My Career Wake-Up Call: Tell Stories That Matter

Brand storytelling

This article first appeared in the D&AD series on brand storytelling.

You may not have heard of most of the people I work with; niche consultancies, tiny charities, 10-people technology companies. They’re unlikely to win any yellow pencils. They don’t have advertising budgets. They don’t even have marketing departments.

But they all have a story.

And I began telling their stories, after a huge career wake-up call.

In 2008, the economy tanked. While I didn’t lose my copywriting business, everything changed for me when my biggest, best clients lost their budgets over the following year.

I hadn’t realised up to that point how spoilt I was. I certainly couldn’t afford to be fussy any more. Being the main breadwinner for our family and trying to be a mum too, I had little time to go out finding new clients. I felt as if I had to take whatever work I was offered.

I’m ashamed to say, I got caught in a rut.

I ended up being hired to write keyword-rich SEO articles and tasked with filling up the spaces on websites with cringey jargon; “unlock your profit and leverage your ROI” anyone?

The problem was that I still got great feedback. It seemed like this was what clients wanted.

But it wasn’t what I wanted.

I didn’t want to be a box ticker.

I didn’t want to be a form filler.

Or a copy monkey. Or a word tiller.

I wanted to do work that mattered.

Then came along a project that forced me to try harder. It was for a fashion designer who had overcome personal tragedy to make her company survive, despite the odds. It made me realise if I truly wanted to do work that mattered then I had to dig a little deeper and understand why my client’s businesses matter.

Ever since, I’ve made it my mission to get under the skin of every company’s story and communicate the answers as best I can.

Instead of bragging about feeds and speeds of the new platform – I focused on the ways a young start-up was taking on the goliath of Google.

Instead of boring people to tears about business intelligence – I told the story of the developer who stayed when everyone else went home to develop software that identified children at risk, because he’d been one of those kids once.

Instead of convincing women to ‘get the look you want’ – I told the stories of women whose lives had been transformed and proved how this clinic used both its profits and skill to help burns victims.

My clients might be in the same business as their competition but by using the universal marketing tool of a good story, they feel radically different.

My work feels radically different now too. I suppose from the outside nothing has changed, I don’t earn any more and I work for similar sized companies but I can honestly say I love what I do again.

The moral of this story?

It seemed easier to trot out the clichés, telling myself I was just waiting for an exciting project to come along, but I think we can all agree it’s much tougher to do work that bores you. I like the way Paul Arden puts it:

“Don’t look for the next opportunity.  The one you have in hand is the opportunity. We are always waiting for the perfect brief from the perfect client. It almost never happens… Whatever is on your desk right now, that’s the one.  Make it the best you possibly can.”

Because you have a story too – your life story. Only you get the chance to create one you’re proud of telling.

And because this world really doesn’t need more noise, but all we’re all hungry for more meaning.

Related Articles

Distil your essence

Figure Out Who You Are. Do It On Purpose.

In 2015, I decided to really niche down from general copywriter to brand messaging specialist.

In doing so, I thought it would be a great idea to ditch the...

Read More

You Can't Read The Label From Inside The Jar: A Simple Way To Test Your Message

Take a look at your website homepage.

Does it really bottle your brilliance?

A simple way to tell is to imagine stripping away your branding, so you’re...

Read More


Book a FREE Brain Blitz