Q&A with a Language Professional is a new series of interviews dedicated to showcasing the wonderfully diverse career paths we linguists and language professionals might take and what language means to us all. Same set of questions – yet very different answers indeed!
This time, the questions are answered by Catherine Laz, Transcreator, French-English Copywriter, Founder of Transcreators United. See what her take is on language, work, success, passion and the everyday challenges working as a fellow language professional.
What does ‘language’ mean to you?
Catherine: Language reflects our background and should always be respected without prejudice especially in advertising. Unfortunately, some forms of language are heavily censored if they are associated to a certain class, region, slang, or transgressive cuture.
What is your journey about?
Catherine: My journey is all about convincing advertisers and agencies that transcreation is a vital ingredient of global communication. It is also about making people understand that using translators is wrong because they aren’t creatives and have no training in advertising.
Where did you start from, and where are you now?
Catherine: I went to an advertising school in Paris and I got my first job at J.Walter Thompson I used to go to London quite often to see bands so I was hired because I could speak English. I started transcreating copy along with creative copywriting.
I thought I may be able to do the same thing in London and I applied for a transcreator job in an advertising agency in London. I was immediately hired to work on the Pan-African Guinness account.
I went on to work at World Writers (I created the company’s name) and then my own consultancy Decoder Transcreation. I won huge global accounts on my own like Adidas, Electronic Arts, MTV to name just a few.
Right now as a French copywriter and transcreator I am adapting to the digital landscape. I work as a freelancer and also as the creative director of Transcreators United, my own transcreation consultancy for multilingual campaigns.
Tell us about your successes and career highlights.
Catherine: When I worked for World Writers I transcreated the first transnational campaign for Nike. It was a multilingual campaign that appeared across all European Cosmopolitan editions. My ad was featured in Campaign magazine. Also working with Sir John Hegarty on BBH global accounts, a legend in advertising.
Winning the Adidas account was pretty special. I managed 500 projects in up to 30 languages for 7 years. Alone and along with dozens of global accounts.
I also worked on the Guinness account for 18 years which is a real achievement in this industry.
What does an average day look like in your life?
Catherine: Copywriting, briefings, feedbacks, a lot of waiting around until the task is completed! Estimates, prospecting new clients, checking posts on LinkedIn and contacting potential leads, updating the website, reading the trade press.
Have you ever thought of changing directions, and if so, why?
Catherine: Yes. 15 years ago I had breast cancer and had to hit the pause button. I decided to use the recovery time to study fashion and interior design. I launched a textile homeware business selling Toile de Jouy accessories online. I came back to advertising 5 years ago because I love it and copywriting is a passion.
Can you identify anything that might be challenging in the future for your particular profession?
Catherine: Translation companies with lots of money offering transcreation services with people who have never set a foot in an advertising agency and haven’t got a clue about creativity in this industry. They’re the bane of my life. I have no means to fight them and they’re swallowing huge chunks of business.
Do you see artificial intelligence as an opportunity or more like a threat in your industry?
Catherine: By definition AI is the absolute opposite of what I do. You simply cannot replace a creative by a robot. That said, I know that virtual assistants such as Alexa require linguists to simulate natural conversations. This kind of work bleeds into ours because digital and AI infiltrates all aspects of the industry. However, a service such as Google translation is a no no as far as I am concerned. Do not translate slogans with it. It seems obvious but I’ve had clients coming up with their own “transcreations” who said that’s what Google said. It seemed like a simple line to them but it was wrong, so imagine the rest.
What’s the most common misconception about your field of work?
Catherine: That we are translators. We aren’t!
We work in advertising, we are trained copywriter and creatives. We understand what a brief is all about. Translators are academics, they have nothing to do with us. If you hire a transcreator via a translation agency, you won’t get what you’re looking for. Hire them directly through a transcreation agency like us.
On the personal front, ageism is a great problem: people think that a copywriter freshly arrived by Eurostar will be far better than me who’s been here for decades. Wrong. Transcreation is a skill and it takes years to practice and hone. Also, it is my job as a transcreator to know what’s going on in the French advertising industry, as well as language and creativity in general. Furthermore, you need to be immersed in the English language and the British advertising scene and culture for a long time before being able to practice transcreation effectively. Fluency is English is not enough. And that’s also valid for visuals, you can’t have a mock Tudor house to illustrate a Paris suburban home. A translator won’t tell you that, it’s not his job.
Where are you heading? What is the rest of the journey like as you see it now?
Catherine: With Brexit and the fallout of the lockdown, Britain may not look so attractive to foreign copywriters and agencies may find it harder to find specialists able to work on-site. It could be an advantage and an opportunity. Also, I hope creativity in digital will improve and advertising returns to higher standards.
Any books / movies / exhibitions / events / art that you would recommend us language professionals to read / watch / visit?
Catherine: Before anything, I shall define exactly what a language professional is in my field: a foreign creative copywriter in advertising and marketing.
If you’re based in the UK:
- Watch out for subtitles of series and films and compare what you’re reading to your own understanding. There’s a lot of swearing in French dialogues for example and it’s quite hilarious to see how Brits tone down everything.
- Listen to rap and street talk both in English and your own language. New words and expressions sip into the everyday language pretty quickly and it’s vital to understand and use that kind of language when needed.
- Look at how global brands transcreate, or not, their taglines into your language.
- Read translated marketing material and see how better you would have done it. There are some appalling cases.
- Listen to the radio, watch programmes and ads in your own language. Keep up with what’s happening in the ad and media industry of your own country. Subscribing both to Campaign Magazine and an equivalent trade publication is basic.
- Buy glossaries and add your own words found in trade magazines and online.
Do you have a favourite quote, or a life mantra you live by?
Everything contains its opposite.
If this (Buddhist) principle was taught at the earliest age we wouldn’t have to listen to people reinventing the wheel in debates such as: “Isn’t the Internet a little bit evil?”
How can we find you in the online space? Website, LinkedIn, or email perhaps?
Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, Catherine. Congratulations on all your professional and personal achievements. Wishing you all the best for your future plans.
Now, we’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on the issues addressed here by Catherine? Which part of this conversation resonated most and why? Leave a comment below and let us know.
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Looking forward to hearing your voice on this.