What I write so my cats won’t starve.
I’ve traveled far and wide in the ad industry in Richmond, Virginia. I’ve been on the client side. I’ve been on the ad-agency side. And after many years and a modicum of heartache, I discovered I shouldn’t take sides. That I should work for them both as a freelance creative director and copywriter.
Writing advertising, or marketing materials as a snooty person might say, is about as akin to journalism as, oh, poetry is. It’s different with a capital ‘D.’ Heck, put that whole word ‘different’ all caps. A copywriter can spend as much or more time thinking up an idea as writing the copy for it. And whatever the assignment, the challenge is unique and daunting: Make some product or service sound so captivating that it promotes sales. One either finds this fun or doesn’t. Those who do develop a sense of humor fast. The writing requires it. And for a career in advertising, sanity almost demands it.
I had a talent for art. I had a talent for writing. Advertising combined both. Advertising it was. I’ve been laughing ever since. (Except for about 12 weeks in 1997 when I was on Paxil. Plus the four months after stopping it without proper medical supervision, a period when rooms rotated around me and sparkler-like lights followed me like tiny Tinker Bells.)
I’ve written about trash cans and cell phone plans, utilities and universities, credit cards and credit insurance, collecting money for doctors and coats for kids, laser alignment devices and vision screening ones, plastic extrusion and vacuum sucking, office furniture and office space, arts camp courses and golf courses, condos and condoms, Virginia’s future and Virginia’s past, and for convenience stores, farm co-op stores and malls having 140 stores.
The mediums varied.
I’ve written a TV spot overdubbing clips from Hercules Unchained, a radio spot using the voice of world traveler Ferdinand Magellan (he came cheap, Actors’ Equity being centuries away), one energy industry article that referenced an iconic sci-fi movie and another that suggested tapping nuclear subs like portable generators, and a direct mail piece filled with sand. I’ve written newspaper ads and an entire newspaper about newspaper ads, outdoor boards and indoor posters, counter cards and postcards, website content and restaurant table tents, instruction manuals and statement stuffers, emails and self-mailers, training audios and a training film, annual reports and press releases, white papers on envelopes and case histories on paperboard.
While someone else might find such variety bewildering, I’ve found it endlessly fascinating – as long as I was paid for it. My motto: research it quickly, write it succinctly, deliver it on time. (That’s not really my motto. I could write a much better one than that.)
A few years ago I attended an evening talk on the subject of freelance copywriting in the belief that decades of freelancing do not mean one can’t learn something new. Among the four panelists were two who had heavy experience in advertising but not an iota of time in the freelance copywriting wars. A person in the audience said, “What if someone offers me the chance to write a radio spot but I’ve never done one?” One of the learned, non-freelancers said, “Then you should say so and not take that assignment!” His non-freelancer pal concurred. For me, they became Exhibit A and Exhibit B in the topical category for Smart, Successful People Who Say Dumb, Dumb Things. (It wasn’t in the program.) A freelance copywriter – any freelance writer, really – says, “Sure! You bet I can write that!” first and always. Worrying about the details comes later. I’ve found the research-it-quickly stage can be ideal for that.
Can’t get enough of my ad samples here? Then I invite you to go to www.cantstopwriting.com and wallow in several more. I have to write a lot of this stuff. My executive desk cats Coco and Lola prefer Science Diet; the former eats enough for the two of them, and retailers rarely put the big bags on sale. Plus we have a visiting husky who doesn’t turn his nose up at cat food (or any other kind, for that matter).