Male Copywriter's Guide to Personal Branding
Are you having trouble standing out in a sea of creatives? Is your portfolio site in need of a major reboot? Good news, WNW Member #1695 Lawson Clarke aka Male Copywriter is here to show you the way. He's the naked one, with the mustache, lounging on a bearskin rug, simultaneously channeling Burt Reynolds and Vladimir Putin. In our interview below, Lawson reflects on his unconventional approach to branding himself: "I consider Malecopywriter.com the smartest stupid thing I’ve ever done. Not only did it give me a career as a freelancer, but it went on to win two Webby Awards."
Lawson also talked to us about the genesis of his alter ego, how it has helped him filter the right kind of work, and why it's important not to neglect your own brand. "Now if you’re a superstar creative who has enough Cannes Lions to start a petting zoo, then maybe you can afford to use a template site to showcase your work. But for the rest of us mortals who have to hustle to get ourselves noticed, my advice would be to treat your portfolio as a creative assignment. Ask yourself, what would make you jealous if you saw someone else do it. Then do that."
Tell us a little bit about your creative background. Who is Lawson and how did he get here?
I’m actually the product of an advertising family. My father had a great creative shop in Boston called Clarke Goward. I can’t begin to tell you how many amazing copywriters and art directors came out of that place: David Lubars, Mike Sheehan, Sean Farrell, Colin Nissan, the list is pretty impressive. And, of course, I’m at the very bottom of that list.
I worked at the family agency for years then went down the street to Arnold. Right around the time of the financial meltdown in 2008, I launched Malecopywriter.com, which was basically just a photo of me lying naked on a bearskin rug. At the time I just thought it would be a funny way to make my portfolio stand out, but when everyone started getting laid off, including myself, it ended up getting a lot of attention. I think most people who saw it thought, “Look what the recession made this poor bastard do!” but the reality is I shot that photo a year before the shit hit the fan.
In the end, I consider Malecopywriter.com the smartest stupid thing I’ve ever done. Not only did it give me a career as a freelancer, but it went on to win two Webby Awards.
Your alter ego “Male Copywriter” plays almost like “The Most Interesting Man”, but about 1000 times sleazier. When did “Male Copywriter” come to life?
Uhhhh… thank you?
Funny thing is, had LawsonClarke.com been available on GoDaddy chances are Male Copywriter would never have even existed. When I first set out to make a portfolio site, I tried buying LawsonClarke.com, but apparently my name is also a public relations firm in England. Once I realized “Lawson Clarke” was off the table, I started thinking about who else I could be. Male Copywriter just seemed stupid enough to work.
As for the persona, that sort of came later. At the time I launched Malecopywriter.com, it was really only meant to be a portfolio site. But then when all the press started rolling in, my brother called me up and told me to get on Twitter immediately. I didn’t even have an account at the time, so I had no idea what I was doing. I just remember asking him what my Twitter feed should be and he said, “Just say whatever you think Male Copywriter would say.”
That’s pretty much where the character was ultimately developed – on Twitter. Well, that is if you can call it a character. At the end of the day Male Copywriter is pretty much me.
You recently put out a brave, bold short film starring “Male Copywriter” which announces your availability for freelance work. When did you decide to go all out?
It had been about 8 years since I first launched the original site, so it was definitely time to freshen things up. I figured I needed to up the ante a bit this time around, so I decided to shoot a landing video that showed Male Copywriter in all of his glory. Although this time around he probably has more in common with Vladimir Putin than Burt Reynolds.
The goal of Malecopywriter 2.0 was essentially the same as the original: I just wanted to make a portfolio that would make me laugh if it ever popped up on my computer. I launched the new site in April, but we shot the video last summer. So it’s definitely been in the works for a while.
Any deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut? Or ideas that didn’t make the filming stage?
I actually wanted to film myself doing a pole dance in one of the seedier strip clubs in Boston with a bunch of creepy dudes throwing dollar bills at me. But I couldn’t find a club that would let me in with cameras. Go figure.
What’s been the overall response? Any enjoyably negative reactions? Family & friend response?
Overall the response has been great. There’s always the chance my son’s kindergarten teacher is going to stumble onto the site and I won’t be asked to volunteer at the next field trip, but I suppose that’s a risk I just have to make peace with.
Has your “Male Copywriter” brand directly helped you get work?
It’s absolutely helped me get work. The goal from day one was to have a site that made the phone ring. Now that said, do I run the risk of turning off potential agencies and creative directors? Of course, but I look at that as a positive. I mean, if you’re genuinely offended by Malecopywriter.com then there’s a good chance we wouldn’t work well together.
