A writer in a hipster cafe? It’s a cliche as old as, well, the 21st century. But that’s exactly how I met Glenn Fisher, sat writing in Riverhead Coffee, Cleethorpes. We got chatting about his journey to becoming an author and speaker.
“I quite like being somewhere I don’t particularly enjoy the music, I can screen it out and it helps me focus”, he jokes. Grimsby born and bred, Glenn hasn’t always been a writer. In fact, he talks about his life in parts. He’s in part three now, as you’ll see.
His new book, The Art of the Click – inspired by Donald Trump, but more on that later – focuses on harnessing the power of copywriting and his years of experience working for an international marketing giant. Now he’s moved back to his hometown, I wanted to get him to share some of his experience.
KW: Talk me through your journey to this point
Glenn: I guess I’m in part three at the moment. Part one was going for your typical two point four children set up. Study at college – my dream was to be a bank manager (seriously) – get a practical job, buy a house, settle down, have a family. I became an auditor for the council and seemed to be on that path, but something told me it wasn’t right, so I figured I needed something else to do.
At school, I’d read a bit but not that much. But around 22 I started reading properly. With Woody Allen and Groucho Marx, in particular, I discovered you can write things that are funny. I saw writing didn’t need to always be serious. I liked that. So, I started writing silly stories and did a night class at Franklin.
KW: How did you further pursue that?
Glenn: The guy running the class thought I was quite good so put me in touch with another chap just starting a Professional Writing course at The Grimsby Institute. I went for it. All of sudden, I’d quit my job and was back at university as a mature student. It was good, though – I threw myself at it.
It’s odd to think I had a natural talent but the course took me from “I can do this but I don’t know what I’m doing” to understanding how to develop my writing. And this is how I moved to what I see as part two of my life – The London Years. Ha.
KW: So, how did you get started?
Glenn: I went to London for an interview as a junior writer and after the craziest interview I’ve ever had, I knew I wanted to work at the company. It’s a massive financial publisher that uses direct response marketing to grow their business.
It’s a dry subject, I guess, but I had loads of great people teaching me how to sell things and that’s how I learnt copywriting. I had a natural flair for writing in a persuasive way, a chatty and playful tone that seems to be in demand. I did this for about a decade but got to the stage of “right, what’s next?”
KW: What was the outcome?
Glenn: I’d already bought a house in Grimsby but was still living in London. However, when I met my partner here I decided to go full time back in Grimsby and work freelance. At the same time, I’d got the book deal so this had brought about new opportunities too.
KW: How did the book come about?
Glenn: I’d been writing blogs for a while and when I met my partner, who’s an artist, I wanted to do something different and get back to where I wanted to be as a writer and creative person. So, I used the blogs as the basis of a book, writing about what I know.
Then, randomly, through LinkedIn or something, I spoke to a publisher, Harriman House, pitched the idea of the book to them and they took it on. My editor really pushed me to improve the book from what it was and that was so useful.
KW: What changed when that was published?
Glenn: Well, for starters, since I decided I’d be a writer, I knew I wanted to have a book…so there’s a certain validation there. Even though I’d been writing for 10 years, it made me into an author. That’s good to know and it has given me permission to write.
At least, that’s how I see it. And it means I can be a bit broader and think bigger with my next book. It also helps from a credibility point of view. The fact that other people have said “yes, this guy knows what he’s talking about” is pretty cool. It’s opened the door to doing talks and that kind of thing too.
KW: Tell me about being a speaker
Glenn: I’ve been in bands all my life so I’ve always been comfortable as a performer and I like being a speaker now. I think somewhere in my mind I’ve always wanted to do stand up. I could never do that as it’s far too hard, but at least this way I can get away with not telling as many jokes.
I’m lucky that my talks have been received well and now I get asked to do amazing events, ones where I was in the audience just a few years ago.
KW: Is there a stigma around being called a copywriter?
Glenn: Ha. I’ve been discussing this on my podcast. One guest, a woman called Vikki Ross, who works at Sky, is proud to call herself a copywriter. But then another guest, Nick Parker, who’s a successful copywriter in his own right doesn’t like calling himself a copywriter.
I’m not sure, but what we definitely do know is there’s something not ideal about the term copywriter. By using the terms it turns into just an output, a tool. Like being a plumber. A business thinks “I need some words on the website – I’ll get a copywriter.” But being a copywriter is much more than that – it’s about how you express ideas.
Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between the word and the act. It’s like the Picasso story where he draws on the napkin and asks for a large sum of money. “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this.” To which Picasso replies, “No, it took me 40 years to learn how to draw that.”
It’s that same principle with copywriting. If someone asks for a 200-word blog for £50 then it’s a very transactional thing. That’s not ideal. Because it’s really about the idea behind it, where that blog fits into the brand and the marketing strategy of the company. There’s a lot more to it.
KW: Is that where the Art comes from in the title of the book?
