Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Sequel

This blog has finished. To read the whole story, scroll to the bottom of the page and read upwards.

Here is the sequel:

English Copywriter

If you are looking for a freelance English copywriter click this link.

Monday, June 18, 2007


Around ten months ago I started this blog to help me find a full-time English copywriting position at a 4As agency in Hong Kong.

Now I am happy to say that my mission is over. I have reached Step Ten at last.

So yeah!

Today I begin my full-time contract at Ogilvy and Mather and I couldn’t ask for a better job at a better agency.

This blog documents what it is like trying to crack the big agencies here in Hong Kong.

To read about this rather bizarre mission from the beginning, click here.

This blog helped me enormously. Through it, I was able to reach the #1 spot in the world for both ‘Freelance English Copywriter’ and ‘English Copywriter’ on Google, and land on the radar of most of the Creative Directors in the city.

It has shown that a fairly untapped medium can act as an excellent (and free) advertising tool.

I don’t know what my next goal, or blog, will be. But to everyone that helped me along the way, thanks.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Go Die Hoy

I need to make a trip to Macao this weekend.

When I return, I will have reached Step Ten!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Luxury of Writers’ Block

There is a certain flow to ideas and writing.

Sometimes the ideas just come to you steadily. Sometimes you can sit down and just write and write.

It is all about practice. When you write five to ten ads a day, including letters, emails, posters, and scripts, the words just come to you out of nowhere. And you get rather tapped in.

This is a good thing, because copywriters don’t really have the luxury of writers’ block.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cantonese 201

Deem ah – what do you want?

No ho sang yut gwa ju wahhn – You are not focusing on work

June sum deh – focus!

Joe gay doe-meh-yuen – work never ends

Dim sooon – What to do?

Sie see gan – Waste my time

Sie cheen – Waste money

Ho tow tong – Very head ache

Gow Cha – You make a mistake (what the heck?)

Mmm Gan Eeyou - It doesn’t matter

Do tsey Thank you for the ‘gift’

Mm Goi – Thanks for the service

Li Taaht – In trouble, in the tart

Sick fawn – Bon Apetit

Lie Bie – Weekend

Bye Bye - Goodbye

Teen hey ho – The weather is fine

Ho Die You – Raining Heavily

Hug Ma ma – Very black sky

Toy fung - Typhoon

Ho gow seeu – very funny

Joe Wong Jone Sum – Center building

Ho Leh – Great

Say seen – Deadline

Cho how – foul language

So ma fa – troublesome

Ho bow – I’m full

Say! – Snake

A sick toe mon yah! – You know Cantonese

Toe mon – Cantonese

Ho Ho Meh – Very very good

Mongoh - Mango

Um seh dat ley – I’ll be missing you

Noh Yet Sun Gan Fan-lie – I’ll be right back

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Putting a Face to a Brand

As an individual, online networks like Facebook are a good place to build a brand.

But I don’t know of any major brands actively tapped into this phenomenon.

Ironically enough, as the world gets more and more digital, there has never been a better time to give a brand a human face.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Freelance Copywriter Pick of the Week

A great concept for an ad:

The World's Most Interesting Man

Friday, June 01, 2007

Your 24/7 Copywriter

Copywriting is not the kind of job that you can leave at the office. You are constantly thinking about ideas. As a problem-solving kinda guy, I like to have projects on the go, and being in a problem-solution industry – it’s a good match.

Either way, I’m constantly ‘on’.

This is okay for me, because I like what I do (it’s a good thing I’m not a mortician).

It is amazing how many ads I’ve come up with just as I wake up. Even in my dreams I’m working. Good job brain!

It does make it a bit hard to sleep though…

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Confessions of an SEO Copywriter

I have a lot of people contact me about SEO (Seach Engine Optimization) copywriting.

In the two years that I have been writing blogs I have had quite a lot of success with SEO.

When I wanted to square off English Copywriter, I got that, Freelance English Copywriter, I nailed that too, and previously I wanted Sustainability Advertising…and BAM! You betcha.

Okay, truth be told I totally stumbled across the tricks of the trade by pretty much making every mistake in the book. I’ve been banned from Google, Adsense (twice), Yahoo and even our good friend Jeeves.

By making these mistakes I know a bit about what not to do, so that’s a start.

I go about SEO in what is known as the ‘white hat’ way. In other words, I provide content that search engines like. It’s not a bunch of garbage spewed out by outsourced man-machine-animals for $5 a page (or worse).

As I’ve said before, if you buy cheap SEO, it will only come back to haunt you sooner or later. Either you’ll get knocked off the rankings entirely, or you’ll damage your brand with that nonsense.

To be a full-on SEO guy you have to know how to program websites as well, which I don’t. What I do is strictly through blogs (and other things). It’s a very labour-intensive system (just look at this blog and you’ll see what I mean). But it makes you a resource in your field, and that’s cool.

I also have a few other tricks up my sleeve.

But the reality is, to stay at the top you need to put in a lot of work and if you want it done right, it will cost a pretty penny.

That said, am I looking for SEO clients?

Not really.

