We All Need Words

We All Need Words is a London based copywriting agency founded in 2007. They have worked with clients like adidas, The School of Life and PepsiCo. Co-founder Rob Mitchell answered our questions.

On the lesser-spotted ideal clients... 1. The Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat (very rare) – They have a clear vision in their head and know exactly what they want. Their feedback helps and pushes us to make the work better. 2. The Southern Rockhopper Penguin (endangered) – They don’t know how to get what they want, but they trust us to make it happen. They’re good at selling in the work to their managers and the board.

On the more common not-so-ideal client... The I-Want-The-Same-As-Them Parrot. They say they want something new! and different! but they don’t know what that is. Their brief becomes more about second-guessing what they’re after, which is never a good way to go. And when push comes to shove, they default to the safe option because they go with what they know.

Fortunately, we’ve got really good at spotting these kind of clients and we’re not afraid to turn down the work. Equally, like most people who do something creative for a living, we’ll work hard and sacrifice money on a job if we sense there's a project we’re going to be really proud of.

On the importance of prototyping... I always say to clients that it’s impossible to know if something works unless you can see it and try it out. If I can't see if our words work until they’re designed-up, I don’t know how a client could. So the way we run projects is to show the client a piece of work that's as finished-looking as possible in two or three ways. It's a good challenge for us: can we do the same idea in three completely different ways? We don't show clients anything before we get to that point. Sometimes clients find that first bit of radio silence unnerving, but it's best for the finished piece of work. It’s often more unnerving for them if we show them unformed ideas too early. And then once the client's seen the work, the feedback needs to be managed well and quickly — especially with their colleagues — to make sure it's all about developing that idea, or at least keeping its integrity as intact as possible.

Why it’s good to talk (and bad to procrastinate)... I actually think people put too much weight on good briefs, or written ones anyway. They’re just not that inspiring (or well-written). I want a client to tell me what they want the work to do and to give me as much background as possible, so it helps to have that basic stuff written down. But it’s even better to talk to a client to tease out the really useful stuff because the juicy details get lost in a written brief. So talking is the best way to do it. And I’m always happy for direction — constraints are good. There’s nothing as uncreative as a blank sheet of paper.

I think clients and creatives all love to do anything to put off getting started. They either over-strategise everything with visions, values and diagrams, full of broad feel-good words which are completely unusable outside a PowerPoint presentation. Or they spend too long doing mood boards. At best mood boards give you a wishy-washy idea of what something's going to be like. More often than not, though, they force you to copy things that are already out there — even if that's not on purpose. And because everyone's using the same Tumblr feeds and blogs, everything is starting to look the same. I’d outlaw them if I ran a design agency.

I've recently been on the receiving end of “mood videos” — a Frankenstein’s monster version of both those things. One was for an alcohol brand: it had clips of gangsters shooting people, driving fast cars and swearing. And the client said “Obviously we can't use any of that, it’s just to give you a feel of what we want to do with the brand.” How can that possibly be helpful? I don't do any of that: I cut out as much process and theoretical stuff as I can get away with and get on to the doing bit.