HAVE I PAINTED MYSELF INTO A CORNER?
Something happened last week.
It gave your faithful screedmeister here a wakeup call.
I may be in trouble. You may get to witness the unraveling of everything that has happened here since January 16, when we unleashed the madness of "They All Laughed When I Tried To Write Better Advertising..."
The title is an allusion to the classic John Caples headline for a home-study music school: "They laughed when I sat down at the piano--but when I started to play!"
As you know, if you've been around for the last two installments of the weekly screed, we've been indulging in a protracted answer to a question from Mr. Chris Pollard, a radio creative director in Dryden, Ontario.
HE WANTS TO KNOW HOW TO GET AFFORDABLE TRAINING FOR HIS CREATIVE STAFF
Many of the affordable alternatives that used to be available have fallen off the edge of the earth.
So far, the dubious counsel we've given is that his people should become geeks for advertising, as well as geeks for life, the universe and everything.
This is nail-on-the-head advice for anyone in any situation who wants to create good advertising.
Last time, the promise was made that a more practical and concrete answer to Mr. Pollard's question would be forthcoming.
Then, last week, an email arrived.
It came from Brian Tepper, Mr. Pollard's compatriot at Acadia Broadcasting.
SEEMS THIS SERIES OF MISSIVES IS CAUSING A STIR
People at the company are paying attention.
Mr. Tepper also told me about many of the things that are being done to make their copywriters better.
And some resources I was going to suggest have already been put into play.
Eegad! What have we done?! The build up to this week's concrete answer is shot to hell!
Your faithful scribe has painted himself into a corner from which he cannot escape!
Just maybe, there are more answers that none of us had anticipated.
And here's why I say that.
MR. TEPPER ALSO REVEALED SOME SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES
It seems their company has some unwitting copywriters.
During a round of layoffs--which became epidemic in radio a few years ago and have persisted--some traffic people were let go from the traffic department.
But they were allowed to assume the mantle of copywriter.
This is truly impressive and unusual.
I compare it to someone who's been working in air traffic control. They've had a career telling the planes where to land when. It's a fairly rigid environment--there are limited options for creating success. It's all very detailed and well outlined.
ALL OF A SUDDEN, THAT AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER GETS LAID OFF
And that person is told, "But, now you're going start designing and building airplanes."
Someone who has always worked within a specific range of parameters with limited options for creativity is suddenly thrust into a job that is completely the opposite.
There are no limits beyond the length of the commercial.
And now, without ever having designed a plane, this person has to figure out how to build wings and take flight!
Red Bull might give you wings, but a sugared-up caffeinated energy bomb is not going to solve this one.
But here's the good news: unlike with planes, at worst, if they fail, nobody gets hurt.
And at best, I still believe it is entirely possible to make this work in ways that nobody ever anticipated.
THESE PEOPLE DON'T BRING THE BAGGAGE OF HAVING ALREADY BEEN PROFESSIONAL WRITERS
One of the problems with writers, especially young ones, is often they feel they have all the answers.
I know. I was one of those writers.
The creative ego can run away with things.
When rejected, the ego-fueled writer says things like, "They just don't understand my genius."
Well, sometimes that writer doesn't understand what he's doing. Too often, he's just amusing himself at the expense of the client's advertising budget.
But when the writer starts to realize that his oh-so-amusing unbridled creativity isn't the only thing that the job requires, and that there are so many technical and psychological underpinnings that actually make a radio commercial generate results, things evolve.
And the writer becomes better and more effective.
THE TRAFFIC PEOPLE PROBABLY DON'T SUFFER FROM WRITER'S EGO
But what they do have, typically, is an ability to use a left-brain approach to things.
They understand order and details.
They haven't spent their careers trying to fill up a blank page with words that inspire people to action.
They've spent their careers keeping things organized and running smoothly.
So now, the trick is to give them new skills to help them fill up that blank page while trying to bring order to the daunting chaos it represents.
All kinds of wild and crazy things can happen on that page.
At some point, however, the things that happen there have to be tamed.
And a left-brain sensibility can be useful.
DON'T LET THE LEFT BRAIN SQUELCH THE RIGHT BRAIN BEFORE THE GOOD STUFF HAPPENS
This isn't a unique challenge.
It happens to everyone who isn't a writer.
They sit and stare at a blank page, and experience fear and loathing.
And the sensible left brain says things like, "Oh, that'll never work. You can't do this. That's a crazy idea. Let's go get some poutine."
Then, the writer gets loaded up on carbs, needs a nap, and nothing gets done.
THE PAGE REMAINS BLANK
Fear of the blank page is common.
Getting over that requires the courage born of realizing that this fear is pointless.
The fear of jumping out of an airplane, crossing an ocean in a sailboat, stepping backwards off of a rock face with a rope in your hands, those things are all legitimate fears based on the action and its potential to end your life.
Where does the fear of a blank page come from?
"If I write the wrong words, I could explode!"
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy BLAMMO!
Not gonna happen.