There’s money to be made doing this stuff, but right now, my heart is in advertising.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

English Copywriting in Hong Kong – The Expat Experience

It is an interesting life being an expat.

Hong Kong is full of them, it is an excellent way to get a better perspective on why a culture does the strange things it does while accelerating your career like no one’s business. That is, if you are willing to work like a crazy animal.

But as something of a professional expat, HK has been but one stop along the road for me. But by far the most interesting.

When I started out on this rambling existence, I had my fair share of strange jobs.

I’ve demolished stuff in Montreal, moved furniture in Texas and attempted to teach English in Warsaw. I’ve dropped plates in New York, dug ditches in New Orleans, and served up shandys alongside foxy Swedes to pennywise locals in London.

I attempted to convey the finer points of public speaking to wild young Americans down under. I tortured recipes in Gibraltar and Sweden and seized pianos under the noses of drunken judges in Vancouver. I’ve even taken the caps off beer bottles on a brewery assembly line in Creston.

Then I realized that writing for a living was where it was at.

It’s a good mobile job, and what the hell, I write everyday anyway. My, what a wonderfully great gig!

But being a journalist is hard, being an editor is harder, and getting in as a copywriter – that’s the hardest there is. I guess the way it works that the greater the gig, the more people want to do it.

Curses, I should have thought of that earlier.

So a simple plan of writing to better go from place to place quickly turned into going from place to place to become a better writer.

Who would have ever guessed that I’d cut my teeth in Hong Kong, what with all those dental professionals I know back home?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Nothing to See Here

People have been asking me what I will do with this blog once I have reached my goal.

Hmm, I'm not really sure, but I do like the idea of it being used as a reference.

It can be an outline for others looking to break into this crazy world they call advertising.

If and when I reach Step Ten - I suppose I'll just start another.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Big News for Little Shops

It has been said that one of the main reasons to strive for awards is the 'power of the press release'.

So in the name of self-promotion - here's my latest.

Summit Creative Awards Celebrate the Little Guy

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Freelance Copywriter Pick of the Week

This is my bet for a gold at the lions next month.

Vaseline - Sea of Skin

Although you can't really go wrong with a ferret with a chainsaw.

Diet Moutain Dew - Ferret

Monday, May 21, 2007

Status Report VIII

Things are going well. I’m still in HK, and soon I will be at Step Ten.

It’s been raining here a lot lately and I’ve been watching tons of movies with Maria and eating heaps of microwave popcorn.

Hmm, hopefully next month’s status report is a little more interesting.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Freelance Copywriter Pick of the Week

A viral campaign done very well. Over a million hits in the first week.

Ray Ban - Catch

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My First Award

Diane just contacted me from Creative Wonders in Vancouver and it turns out we just won an award for a radio ad I wrote last year.

We won a Silver in the Radio Category at the International Summit Creative Awards.

The ad was Henry VIII for Simmons Mattress Gallery.

How about that? My first award.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Lions and Monkeys

With the Cannes Lions just around the corner, some great ads are beginning to pop up in time for the big show.

Here is one from Saatchi Stockholm that is so bizarre it's excellent.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Step Nine

My brother reminded me that I forgot to state that I am now on Step Nine.

freelance copywriter link

My mission, and the point of this blog, is almost complete

Friday, May 11, 2007

Freelance Copywriter Pick of the Week

Alright, so it's my second this week, but this one is too good to pass up.

Wonderbra ad

Thursday, May 10, 2007

English Teacher in Hong Kong Builds Brand Online

My latest article is out:

English Teacher in Hong Kong Uses Online Advertising for Competitive Edge.

Interested in private tutorials? To find out more click here. Native English Teacher link.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Freelance Copywriter Pick of the Week

An old one, a simple one, but it does the job nicely, in almost any language.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

English Teacher In Hong Kong

Maria has finished her TESOL (Teaching English) course and is now looking for work here as an English Teacher, so as you may of guessed, owning English Teacher in Hong Kong on Google is the next on the agenda.

If you are a looking for an exceptional Native English Teacher, you can reach her at

Friday, May 04, 2007

Success la!

Ogilvy wants to hire me on full time!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Monday, April 30, 2007


No idea what’s going to happen now. My contract is up. But we’ll see what happens after the holiday (tomorrow). I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Workwise, I have absolutely no idea what is going on in my life right now. Who knows what will happen next week...

In other news, Maria is here. She's going to live in HK with me now. But they have just offered her a part in a movie in China, so it looks like I'll be dating a moviestar. Cool.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Remuneration and Amenities Are More Than Just Hard to Spell

Do you work so hard that your fingers no longer have bones, much like a fish’s?

Do you have a smile warm enough to grow tomatoes?

Have the words ‘Impossible!’ ‘Not a chance!’ and ‘Hmm, that seems unlikely’ never crossed your lips?

Then we have just the position for you.

My first stab at a recruitment ad – I love my job.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Freelance Copywriter

About two months ago I decided that I would try to take on the challenge of getting #1 for freelance copywriter (see here) in the google rankings. In a weird twist of fate, I have managed to get #1 and #2 for freelance copywriter on yahoo and msn respectively, but I am still nonexistent on google for those words.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Status Report VII

Okay, how am I doing?

