Editor’s Note: This week, Kerry-Ann Bartle and Stacy Nelson uncover a society for wordsmiths founded by two young women over countless cups of tea. ~Robelen
It all began with two women who share a love for storytelling and a knack for words. Despite doing what they both love working in advertising, they were unhappy, constantly searching for inspiration over tea breaks. Driven by a desire to change their circumstances, Apostrophe Copywriters – Melbourne’s first copywriting collective, was born. Founders Crystal Fong and Stefanie DiGianvincenzo created a group of award-winning, freelance copywriters who collaborate with almost anyone, from design to digital agencies, brand managers and even like-minded start-ups.
Fong and DiGianvincenzo were destined to come together at some point in their careers. It was simply a matter of time and, in this case, opportunity. Both graduated from RMIT’s Bachelor of Communication. Fong walked straight into an internship at ad agency giant, JWT, and went on to work with some of the industry’s biggest agencies, including DDB Melbourne and Ogilvy Melbourne. DiGianvincenzo’s first break came with a junior role at Melbourne direct marketing agency, Trademark DM. Six months in, she was snatched up by Clemenger BBDO, and has since worked with Cubed Communications and DDB.
Both are exceptionally good at what they do. Fong has been recognised by some of the top local and international award shows including Cannes, MADC, and Caples. She received a thumbs up from Tim Burton for a campaign she created to promote an exhibition of his work in Melbourne. Meanwhile, DiGianvincenzo has picked up gongs at award shows all over the world, from Cannes to New York Caples, Spikes Asia and One Show. Her career highlight was launching Reach’s Open Book Project, a campaign that saw thousands of Australians offer a page of their teenage diary to show today’s teens that they’re not alone.
Their paths finally crossed in 2010 when DiGianvincenzo was the new girl in the almost all-male environment where Fong had been working for four years. It’s not surprising they became friends pretty quickly. The two regularly snuck off for tea breaks on the balcony to get away from their uninspiring, corporate surroundings that was their workplace. They felt their environment was suffocating their creativity. It also did nothing for staff health and morale. “We loved what we did. But we figured there was a better way to do it.”
They weren’t happy at work, and with an entrepreneurial drive, started looking for a way to change that. They did their research, “and what [they] found was a gap in the market for good writers outside of a big agency structure.”
This gap in the market had created a high demand for freelance writers, which helped smooth over their transition from employees to employers. They weren’t always sure it was the right path. “It’s a steep learning curve and it’s natural to feel out of your depth.” But they embraced the mistakes they made, constantly learning and growing not only as a business, but as women.
Of course, starting a business from scratch isn’t without costs. Luckily, DiGianvincenzo and Fong feel their start-up costs were comparatively low. But they had to make sure they had a brand, the right advice from lawyers and accountants, a place to create and “of course lots and lots of caffeine to get us through our start-up days.”
Apostrophe aren’t just different in terms of space and work ethics. Their flexible model means clients aren’t paying for the time copywriters spend waiting for feedback – as is the norm in the industry. They are also proud to boast a team of high-calibre copywriters; between them, their list of clients is impressive. This and their obvious passion for words helps them to get the clients they want without the ‘hard sell’. “In most cases, [it’s] more than enough for like-minded people to want to work with us.”
As a young company, it’s always going to be difficult to persuade new clients to take the plunge. Despite their impressive back catalogue, the ladies admit that, “even as copywriters, sometimes we’re unable to find the right words to change a mindset that has been developed over the years.” Their focus is on those who do get it, and work with like-minded clients.
Despite working for some great brands – Adidas, Garnier, Old Spice and Leica to name but a few – and winning the coveted Young Glory 2012 competition, these ladies believe their biggest achievement so far is surviving their first year in business together. “In the early days, our accountant told us that 80% of partnerships fail in the first year. We told ourselves we would be in the 20% and we are. To us, that’s impressive.”
As with any start-up story, DiGianvincenzo and Fong had some help along the way for which they are grateful. They also found inspiration and valuable advcie in Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape the 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Their advice to others is to “mix it up, keep it fresh and always remember to reward yourself for your hard work.”
They also keep a lot of lists. “Lists are our friends. We write them so often, it borders on a compulsion!”
For DiGianvincenzo and Fong, it’s so important that they support each other and their team, inside and out of the workplace. They provide a flexible working environment so that everyone has time for a private life whether it’s an errand, a social catch up or a hobby. They believe this is key to a happy work-life balance.
To other would-be entrepreneurs, they say, ask yourself one question: “what’s the worst that could happen?” For them, that was going back to full-time agency work. In the grand scheme of things, that didn’t seem so bad and that gave them the courage to take the leap. They encourage others to heed advice from other successful women.
“As Nicki Minaj once so eloquently put it, ‘Never let ‘em stress you.’”
Authors: Kerry-Ann Bartle, Stacy Nelson
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