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The business of outrage

People are so busy being outraged, it’s as tiresome as an all-nighter on a box set binge.

If there was ever one thing the advertising industry is certain to display, it’s a dog-eat-dog approach to life. Advertising has never been kind.

When I worked as a copywriter in large companies such as one in the WPP building, I felt this more keenly. People could hide behind their screens and avoid eye contact to indicate they were on deadline, but really, they were reading something vaguely interesting to them instead.

Real-life interactions were fairly London-standard: talk if you have to, but only as a last resort.

Now we have social media to express ourselves, the interesting articles take a back seat and we absorb information that someone else has seen fit to write. Yet increasingly, that something was written not by a professional writer, but by a person like anyone else.

Social media: the end of professional journalism

Journalism is a dying art. Chasing it as a career option is like wanting to be an ostler at an inn at the turn of the twentieth century. Sadly, if you’re seeking good career prospects, there is little to zero point. One can only hope this isn’t the same for copywriters!

Yet it’s this ‘noise’ that is sucking us in and driving our creative processes.

But is that right? What value do these words have? If anyone can write something inflammatory and drive news headlines into a storm in a teacup territory within seconds, what chance do the rest of us have? Anyone, it seems, can be a writer. Question is, should we be giving any of the writing our attention?

Is it best to simply leave the social media playground to the kids with less focus and return to the pages of actual printed books and other intellectual stimulus? Practice free thinking and absorb the mind in other matters? Observe, give where you can, but don’t get dragged into the undertow?

See it for what it is, like the big ad agencies with their swipe cards and free canteens – something fleeting and precious to behold, but also full of smoke and mirrors; real life happening beyond its doors.

Creative work without Creative Direction

We’re told that to be shocking and provocative is good – but ideas need creative direction. And these ones are often limited by a lack of life experience and agency (business) wisdom.

Recently, a bunch of creatives took this approach and their work was viewed as sexist and misogynistic. Clearly, that was where a Creative Director would have said, “Er, guys, what’s that about?”

But.

One person’s outrage, another’s chip shop statue?

I do wonder if work like this ever gets through to the Chip Awards? There is a category ‘In Bad Taste’ and I once saw a Creative Director submit an ad about bombs on the underground. Having lived through that fateful day, I was personally a little taken aback about this, but he said it was alright. He submitted it and it made it through to the finals.

Back to outrage.  Like a client do that ends up in the Bada Bing strip club, advertising hasn’t exactly got a great rep.

Twitter doesn’t have a Creative Director. Yet it goes to show that experience counts for a lot in this fast-moving world of outrage.

Get it wrong and you serve up all sorts of pain in nano seconds. It’s why sales of business insurance amongst copywriters and creatives are in demand by recruiters.

Everyone is liable, yet no one wants to be liable. They want to play and eat their cake at the same time. Real life rarely works this way unfortunately.

Mix this with advertising and what have you got? A dog-eat-dog world where the dogs have been replaced by zooped up ninja sharks on steroids.

Play along at your peril – but whatever you do, play nicely.

The future of business is talent

I’ve been writing a lot of employment related copy recently.

It is particularly perfect for me because I am at a crossroads that many of us come to in our lives – a big birthday where people tell you life begins. Funny people also tell you that your life is half over – but where would we be creatively if the world wasn’t a little glass half empty at times?

So here it is, I find myself well placed to understand issues of career breaks, parental leave, ageism, career changes and employee engagement, for starters. And as a freelancer, I’ve met a lot of employers.

Plus, as a brand marketer, I understand businesses and the demands on their time as well as the conundrums they face in the marketplace.

How can you stay agile? Where are the next opportunities? What does the future hold?

One thing’s for sure, like any industry, marketing is changing at a rate of knots. Take content marketing, for example. Content agencies have been popping up across the board. The term ‘copywriter’ is being stretched to say the least. Something professional copywriters will have mixed feelings about.

