Monthly Archives: May 2014

Graphic design and copywriting: a lesson from Rio’s favelas

Rio’s sprawling hillside favelas – shanty towns – are a long way from this Gloucestershire copywriter’s beat. And they might seem a strange place to find a reminder about the importance of graphic design and copywriting working together for the clearest possible communication. But that, indeed, is what I saw on an impressive BBC2 documentary last night.

The Gloucestershire Copywriter loved Welcome to Rio, Part 1 'Peace'

Welcome to Rio on BBC 2







I was watching Part 1 of BBC’s pre-World Cup documentary series Welcome to Rio. I’m not a massive football fan, but it looked interesting and, having recently spent a couple of days in Brazil, I decided to watch. The programme, which looked at the lives of people living in Rio’s favelas, gave a fascinating insight into the challenges faced by the residents as they survive with pirated electricity, broken white goods salvaged from Rio’s posh districts and inspiration from some of the most stunning dawn views over Copacabana beach and Corcovado.

A few words make things easier for everyone

The Cantagalo residents featured in this observational series included Brazilian ‘Banksey-style’ graffiti artist Acme. In one scene, Acme is communicating his feelings for the enforced dismantling of the favela with an impressive artwork featuring an octopus (the authorities) and a shark (the people). As he finishes the metres-long painting, a police officer asks what it is about, drags out of Acme the notion of oppressed people battling against the establishment, then suggests that a few words might make the idea easier for everyone to understand.

Get your copywriter in early

And there was the lesson. Too often, as a busy Cheltenham copywriter, I get called into a project when the brochure design is complete or a website is nominally ‘finished’. I do my best, but how much better it is for the client when I work alongside their graphic designer or website company from the start to produce a design solution where words and images complement each other and communicate the desired message.

In fact, since returning from South America, I’ve been working with Stroud-based graphic designer Sam Hemmings (Design Fibre) to create a new brochure for retail location specialist Maximise (UK) Ltd. The project was a joy, with a fantastic client and great chemistry between Sam and I as the classic copywriter-designer creative team.

When words and images work together – it’s perfect

Oh yes! As that Rio cop explained to the exceptionally talanted Acme, perfect communication comes when words and design work together. Now, let’s hope that the England team gel as well as Sam and I did when they take to the pitch in next month’s World Cup.

Let’s hope for Gol! Gol! Gol! (as they say in Rio!) And before that, there are two more episodes of Welcome to Rio to watch over the next couple of weeks…

Al Hidden is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

The Gloucestershire Copywriter’s guide to inspiring creativity

The Nailsworth-based WinBiz networking group has just announced its forthcoming (Thursday 10 July 2014) quarterly evening meeting. I’m very excited because Helen Westendorp of Treehouse Partners Ltd, the Gloucestershire-based creative-thinking consultants, will be our guest speaker.


We’ve been primed to come along with problems that need solving, open minds and colourful clothes. But in the meantime (and following on nicely from last week’s ‘copywriter’s shelfie‘, I got thinking about some of the books in my library that have been helpful when my creativity as a Gloucestershire copywriter needed a boost.

Creativity sources from the Gloucestershire Copywriter’s library

I read my first Tony Buzan book longer ago than I care to remember. Buzan is a master of reworking his basic ideas into an unceasing flow of books to complement his mind-mapping empire. Good for him! Those basic ideas are good and his books are fascinating and inspirational – worth the price just for the beautifully reproduced examples of mind maps. I recently picked up a bargain-priced pre-owned copy of Mind Maps for Business. If you’re new to mind-mapping, it’s worth a pop, particularly when you can get a second-hand copy so cheaply on Amazon.

Creative Confidence

A book that’s currently sitting in my (scarily large) to-read pile is Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. This came highly recommended and I’m looking forward to getting started on it. The solid five-star Amazon rating speaks volumes – as does David Kelley’s reputation among Stanford, California’s academics and the Silicon Valley entrepreneurial set. What works well there should work well for one of the copywriters in Cheltenham! Writing this has spurred me on to read it when I have finished my current bedside reading (Isaac Asimov’s autobiographical I, Asimov, Victor O. Schwab’s How to Write a Good Advertisement and Designing Quality Technical Information (Gretchen Hargis et al).

Creativity books that inspire the Gloucestershire Copywriter

Creativity books that inspire the Gloucestershire Copywriter

Where good ideas come from

Back to another book that I have already read: Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, which I devoured during a week-long spring break in Marrakesh a couple of years ago. This is a good introduction to Johnson’s substantial body of work. The basic themes of the book are that ‘connected’ minds work better than single minds, where you think can be more important than what you think, and that the best ideas come from building on the ideas of other people. From MIT’s legendary Building 20 to present-day Apple, this is an inspiring read in one sitting or as something you dip into.


