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Copywriting is not about the print ad anymore and hasn’t been for some time. But that doesn’t make the skill set any less important. You don’t have a website without words; try building a wire without them.

Providing clever, provocative and powerful copy to web designers and the like is critical. For many copywriters, feeding them content that inspires their work is the job. Just as art directors and designers have had to evolve so have writers. When the dust cleared from these early transitions both writers and art directors realized that what they do is essentially the same. New media still uses words and pictures. Creating a “look and feel” for this website or that social campaign has new obligations but the fundamentals are the same.

For example, I’m asked to help create a website for a B2B start up. The first thing we need is an “organizing principle” or key idea that drives the whole thing. This means a strategy line and a creative line – just like it does for any mass media campaign. Without it, you’re flying blind.

In a sense then the landing page functions as your “anthem” or “mantra.” Clients need, want and demand this asset the same as they did 25 years ago. So we write it. I present these to my clients much like I did in the beginning, when I was creating brand campaigns at Leo Burnett. Poetry and power had better be there.

Subsequently, each page of a website operates like a print ad, with a killer headline and precise and compelling copy. Every vertical needs an “ad” that wholly demonstrates its unique offering while at the same time adhering to the covenants of the organizing principle.

The email campaign directing targeted customers to the website is not much different than your classic teaser campaign. When we make advertising it is still advertising, be it online or off. And it damn well better be magical.

The lesson for clients and agencies alike is not to forsake the core skills of writing and designing in a chase for so-called digital natives. If they are mediocre designers or write like they text the output will suck. Don’t go there. Look for brilliant writers and art directors. The modern world is not an excuse for creating superficial tactics.

For magical copywriting and creative direction, no matter what: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com/

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When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.

On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 87th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.

“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

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Heel to Hero…

Going from Heel to Hero and visa-versa has not only become predictable but is occurring at dizzying speeds. I think this phenomenon is grossly underappreciated. Not only is it changing how we view good news and bad news but it is shaping current events and enabling shocking new discourse in popular culture and marketing.

A perfect example is Colin Kaepernick. When he was first caught sitting in protest during the National Anthem at a pre-season football game, the world all but tore him a new asshole. Within two weeks he’s on the cover of Time magazine and high school athletes around the country are emulating his behavior. Last week his jersey outsold all others. Pretty remarkable given he’s not even the starting quarterback for the team. Colin Kaepernick went from a goat to a God. Just like that.

The confluence of social media, proliferate video, celebrity obsession, reality TV and other factors have created a perfect storm, enabling controversial behavior and in turn changing our perceptions of what constitutes good and bad, right and wrong, and it’s doing so in real time!

Look at what a sordid sex tape of Kim Kardashian started. Once vilified and humiliated, that negative take has long been forgotten. She and her get are some of the most famous people on Earth.

The camera loves errant behavior. And society loves cameras. Ergo anyone can be a “star.” Provided you punch through. Dropping your pants or taking a stance are two surefire ways of getting that attention.

Courting controversy is not the real news, however. Like many, I have been writing about this for years.

What’s especially fascinating is how predictable the pattern has become. And the subsequent opportunities this affords. Marketers can take more and bigger chances. So what if a campaign or Tweet creates a shit storm. Within hours, defenders will join the fray. Even turn the tide. One can game public opinion. Betting on the inevitable backlash should be considered strategy from the get-go. Whether we like it or not, this is happening. Certain groups will take advantage while others stand by gaping.

(Author’s note: I’m avail for copy, content creation & creative leadership: https://steffanwork.wordpress.com)

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Something’s been bothering me for a while. I want it to blow over like the non-event that it undoubtedly is. But I can’t. So I figure I’ll just do what I’ve always done when something gets caught in my head. I’ll pry it out with my laptop.

These political conventions. God, I loathe them. I see an epic amount of bullshit being leveled at us from BOTH parties, BOTH candidates, and BOTH their get. I know, I know. That’s why they call it politics.