Glenn: I wish. Ridiculously, the title is actually based on Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal. It was going to be very copywriter focused but then the editor suggested we come up with something broader. So me and my partner Ruth were sat there coming up with ideas and happened to be watching a documentary on Trump.
I liked Clickable and wrote that down. But then we heard ‘The Art of’ and jotted down The Art of the Click. As a joke, I think. But then as these things tend to go, that one kind of stuck out as the best one. So, my book is based on a Donald Trump book, which let’s face it…is not good. I’m seemingly influenced by him.
KW: There is a lot of art and science in copywriting – and marketing, more broadly – how important is measurement?
Glenn: It’s all about writing and expressing ideas but there’s a lot of behavioural science around it right now and there are a number of people talking about the correlation of certain things.
Weirdly, as I am a direct marketer, and I do rely on measuring as my biggest tool, when I was writing the book I knew I didn’t want it to be the type of book that was all about statistics. I just wanted it to be more like a conversation between friends, on a broader level.
So I feel like with the book I’m talking about it from an artisan point of view. That said, there is some science in there. In hindsight, I’m glad we went broader. We could have gone even broader because it has an appeal outside of the copywriter landscape, but I think the balance is right.
KW: Why do you think some businesses have an issue with copywriters?
Glenn: We all know how to write. We learn how to do so at school, so everyone has an opinion on it. Not everyone learns how to do marketing or UX design, so you employ experts to do that. However, with writing, you feel like you can get away with it yourself to some extent.
But it’s important to ensure you’re doing things that are right for your business. That you’re communicating your message in the right way. This is where hiring a professional copywriter can help.
KW: What’s the key to building relationships?
Glenn: Authenticity. Everyone seems to say it these days, but it’s true. However, you have to be authentic in being authentic.
Take the Gillette advert and how they’ve tried to tap into the ‘Me Too’ movement, as an example. The result is an inauthentic advert and it got absolutely ripped apart on the Internet – and it’s damaged Gillette as a brand.
Is it anything to do with a razor? No. Don’t waste money on the ridiculous marketing, why not just donate it or support the cause in a more direct way that doesn’t involve you trying to sell razors? It’s an extreme but obvious version of inauthenticity.
KW: In this case, what made it inauthentic?
Glenn: They’ve tried to latch onto a genuine and valuable movement but had they wanted to genuinely help them they’d have contacted the founders and asked them how they could do something in collaboration.
If they’d really have wanted to have helped the movement, that’s not a marketing thing, that’s you going to help them. The question isn’t how can we sell more razors by helping this movement because it’s a good thing to get on to – that’s not authentic.
You have to ask why are we doing this? What are we doing this for? If you are disciplined and answer those questions correctly then you might be able to find a way that supports it and taps into what’s going on but that’s not the priority here. It just seemed like them trying to get more sales. It’s a cynical thing to do that.
KW: How do you build a relationship with an audience through direct response marketing?
Glenn: Direct response marketing is creating a relationship. It’s based on engaging people. So I might ask a question today that doesn’t seem like a sales message but I ask it because I want to elicit a response that will eventually mean I’m going to want to sell something.
Every piece of marketing, or what appears to be indirect marketing, is still – in my mind – a tiny piece of a much bigger campaign to create a relationship.
I loved The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck and thought it was fantastic and modest. He’s since become a larger than life character and his message is a little bit lost. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got respect for stuff he’s done, but I don’t like that hustle idea and having to suffer to achieve.
Still, the whole ‘jab, jab, right hook’ thing is great. So with any marketing, even when it seems to be indirect it should be part of a larger campaign. If you can’t answer why you’re doing something other than “for brand awareness” then don’t do it.
KW: What one piece of advice would you give for an aspiring writer/copywriter?
Glenn: Read every day, write every day and be useful. Be generous with your ideas. If you’re an idea person, that’s your value. When people figure out that you’re good at ideas, people will come back when they’ve run out of ideas – even if they’ve stolen yours initially. I have found that being generous comes back around.
KW: Who do you think was your biggest inspiration?
Glenn: It’s tough as I’ve had a lot of good people teach me things. But flashing in my head right now is one of my old mentors, Mark Ford. He taught me the power of one in marketing – stick to one idea and get people to do one thing. All the time, it’s just one thing. Whether it’s an email, blog post or website page, think of the one thing you want the person to do and focus on that. He taught me that and it’s served me well.
“We need to look at things with fresh eyes”, that’s what Glenn thought about things like the Gillette advert or even the more successful Nike one. As with many KnapChats we’ve done, authenticity was a key theme running through everything. Life takes on many forms, and most people could break it down into parts, or chapters, so it was natural that a writer would think of it within those terms.
It’s easier than ever to communicate with your audience yet it’s arguably never been more difficult to do so authentically. Whether you’re a cafe in Cleethorpes or a global brand trying to shift a few razors, you need to speak to the right people at the right time with the right message.
Loved this blog and want to hear from more fascinating people doing extraordinary things? Check out our other #KnapChat interviews below: