With a career spanning over 30 years, two continents and a multitude of awards, Jon Maxim is not your average copywriter. He thrives on a challenge and isn’t afraid to tackle the hard stuff. His clients include the likes of Sydney Opera House, LinkedIn and Amnesty International. And when he’s not writing, you can catch him teaching ADMA IQ’s Essentials and Advanced Copywriting courses.
1. How did you get into copywriting?
My parents were actors (mum still is: aged 85. Just completed a new TV series with Maisy Williams of GoT fame).
I thought I wanted to be an actor, too. Until I realised I preferred creating worlds (blank page), as opposed to bringing them to life (reading off the page).
So, I did a Psychology degree - to better understand what makes people tick.
From there, to my first job as a copywriter at a tiny London agency. The only copywriter in the building, and no experience. I learnt quickly.
2. You've been doing this for over 30 years - what keeps you coming back to words day after day?
Words, language, mediums change every day. So do people.
What worked last year won’t this year. The ground shifts.
I’m constantly challenged to refine and perfect my craft - and I’m never satisfied with what I’ve done.
There’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in, and helping to create, communication.
3. How has copywriting changed since you started?
I realise now just how lazy I was back then.
You got a brief, created a pun, knocked out a TV script and went to lunch.
If the ad worked, you might find out in a year (when the brand-tracking study came in). If it didn’t, no-one noticed.
That started changing in the 90s. Now, of course, we have to work harder. Identify the audience, understand their needs, find how we can address them.
I’ve never worked so hard to make sure I’m writing to please the reader, not the client.
And thank goodness for that!
4. What was the best piece of copy you ever wrote? What was the worst?
Back in the 90s, I worked with some amazing people - many at an agency called Bond. One of our clients was Castlemaine XXXX.
The database guru (hello, Per) worked out that 1% of Queensland beer drinkers drank 90% of the beer. But who were they? How could we build a database of heavy beer drinkers?
We needed to start broad - with some traditional advertising, in newspapers. A questionnaire to work out who we should target.
An incentive, of course: a six-pack of beer.
Best headline and copy I ever wrote. Worked wonders.
The worst? When I was too busy, too lazy, too rushed to take the time to do my homework. Funnily enough, many of those won awards.
5. Why is copy so important in marketing today?
Hey, I’m a copywriter. Of course, I think copy is important!
If you’re a hammer, every problem is solved with a nail.
A long way around of saying that - while copy is important - I think it’s just one part of the puzzle.
Great data leads to insights, leads to better copy.
Great design brings mediocre copy to life.
Great strategy will power ahead, despite ordinary copy.
Brave people can change and challenge the world (think Greta). You don’t need good copy to do that.
Copy is one small (yes, important) part of a process.
6. What are the three most important rules for writing good copy?
1. Homework. Put that pen down, and think. Who am I writing for, what am I writing about, and why should that mean anything? I spend a huge amount of time with my feet on the desk, looking vacant. That’s when the magic happens.
2. Verbal diarrhoea. Once you’ve done your homework, pour your heart out. Don’t worry about word limitations, don’t edit as you go, don’t stop. Get it down, even if it’s drivel.
3. Edit, edit, edit. Once you’ve poured your heart out, get brutal. Question every word: is it 100% necessary? If not, delete. Done right, this process can turn a 1000 word essay into a 280 character tweet.
7. If you were a superhero, what would your name be? Why?
The superheros I know are the writers, clients, designers, SEOers, clients, strategists who are creating magic. Quietly, in the background.
My superhero name would be ‘mum’.
Cause, with three kids of my own, I don’t think you can meet a character who’s more of a super-hero than a mum.