Jimmy Curley here.
Glad you made it. I’ll jump right in.
The reason this blog exists is to dispense shocking bits of wisdom and insights for copywriters and marketers…
…so when a newbie copywriter emailed me a question, I decided to turn it into a Street Marketing Lesson plan.
The question was: “What does it take to be a professional copywriter?”
I’ll take my best shot at this using my own “in the trenches” marketing and copywriting experience (hence the name “Street Marketing)…
…and if you’re a pro copywriter reading this you are obligated to chime in with comments too. I’m serious. Don’t you dare leave here without contributing.
So let’s kick it off with the Street Marketing Lesson I call… “So you wanna be a rock star?”
First, let’s be clear about something: Writing really isn’t really a job.
Nope. As everyone knows, unlike plumbers, secretaries, doctors, field hands and other poor saps who have to actually work for a living…
… writers live like a rock stars…
…boozing it up all night… dreaming up killer copy licks from the middle of an orgy… rolling out of bed at noon with a beer, a bong, and a blast of cocaine.
Yeah baby… it’s a crazy freak-show dream.
This exactly describes how my life is playing out.
And suddenly we zoom through a virtual tunnel and tumble back into reality.
Listen: As a professional writer you’ve got to actually sit down and… well… WRITE.
It’s part of the gig.
You’ve got to put in the work. Hard work.
It’s like what an astonished Bono from U2 said about Roy Orbison while they collaborated on an album together.
Apparently Orbison needed no “special inspiration” like so many other musicians (who end up face down dead in their own vomit). Nope, according to Bono, Orbison showed up at the studio early in the morning with nothing more than a case of Coca-Cola and a carton of cigarettes…
…and then went to work.
Worked all day long.
Worked like a piker digging ditches. Like a mason laying bricks in the hot sun.
Worked because he loved it.
THAT is a pro.
The reason for the astonishment is simple: Like writers, most wanna-be rock stars and musicians want all the fab rock-star benefits without having to break a sweat. There’s not many willing to put in the serious hard work and sacrifice.
Which leads me into my next Street Marketing Lesson: “You’re in the mood for WHAT?”
As a pro, you’ve got to write, no matter HOW you’re feeling.
What’s that? You got a little headache? Feeling a little down? Not quite in the mood?
Well, as George Kastanza screamed at Jerry Sienfeld when Jerry said he wasn’t “in the mood” to spill details of his hot juicy date…
…”well then you GET in the mood!”
That’s what pros do. They write when they’re up, down, nursing the flu, fighting with their spouse, whatever.
And believe me – whatever the late great Hunter S. Thompson may have convinced you – alcohol, cocaine, and weed will NOT “get you in the mood” or make you a better writer.
It may make you THINK you’re a better writer… but later on, when you emerge from the fog, and read what you wrote, you’ll realize that it was all a delusion.
Thompson was a great writer in spite of his drug and alcohol issues, not because of them, (although it was often the topic of some of his best work).
Reminds me of a bass player friend of mine who said his entire band took a dose of LSD just before show time. Said they played their hearts out. It was their BEST performance ever because they had poured so much heart and soul into the music that night.
A couple days later he ran into a groupie – a girl who had attended EVERY single gig — and he was floored when she asked, “What was wrong with you guys on Friday? The music was so off. It was the only time I ever left in the middle of one of your shows…”
The point is that you can’t wait around until you’re in the exact “mood” or mindset you need to be or you will NEVER get the job done on time.
Which leads quite nicely into my third Street Marketing Lesson of the day: “You need it WHEN?”
It’s about meeting deadlines.
First, let me tell you about my own harsh lessons on dealing with deadlines.
Back in the 1980s, on my very first day as Art Director for an ad agency, I sat comfortably sipping my coffee while gazing out over the San Francisco Bay.
Oh the satisfaction of it all.
“Art Director”, I whispered to myself looking at my new business cards. “Hello. Nice to meet you… Jimmy Curley, Art Director.”
Oh yes, I was quite pleased with myself.
And then it happened. The first shot of a vicious, bubble-bursting, “one-two” punch.
The office traffic coordinator rushed into my art department with a stack of advertising insertion orders.
“You the new production guy?”
“Production guy?” I recoiled in horror. “Hello. Nice to meet you. Jimmy Curley, Art Dire…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hello Mr. Art Director. Better get your people together. We need layouts to fax over to these clients today.”