But that’s not what bothers me most. It’s the campaign wags. They bother me. These people, and their talking points, unable to let them go for any reason, ever. On FOX or CNN, it doesn’t matter the forum. The network puts a couple politicos from either party on TV, has whomever ask them whatever and the answers are always the same: talking points. The interviewees never answer as themselves but rather are channels for party rhetoric. They used to call it spin. But that word has gone away, hasn’t it? Fake answers are the new normal. Truthiness. I hate that. I wish everybody did.

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“Parse your words and live.”

In my years in Adland, I’ve seen this behavior before, all the time, actually, and from myself as well. And I loathe it all the same.

Especially when we are in a wooing mode, as in a pitch. Here, the mania of talking points becomes a grotesque. We are asked questions by potential suitors and we immediately assume that these are opportunities to score points. In this context saying “I don’t know” is never an option. Nor is, necessarily, the truth.

Unless we are brave. Over the years I’ve tried to be brave. To answer questions truthfully. To grandstand less and look like a partner more. I don’t know if we’ve won more pitches because of it or not. There are so many variables. And I’m just one man. But I try. Because it feels like the right thing to do.

And so when I see a person on CNN get asked a direct question (hopefully not vetted) and give a vetted answer, I cringe. Don’t you? As a human being, I don’t want everything to circle back to the platform, to be so campaign driven. I’ve come to expect as much from the candidates (God forbid they apologize or not know something). Yet somehow, I feel betrayed worse when a less-credentialed officer hands us a line. Yes, he or she is a “campaign spokesperson,” but can’t he or she be human as well?

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The messes just get stirred up by the other side, providing the only alternative to talking points we ever see: attack mode. Land a talking point about the platform and land a punch to theirs. This is what we get. Over and over again.

You know what I would love? If someone being interviewed just answered a question without a crib sheet. For example: “I wish Mr. Trump hadn’t said that today. I don’t agree with him and It hurt us.” Or: “Of course Mrs. Clinton back-channeled Bernie out of contention. She wanted to win the nomination. And she did.”

Never happen, I know. But when so many elephants are left in both rooms their shit smells a mile away.

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Looking for my next gig, I have visited a fair number of agencies. Typically, I meet with people representing the management team. It’s a bit of a gauntlet. In that context, one expects a positive attitude throughout, from both the interviewee and the interviewer(s). However, that is not always the case. At one agency, a number of the folks I’d met were pretty down on their company and told me so. There were politics. There was unfairness. Dead weight permeated the company. One interviewer asked: “Steffan, do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

Sadly. Yes.

Despite the awkward frankness (exceptional in those circumstances), complaining is common in Adland. Granted, usually not as part of a first impression but typical nevertheless. It’s not a good look. Seldom is it useful. Startled, I told one of my complainers a parable, the best thing I could think of to say at the time. Here is part of it:

Every day a group of men set out to forage in the desert by their village. They ventured far in order to get to the forest and its abundance of resources. At the half way point of their journey was a lone, large tree in which they took a break to rest and eat lunch. “A shame this tree,” one man said. “It has no fruit for eating.” The others agreed. “And its wood isn’t suitable for building either…”

And so on they complained. What the complainers failed to realize was the great benefit the tree provided. In fact, the old tree was a refuge. Seemingly barren, it provided shelter from the noonday sun without which their journey would have been infinitely more treacherous. This critical benefit was lost on the men. As was the unity this resting place fostered among the travelers. All was taken for granted to spite the obvious.

I recall a company meeting at a previous place of employment, a long time ago. We’d had a tough year. Morale was low. The employees were skeptical about their agency’s future. Many used the setting as a forum to voice their complaints: Management was inept, they cried. Our clients are bound to mediocrity. Woe is us!

During my turn to speak I told the story about the old tree. Our agency was beleaguered but I wanted us to appreciate all that we had: jobs, community and a place to voice our grievances freely and without fear of reparations.

In some respect I was talking to myself. Though I harbored many of my fellow’s misgivings I wanted healing words. Not apathetic ones. We’d had plenty of those already. Change was needed. And change would come. But on that day I needed gratitude. We all did. I worked for one of the greatest advertising agencies in the world. It had been hobbled but it was still there. Despite our weakened position, so were we.