zak-nelson-seattle

I'm a he/him senior copywriter in Seattle, Washington. 

I love to geek out about writing, literature, and rhetoric. Seriously. It's my raspberry jam. I write literary fiction in my spare time. 

I was a marketing manager—mostly in book publishing—for ten years. I wrote copy and handled marketing, events, and publicity at Heyday Books, Ten Speed Press, Third Place Books, and also worked as an independent consultant.

Then, after earning a Masters degree in creative writing, I taught writing and rhetoric: how to identify and align an audience's needs and values with your own identity and purpose to write persuasively.

In 2019 I found a new gear—and new career—as a copywriter for Sands Costner, a small yet cunning strategic marketing and communications agency based in Tacoma, Washington.

About Zak

Context

Style

If I were a musician I'd be a session player: the good-natured guy you hire to for his range and professionalism, who can jump right in to any situation and become part of the band. I improvise as easily as I take direction. 

I work hard. I enjoy other people. I'm a good mentor. I solicit feedback and ask questions. I'm not precious about my work.

I understand business and how the copywriter fits in, communicating and elevating brands—and user experience—even with something as humble as an instructional video or piece of microcopy. 

As for high-concept ads and campaigns, that's where I enjoy letting my freak flag fly. And honestly? I want more experience doing just that, in video, print, and interactive. 

Experience has taught me how to evaluate copy for alignment: with the brief, the strategy, and the brand. 

Presenting ideas to clients, account managers, designers, or creative directors comes easily to me. I think on my feet, and enjoy batting around ideas, zooming in to granular detail and quickly broadening my focus to horizon-level concerns. 

Public speaking is a bonus skill.

Can I geek out with you for a moment? One of my favorite tools of the trade is what I call going meta. By calling attention to form and the underlying assumptions—of both audience and speaker—I find I'm often able to short-circuit people's natural resistance to marketing copy and more quickly and effectively find common ground with an audience. 

Skills

Advertising copy

Blog content

Brand development

Concepting and storyboarding

Content management systems

Content marketing strategy

Client presentation

Direct mail marketing

Editing/proofreading (AP style, Chicago, APA, MLA)

Little surprises that make you stop and smile

Press releases

Project management

Research and data analysis

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Spanish language fluent

Team leadership and collaboration

Technical writing

User experience (UX) writing

Video scripts

Web copy

When I'm tackling a challenging piece of copy, I like to jot down on a sticky note two columns: what I need to say and what I need to convey. The two aren't the same, and by keeping these distinct I find I can produce more effective copywriting.

Content Strategy

Here's how I approach content strategy.

While I'm eager to explore and innovate, current best practice involves analyzing metrics for keywords and engagement, then applying them to a content strategy for specific products and goals. That content strategy guides content creation.

Limitations are good. Constraints in my experience drive creativity; they don’t hamper it. 

For web, I research keywords and site metrics to better understand consumer demographics and buyer journey. I can get a sense of this from looking at Google Analytics or other analytic tools, though at larger firms there are likely specialists who I’d work with to interpret the data.

From there I’d develop personas, keyphrase clusters and subtopic clusters, and create pillar pages to drive inbound traffic. A/B testing is often helpful, though I truthfully don’t have a lot of experience with that—some, but not much.

Those keywords and pillar pages can also inform social strategy and content. But social has its own metrics, like “likes”, followers, and engagement stats—as well as geographic and demographic data. I think a good content strategy synthesizes web and social data inputs. 

Once I’ve interpreted the data, I can apply them to writing content.

For me it’s becomes at this stage a somewhat intuitive thing. I’ve assimilated the information I need from the data, so now I just need to generate engaging copy that sounds human.

For that I lean on my deep experience as a creative writer and marketer. Ideally I’d have a CD, AD, and a content and/or design team that I can collaborate with if needed for ideation and revision, but I’m happy to conceptualize and copyedit on my own—that’s what I’ve been doing mostly at Sands Costner.

Copywriting

Here's how I approach copywriting. 

For the sake of this description, I'll focus on assignments for new clients, or new campaigns. Assignments will sometimes come to me in the form of a brief. Those that don't—short-form pieces, UX/UI writing, and social media posts are typically either part of an ongoing strategy or campaign, or they are requested informally, via email or chat. Some projects are self-initiated.

My first job is to quickly contextualize the assignment. I can do this by reading through available materials. I'm looking to define my audience, my purpose, my outcome or CTA, and the speaker's voice. If needed, I request a brief chat with the person assigning it.

I'll sometimes jot down two rough columns on a sticky note or Google doc: 
 

  • What I need to say
  • What I need to convey

 

If there are specific brand voice guidelines, I'll consult those (if I haven't written them myself). 

At this point I'll also take a look at any data available, and/or I'll conduct some cursory research. This is where my experience in publicity, writing all those press releases, comes in handy: it helps me answer the big questions, like "So what?" and "Why now?"

I'll take a glance at what competitors have done. I make note of their clichés as well as their jargon. I make sure I understand my audience's needs and values, as well as the voice in which I am writing.

The rest is magic. 

It's not always pyrotechnics and pizzazz, but it's effective.

I could tell you more, but you'll have to hire me.

Constraints in my experience drive creativity; they don’t hamper it.