“I’m writing about data points!”

Last I checked there were over 800 hundred million billion pieces of written content floating around in cyberspace or near by. The number might actually be higher. I stopped counting to walk my dogs.

The point is that everything has been written. A lot. And over again. Which means there is nothing original left to say.

Therefore, the only vital form of writing left is copywriting. What I mean by vital has nothing to do with good. Just that, whether it is read or not, copy always has to be written. Those web pages won’t just fill themselves. Yet.

Guys and gals like us do it. We get paid, albeit triflingly, to make those paragraphs that live deep beneath the touts on a never-ending plethora of websites, which always needs to be refreshed.

Ah, refreshed! What a glorious word. It means for us steady or at least wobbly employment.

Clients demand content, and that takes the form of sentences. All kinds of sentences. Sentences just like the ones I’ve written here. Except they are ostensibly about something. Like Big Data. Or aftershave. Solutions.

And let us not forget infographics, which the Urban Slang dictionary lovingly calls “web pollution.” Or shiny white papers. Like non-alcoholic beer they are seldom selected by anyone but my lord, those are filled with sentences, too. Great big, slobbery ones! The size of great danes.

And we write them.

“The arrow pointing up was my idea!”

Make fun of banners all you like but there they are. To the left. And to the right. Taking over! Some beseech us to visit fake news stories, which we call branded content or native advertising. Hail Hydra! Those are like whole new ways to write sentences.

Yes, when we go home for the Holidays grandma will still ask: did you do that commercial on TV? The one with the cat and the giant toothbrush. If we are smart we lie and say yes and that the cat got paid in freshly caught tiger shark.

But, alas, her days are numbered. Soon we will be showing off responsive web pages on our smart phones and everyone around the dinner table around the world will lose interest because nobody wants to read white papers on an iPhone or anywhere else for that matter. They will shake their heads and say they can’t believe we get paid for writing crap like that.

And we will say, “I know, crazy right?”

One develops habits as a copywriter. For instance, I need to see what words look like in a layout to truly assess them properly. The art directors were right: a block of copy is a visual. It needs to look right. Losing a word or two in order to accommodate the visual is not compromise; it’s part of creating good copy. Seeing your words in a layout provides concrete proof that what you’ve written is right. The perfect paragraph on Word is almost never correct in situation.

This habit did not change when technology did. If anything it became more pronounced. Now I could see finished looking ads but for the grace of the advertising gods: produced! Ancient history, I know. It’s been years since anyone relied on marker comps to sell an ad. We all want to see the baby before its born.

Where it gets interesting for me is in other forms of writing, like this blog. While I write these words in Word, and edit the hell out of them in Word, I’ve really only created a first draft. The true test comes when I create a “new post.” Then I see the paragraphs as you would see them. Suddenly their flaws become manifest, almost like an allergic reaction. Lose this sentence. Change that word. Move the photograph down a peg. Why these things were never apparent on a white screen is a mystery to me.

Perhaps it is also a curse. Many bloggers crank out content because new content is the key to new readers. Like in a MASH unit, they sow up stories and send them to the front. The sentences bleed adverbs and are pockmarked with dot-dot-dots, suggesting the writer had no time to tie up the paragraph or suture a proper segue.

I can’t work that way. Whether it reflects in my writing or not (and it may very well not), I treat each story as if it were (or is it was?) being graded. It’s a habit I got into a long time ago.

Been there, done that…

My entire career, I’ve been a full time employee of three agencies. Before now, my only work stoppage (six months) was on account of a separation agreement.

This time I have no such covenants. Therefore, in addition to copious amounts of personal writing, I’ve also taken my first foray into freelance copywriting. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it. A lot. Not only did I not miss being the boss I actually relished being inconspicuous. Why? Well, that’s the subject of this post. I think I have a fairly unique perspective. Hopefully, most of you will find it interesting and maybe even enlightening, especially if you’ve got designs on creative leadership.