She plopped down 17 different insertion orders for 17 different clients. SEVENTEEN.
And they were big fat clients too.
Lockheed… World Savings… Bechtel… Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories… Morton Thiokol… Bank of the West… FMC… McDonnell Douglas…
… and a host of other weighty clients… any of whom could’ve casually activated an atomic military laser beam from their office, bounced it off a low-orbit satellite, and had me evaporated right where I sat.
And the insertion orders were for big fat ads.
Full pages in the Wall Street Journal. New York Times. Boston Globe. Chicago Tribune. Two-page spreads in the biggest industry publications. It went on and on.
Geez… I was responsible for all this? Me?
And quite suddenly I shrank to a very small and insignificant speck…
…and tasted a weird metallic sensation in my mouth. Like I was being exposed to a lethal dose of x-rays.
I dug deep and pulled myself together… but then, just as I prepared to call together my team of typesetters, camera people, and paste-up artists (we had no computers back then)…
… a hard boiled account executive stormed in to deliver the second blow of that one-two punch.
She grabbed an insertion order from the bottom of the stack and thrust it at me.
“Here… you take care of this one first. You hear me?”
I foolishly tried my technique.
“Hello. Nice to meet you. Jimmy Cur…”
“Listen asshole”, she said pointing her razor sharp finger in my face.
“In case you don’t know, the agency pays for these insertions upfront and then bills the client later. So we’re on the line for all this money. And this one here is MY client. I get commission on this. You better get this layout done now, and it better be good, and creative, and the client better love it, or by god your first day will be your last day.”
I was stunned.
She called me an “asshole” on our first meeting…
…before she even knew my name…
…before I knew HER name…
…and there were 7 other customer service reps and account executives just like her lined up outside my art room preparing to level me with the same kind of “welcome-aboard” pep talk.
I toughened up quickly… and managed to excel at that agency for six long years. And I NEVER missed a deadline… although that weird metallic taste never left my mouth.
Here’s what I’m getting at: I had to learn, just like ANY pro has to learn, how to prioritize the task at hand to “get the job done”.
At the agency, each ad had a clear process — layout, copy, client approval, typesetting, paste-up, camera work, final client approval, final PMT…
…and into the courier package for shipping to the publication.
There was no “skipping” any of these steps. I simply had to adjust how much time I could spend on any one step… which was determined by the deadline.
It’s just like YOUR copywriting and marketing.
If you’re writing an ad for a new client, you gotta first know the steps. For a direct response ad, the steps are this:
Research… copy dump… organize… edit… re-edit… and re-edit.
Yes, you can add in some more “re-edits” if there’s time, but other than that, THAT is the process.
You can’t simply ignore one of the steps to save time. No, you have to look at how much time you got, then distribute it something like this:
Research, 50%. Copy Dump, 10%. Organizing, 10%. Editing, 10%. Reediting, 10%. More reediting, 10%.
So if, for example, I have two days to write an ad, (I would insist on more), I don’t choose to eliminate “research” to make up some time. No, it just means I have to limit my research to one intensive day. I can’t burn up ANY time researching on the second day because each of the other steps will require a few hours apiece.
Which brings me to you folks who are writing your OWN ads for your own products.
If you don’t have a clear deadline, (because after all, YOU are running the show), then get into the habit of creating “drop dead” deadlines. One that you’ve got to stick to. One that you can’t get out of.
How? Well, as an example I have a business partner who orders (and pays for) magazine space for products not yet completed with an ad not yet written.
That sure gets the time-bomb is ticking. Quite suddenly everyone’s scrambling to get the work completed or be caught in the fiery blast.
It’s like something I learned from the book “Following Through”, (by Pete Greider and Steve Levinson) written specifically to help people complete important tasks.
If you’re having trouble getting up at 6am, (you know… because you’re exhausted from the all-night orgy), then you should set your alarm for 6am and another alarm clock in the baby’s room for 6:05. THAT will get you out of bed.
Point is, you wanna create an emergency, set a “drop dead” deadline with some kind of “brick wall” that you’ll hit…
…something to make you sweat a little…
… and maybe trigger that metallic taste in your mouth.
For better writing and marketing…
P.S. Hey, it’s time for YOU to chime in.
Don’t be shy. If you’re a working pro writer I definitely want to hear your thoughts. Please don’t leave without a comment…