Everyone can write copy, even robots!

You can write by the word or by the blog post. You can write to deliver. A constant stream of words, trickling towards one end goal: SEO.

But what then of quality? Of consistency? Of engaging tone? How long has it been since anyone mentioned the word ‘craft’? Oh precious ageing writer! What frets thou so!

The less interesting fact is, there’s a knack to blogs, regardless of creative talent. A strong eye for detail and good research skills help. It’s editorial, ultimately. So, bank those similes, remember those analogies and make sure you’re up to date on latest lingo your audience might like. Social media sets the tone but it doesn’t always have the intellect to follow through with anything worth remembering – yet ignore it at your peril.

Unless, of course, you’re a business operator.

The death of social media?

When JD Wetherspoon announced they were no longer investing in social media marketing, a long sigh drifted out of ad land.

Perhaps, thought the Creative Directors of the UK’s finest marketing agencies, perhaps now is the time the content explosion will settle down. Like the outspoken teenager in the marketing family, perhaps content will become more accepted for what it is. Maybe we can get back to the big idea!

Or perhaps we are simply entering a new phase in the marketing landscape. You know, the landscape where nothing stays the same for very long – or at least, that’s what you’re led to believe.

Because of course, there are business aspects that do stay the same, regardless of changes to the marketplace or innovations or trends. Like, if you want quality work, you have to find quality people.

Marketing trends may come and go. But the bankable fact of business is that talent is what drives brand success. As with the thinking behind the Wetherspoon decision, if you don’t make the right connections, you’re not going to make inroads anywhere.

It’s a sobering fact. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Cut to the copywriter

Dave Trott says advertising is getting lazy. Copywriters aren’t getting the freedom and the time to investigate products and services to find the gem of a truth, the golden nugget that brings everything into a bright new place.

Trott’s pearl of wisdom is well known in advertising circles, based on the view that a copywriter should ‘show, don’t tell’.

“Proof always works better than a claim”

Once you’ve got that truth in the bag, the rest falls into place (with a little bit of expertise and copywriting brilliance, of course. Oh, and great Art Direction. And ideally, with solid and inspiring Creative Direction…although not all of us have this luxury.)

I was once sent to the Rolls Royce factory in Goodwood to see if our marketing agency could ascertain the stand out values and place them firmly into a below-the-line promotional campaign.

It was an incredible opportunity; everyone was left goggling at the incredible attention to detail the firm puts into every car.

We saw a specialist team hunched over laser cutters, working on specially reared cow hides to cover the interiors in flawless, soft furnishings. The highly specialist team of workers were effectively artisans with unique skills.

In fact, the leather in a Rolls-Royce takes 17 days to hand-craft and comprises 9 bull hides; only 1 in 100 hides is chosen for quality. It was one of the take home blow-your-mind facts of the day.

Naturally, we whizzed back to London full of inspiration and excitement about the brief ahead. The final idea that went ahead was award-winning and it led with the truth that we’d all gleaned by visiting, touching and appreciating the car in person.

Dave Trott is right, investigating a brand from the inside out is by far the best place to start when approaching marketing.

Put copywriters and art directors firmly in the driving seat and you’ll soon see a difference to your bottom line.

Briefs might speed the work up (good for the agency’s profit margins) but they’re not always the best place to start. A collaborative effect between planners and creatives can really help to reveal the truths that might otherwise be overlooked.

If you’re a brand and you don’t have this luxury, you could consider engaging a senior freelance marketing expert to work directly with you. Someone who will come to your business with fresh eyes and ears.

Freedom is everything

It’s also why freelance copywriters can bring a new lease of life to your marketing conundrums.

We aren’t bogged down by years of office politics or hierarchical issues – we bring fresh eyes to the project and can work wonders where agencies can be, although not always, more cumbersome in their approach.

Not sure? I’ll prove it. Give me a call today.