Well, I’m still here in Hong Kong. And I’m still at Ogilvy and Mather, the biggest agency around. So that’s coo. But I’m still freelance, still at Step 8 and still looking to complete my mission. Hmm.

I am beginning to think that by cornering the freelance English copywriter market I have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Things were really hopping for two weeks as I was covering for the OgilvyOne writer on top of doing all the O&M stuff, but he's back now, so things have slowed down a bit. Not being swamped always makes me a bit edgy, as my contract is up at the end of the month...

Oh, nevermind, it looks like they're going to keep me for May as well. Excellent.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Extra Extra

My latest column is out.

Sustainability Advertising and its Vanguards

Within a few hours of it being published I received an email from a guy trying to set up a sustainable agriculture project in Leaf Rapids.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Shangri-La is in your Mind, But Your Buffalo is Not

With the Olympics in Beijing fast approaching, the Chinese government is looking to improve their level of English and put an end to their so-called ‘Chinglish’ signage.

English copywriter link

Sounds like a job for a Freelance English Copywriter in Asia does it not?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Wait A Minute, How Come I Never See Ads Like the Ones Below?

Creatives in advertising agencies are more often than not bound to briefs. These briefs are often very stringent in terms of how irreverently creative you can actually be (in the far-out sense of the ads below).

In an ideal world, if everyone in the agency and everyone on the client side are pulling together, the brief will be looking for a single piece of communication – just one message.

After all, it’s a piece of news.

Usually, this will be something like, hey, if you top up your account by x amount, we’ll make you an X member with no fees on your daily transactions, or, we have this new flavour of chip, you really should try it, or, this new gum blows the biggest bubbles there is, etc.

Then, there are the other variables.

It needs to speak in the same character as the brand. It needs to grab your attention in the right tone and manner to appeal to the target market. And it needs to be captivating, or form a relationship instantaneously with the consumer in one way or another, ie it is tactile, interactive, entertaining and/or thought provoking.

Then, you have to do something that appeals to the sensibilities of the client. Brand character or no, the lowest appetite for risk usually prevails – which is unfortunate but realistic considering people like to have jobs and it is generally easier to lose a job after taking a risk.

And let’s not forget who is paying for this ad in the first place.

But clients are not only ones who kill ideas – focus groups, partners, and more than anyone, the creatives themselves. I have to confess to killing millions of ideas over the years, please forgive me.

Either way, only when all of these elements are satisfied do you have a good ad.

This explains why there is such a huge gap between the ads you see in annuals and the ads you see on TV. A lot of the award-winning work creatives are exposed to doesn’t have to run this gauntlet.

The stuff that you see in mass production that has ducked, weaved, been stabbed at, trampled on and survived to break through at the end – that’s the truly great stuff, propped up by great teams. Believe me, it’s hard to get that many people in agreement, so when everything goes according to plan it truly is an achievement.

Example? Tetley Tea - Doctor's Office. This one of one Maria's favourites, and she's right in the target market.

Now just imagine what it must be like to get a movie made…

I’m lucky at Ogilvy, because right now I get to work on a client that believes in, and readily publishes, ads that are a testament to the power of clever creative. It’s a great opportunity for me.

Ok, back to thinking…

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Year Was 2081, And Everyone Was Finally Equal

Strangely enough, I had a dream about Kurt Vonnegut last night. I dreamt that he had come up with the premise to Harrison Bergeron, my favourite short story, while working as a copywriter for an advertising agency.

The story is set in the future, and the law of the time has allowed everyone to be equal. To maintain the equality of the citizens, a Handicapper General keeps those with talent, or brains, or good looks down through means of weights and annoying noises and masks.

Anyway, Harrison is this great looking, strong, smart, talented dude and he is weighed down with all this stuff, including annoying noises that go through his head every few minutes to prevent him from formulating a solid thought (that would make him superior to the rest). Either way, he falls for this ballerina who is also uglified to an acceptable level by the Handicapper General.

He runs off with her, they tear off all their shackles to normalcy and float to the ceiling in a beautiful dance before being blown away by the Handicapper General, this time she’s wielding a shotgun, however.

It’s a great story. I haven’t read it since I was a kid, but it still sticks with me.

I figured that Kurt Vonnegut must have come up with the concept when he was attempting to craft beautiful copy against the chaotic backdrop of an advertising agency, where there are crazy noises and buzzing buzzing and new distractions every minute to try to throw off your concentration.

So long Kurt, R.I.P.

p.s. Checking it out now, I can't find the agency he worked for, but he did write press releases apparently.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Believing Your Own Hype

One of the strangest phenomenon about being a copywriter is when you start to become persuaded by your own writing.

I am halfway through writing about a product and all the while I am thinking, this is great, this product is fantastic! Here’s a company that really understands my needs, and they are speaking my language. Where can I get this thing?

And then I’m like, oh yeah, I wrote that, of course they understand me. Hmm.

Either way, I’m going to buy it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Holiday in Zhuhai

I just got back from five very relaxing days in China.

