Occupation: Freelance Copywriting
What does a typical day at work consist of?
Part of what I like about my work is that most days aren't typical. One day I might sit down with a lined pad of paper and start scribbling headlines/concepts for an ad. Other days, I'll brainstorm with an art director or be at the computer writing a video script or speech. Sometimes there are three client meetings in a day. Other time there are three days without a meeting.
What is your office space like?
It used to be used to be my daughter's bedroom until she went off to college in August. My desk surrounds me on three sides, and that's where I spend most of my time. Most of what I need- computer, phone, fax, printer- is reachable without leaving my chair. There are lots if compartments on and around my desk for filing job folders, bills, and other information. No matter how busy it gets, I don't have to waste a lot of time searching for things. I guess you could say my office is nothing special, but it's very comfortable and practical for my needs, and that makes it special to me.
What inspired you to start your own copywriting business?
I had been working for ad agencies/corporate communications companies for 20 years as a creative director and copywriter. No matter where I had worked, I always wound up bringing work home and working nights and weekends. That's just me. I figured, if I'm going to keep putting in that extra time, I might as well reap the rewards from it.
Also, I'm not the kind of person that needs to have an office environment, with a lot of people around. Sure, I enjoy interacting with others-up to a point. But my most rewarding and productive times at work often happen when its just me and my iMac.
What are some of the benefits and challenges to running Art of Copy?
You don't waste a lot of time going from meeting to meeting or doing all that office "stuff"- from filling out performance review forms to attending coworker birthday parties. For the most part, I can organize my days as I see fit. If my adrenaline kicks in at night instead of in the morning, I may work 'til midnight. There's no set schedule. But, I like to focus on what I do best- copy and concept. At the end of the day, it's very satisfying to be able to pull something out of the printer and say, "I created that, and I think it does what the client wants."
In most any business, the biggest challenges are keeping existing clients happy and finding new ones when necessary, and freelance copywriting is no different. Client loyalty is all over the map. Some firms treat their freelancers almost like employees and work to build long-term relationships. Others could care less. I've been lucky to have some loyal clients over the years, because I hate making cold calls and I'm not very good at it.
Where do you see Art of Copy in five years?
Right where it's been for the last ten-with me sitting in front of my computer, writing copy.
What are some of the sacrifices that you made to establish yourself in your career?
When you start out on your own, there is that overriding fear that you and your family will wind up living in a trailer down by the river. All of a sudden, you have plenty of time to floss your teeth in the morning but you're afraid to spend money on dental floss.
The loss of a corporate benefits package is certainly a major sacrifice. Fortunately, I have health coverage through my wife's employer. Working on your own, the creative highs as they can be in an agency, but the lows are not as low either. You never have to worry about what's going on behind a closed door because you don't see any. The only office politics involve deciding whether to let your dog or cat lie down in your office. As far as being out of " the mainstream," I don't miss it, probably because I feel like I've been there, done that. I do worry, as I get older, that clients are going to want somebody younger, but that's a risk you run whether you're on your own or not.
What are some of the upcoming trends that you see occurring in the copy writing industry?
In ad copywriting, if you wait around long enough, "everything old is new again." Long headlines and short headlines come and go with the regularity of wide and narrow ties. It's easier to stand out when you go against whatever happens to be the flavor of the day.
One of the biggest ongoing trends is not a good one, from my personal point of view, and that's the pandering to the reduced attention spans of succeeding generations with "byte sized" information and a greater reliance on telling the story with visuals.
Also, the proliferation of specialized TV and radio stations, special-interest pubs, and web sites has made it harder for advertising campaigns to have the kind of universal impact they did 35 years ago. Copywriters frequently have to write to more specialized audiences with a sophisticated level of knowledge in certain product areas. So we need to develop a more in-depth understanding of these products before we put pen to paper.
What are some of the mistakes that you see copywriters make at the beginning of their careers?
The use of puns and double entendres in copy is not necessarily a bad thing. But, beginning copywriters often are not aware that some wordplays (e.g., anything involving "getting it together or "putting it together") have become such clichés that the general public will not necessarily find their use in a headline amusing.
I think the hardest thing for a young copywriter in an agency environment is keeping their cool in the midst of all the subjectivity and politics that are occupational hazards. And they have to realize that they themselves are going to be subjective as well, and they'll have to harness their passions in order to make the most of them. College advertising programs don't offer courses like Intro to Agency Politics or Objectivity 101. Maybe they should.
Who are some of your role models?
I was lucky coming to Minneapolis when I did, in 1977. There were maybe 15 topnotch writers (starting with Tom McElligott) at the top agencies who really put Minneapolis on the map as a creative ad mecca over the next ten years. Their work inspired me to try harder. As far as creative directors are concerned, I was lucky to work under Bob Thacker. The quality of the work was always #1 with him, and his enthusiasm was contagious.
What do you do in your spare time?
I go to dog parks and movies. And play Scrabble with my daughter. Someday, I'd like to write fiction- and I don't agree with those who say that's what ad copy is!