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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.