Zhuhai is deemed the ‘romance capital’ of China, and it is a beautiful place indeed, with a nice beach and plenty of green. The pollution there, however, was outrageous. A cloud of smog covered you from head to toe everywhere you went like an ominous mist. There was no sign of the sky at all, and if there was a sun, it was nowhere to be seen.

There were some amazing restaurants as well, which would have been perfect little crab shacks on the water, but when the rats ran by and no one seemed to care, we decided to move on.

At least I got to live large in a deluxe suite for about $20 CAD a night, which was great.

Now I'm back at work - as a new first, I'm writing for credit cards.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


It's nice to have a five day weekend for Easter, however I have six ads for three clients due on Tuesday, which means I will be working over the weekend.

I like learning about new clients. To write for them you need to be well versed in what they are all about. I enjoy finding out the background on why they are communicating with their target market in the first place.

It's always fun to get briefed on a campaign, analyze its objectives, and think, yeah, that will definitely work.

Clients would be amazed to see firsthand how many clever people are working away at solving their problems.

Consumers would be absolutely shocked to know the mechanics behind the ads they flick through without a second thought...this is such a strange industry.

Happy Easter.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

High Performance Copywriting

I wrote about ten ads today for three different clients. So busy! I am jumping back and forth between Ogilvy and OgilvyOne so I'm swamped.

There's a five day weekend coming up. Hong Kong may have long hours, but they know how to enjoy their holidays.

Monday, April 02, 2007

So Far So Good

I'm at Ogilvy now. I like it. I didn't have much to do for the first few hours so I just read up everything I could get my hands on about the brand I will be working on. I absorbed the website, its blogs, the template guidelines, old ads, current ads, everything I could find to get a feel for the voice of the brand character.

It is one cheerful character, that is for certain.

Suddenly, I was swamped with six assignments at once. OgilvyOne is in the same office, so the next thing I knew I had work coming at me from every direction, on very short deadlines.

Everyone here is very nice, and the creatives are mixed in with the suits. There are no partitions, the whole place is like a giant star and I have a great view of the city from where I'm sitting.

It's coo. I do miss the people at Publicis though.

Maria came to town last week (thus the lack of posts) and we had a great time at the Peak and Stanley and Repulse Bay. Now, she's in China taking her English teaching course. I think I'll try to visit her this weekend.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Moving On

Today is my last day at Publicis.

Next Stop: Ogilvy and Mather.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Air Pollution and Martinis

My latest column is out. It is something of a rant this week, but very topical.

Air Pollution and Martinis in Hong Kong

Cantonese 101

Meh Lih Gah – What’s that?
Lee goh – This one
Duk la – it’s good
Ho ah - good
Dim Seem – How’s that?
Tie Gwaila – too expensive!
No motcheen – I have no money
Lay doh – Here
Naw ho ko – I’m poor
Yee ga – Now
Leh – good
Lap sup - rubbish
Dim sun seen – How do you fix it?
Mmm Gee ah – I don’t know
Wu suei – refund
Ho Sauk mong – big disappointment
Lay wok ley – so you say
Ho sun fu – Work harder
Sue meh – what are you smiling about?
Yee. Gom fan gah – Trouble
Chew fa na – super trouble
Fie dee la – Faster!
Ho goy – very tired
Lay sun deem – What do you want?
Mm gwan aussie – Not my problem
Fun gow – sleeping
Lay ding cho min ho king go mong – your Cantonese is good, teach me
Choy soy – talk shit
Gung hei – of course
Heng gay – crashed
Die ga lychee – bless you (when you sneeze – you have to say it)
Ng Ho Yee Cee – sorry
Hung bo – horrible
Mo jay jo – Why? Nothing.
Yok soon - disgusting
Sow gong – go home
Gaht – get lost
Sow pay – don’t talk

Monday, March 26, 2007

English Copywriter Pick of the Week

For the Canadian Film Festival.

I think these are great.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Status Report VI

Ah, the monthly status report.

Where am I in terms of reaching that elusive goal?

I’m still freelance. Still in Hong Kong. Still at Publicis. The contract is up at the end of the month. So basically this status report is the same as the others. I was hoping for some better news, hey, that’s all I’ve got.

Alex, KC and I are going to run around doing a guerilla campaign on Sunday. Should be fun. It reminds me of Australia when Kristian and I shot on the street, out of shopping carts, with no permits. We had lights set up everywhere at 3 am, and I drove my car right up on the sidewalk. When the cops stopped us we would exclaim, ‘but we are filming an ad for Adidas!’ and they left us alone. Yes-ah.

Watch it here: Adidas spec 3

Writing vs. Copywriting

I had an interesting discussion today about the differences between writing and copywriting.

Is copywriting a series of compromises on your own unique voice? A submission of unique vision?

Is writing supposed to be an expression of the author itself? Impossible to mask if done purely from the core? A consistent pure voice that rings through no matter what character they choose to take on?

Is it individual style that makes each unique copywriter unique, and that is the talent that they bring to the table? Or is it the very opposite – their ability to mimic and speak from a voice not their own?

I suppose it depends on who is doing the hiring.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

SEO Copywriting – Today and Tomorrow

I have had several offers from companies looking for SEO copywriting.