Lastly, I must mention Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys, a veritable creativity toolbox (or should that be toybox) that is never far from meThinkertoys is packed with hundreds of hints and tips to open your mind when you are wrestling with an apparently insoluble problem. Again, you could read this in one go, but it lends itself perfectly to use as a creativity-thinking first-aid kit.

Thinkertoys: from the Gloucestershire Copywriters creativity library

Instant creative inspiration for copywriters or anyone else. for that matter…









So, if you need a boost of creativity, and you are based in Gloucestershire or surrounding counties, come along to WinBiz at The Egypt Mill, Nailsworth, on the evening of 10 July 2014 – or get over to Amazon or your favourite bricks and mortar bookshop for a copy of one of my recommended books.

And if you want some creative marketing, PR, technical or website copywriting


Al Hidden is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

The Gloucestershire Copywriter’s shelfie …

The selfie is dead – long live the shelfie!

According to a recent piece in The Guardian, selfies may have been the thing in 2013, but pictures of bookshelves are now much more interesting. Others are already on the shelfie bandwagon (or should that be bookshelf?) started by Instagram, including Radio 2’s Simon Mayo and the New York Public Library.

copywriting shelfie

The Gloucestershire Copywriter’s shelfie

As part of my continuous professional development, I read a lot around copywriting, web and SEO copywriting, PR writing, technical communication, branding and other topics relevant to my craft.

So here’s part of this Cheltenham copywriter’s reference library – my reference shelfie. It’s the perfect complement to over 30 years’ practical, real-world experience in sales, marketing, technical writing, PR, and of course in-house and freelance copywriting.

Now, please tell me about the most useful writing books on your reference shelf.

Al Hidden is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.

The Gloucestershire Copywriter goes back in time. Here’s why…

There’s inspiration out there, not necessarily in ‘them thar hills’, but in the writings of the good and great of copywriting and journalistic writing from bygone days. And I’ve been reminded of a couple of gems that can help everyone who writes for business – including you.

With the fast-pace of technological change, we’ve become used to computers and phones being out of date the day we buy them. But in the world of business writing, the pace of change isn’t so fast and loads of advice that worked decades (or even a century) ago still holds good today.

The timeless wisdom of Claude C. Hopkins

You only need to read Claude C. HopkinsMy Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising to get this. Amongst other things, Hopkins was the brain behind the famous, and still influential, Schlitz Beer ads that are always being quoted in advertising texts.

I’ve been reading these two books recently and was struck by how simply relevant his thoughts on letter writing, testing and other advertising matters remain some 82 years after his death. No wonder David Ogilvy wrote:

Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book (Scientific Advertising) seven times. It changed the course of my life.

You can read Scientific Advertising online for free (or buy the combined books in hard copy).

More recent inspiration for any business writer

Another, more recent gem that I’ve been reading is Donald M. Murray’s Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work – my copy was published in 2000. In the book, Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, covers topics as diverse as the journalist’s craft, writing before writing and development of journalistic pieces. As well as a healthy dose of experience-based advice, the book also includes a fascinating selection of interviews with journalists where they talk about writing.


Though the book is primarily aimed at professional journalists, there are gems that will transform the way anyone writes for business. In particular, I was struck by the chapter titled ‘DEVELOP: Work on What Works’ where Murray discusses the process of developing a draft document.

If there was one thing that jumped out from this chapter, it was Murray’s assertion that writing will take a huge leap forward if, when revising a draft, you focus not on what is wrong, but what is working – what is right. By doing so, the improvement on an original draft is accelerated and, interestingly, most of the problems of early drafts  will solve themselves. Those that aren’t can be more easily isolated and worked on. It’s a radical change from the idea of focusing on what’s wrong with a document. Murray also advocates thinking about revision, not as a punishment for failure, but as an opportunity. Sounds a bit like the old ‘challenges, not problems’ thing, doesn’t it.

Is this for real? I guess it is.

And here’s one last thing which I took away from reading Murray; it resonates with me as someone who regularly has to transform clients’ drafts from ‘we orientated’ to ‘you-oriented’ when writing for website or brochure readers. Here’s what Murray writes:

It is print journalist tradition to avoid the first person (in fact, the capital letter I had been filed off all the Royal typewriters in the old Boston Herald city room when I arrived in 1948).

Although Murray then goes on to state that there is an occasional place for the first person in journalistic writing, I just liked this anecdote and it is a great reminder of the importance of writing directly to your reader – and talking about them much more than about you!

A worthwhile read – even if it’s only Chapter 7

So there you go, a few thoughts prompted by a trip back in time into my copywriting library. If you have to develop draft documents, you could do worse than invest in a copy – even if you only read Chapter 7, it will be worthwhile.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever learned about copywriting or editing? feel free to comment below.


Al Hidden is an experienced Gloucestershire based copywriter specialising in Marketing, Web/SEO, technical and PR copywriting.