Freelancing put me back in the creative trenches: conceptualizing and writing. Two things I deeply missed. Fact is, unless a Chief Creative Officer actively fights against it most of us end up being curators and choreographers. Those are important tasks but it’s just not the same as coming up with ideas and writing. Whether my peers admit it or not, the longer they stay out of the trenches the more likely their creative muscles atrophy. It’s the same as anything else: use it or lose it. Remaining a player/coach isn’t easy, especially if various members of the agency are driving you in different directions. In addition, you have to want to do the work. Think about it. If no one at the agency expects you to write copy or compose layouts then would you? Lots of ECD’s and CCO’s (the most famous ones included) don’t create anything anymore. Regarding global creative directors, a colleague once told me the only “books” those guys care about are their passports.

Freelancing, I no longer have to suffer fools the way most creative directors must. A CCO is expected to work with senior people across his or her network as well as for clients. While many in the C-suite are brilliant and pleasant plenty are also tools. Paid only to write they are no longer my concern. A blessing.

Finally, I don’t miss power. As a matter of fact, I’m here to tell you power is overrated. For one thing, it separates you from the people and places and things that make advertising so damn fun. While separation from the troops is endemic to any leadership position I missed the camaraderie. You know who scares me? The ECD or CCO who doesn’t. Those guys are trouble.

As a freelancer, I get to create work with the other people who create work. That “flow” trumps pomp and circumstance. Plus, whether or not I become a CCO again, it’s nice to know I’m comfortable working the skill sets that got me there in the first place.

Full disclosure: As a CCO, I was never a big fan of hiring freelancers. I thought perhaps they wouldn’t try as hard as FTE’s. Or be as vested in outcomes as FTE’s. I was dead wrong on the first point. (Freelancers won’t get hired back if they don’t go full out.) And while the second point is usually true it’s also a moot point. If a company demands loyalty from a freelancer offer him or her a damn job!


Most people got that my last post was more of a thought starter than a fire starter. In it I “accused” art directors of being more culpable than anyone for the rise in scam-ads. Most of your comments were insightful but I still like my case!

One of the reasons I called out art directors for shunning copy in their ads is based on the old saw: “nobody reads body copy anyway.” You know I heard that line my first year on the job. Didn’t believe it then. Don’t believe it now.

Fact is many people don’t pay attention to ads at all. For them, it’s not a matter of how long or short the copy is; they’re just not interested in being sold something at that particular time. Doubtful any amount of art direction would make much of a difference. A fun concept might grab them but a targeted virgin usually flees the aggressor.

It’s the people who value advertising (be it for emotional or pragmatic reasons) I’m looking for. Even if capturing new users is the brief I still like writing for an audience. Whatever the media (I always think of print first, but that’s me), I imagine I’m writing for someone who is interested in what I have to say. Doing otherwise does you, your client and the consumer a disservice. That’s my opinion. Assuming advertising must be intrusive in order to succeed is, most of the time, a bad call. Ads need to be relevant to an audience. Then they’ll read them, talk about them and even tear them out of a magazine.

I found a piece of copy in Vanity Fair that kicked my ass, for the new model year of Porsche 911. Understand something: I was on my own time, not playing creative director. I was enjoying a magazine that, by the way, has no equal. (For that matter, neither does Porsche.) I am pretty damn sure I am just the audience the copywriter envisioned when he or she sat down to write. It was my pleasure copying the text word for word:

The first time you experience a Porsche 911, you notice a degree of purpose to the car you may not have anticipated. Every component, every technical advancement is there to advance one cause: the drive. You notice the key is on the left; it was put there originally so a racer could start with one hand, shift with the other and hit the track faster. You, car and road bond like brothers. You suddenly remember that driving can be a thrill. Is a thrill. You feel alive every time you get behind the wheel. You note, amazed, that a 385-horsepower car returns 27 miles per gallon. You appreciate its founding belief of getting more from less. You strain to think of something else that has stayed this true to its ideals for 46 years. And you come to the realization that, in the age of the superfluous and superficial, the unrooted and the unserious, the 911 is necessary. Very necessary. The Porsche 911. There is no substitute.

I particularly like the way the writer turned a luxury item into a necessity, making a solid case for Porsche, even in this economy. In other words, he sold me the car. And he did it with words not pictures. I already know how badass the 911 is yet I am not willing to buy one. Seeing another photo of it would do nothing to change my mind. Reading these words could. Indeed, I am considering Porsche’s new sedan, The Panamera next go around.

Kudos to CK, an agency in my backyard, for making copy as deft and beautiful as the cars they’re selling.