They have found me through this site.

At this moment in time, SEO copywriting is seen as filling page after page of words with little regard to content (or spelling or grammar) to essentially trick Google search engines.

It is fairly common to hire someone who will just rattle off copy without any regard to branding or content.

It’s effective in the short term, but it will only hurt a brand in the long run.

Proper SEO copywriting is best done by a professional copywriter. If the content is just keyword-loaded nonsense, it is bound to backfire sooner or later.

Professional copywriters cost a premium, but they are worth it.

News Flash!

My little mouse is coming to Hong Kong to see me.


New Faces

David Szabo has come to Publicis from M+C Saatchi.

He’s one of the CDs I spoke with way back in August when I was first looking for a job here in Hong Kong. Actually he helped me at the time with a referral or two. He’s something of a legend here in HK.

He’s excellent to work with. We are putting together on a global incentive campaign at the moment.

And he can speak Cantonese like a local…

Friday, March 16, 2007

Falling In Love With Your Own Fingerprints

I was walking through the metro the other day when I saw a great ad.

It was a very effective ad for lozenges, and it stood out from all of the other subpar Hong Kong MTR advertising like a sore throat.

How pleasantly surprised I was when I realized it was from our shop.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reflections of an English Copywriter in Hong Kong

I was looking through my portfolio the other day. It has improved tremendously since I have been in Hong Kong.

In my time at Publicis, I’ve written ads for the some of the world’s biggest banks, airlines, casinos and hotels.

I’ve had the chance to work on massive global accounts and some of the world’s most powerful brands.

If nothing else, these last seven months in Hong Kong have steeled me to work like a maniac on a massive workload against impossible deadlines. Aye-ah.

It has also taught me a handful of esoteric Cantonese phrases, like Joe Maya and Choy Soy.

But for what purpose (in the grand scheme of things)?

I have no idea.

I’m reminded of the auction house back in Vancouver.

My writing has improved. Undoubtedly. Commercial writing improves overall ability and being tapped in creatively as a profession only increases the frequency of ideas. I don’t care what people say about the threat of damaging your own creative style. Being tapped in is good. It keeps the synapses firing.

I’m on Chapter 53 of my book. I wanted to be at Chapter 100 by September, but it’s not easy to keep writing through the weekend. We are in Montreal right now.

In other rambling, I checked out Second Life. It’s a bit boring, but, yes, it’s true, I can see how it will be the wave of the future. People leaving their house, or even getting dressed before they go to work will be old news.

I’ve been going to a lot of client meetings lately. I enjoy presenting my ideas in person.

Okay, back at it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Man Asia Literary Prize

The Man Asia Literary Prize has been announced and local Hong Kong residents will have a chance to showcase their talents to the world by entering a recent novel, in English.

It is one thing to present a limply translated version of your work to judges and the international community.

It is quite another thing to unveil your passionate masterpiece, trans-created, to sound as potent in English as it did when you originally wrote it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Copywriters From A Mixed Background

If you are in the market for a freelance copywriter, you might want a writer that has experience working for both large and small agencies.


A blended background provides a balance between the results-focused urgency of a small agency and creative perfectionism found in the larger shops:

1. You are getting the best of both worlds (see the two posts below)
2. You have a well-rounded professional with a dynamic understanding of your business needs (see below once again)
3. You will be working with a writer with a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit, offering an authentic, passionate voice to your product.

To find out more click here: English copywriter link or contact mike_catherall (at) yahoo (dot) ca.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Copywriters From Large Agencies

If you are in the market for a freelance copywriter, you might want a writer that has experience working for a multinational 4As agency.


Large agencies act as a filter. They only hire the best that there is, so the quality of the writer is assured. This will work to your advantage because:

1. Your project will be handled by a professional
2. You will have a writer that is familiar with the same tactics used by some of the world’s largest brands
3. Your writer will have a strong understanding of good creative

At a large agency, writers are also pushed to produce ideas that break from conventional solutions to produce creative work that can do the job of ten ads.

4. Innovative thinking

Copywriters at big agencies are also familiar with big clients. They have worked on global accounts, so they are familiar with the freedoms and restrictions of large brands with big budgets.

6. They get you

So if you are looking for a copywriter for a project with 4As agency experience under his belt - click here for my email address (off to the left) - English copywriter link

To find out more, click here: English copywriter link or contact mike_catherall (at) yahoo (dot) ca.

Copywriters From Small Agencies

If you are in the market for a freelance copywriter, you might want a writer that has experience working for a small agency.


At small agencies copywriters often handle more than just the writing. They have to wear many hats, including production, strategy and accounts. A bit of experience in these departments is nice because:

1. Your project will get finished on time and on budget
2. You will have creative that reinforces the strategy and not the other way around
3. Your writer will have a better understanding of what the client wants
4. Client-focus and reliability

At a small shop copywriters also have less luxury to be offbeat, so they focus more on concepts that will build business, immediately.

5. Results, results, results

Copywriters at small agencies are also familiar with small clients. The demands of a startup are much different than those of a multi-national, and their communications has to be as well.