I BELIEVE IT'S THE FEAR OF FAILURE
The fear of not being good enough to do it.
The fear of being judged.
All kinds of imagined social disappointments are conjured up by the prospect of filling that clean white page.
It ain't gonna happen.
And the only way to understand that is by actually following the advice of noted journalist, novelist and suffragette Mary Heaton Vorse: "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair."
That's how you start. "I can't do it" is no kind of excuse.
And when you learn how simple it is, and how there are rules for making it all better, it stops being daunting and starts being a delight.
BUT THIS DOES NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION!
Where is the affordable training?!
I'm about to answer that question. But first, know that this discussion about how to write better advertising, is going to continue. There's just too much ground to cover. We might be brand-focused obsessives over here, but we are also writers and are obsessive about that, too. So we're going to talk more about writing and how to be on brand with effective copywriting.
In the meantime, as discouraged as I am by the fact that the gents in Canada are already using the resources I would've suggested, there are a couple more.
FIRST, EVERYONE NEEDS TO KNOW THAT THE BLANK PAGE WILL NOT HURT YOU
It is not a loaded gun.
Second, for a practical solution to training writers, the Radio Advertising Bureau has a program that they developed with Dan O'Day. It's called CPCC: Certified Professional Commercial Copywriter.
I find the CPCC a less than perfect solution for the non-writer, because it's specifically about creating radio advertising. Copywriters need a foundation beyond radio. But in an age when corporate needs to justify the expense from the perspective of ROI, this is a good solution: a certification program that gives the writer a credential, which can be shown to the client as a measure of authority (and can help close the deal), and in which a true expert in the genre imparts his wisdom in a practicable and easy-to-understand fashion.
I've known and worked with Dan O'Day for 20 years. We occasionally have healthy differences of opinion (like the veracity of Bud Light's "Real Men Of Genius" campaign), but we agree on most things. And when it comes to training Dan is a rock. This is important stuff. http://www.rab.com/public/academy/onlinecourses-sales.cfm
NEXT, BECOME A LISTENER
Listen to all kinds of radio, not just advertising.
But definitely, listen to award-winning radio.
Go to Radio Mercury Awards dot com and listen to the winners. Among other things, understand why the Richards Group continues to crush it in this competition, especially with the 30-year juggernaut of Tom Bodett for Motel 6. Not all of the advertising you hear there is necessarily good or effective, but it does give you an idea of what is possible with nothing more than a few words and some music. Occasionally, some sound effects. It helps you to think like a radio pro.
I have a lifetime of thinking like a radio guy. When I was a little kid, my parents would wax poetic about the impact of dramatic radio shows, so I would find them and listen. Then came Cheech & Chong records which, 1970s dope humor aside, had some excellent production value. Later, The Firesign Theater, which had some of the most absurd writing and mind-bending production around.
But it was the Radio Mercury Award winners that really upped my game. Not to mention entering the Mercury Awards and not winning upped my game. It's an important bar to have. When you have skin in the game and you lose, it give you a perspective unattainable in any other way. And that is how I finally became good enough to win my own Radio Mercury Awards. Twice.
BUT SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED
I also lost interest in awards.
Because ultimately, it's about something more.
It's about performing for the client.
And when you start getting good enough to win, and you also start generating ROI, it changes everything.
The client entrusts us with their brand. They rely on us to do something they can't do.
It's up to us to work the game and develop the chops required to make their customers sit up, take notice, and respond.
And when you get to develop a juggernaut of a campaign based on a solid brand (that you may have also helped define), it's a little like famous ad man Jerry Della Femina once said: "Advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on."
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
DID I GET IT WRONG LAST TIME?
If you were paying attention to the last screed, we left halfway into answering a question from Chris Pollard, champion radio creative director in Ontario, to wit: "How do we move the needle?"
He's asking how to get affordable training for the people on his staff so they can create better radio advertising.
One of the first things I said was: Even if you don't care about radio, stick around. This is going to be worth it.
And I still stand by that. Thank you for being here.
However, last time, my first recommendation to anyone wanting to create better advertising was to become a geek for advertising.
It doesn't matter what kind of advertising you do, you need to understand techniques and history.
DID I JUMP THE GUN?
In preparing for this follow up, I realized: Uh-oh.
Did your relentless scribe put the cart before the horse?
Last week, I invoked the name of the father of Guerrilla Marketing, the late, great Jay Conrad Levinson. Back in the day, he had the good fortune to be hired and then fortuitously fired by Howard Gossage, the brilliant eccentric and marvelously creative ad man who ruled advertising from atop a converted firehouse in San Francisco during the '60s.
The delightful quirk that drove so much of Mr. Gossage's work no doubt rubbed off on Mr. Levinson, who offers a directive in his bible of guerilla marketing.
And that directive is blindingly important in this whole question of how to create better advertising.
He said, "Get people's attention."
WELL, DUH. OF COURSE YOU WANT TO GET PEOPLE'S ATTENTION.
But wait there's more.
He went on to say something that so many people creating advertising never stop to consider.
