“It’s not all Don Drapers and Peggy Olsens, thankfully” – meet copywriter at DesignStudio, Louie Zeegen
On an average day, you're most likely to find DesignStudio’s copywriter Louie Zeegen in a quiet corner, either battling with brand guidelines or writing headlines or films scripts. Juggling projects is something that clearly brings Louie real joy, whether in the studio or his own time. In 2015, alongside partner in crime Jon Bland, he convinced an impressive list of creatives – including Jean Jullien and Marion Deuchars – to pen a drawing of a penis for their book, Pecker, the world’s biggest collection of illustrated genitals (well, probably). Now in its third edition, the book joins a plethora of side projects for Louie, including a documentary and a pilot sitcom for TV in the works. Here he talks creative copy, and doing work you’re proud of.
Copywriter, DesignStudio (2016–present)
(Occasional) Author, People of Print (2014-present)
Junior Copywriter, Moving Brands (2014–2016)
Freelance Copywriter, BBH, Anyways, GBH, The Office of Craig Oldham, UAL, Kellenberger-White, MultiAdaptor
BA English Literature with Creative Writing, Lancaster University (2010–2013)
How would you describe your job?
I’m a copywriter working across various brand projects. My role is diverse – from writing for lots of different mediums (headlines, scripts, naming and guidelines) to being a key part of the strategy for a project.
What does a typical working day look like?
I don’t think there is such a thing. I work across lots of the projects in the studio, so it’s rare that two days are the same. I could be working on a film script in the morning, a tone-of-voice job in the afternoon, and then a totally different project the next day.
Our working hours are 9.30am to 6pm, but we end up doing the odd late night – it’s more about producing work that’s the best it can be, work we’re proud of.
I live in south London so I catch the Thameslink, which is hellish. I used to cycle but haven’t done so since I broke my foot last year. As far as morning rituals go, I get in fairly early and have my first coffee of the day – I quite enjoy the quiet of the studio before it gets fully going.
“The masochist inside me loves having too many things on at one time.”
How did you land your current job?
DesignStudio’s other copywriter, Liam, approached me on LinkedIn and invited me in for a chat and to show my portfolio. Then I was invited to chat with some of the senior management team, and I was offered the job a couple of days after that.
Where does the majority of your work take place?
Most of my writing hours are done in the studio, but the nature of the job means I never fully switch off. I’m constantly thinking – some of the best ideas come along when I’m trying to veg out in front of the overwhelming amount of TV I watch.
How collaborative is your role?
Collaboration is so important. As valuable as it is to just whack your headphones on and sit in a quiet corner (the war room) to just knuckle down, I’m a believer in getting ideas in front of people. DesignStudio has a very open environment – everyone’s input is valid.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I think I’m one of few people who can honestly say I love my job. It sounds soppy as hell but I enjoy every stage of a project – from the early stages, getting under the skin of a business, to writing the tone-of-voice guidelines. There’s also the ‘writer’ in me who loves coming up with headlines – pushing language and expressing ideas as succinctly as possible.
“Moving to London with no job prospects and signing on for six months gave me a pretty good reason to start a career.”
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Since I’ve been at DesignStudio I’ve worked on a lot of projects. Most are still confidential but I do have a favourite that I can actually talk about now: We were asked to look at the website for Star India – India’s biggest production company. Instead of a standard redesign we wanted to create something more meaningful. Star India is celebrated for redefining storytelling on TV and film, so we wanted to make it celebrated for redefining storytelling online.The company has had an amazing influence on the country – research showed a direct correlation between the strong female protagonists in its shows and a reduction in acceptance of violence against women.
Working closely with one of our design directors, I wrote one long-form story, and every other section of the website. I also oversaw content creation for the other long and short-form stories, and wrote a set of guidelines to help them identify and create stories moving forward.
What skills are essential to your job?
Being able to write, think creatively and adapt to situations quickly.
Do you run any self-initiated projects alongside your job?