6. They know where you are coming from

So if you are looking for a copywriter for a project, click here to send me an email (off to the left) English copywriter link or contact mike_catherall (at) yahoo (dot) ca.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


This was one of my first freelance copywriting jobs in Hong Kong:

I wrote this website months ago, when I first arrived, Warren now has the site up - it looks good!

I personally like the customer service section.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

English Copywriting in Asia

The difference between translation and trans-creation...

(courtesy of

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Extension IV

I’ve signed on for another month with Publicis.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

English Copywriter Picks of the Week

Three spots with great music this week:

This is a beautiful spot - Crest – Catch

This is the latest Pepsi spot.

This will be another example, like with Bravia Balls, where the music becomes famous because of the ad.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Unusual Advertising This Week

Atheists and agnostics from the Freedom From Religion Foundation have initiated an online, print and talk radio advertising campaign to 'Keep God out of Government' in the States and to take on Bush and the religious right.

They could probably do some interesting guerilla stuff if they approached ad agencies for help...

In other news, Kobe Club in New York has taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times attacking their food critic's credentials over a lousy review.

Will this fight fire with fire tactic work? Or is it the wildest PR stunt of all time - you scratch up our backs, NYT, we'll scratch up yours...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

English Copywriting in Hong Kong – Another Day in the Life

Today I spent the first half of the day agonizing over a single word.

It is a very specific word to be used in the headline that sums up everything in the visual. I have hundreds written down in front of me, but they are all either too obscure, too zen, too energy drink, or too corporate. Hmm.

Racking my brains and for a word so upbeat and spirited it can carry an entire campaign has expanded my positive vocabulary and lifted my mood. This would be a good exercise for depressed people.

The next thing I know I am pulled over to production to determine the accent of a voiceover, then on to edit an email, then a quick ad here, a quick proofread here, another ad, some body copy, a headline, some design rationales, an ‘on-hold’ script (I always wondered who wrote those things), then on to trans-create something and draw a picture and help the Chinese copywriters and conceptualize something and write this and that and all of a sudden I am …I’m all over the map.

Now it’s 9 pm, two ads have cleared, one new voiceover talent has been brought in, several headlines have been written, many emails have been sent, and we’ve been briefed on a new pitch coming up next week, not to mention there’s a pitch tomorrow we need to prepare for. In the meantime, my single word has died a horrible death.

No two days are ever the same. But they are always frantic and quite fun.

If you would like to know more about life as an English copywriter in Hong Kong click here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chinese New Year Traditions

There are some endearing traditions in Hong Kong during Chinese New Year.

The whole celebration is based on a myth that once a year a beast named the Nian would come down from the mountains and eat people, so they would have to shoot off firecrackers and dress in red to scare it away.

And if frightening away a man-eating monster isn't a good enough reason for a fifteen-day party, I don't know what is.

Other traditions include cleaning, a bunch of strange sweeping rituals as well as alterntating good luck and bad luck days for totally random things. Feb 20th is a bad day for gardening, but Feb 15th is a good day to get a haircut and Feb 23rd is a good day for a long shower. So bizarre. It is also lucky to open windows (will let in good spirits), eat candy (for a sweet year), and wear red underwear (for gambling). It is bad luck to buy shoes, or pants (because the character is similar to the character for bitter, of course!), or wash your hair (washing away the good luck).

They also give out laisee fawn, or the red packet, which contains the most personal gift of all: warm, soft, cash - in even numbers.

I've been taking this time off to relax and check out some of the things CNY in HK has to offer. On Friday I went to the flower market in Victoria Park to move in an organized swarm of thousands of people and get yelled at by colourful strangers weilding inflatable nicknacks and balloons. Saturday I went to Macao to try my hand at Baccarat. Yesterday I went to see the parade in TST and watched the back of a thousand heads. Today is the fireworks I can check out from my apartment building and tomorrow is my chance to make peace with the Gods of Luck at the horseracing. It's an eventful holiday filled with the the two cornerstones of Chinese culture: family and luck.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Chinese New Year

Today the whole agency is going to see Borat.

Then it’s Chinese New Year.

Kung Hei Fat Choy.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Getting Organized

I am trying to make this site as Google-friendly as possible.

I am already #1 across the board for “freelance english copywriter” (msn, google, and #2 and #3 for “english copywriter”, except for on Yahoo Search, which I’ve noticed has become strictly pay-to-play.

However, if I make it easy to navigate, I will have created a Wikipedia-worthy resource and thrown myself completely into the SEO arena…with “freelance copywriter” now in my sights.

This is going to be my project for Chinese New Year, seeing how we have four days off and it is impossible to catch a flight to the Philippines (which was my original plan).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Freelance Copywriting in Hong Kong

This blog was designed, in part, to be a reference.

Here are a few things you may be interested in if you're here from Wikipedia.

Freelance English copywriting
- What is it like?

How can I get myself a job as a freelance copywriter?

What is your personal story as a freelance copywriter in Hong Kong?

SEO copywriting - What is it?

Freelance copywriting in Hong Kong - What is it like?

Status Report V

I’ve been in Hong Kong for over six months now and I have been at Publicis as a freelance copywriter for five and a half. My contract is up in two weeks.

