Last month Dragon Rouge welcomed new head of voice, Bee Pahnke, to its London office. She’s spent seven years building verbal identity into strong brands, crafting compelling brand stories and getting clients and colleagues passionate about the power of words. She’s worked with the likes of British Gas, BBC, O2, Aviva and Unilever. Here, her colleagues grill her to discover a little bit more about her creative process, her favourite words and brands and her golden rules.
Tell us about your writing process? How do you brainstorm ideas?
I'm a scribbler. I have to doodle my ideas out, with lines connecting thoughts and concepts. I'm also a firm believer in every idea is a good idea. If you edit your ideas before you get them out of your head, one of two things happen: you end up with a mental blocker, where the idea you've deemed as not good enough sits at the front of your mind, and you just can't move around or past it to get to anything else. Or, you miss out on the opportunity to make creative connections. Sure, maybe the idea you're thinking of really isn't any good. But, it could have a grain of something in it, that can spark an idea for something that could answer all of our problems. So get it out, put it down on the page.
Which brands do you admire for their voice, and why?
I think the clothing brand Monki are doing really interesting things at the moment. They're speaking in a way that feels truly reflective of their demographic – young, savvy women and non-binary people. This demographic is surprisingly difficult to connect with in an authentic way (they can smell bullshit a mile off). But Monki do it in a way that matches the fun energy of the product they're creating, as well as the visual identity of the brand, without coming across as try-hard.
What's your favourite brand of all time?
That's changeable! Depending on the mood I'm in, where I am, what I'm thinking about. But off the top of my head, I really like Charlotte Tilbury at the moment. I like the way they've owned vintage Hollywood glamour, and championed it through their pack design and their language. They don't always get it right – I think they use far too many exclamation marks and sometimes sway into salesy language that can make them feel cheap – but as a whole, they’re doing well. And they've really thought about their entire brand experience – from the packaging, to the counter in a department store, to the website.
Words vs. pictures. Who wins and why? And you can't sit on the fence and say both.
It depends on the situation and what you're trying to achieve. We need to bring words and pictures together – designers working closely with writers, creating one unified piece of work and feeding into each others' creative. Pictures should elevate words, words should strengthen pictures....but if you put a gun against my head, words. Obvs.
What kills great copy?
Expecting perfection first time around. So many people put pressure on themselves to create the ultimate answer to the brief the second they start writing – that's not how it works, and that's not how it needs to work. Get the bones out and then rework the words on the page until you're happy enough to show your clients or your peers. Then, work on it some more.
And, forgetting your audience. Writers, more than anyone else in the process (I feel) are the champions of that end person. The reader, the consumer, Jack standing in Boots, Megan at the bus stop, Caroline driving home from work, Adam cooking a late-night dinner. You need to see them in your mind, look them in the eye and empathise. If I was Jack, what do I care most about right now? If I was Caroline, what's my priority for the evening? If you forget your audience – and it's a trap a lot of writers easily fall into – you end up writing for yourself, or just for your clients. That means putting in information your readers don't need right now. Taking too long to get to the point. Burying the bit your reader's interested in somewhere in the middle, or at the bottom. (Or leaving it out all together.)
The first question any writer should be asking is, who am I talking to?
If you could invent a new word or phrase, what would it be?
I'd invent a word for that feeling when the creativity is flowing, and you feel like your fingers can't keep up with your brain to type out all the things you want to say. Something like, Creative Runaway, e.g. "It was a great workshop – we hit that point of creative runaway – if anything, we were worried we'd end up losing some of the ideas before we could capture them."
What's your golden rule?
Read it out loud. You’ll be amazed what you spot.
What's your favourite word?
Bee Pahnke, head of voice, Dragon Rouge