Happy Awards Season

Ahhh the sweet smell of awards season. A brilliant time to celebrate the wonders of the advertising and marketing world. You know, for those lucky creatives for whom the stars have aligned, it’s a magical place to be.

It’s made all the more wondrous by the fact that everyone got their forms in on time, along with their hefty cheques, to book their place in Campaign history.

For independent agencies, awards can add an extra zero onto the CEO’s pension fund when the time comes to sell.  For corporate wizards, awards mean more column inches, employee retention and pitch glory. And all of that translates as big bucks. It’s well worth the effort and money investing in them.

And yet.

The self-congratulatory emails and tweets that fill our timelines and dominate creative team chat up and down the bedecked halls of ad agencies across the land have another side to them.

When you’re a creative, how do you get to make sure you land these juicy potentially award-winning briefs? Juniors have been heard to complain about this a lot. The brief may have been put out to all, but once the Head of Copy had his wicked way, well. And don’t forget the awards entry that doesn’t have enough room to credit every poor bugger who worked on the thing. Yes, the Copy Chief had a great idea, but who actually put the hard slog in? Chances are, it was a less senior member of staff or a freelancer.

Awards are a marketing exercise in themselves and not everyone will have been in the right place at the right time to nobble the Copy Chief out of the way and bask in their moment of glory. They were probably too busy making the work look good.

Ahhhhhhh. Poor little uncredited freelancer.

Yes, well, I’m not getting my bitter and twisted battleaxe just yet. My point is this. Awards are great for the few. But for everyone else, they can leave you feeling uncredited and undervalued.

Freelancers provide daily support to businesses across the land. Our work is to be valued and championed at every turn. I certainly feel very passionate about freelance copywriting and creating high quality work whenever I start a new brief.

We don’t need gongs to make us feel proud – a simple, ‘can we rebook you?’ will do. Because without the grafters who manage the daily bread, chances are, your website would be wordless. Your brochure wouldn’t create bookings. And your print ads would be pointless.

Great thinking and messaging should drive everything you do. Not just awards – or a lack of them.

So, well done to all those with sore heads this month. And an even bigger well done to those who didn’t take home the silverware.

What you do, matters. Remember that.

 

You want to sound like who?

Oh if we had a pound for every client who wants to sound more like ‘Innocent’. All the country’s copywriters would now be installed on a sun lounger in Jamaica, sipping freshly squeezed tropical fruit drinks from a coconut. Take that Innocent Towers, now owned by Coke!

When brands talk the talk

When a brand is strong enough to know exactly who its audience is and where they want to be, they don’t have to try to mimic their competitors. Today’s audiences want disruption: they’re hungry for it – hell, they expect it. With media clutter at an all time high, it’s going to be a strong voice that cuts through the chatter. So if you sound just like everybody else, how can you make sure your marketing spend is being heard?

When a brand knows what it wants to say and how it wants to act, its tone of voice is a pleasure to devise. The hard part is standing out from the pack as you implement it. Consistency and a well thought out application is key. A great ad campaign needs to be supported at every channel with the same approach to well-thought-through messaging. For example, there’s no point being the no-nonsense supermarket in town if your website is completely baffling and beyond user friendly.

Nice words, but is anyone listening?

If marketers can apply a consistently strong tone of voice, consumers will take notice. One false step however, and it could all blow up in your face. So attention to detail is key, and now that everyone is a commentator, it’s more important than ever to ensure your copywriter is on it – all over it, in fact. We all write tweets and compose Facebook updates. But when it comes to your copy, let’s ponder on a wise marketer’s words: ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.’

With the right mix of creative strategy and strong writing, there’s no reason why a brand can’t take bold steps to stand out from the pack. It just has to be brave and ditch the obsession with Fruit Towers. Who’s doing it well? Aldi, Lurpak, First Direct and Virgin spring to mind, but there are a host of startups getting in on the act, like Propercorn popcorn and Fever-Tree, a premium drinks brand. I could go on. I won’t.