True story. A few years ago a friend once recommended me for a gig at the in-house agency for a pretty big financial institution. It wasn’t going to be sexy work, and they actually had a pretty strict dress code – like I’d have to wear a coat and tie – but the day rate was pretty decent. Anyway, I talked to the creative director and the guy basically said I had the job. There was just one thing, though. He needed to show his boss my creative portfolio, you know, just to make everything official. Naturally, I sent him a link to malecopywriter.com… and then I never heard from him again.
And you know what, it was the greatest thing that could’ve happened. I probably would’ve been miserable working there. So if nothing else, my site is a pretty good filtering mechanism.
Any tips you can share on spicing up a creative portfolio so that it stands out in a sea of creative portfolios?
The irony is that as creatives we spend the bulk of our careers trying to think of ways to make our clients stand out, but when it comes to our own portfolios most of us are just happy throw our work on Cargo Collective and call it a day.
Now if you’re a superstar creative who has enough Cannes Lions to start a petting zoo, then maybe you can afford to use a template site to showcase your work. But for the rest of us mortals who have to hustle to get ourselves noticed, my advice would be to treat your portfolio as a creative assignment. Ask yourself, what would make you jealous if you saw someone else do it. Then do that.
What do you see as the pros and cons of freelancing vs full-time?
I think they both have their merits. I freelanced for about 5 years before my last staff job and loved every day of it. But the main reason I went back to full-time was the fact that I hadn’t really produced anything book-worthy in all that time. I had plenty of billable days, but when I looked at my portfolio it was more or less the same stuff I had in there when I started.
Of course, I loved the lifestyle and creative options freelance offers, so it’s no surprise I’m back hustling my wares on the street again. I know there are people who swear they’ll never go back to full-time, but the reality is you have more creative control over your work when you have a staff job.
For me personally, I think the perfect career would be a balance of both. If another great full-time opportunity presents itself, I’ll definitely consider it.
Which one of your creative projects makes you the proudest and why?
I don’t even have to think about it -- the Pink Cadillac Project we shot with Teddy Bridgewater.
For those who don’t know the story, Teddy Bridgewater was in 3rd grade when told his Mom he was gonna buy her a pink Escalade when he made it to the NFL. First off, what 9-year-old is that career-focused? Secondly, if anyone ever deserved a pink Cadillac it’s Teddy Bridgewater’s mother, Rose. The woman raised four kids in one of the worst neighborhoods in America, and if that wasn’t enough she beat breast cancer into remission all the while making sure Teddy stayed in school and got his degree. She’s basically a first ballot Hall-of-Fame mom.
Anyway, let’s just say when Teddy handed Rose the keys to the pink Escalade there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I cried like it was my mom.
If you weren’t a copywriter, what would you be doing?
Honestly, I don’t think I’m fit to do anything else. I dug a foundation for an outdoor fireplace in my backyard over the weekend and it damn near killed me. Frankly, I wouldn’t last a day in the real world.
What’s the creative scene in Boston like?
Anonymous commenters on Agency Spy LOVE to beat up on Boston every chance they get, but the fact of the matter is Boston still holds its own as a creative hub. The city is represented in every major award show year after year. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the Hatch Awards (the local New England show) is traditionally one of the hardest local shows to enter work in. Some great thinking comes out of this town. Of course, I’m unabashedly biased. I also think Tom Brady is 1000% innocent and that Roger Goodell belongs in prison.
Who are some of the creative and comedic idols that inspired you from the start or motivate you to keep at it?
I was always a huge fan of Chris Elliot. Back when he was a writer on Late Night With David Letterman I thought the man was nothing short of a comedy god. I suppose what I really loved about him was that he was never afraid to make himself look like a complete asshole. He’d do stuff like eat dog food out of a can in a lab coat and play it off as if he was conducting the most serious scientific research in the world. It blew my mind. The whole audience would be howling with laughter, and yet he’d have the straightest face in the room. Meanwhile, he’s on stage literally choking down this dog food and trying not to puke. He was absolutely fearless. He basically made me want to be a writer for David Letterman.
I think there’s still time to chase down that dream.
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Jeff Church is a guy I like to partner with a lot. He’s one of those rare art directors who can actually write really well. In addition to being incredibly talented, he’s also a great guy to pal around with.
As for other WNW members, I think I’m contractually obligated to give a shout out to your founders, Adam Tompkins and Justin Gignac. In my humble opinion what they’ve done for the advertising freelance world is nothing short of game changing. And if it sounds like I’m kissing their asses just so I’ll get priority treatment, well, then I don’t know what to say other than I think they’re both incredibly brilliant and handsome.