The Australian Small Business Blog

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ad of the Month - Writing

Recently I discovered this memo from David Ogilvy, the father of advertising. It was sent to his staff in the Ogilvy & Mather advertising agency. Ogilvy was renown for his written communication skills, an art that seems to have barely survived today if we are to judge by the quality of most website content and social media postings which tend to be littered with abbreviations and misspellings and incoherent thoughts.

As most small business owners provide their own content for their websites and advertisements, learning from a master is an opportunity that should not be missed. The internet is more crowded than ever, and everyone thinks they are an author with something to say. The opportunity to express oneself has never been greater and the standards have never been lower. Poor writing quickly turns off any buyer.

Ogilvy’s simple rules are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago.

I have also included below the memo, an excerpt from his book: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners, on his habits as a copywriter. He claims he wasn’t very good at it, although I think some, if not all of the steps in his process are still worth adopting for anyone who writes copy.

April 19, 1955
Dear Mr. Calt:
On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see: 
1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home. 
2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years. 
3. I am helpless without research material—and the more "motivational" the better. 
4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client. 
5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines. 
7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.) 
8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts. 
9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy. 
10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush. 
11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.) 
12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose. 
Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.
Yours sincerely, 

May Your Business Be - As You Plan It.

Over to You. What do You Think? Post Your Comments Below. [Note to those seeking a free ride on our google ranking, blog spam will be deleted, but genuine contributions will be happily approved.]

Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success, Price: How You Can Charge More Without Losing Sales and Married to the Business: Honey I love you but our business sucks.

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