Want to write copy? Here’s our advice

When Tim asked what I would advise, I thought, it’s decades since I had this problem.

So I asked my three newest writers.

They have written successfully for all kinds of things from a charity event involving Stirling Moss to helping get a Finnish politician win an election to filling seminars in Australia.

Here’s what they said:

The first suggestions are from Timo in Finland. He tells you the truth, not what you want to hear.

I also dropped out of college after one year. I drank all my tuition money – the rest I simply spent.

1. Google as many horror stories about advertising as you can find. Assume they are all understatements. Then think if you really really, really want to work in this field.

2. Are you entrepreneurial?

When you spend your own money (even if you have borrowed it) you learn much faster what works. The scars remind quite well, don’t they?

Don’t think you are hot stuff, copy what works. When you think you are hot stuff, read the previous sentence again.

Looking for shortcuts? Shame on you.

First, I’d learn the basics of direct marketing, then the wonders of email, and third, Google AdWords. To me learning means: study and try. Theory is useless without action, I think.

3. Don’t want to start your business and can’t get a job as a copywriter? Consider becoming a salesman. You’ll always get a shot. It teaches you how to sell. Keep reading advertising books. USE what you have learnt from them.

If you are serious (serious being you don’t just talk about it – you do something), I think it’s just a matter of time before you get your chance.

As Warren Buffett’s partner Charlie Munger says, “Deserve what you want.”

And by the way: beware of gurus. Just because someone famous says so doesn’t mean it’s true. How often have you heard an expert admit they might be wrong?

Now, here’s what Alex from England said.

I’m still an amateur, but I can think of a few things that have helped me along so far…

Don’t have a plan B. My fear of not becoming a copywriter is as strong (if not stronger) than my desire to become a copywriter.

Without a second career option, you’re forced to return to the books, think hard, and come back stronger when things look bad.

Watch advertising actively. Scrutinise every advert you see. Picture yourself as the creative director. Ask yourself whether or not you’d let the advert see daylight. I think the hardest job in advertising must be to judge a good idea from a bad idea.

Don’t worship one man’s mantra. I have one friend who works for a reasonable sized London agency. He worships Bernbach and said he dislikes Ogilvy because he’s too ‘old school’. I think he’s wrong.

I’ve also met people who read Ogilvy, then shout down adverts that divert from his teachings. I think they’re wrong.

Jim Durfee says “If you find yourself developing a creative philosophy, your growth is over. Stagnation has set in.” I think he’s right.

Keep reading. And keep your reading varied.

I read a lot of novels as well as advertising books. Hemingway is my favourite author. Also F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Boyd. Read The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s the best novel I’ve ever read.

Back to advertising books. You’ve probably read your Ogilvy, Caples, Hopkins etc, and of course Drayton Bird.

I have a few suggestions that took me some time to stumble upon. You may have read some of them. If not, they’re all good reads. They are…

  • The Copy Book: How some of the best advertising writers in the world write their advertising – D&AD book
  • Writing that works – Roman and Raphaelson
  • Branding your Business – James Hammond
  • The Book of Gossage – Howard Gossage, Jeff Goodby
  • Hey Mr. Whipple, Squeeze This – Luke Sullivan

Never start thinking you’re wonderful. Actually those are Drayton’s words, but they’re worth repeating. And should Drayton disagree with any of my points, I’ll tweak my thinking.

Good luck.

Well, after that little lot, there wasn’t much left for Gerald, also English, to say, but he added:

Look for ideas in everything.

Whether that’s by reading, listening to the radio, on TV, etc.

Facts, figures, oddball stuff. And note it down somewhere.

Please note, everyone, that nowhere do any of my crew come out with the usual drivel you hear about what a wonderful life it is, sitting on your sun-kissed balcony supping chilled Chablis as you dash off another masterpiece with ease.

It is hard work like anything else. But more interesting than many jobs – and the investment is small.

It is in improving yourself.

What do I think? Well, if that hasn’t put you off you should instantly get my “How to write and persuade” videos, because then at least you’ll understand the realities. (And if you don’t like the sound of them, ask for your money back).

And at the same time get your free copy of Scientific Advertising – and read it, repeatedly.

But above all, write. Write every day. Write about anything. Write whether you feel like it or not.

Find things you think could be done better and have a go. Because that’s what you’re going to have to do. Beat other people.

And three other things:

Read your stuff out loud. If it doesn’t sound like someone talking, revise it until it does.

Ask someone else to read it – preferably someone stupid. Ask if they understand it. If not, rewrite till they do.

Many of your readers will be stupid. Most of the intelligent ones won’t be thinking when they read what you write – why should they? – so they might just as well be stupid.