The Canny Craft of Copywriters: Concocting Calculated and Cunning Creative Copy

Ryan Berman // Aug 15 // Insights



A few months back, I wrote a post about how to get a job in advertising.

Hot Tub Time Machine forward and here you are successfully trailblazing your own course inside some agency (Congratulations! They’re lucky to have you!).

Now that you’re in, it’s time to talk about making the leap into the creative department and succeed as a copywriter. Or, if you’re already departmentalized, here’s some free counsel on how to become a stronger, more conceptual creative Jedi master.

10: Treat ad writing like screen writing.

Just like screenplays, consider writing your print ads in Acts. Act 1 is a headline that draws you in. It makes your client’s brand your protagonist and it should make the viewer want to root for their product. Act 2 is a journey called body copy where you must always point forward with new information. It’s a skill to hold an audience's attention all the way to Act 3. When Act 3 shows up, the finale is short and simple – and it leaves the audience yearning for more. More often than not, there’s a call to action here that drives viewers somewhere else, to some ‘sequel’ commentary (social, microsite, website, etc).

9: Pick a topic. Write 10 jokes.

Pick a weekly topic and go David Letterman's ‘Top 10 list’ on the subject. This was first suggested to me by the great CD James Cheung (Chiat Day) when I was still on the brand side of the business back in NYC. I was trying to break into copywriting and this helped me develop that capability. Wise man, that James. He knew the more you worked on your craft, the stronger that muscle becomes.

8: Edit, edit, edit and edit your work.

Go the extra mile. Put in the time and cut out what you don’t need. Don’t waste a single moment of your audiences time with unnecessary words. It’s not easy to chop down and abbreviate. But the ones who do, are really the ones who are most considerate to their audience’s time. Truth is, we are all a little A.D.D. Your ability to write smashing copy should have everything to do with delivering your point and pushing the story forward. So edit, edit, edit, edit, edit your work!

7: Don’t just search the Internet - search the world.

I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon. Seen Graceland. Driven Cross Country.

Lived in NYC. Walked Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Road Tripped to Mardi Gras (twice). Spent a decade of summers in the south. Have woken up to French cartoons in Paris. Tasted the chocolate in Buenos Aires. Surfed Hawaii. Honeymooned in Cabos. The ability to ‘people watch’ in all these places has helped me better understand their needs and wants. If you know how they live, if you get what’s important in their lives, then you can better serve up relevant content in their language when it’s time.

6: Take the ‘would it work on you?’ test.

Imagine yourself as the age of the demo you are trying to reach. Pretend you didn’t write or create your concept. Would it make you do what you wanted the creative to do if you saw it? If not, start over.

5: Your creative director is not your creative director - your creative director is your client.

It doesn't matter how chummy you are with your CD. When it comes to briefings and selling through your work, treat CD’s like they are sitting across the table from you in a neatly pressed collared button down. You'll be a smarter, sharper creative for it.

4: If you get jammed up, abort. Then step back.

Sometimes you just need to step away from an assignment. Go grab a run, watch a movie or surf Instagram. When you come back to your work, most likely, you’ll see a different angle to explore.

3: Alcohol works too.

It’s the unexplainable creative elixir. As always, beware of the brown drinks.

2: Mirror a manager for a day - learn to speak 'account management'.

Using both sides of your brain can go a long way for you and your agency. Quietly shadow that fearless internal liaison who boldly sits between agency and client. What you’ll soon smell -- just by listening to their daily conversations -- is an entirely different language. How dangerous are you if you start to incorporate that shiny new lexicon into your presentations?

1: Be prepared. Know how to sell your work.

Speaking of presentations, there's nothing worse than a great idea getting killed because you didn't nail your cadence in the room. Carnegie Hall moment applies here. Practice, practice, practice your presentation. To think about all those amazing campaigns that have died over the years from ineffective salesmanship brings a metaphorical rolling tear down thy face.


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