Thursday, October 20, 2011

If everybody could write advertising, they probably would.

        When I was growing up, there were little ads in the backs of magazines, usually for books, camps, or jobs you could do at home. One of the most frequent ones was, "Can you draw this girl?". It was accompanied by a drawing, and if you copied it and sent it in, they would tell you if you were qualified to be trained as an illustrator.

         Another common ad was from the Famous Writers School of Westport, Connecticut. It said, "You might have a God-given talent for writing". You sent in for the test and if you passed, they offered you a correspondence course taught by a professional writer. I never applied.

         The one that got me was another ad with a much better headline: "Make big money writing short paragraphs." Now that was a promise! This little ad said that catalog houses needed writers, and that for an agreeable fee, they'd train me. I never responded to this ad, either, but the idea that I could make a living writing short paragraphs stuck with me.

         I get the feeling that some advertising copywriters see their job the way that ad did. Good money, soft job, a few short paragraphs and it's happy hour. Sorry, folks, it just doesn't work that way.

         Creative jobs in advertising can be a lot of fun and very satisfying. You work with bright people and get to be creative all day, something you probably haven't done since you played the triangle in the nursery school rhythm band.

         It's also a lot of work. Research and digging. Studying products and people. And then the agonizing days and sometimes weeks of trying to come up with an idea that satisfies you, your art-director partner, the pretty receptionist, your boss, and the client, who happens to be paying for all this. And sometimes, honestly, his wife.

         If it gets the okay, and nobody has done anything like it before (keep your fingers crossed), your work may go into test. Research, to make sure the audience understood the intended message. More research to measure persuasion. Recall research, to see if people remember the product and the benefits.

         Even if your idea survives, it might need some reworking. Then it needs to be produced; fun, but usually harder than you think.

         My thoughts: you have to really want to go into advertising. If you love it, there's no other place for you. Scholarship is involved, too. Advertising has been around for a hundred years, and there's a lot to learn.

         It's no longer like it was in "Mad Men". The competition's a lot tougher. But where else could you make good money writing short paragraphs?

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