"People do not pay attention to advertising."
People do not pay attention to advertising?! Why should they not be interested in the brilliant words that come streaming forth from my word processor!
Why not, indeed. As Mr. Levinson continues, "...they pay attention only to things that interest them. Sometimes, people find those things in advertising."
Getting their attention does not mean yelling, "Free beer!" And then saying, "Now that I have your attention, I'm selling this horse."
It means something else.
"TO BE INTERESTING, BE INTERESTED."
No, that is not Mr. Levinson speaking.
Nor is it David Ogilvy, as the internet meme machine would like you to believe. I can guarantee this, because the quote appears two thirds of the way down page 88 of that grand old chestnut of persuasion, How To Win Friends And Influence Peopleby Dale Carnegie.
If people pay attention to what interests them, and you wish them to pay attention to your advertising, it becomes necessary that your advertising is interesting.
And this takes us to a very basic element of writing great advertising.
It's not about advertising.
IT'S ABOUT PEOPLE
And this is where we should've begun the discussion.
Not at becoming a geek for advertising.
But at becoming a geek for life, the universe and everything.
Anyone can explain the basic mechanics of creating an advertisement.
But what can't be taught is a curiosity about the world outside the advertisement.
And that's something you find in all the great advertising writers who have come down the pike.
To a person, they are interesting--but more importantly, they are interested.
And I guarantee you that when Mr. Pollard in his office in his radio station in Dryden in Ontario in Canada at the top side of North America hears this, he's going to wonder what the heck has happened.
ALL THIS MAN WANTED WAS ADVICE ON RADIO TRAINING
He's received commentary on advertising geekdom, is now being told that an interest in life, the universe and everything is really what every writer needs, and what on earth is he supposed to do with that?
I feel your pain, Mr. Pollard. It's frustrating for me, too.
Don't worry, we will get back on topic.
But first, we need to beat this mule some more.
Too much thinking in business (and in life) is channeled and labeled and siloed and stratified and packaged and otherwise rigidly defined.
There is no room for anything that isn't categorized.
EVERYONE WANTS WELL-DEFINED ANSWERS AND SOLUTIONS
Here's the problem with talking about training people to create better advertising.
There's no on-off switch.
You can't just send someone to a training program and come out with a top-notch copywriter or a genius voiceover performer.
It's all a process.
And the process begins a long time before someone walks into a radio station or an advertising agency or even your business and says, posing with arms akimbo, "I am writer!"
Instead, they've spent their lives, walking around and bumping into things, wandering down the road less traveled, wondering "What the heck?", and asking questions.
AND THIS IS KEY
Good advertising writers are interested.
They have curiosity.
They want to know more.
They ask questions.
Then, when it comes time to write an ad, after they've asked all kinds of questions about what they're supposed to be selling, they have no problem sitting down writing endless awful advertisements for it.
ONE NEVER WRITES A GOOD AD BEFORE ASKING QUESTIONS AND WRITING CRAP
One big problem?
A lot of people stop at the crap.
They think it's good. They parade it around and people applaud.
Because maybe it's clever.
Maybe it seems like an advertisement.
But in reality, all it really is, is an ad-like object.
The world is filled with ad-like objects.
You see them and hear all the time.
And they make you feel nothing--unless they make you feel the wrong thing.
OFTEN THEY'RE FUNNY
And there's nothing wrong with funny advertising.
But funny is not the goal. Funny by itself makes the prospect feel the wrong thing.
The funny needs to be relevant.
The funny needs to connect with the sales message.
And this is one of the big challenges we face.
Especially in radio, there's a perception that advertising needs to be funny.
Advertising needs to be relevant.
That doesn't mean it needs to be a "buy now, but wait, there's more, there's never been a better time to buy this baloney!" pitch fest.
AN INTERESTED PERSON UNDERSTANDS PSYCHOLOGY
Not formal psychology. I took psych 101 in college. It was awful. And was obviously taught by somebody badly in need of a psychologist.
We're talking practical psychology, or whatever else you want to call it. Mindset. Thinking. Makeup. Sensibility. Consciousness. Attitude. Feeling.
Ah, there's that word. "Feeling." How does the advertisement make the prospect "feel."
The interested copywriter understands this.
The interested copywriter understands the feelings of the person to whom they are speaking, and how to hit the emotional trigger that makes that prospect feel, "Here's the solution to my problem."
THAT'S PART OF EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
And that kind of emotional intelligence about the craft comes from spending life, walking around and bumping into things, wandering down the road less traveled, wondering "What the heck?", and asking questions.
It does not come from saying, "Hey, we're gonna write a funny ad that wins an award!"
Before anything else happens, the right person with the right attitude has to be at the helm of the great ship HMS Word Processor.
Fortunately for the indubitably frustrated Mr. Pollard in his radio station in Dryden, Ontario, Canada, North America, 49 degrees 47 minutes North, 92 degrees 50 minutes West, we will be getting around to a practical and concrete answer to his question next time.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.