My whole mission in Hong Kong has been to land a permanent spot at a 4A's agency. Go to the first post to see what I mean - freelance copywriter link

I’ve been documenting the whole process for a few reasons.

One was to put myself to the top of the search engines as a part of my initial marketing plan freelance copywriter marketing plan.

The second was to hone my SEO copywriting skills.

The third was to offer some insight into the industry on what it is like to be a freelance copywriter based on someone who was trying to crack the big agencies. There are whole websites and several books devoted to this very thing, so here is an insider’s up-to-the-minute account if any of you are interested.

I’m having a ball in Hong Kong. The hours here are long and the pace is very fast, it is an exciting city to say the least and I love the franticness of it.

I'm a bit edgy though, maybe it's the city, maybe it's because my contract expires March 1st.

I really like working here at Publicis and I would love a permanent job.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Castles Made of Foam Core

Advertising is an ephemeral business. You can spend hours and days and even months working on something only to have it instantaneously disappear without a trace.

Ideas are finnicky things.

There are many more out there. The trick is learning how to wrangle them out of the air.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hand Painted Animals

Artist Guido Daniele paints these interesting creatures and advertising agencies buy them.

At One With the Target Market

I’ve made it a habit of checking out a new place in Hong Kong every Friday. This week it was the brand-new Yellow Devil (let’s see how long it takes to get picked up by Google on this link). Next week it will be M1NT, with live sharks swimming around in tanks in the walls.

In Hong Kong, new places are popping up constantly.

The war games were super fun. No injuries to report, just aching thighs from all the squatting and running in the bushes.

Fittingly enough, I am now writing ads for people who like to make the most of every minute, be the first to try new things, sample everything that life has to offer and work hard and play harder.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

War Games

Tomorrow I am going to play war games in the woods. It's like paintball, but you use replica semi-automatic rifles that shoot plastic bullets.

Check it out Combat Games

Should be fun.

Friday, February 09, 2007

English Copywriting in Hong Kong – What It’s Like

Some days I am swamped with all of these little jobs. Every English ad comes through me at some point. Either I’m writing it to get trans-created into Mandarin, Cantonese or even Tagalog, or else I am trans-creating it from a translation (making it sound natural).

I also have to proofread, edit and solve some pretty strange English conundrums, such as the period placement in Washington DC, what letters to capitalize in title case, among vs amongst, the British/American spelling thing, hyphens, or whether flights should be pluralized if there is only one flight per day in the subhead ‘nonstop flights to New York daily.’

Did you know straightforward is one word, world-class is hyphenated yet fine dining is not? English can be bizarre. Anyway…

Every language has its weak points when translated into English that gives it away. Polish is excessively flowery, French has its endearing word substitutions (Do you want to listen to a movie? Get your hairs cut, etc.), Swedish uses d’s instead of th’s, Mandarin tends to leave out the article (the, a, etc) and with Cantonese, they have a hard time with plurals, so you will see things like ‘Conventions and Exhibitions Center’ or my personal favourite, ‘arrive at your door’s steps.’

They also like to use the possessive, ‘Las Vegas’ wonderful excitement’, or ‘singing operas’ gondoliers’. I come across these kinds of things all the time and the funny thing is, technically, they are not incorrect, there are many steps leading up to the door they’ve been built for, it’s true.

I’m sure when they see something that has been translated from English they can spot it a mile away too.

My phase of the day: Dim Sun Seen – “How to fix it?”

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Corporate Branding and the First Day of School

Advertising is a lot like your first day at a new school, or job, or environment. People don’t know anything about you, so you are going to be immediately judged by your appearance, be it your clothes, or hair, or stature, or in this case, your headline, typeface, or placement.

I figure this is why there is so much banal advertising out there. Most people, and brands, are quite conservative, so they don’t want to do anything outrageous on the first day of school and get branded as something they might not have the mojo to maintain.

So they blend in. That’s the suit and tie of the business meeting, the jeans and sneakers of the schoolyard, or an ad that looks like an ad. Plain, emotionally flat, inoffensive and instantaneously forgettable.

But by not breaking through the clutter does this mean it’s a terrible branding ad? No, not really. It just means that they are making an appearance that is easy to maintain, because like at the first day of school, just showing up is half the battle. It’s absence that raises the eyebrows, and exclusion from the market.

But who wants to make friends with the most boring kid in school?

Branding is about presence. You don’t need to be outrageous or shocking to have presence. But you do have to have a certain charisma that brings people to you.

These last few posts have been general musings - you may or may not agree, my readers, but comment either way. Discussion is always good.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Appetite For Risk

It’s a financial term, but I like it. It has been floating around in my head quite a lot lately in regards to the creative process and relationships that exist within creative teams and between agencies and clients. To share the same appetite for risk as your client and team is a great thing.

Although it is a preconception that the client has the lowest appetite for risk (the most to lose), then the agency, and finally the consumer, I think sometimes agencies underestimate how far a client wants to push their brand. But most times I think we underestimate how much the consumer thirsts for something new. Something insightful, inspiring, informative or shocking. Something that requires some risk to produce.

