speak about confidently. Explain your thinking alongside each project, including the problem and what made your solution good. Look at how studios write up their projects. Tell people you trust to look at your work, and to be merciless. Look at award-winning work to inspire you and ‘best of’ copywriting compilations. Figure out what you like and why, and practise articulating why. You got this.
This article is part of our In the Studio With feature on Reed Words
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography by Sophie Stafford
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