I’m always writing or playing with an idea in my head. I actually just finished a sitcom pilot that I’ve submitted to a big British TV corporation – it might turn out to be absolutely nothing. The masochist inside me loves having too many things on at one time.
My most popular side project was Pecker, which is (probably) the world’s biggest collection of illustrated penises. My friend Jon Bland and I approached designers, illustrators and artists that we admire to submit drawings, and it snowballed from there. We had submissions from Marion Deuchars, Tim Lahan, Jean Jullien, Mike Perry and loads more. I think there’s about 500 in there. We had a stall at Kiosk book fair in Peck(er)ham (thank you), a book launch at KK Outlet and sold out two print runs. I think it’s still available as a print-to-order on Amazon though. I’ve got another crowd sourced project idea in the pipeline and I’m also researching a documentary I want to make.
What tools do you use most for your work?
It’s quite boring really: a Muji notebook, a Muji pen, MacBook Air, Google Docs, Google Slides and Microsoft Word. But I reckon I could just work in the body of an email if I needed to.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to be a traffic warden when I was about four or five. Then it was a fiction author or stand-up comedian.
What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
When I was growing up my dad was a programme director for graphic design and illustration at Brighton so I’ve been surrounded by it all from a young age – I was always being dragged around private views. I remember being super-bored as a little kid but I’ve come to realise it was actually pretty cool and definitely formative. I also read loads and was forced into drama class.
At about 15 my dad took me to NYC to visit a few studios. I met Faile and Mike Perry and it just blew my mind. I think that was the turning point from wanting to be a tortured author to something in the creative industry.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful?
The English literature side of my degree helped me think analytically about language. The creative writing side of my degree got me to think differently about how to articulate and express myself. It may seem obvious but it made my writing more creative.
What were your first jobs?
I interned at a few places. My first break was at Music in Manchester, from there I interned at Elmwood. Then I interned at Moving Brands and stuck around for two years.
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
When I started at Music I didn’t know a thing about copywriting – I just wanted to be creative. They helped me out a lot. I think then moving to London with no job prospects and signing on for six months gave me a pretty good reason to start a career. I had a great copy director at Moving Brands who taught me most of what I know about copywriting. Basically I’m a product of all the incredibly talented and patient people I’ve met.
Was there an early project that helped your development?
One of my very first projects was at Music working on and the Night of Neon fundraising initiatives for the Christie, which is Manchester’s biggest cancer hospital. I worked with guys called Nathan and Jon. Nathan is now at GBH and one half of the ME & EU project, and Jon, who I worked with on Pecker and my personal branding is now at Apple in California. It was the first couple of bits of my writing that I saw out in the world – a poster on some railings and a film on YouTube that was received really well. That was the first time I realised I might actually be alright at copywriting, that I really enjoyed it and there was a great creative community that I wanted to be part of.
“You can always improve your writing. Language is constantly evolving so as a writer you’ve got to stay on your toes and move with it.”
What skills have you learnt along the way?
You can always improve your writing. Language is constantly evolving so as a writer you’ve got to stay on your toes and move with it.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
It took me a while to learn that my opinion is valid, and to learn how to talk about my work confidently. I still haven’t mastered the art of presenting but I’m getting there.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
It’s not all Don Drapers and Peggy Olsens – thankfully.
What would you like to do next?
I want to keep writing and improving. Also it would be cool to write copy in another language – without having to get someone to translate it.
Could you do this job forever?
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a copywriter?
Set yourself briefs, or look at the D&AD New Blood briefs. Meet as many people as you can. Do your research and figure out where you want to work – don’t send mass emails. Practice all types of writing so you don’t get pigeonholed for just one form of writing. Read as much as you can. Don’t take criticism personally. No one dies if you make a mistake so have fun.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Mention Louie Zeegen
Photography by Jake Green
Mention Jon Bland
Mention People of Print
Mention Moving Brands
Mention Garbett Design
Mention Star India
Mention Marion Deuchars
Mention Jean Jullien
Mention Mike Perry