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Debi Bester and the Future Writers' Labs


The DMA’s Writer-in-Residence, Debi Bester, discusses all things Future Writers Labs’. Learn about the Labs and their unique structure, what our Future Writers take away and what they say - and where copywriters need to go for inspiration.

Before we talk about the Future Writers Labs’, a quick question: where do you advise new writers to go for inspiration?

Popular culture, because responsive writing isn’t just found in the ad industry. And don’t just look in the here and now, but back in time. Find writing that creates culture and ignites change. Think Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to The Sun, Wainwright’s Happy Valley to James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, Kony or Jay Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind. Be brave, and investigate the power of word in all its forms. Don’t just read, listen. Voraciously. And outside your comfort zone.

So how did the Future Writers’ Labs come about?

I was part of what you might describe as the "pop-up agency" behind of making of the DMA’s Campaign for great British copywriting. Steve Stretton and I were the CD team; Mark Runacus, the planner; DMA Group CEO Chris Combemale, account manager; and the DMA team were the creatives. It started where all good ideas start: at lunch. It was inspired by a desire to reignite a passion for the power and value of copywriting. And it grew from the Madmen vs Mavens film to the first ever copywriters’ census to the Future Writers' Labs … and soon, #writerscrawl.

The Labs are a place where professionals in the industry can experiment with the future of copywriting in an evolving digital world. Because that’s what copywriting is: a craft and a calling which can change the brand narrative, reinvent business around the customer and create a relevant, fair and meaningful value exchange of worth to both.

How do you structure the Labs?

The Future Writers’ Labs is not a "how to" course. It’s a fully immersive experience where scholars learn by doing, sharing and evolving on the fly. I lead the journey and invite guests to join us, like Patrick Collister, CD of Google’s think tank, ZOO; Darren Kay, formerly director of Unlimited Thinking at TMW; and Rupert Tebb, behavioural scientist and customer experience designer. Every session is made up of experiments.

They’re designed to stimulate their senses and ability to capture them; free them to explore storytelling frameworks; invite writers to use the tools of behavioural science; challenge them to create contagious content, moving as many people to respond as they can in the time given; even go out and discover new "brand worlds" and write for them. I’ve always been passionate about ink, innovation and driving change. I hope that shines through at the Labs: my aim is to help scholars get back in touch with their superpower of being able to use 26 letters to rewrite the future of brands, businesses and customers lives.

Who do you have in mind as the audience?

Actually, we started out designing the Labs for copywriters, both from agency and client side. But as they’ve rolled out, we’ve found we’ve attracted an exciting mix of talent from across organisations who have responsibility for writing everything from emails, direct mail and banner ads to social, video and all kinds of other content. And we welcome them all. Because this course is not competitive, it’s collaborative. You’re challenging yourself, led through a journey by me, inspired by some of my guests and supported by fellow writers.

What do Labs scholars get from the experience?

I’ll leave the last words to some of the scholars, whose letters to the sponsors give you an idea of what they got out of the experience.

“I just wanted to say that it's the best writing course I've ever been on. It's another level of exceptional, quality and forward thinking learning.” – Jenny Conlon

“I went in with no real expectations, just hoping to get some input from seasoned pros and to meet some like-minded writers. And boy, did I get it!” – Jamie Ovens

“You can't possibly imagine how much I've gotten out of the last five weeks … thank you for giving this opportunity to me. You have helped change my life.” - Gemma Smyth

“Hello sponsors, in five very fast weeks, you have given me the chance to be scared, excited, daunted and totally and utterly out of my comfort zone. Thanks for the inspiration, the chance to fall in love with direct marketing again and the confidence to keep trying just that little bit harder.” - Charley Day

The Future Writers Labs’ return in February. To find out more, apply for your scholarship and book your place, click here.

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