Down + Dirty with: Claire Medcalf
Claire is a copywriter having been lucky enough to craft concepts for brands and businesses of all sizes. She currently designs digital conversations at an agency in central London. She is also the founder of Letter Lounge, a creative space where you can attend to write handwritten letters you never have time to write.
Claire on... Where the passion began.
Marketing Island: What inspired you to set up Letter Lounge and why was it important to you to create a community of this kind?
Claire: I have been running letter lounge on the side for almost 12 years. It all started in April 2008. I was working in a start-up called School of Everything. We shared an office with an organisation called Social Innovation Camp (now known as Bethnal Green Ventures). We always had people popping in who had great ideas for new tech and social good start-ups.
One day I was talking to a guy called Chris who was working out if there was a way to tailor your junk mail, so you still got physical post and flyers but it was of stuff you were actually interested in – rather than 800 takeaway pizza menus. I said that I thought that the post people really wanted was handwritten letters from people they know. But I only receive handwritten letters from my grandparents.
"Wouldn’t it be great if you could remove the barriers, like making time to sit down and write, buying stamps, and remembering to post it. What if we did an event?"
He said, if you want to run an event, I work at a co-working space in Islington, you can do it there if you like. So I did. It was meant to be a one off. But people loved it so I kept going. Since then I’ve held events with H&M, Tatty Devine, The Postal Museum, Crisis Homeless charity, Brighton Dome, Secret Garden Party, Latitude Festival, Anorak Magazine and more.
Claire on... Having a side hustle.
Marketing Island: You must be super busy being a full time copywriter. How do you find the time to keep this up as a side hustle and do you think it’s important to ensure you have side projects alongside full time jobs?
Claire: If I’m totally honest, Letter Lounge has taken a back seat to my full time work over the last few years – I haven’t had as many events. But I’m trying to put aside time to figure out how it may continue and what it might become in the future. Huge shout out to the incredible supportive network at Out of Hours for all the side-hustle inspiration.
Although it’s not as active at the moment, it has been so valuable having a side project. Here are a couple stand-out reasons. Letter Lounge is just mine. As a junior writer that was hugely important to me. I wasn’t the one calling the shots in my day job at the time (As you’d expect at that level) but this allowed me to have creative control of something. Freedom to shape it the way I wanted to and the confidence that I could do that in my 9-5 too.
Plus, it really helped when looking for work. Recruiters and companies really love it if you have something that you do in your own time. It’s shows that you’re proactive and not just slumped in front of the TV every night.
Claire on... Going freelance.
Marketing Island: Before you worked in-house at an agency you were a freelance copywriter. What made you make the decision to go in-house? And would you recommend freelancing to someone who is debating making the leap?
Claire: I’ve dipped in and out of freelancing, between the fulltime gigs. On paper the freelance lifestyle sounds ideal – being your own boss, working with a variety of clients, and setting up office wherever you want. But over the years I’ve realised, I prefer being permanent at an agency. I guess I just like knowing where I’m going every morning and working as part of a team with a shared mission. But that’s not to say I won’t return to freelancing one day. If someone is debating going freelance, my advice would be to line up a few clients before making the leap and make sure you’ve got a good support network and an even better accountant.
Claire on... Being a copywriter.
Marketing Island: Many people think copywriting is easy and I’m sure you’ve had clients critique your work in favour of their own copy! How easy is this to deal with, do you find you often have to fight your corner as to why you have written in a certain way?
Claire: The trouble is everyone can write, it’s just a question of if they’re any good or not. The best work comes from a good relationship and clear communication between the copywriter and client. Working together to make sure the message lands. It’s a shame to underestimate the craft of copywriting because we’ve seen time and time again that the right words have the power to change the world.
Claire on... Giving advice.
Marketing Island: As a successful copywriter and founder of such an innovative and successful side hustle, what is the one lesson you have learnt throughout your career so far which you would pass on to a female just starting out in the industry?
Claire: Work hard and be nice to people. Get a print of the Anthony Burrill poster and hang it above your desk, it really does the trick.
Want to find out more about Letter Lounge? Visit Claire's website here.
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