What I've Learnt: Chris Tomlin, Communications Director at Buffalo 7
Chris Tomlin is the Communications Director at Buffalo 7, a specialist PowerPoint design agency.
After graduating from the University of Liverpool, Chris held a number of copywriting roles, both freelance and for AdvisorPlus. He then worked as a copywriter and communications consultant for Antidote copywriting for nearly four years.
He joined Buffalo 7 in 2016 as Head of Content Development and then took on the role of Director of Communications from October 2018.
Here, Chris looks back on his career so far and shares what he's learnt...
Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?
I try to walk, cycle or run for at least an hour a day. That’s pretty easy when I dash to the station and back but can be a little more challenging when I’m working from home.
I can usually find an excuse to get out and about, and it’s very effective when it comes to switching off from work for a bit.
Like those profound shower thoughts, I do find that actively forgetting about work helps to actually increase creativity. When you’re not forcing it, the most amazing ideas can spring up from nowhere. I usually scramble to send myself a quick email before I lose my train of thought. I know there are specific apps for this type of thing, but never have the foresight to set them up!
I tend to mix it up a bit; sometimes listening to music, sometimes podcasts, and every now again just enjoying the sounds of nature. That can prove a bit difficult in central Manchester or London, but there are spots if you know where to look.
If I’ve had a few days inside due to apocalyptic weather of challenging deadlines, I find myself getting a bit of cabin fever, so I’m pretty strict with myself on getting out these days.
What's been your luckiest break?
Getting made redundant! I’d been working as Head of Copywriting for a few years at an HR company. I knew I wanted to make the leap to going freelance, but the time was never right.
So in the end, that decision was made for me. And I didn’t see it coming. One day, I was invited to a meeting and told that we’d be outsourcing our copywriting requirements.
But that meeting turned out to be an incredibly positive experience that literally changed my life.
I pitched to take on the work there and then, explaining that I knew our client, their messages and their tone of voice better than anyone else. And so before I knew it, I’d gone from full-time employee to freelance copywriter with my first client in about twenty minutes.
It was a fantastic start: with one major account from the get-go, I was able to build up a solid portfolio and a strong business really fast.
What's your best failure?
One time, I was so lazy, that I probably saved my son’s life.
My wife was heavily pregnant at the time. We’d been to the hospital that day and they’d assured us that because the baby was breech, there was no way we were having it anytime soon, and they’d book us a routine C-section.
So, with permission, I’d made plans to go and see New York hip-hop legend Pharoahe Monch with a few mates. But as it happened, the guy giving me a lift dropped out. And I had a choice to make:
- Get off the sofa, walk for 15 minutes into town and get rowdy.
- Stay on the sofa, watch a film, get to bed early.
Obviously, I chose 2, and later that evening, all hell broke loose, and I ended up delivering a premature, breech baby in the front room with no medical help, or clue what I was doing.
After a rocky couple of weeks, Reggie came out of the experience unscathed, and my laziness turned out to be a blessing.
How would you describe your work/life balance?
I’m pretty lucky in this regard: I’d say my work/life balance is really healthy and flexible.
I tend to work from home two days a week, leaving the other three to either get into our Manchester studio or go and see clients to deliver storytelling workshops. That is a fair bit of commuting, but despite all the negative press, I find the trains to be pretty reliable.
You can get work done, catch up on any reading and generally avoid the stress and tedium that comes with driving. I like to walk or cycle to the station first – get a bit of air in the lungs and set myself up for the day.
And when I’m at home, I can get involved in all that great stuff like family mealtimes and the chaos that comes with it.
Which book would you recommend others to read and why?
The Cold Six Thousand, by James Ellroy. From a storytelling point of view, this has got it all: a fictionalised version of real-live 1960s USA, taking in the JFK assassination, Vietnam, Cuba, the Mob, the Ku Klux Klan, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, the CIA, the FBI and a whole lot more.
It’s a brutal, shocking look at America’s raw and corrupt history, but a brilliant and epic detective noir running throughout.
However, from a copywriting point of view, it’s an incredibly accomplished experiment in what to leave out. I’ve spent my professional career agonising on how to trim words down to their bare minimum, and this is an amazing achievement of that art.
Every sentence is terse, clipped and absolutely minimal:
“Oswald was pro-Red. Oswald loved Fidel. Oswald worked at a schoolbook plant. Oswald clipped the Prez on his lunch break. DPD had him. Their HQ teemed. Cops. Reporters. Camera hogs all.”
The book is huge, clocking in at around 700 pages, despite the stripped-down prose, but it takes you on a journey into America’s sordid underbelly that you won’t forget.
What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
At 21, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I fell into a job that I didn't enjoy and stayed there for far too long. I’d tell myself to think about what I wanted to get into, what I enjoyed and what I was decent at. And then work towards that goal.
Eventually, I did all of that, but I regret leaving it so long.
So that, and to lose the cornrows.
Tell us something about you that would surprise people
I once worked at a bullet-proof vest factory.
What does success look like to you?
Success is continuous evolution. You can't afford to stand still. Without change comes stagnation.
If a customer is delighted with your service, how can you make it better next time? What new technology trends are on the horizon, and how can you harness them to add more value?
If you can figure out what your clients want and need before they do, you’re onto a winner.