However, the Snickers Spot with the mechanics kissing (and then tearing out their chest hair in an act of manliness) pushed a few buttons at the Superbowl amongst pride groups. Something about the innocuousness of it makes me think the whole thing is just a brilliant PR move though…

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Monday, February 05, 2007

Superbowl Ads

You can see all of the Superbowl ads from this year on this link.

superbowl ads

If you ask me, the best are the Bud Light ‘auctioneer’ and ‘slapping’ ads, but I’m also biased because I used to work at an auction.

The Careerbuilder ‘office jungle’ spots are funny and the Doritos Consumer Generated Ads are actually not bad.

Heaps of terrible ads though, especially the Pizza Hut spot, but it does have Jessica Simpson, so it gets a free pass.

Best Ad of the Superbowl - Viewer's Choice

The viewers have voted this ad as the best of the Superbowl.

Bud Light - Rock Paper Scissors

Superbowl XLI

The Colts have just won the Superbowl, which means I have lost yet another bet to my dad.

The Superbowl the biggest day of the year for advertisers in North America. This year, it was watched by 131.7 million viewers, making it the 5th most watched program in US television history. To buy a 30 second spot cost approximately $2.4 million.

Was it worth it?


Many watch the Superbowl for the ads alone and they are talked about just as much, if not more than the game afterward. If you look for the Superbowl in the Google News, it is easier to find discussions about the ads than the actual score.

In a previous post about Consumer Generated Ads I showed you the winning pitch for the NFL spot. Here it is, as it was shown today.

NFL Superbowl spot

Doritos and Chevy also jumped on the CGU bandwagon.

CBS has been leveraging the ads to get more viewers on its news programs and websites are getting hits through the roof after directing traffic immediately after the ad, most notably the and Budweiser sites.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Consumption Shot

I watched an ad for 7-11 the other day and the whole time I was fixated on how the characters were drinking beer throughout the commercial.

For one thing, Hong Kong has it figured out in the sense that you can buy cold beer for about 80 cents Canadian at any convenience store, but what really blew my mind was the fact that they were drinking the beer.

In Canada, and I think the States as well, it is illegal to show a consumption shot in alcohol ads. If my memory serves me right, I think it is even forbidden to show someone with an open bottle.

In other briefs I have worked on for soft drink manufacturers, the consumption shot is always mandatory. And it makes sense. If something has proven effective enough to get it banned, then it must make a difference.

The same goes for cigarette advertising. It would be interesting to know how dramatically their sales were affected when they were forced to pull all of their TV advertising in the 80s.

Most recently, China has banned the use of pigs in any TV ads during this coming Year of the Pig, as to not offend any Muslims.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sustainability Copywriting

My latest article is out.

Global Warming - Who can you trust?

One Track Mind

My copywriting style is changing.

I find I have started to abandon mercurial flow for a more subdued but single-minded focus. This is partially because Hong Kong necessitates such a transition.

When you know someone is going to translate your work into Chinese, you can’t hinge your concept on flow, because idioms or wordplay don't translate well across languages.

While I personally enjoy a lyrical style, in Hong Kong you have no choice but to be faithful to one core idea.

My next step, then, is to make my single-mindedness lyrical.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

English Copywriting in Hong Kong

A big difference between Hong Kong and Canada is the speed at which people work here. I usually have between four and six briefs on the go at any given time and usually the deadlines are within a day, sometimes by the end of day, but most often a few hours. But it I like it, actually, when you are writing constantly you get pretty quick and incisive.

My word of the day: Fie Dee Lah.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

And in Health

In Hong Kong it’s not uncommon to see people walking around in surgical masks as if they were in a budget sci-fi movie or punk band. Obviously it’s to keep the spread of infection down in a place where people are packed in heel to nose like sardines.

So it’s a good idea. But something you would never see in Canada (unless you were in a punk band or budget sci-fi movie). But anyway, half the office is sick.

Or at least my section is. We’ve all got it and we are all sick as animals. Sneezing, coughing and grumbling.

I wasn’t the first, so I can’t take all the blame, but I wasn’t the last to get it either, so I’m certainly not blameless. I hate being sick. Grumble.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Brilliant Street Advertising

This guy is a chalk artist. His work is amazing.

Why Do People Go Into Advertising?

Read this:

Jingle Girl

Freelance Copywriter Picks of the Week

This ad is great.

AGF - Lens

I like this one too, it's sssssmart.

Invisible Man

These are some of the most creative concepts I have seen in a while.

Recruit Ireland - Beep

Recruit Ireland - Creak

Friday, January 26, 2007

More Ridiculous Pop Culture

The final scene of Star Wars, but done with hands.

Very amusing.

Star Wars Hands

This is pretty funny too.

Spock Cribs

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Readers Have Spoken

As I keep on carrying on here at Publicis, the blog has become a little less focused on my mission and more on my random day-to-day musings.

The readers have spoken and it appears that they want more ads to look at until I have updates on my goal to get a permanent job here in Hong Kong.

So, fine, here are a few. (sent in courtesy of a reader)

The rest of you can always leave comments you know…