Monday, February 24, 2020

Dear Copywriter Who Doesn’t Know It Yet. (A letter from David Fowler.)

The letter below was written by David Fowler, someone whose work I've admired for about 35 years. I was lucky enough to work for David about five years ago and even luckier, we've become friends.

He left Ogilvy last week after 20 years. 20 years.

When DiMaggio left the Yankees, Mickey Mantle was ready to step in. I'm not sure anyone can replace David. His skill, his passion and his craft are of the "hundred year" variety--as in they come along once every hundred years.

Maybe that's laying it on too thick. Mea culpa. But if you know David, you'd do the same.


Here's his note to me about his letter: 

"The intent of the letter is for it to be passed along to young people who are trying to find a career path.  Kids who have a facility with words and no grasp of STEM skills. That was me. I think in our world today that would be scary.  

"I'm the luckiest person to have gotten exactly what I dreamed of: writing ads. You got it, too."

So, from David and from me, do some kid somewhere some good. Pass this along. 

I thank you.

And more important someday some kid might thank you, too.

Dear Young Person,

You probably like drawing. But really, you know other people who are much better artists than you. Also, you’re lousy at math. That algebra class was brutal. You don’t care about numbers. You do care about spelling and vocabulary, but you’d never tell anyone that. That would seem like a weird thing to care about.

You like stories. You’re a fast reader because words just flow to you. If you have to write a paper, you can whip out five pages then take the rest of the day off.  Words just line up in your head and come out. You should listen to these signs.

Why?  Because you might be a copywriter in the making.  A copywriter is someone who writes words for money on a deadline. It’s sort of like being a journalist, except you’re not unbiased. You’re in advertising. 

Advertising sells things. This is not wrong, as long as you’re writing the truth, as you see it. This is called a day job. It’s hard work, takes practice and has many frustrations. But imagine spending your days doing the one thing you love more than anything. The thing that comes to you like breathing.  


Even better, you can write and make a living. Copywriting has taken me all over the world, to Shanghai, Paris, Bangkok, and London. I live in New York City. Every day, I wake up here and say to myself  “All I have to do is write today.”  How lucky is that?  How good is that?  It was hidden in me all along and I discovered it then worked hard to put it toward a happy life.  

But it wasn’t just me. There were parents who noticed and teachers who saw it. They encouraged me to write a journal, because it’s good practice. To read more. To listen to my talent and go with what seemed natural. There’s probably a teacher like that in your life, or will be. Look around and see.  

I’ll probably never meet you, but I know you. You’re a copywriter, like me.  You just don’t realize it yet.  


David Fowler

I asked David if I could put some of his ads in this post. He said no, save the one below. To quote David, "I've attached an old ad.  The clients didn't change a word. They didn't think they were allowed to do that.  Art directed by Tracy Wong." 
David added one more thing, in his usual humble manner: "The one reference that might be worthwhile is The Creative Companion. It's based on a little red book published by Ogilvy, long out of print."

Thank you, David. Thank you for more reasons than you know.

(BTW, I have a copy of David's book. I got it over two decades ago and have carted it with me across the country and back, to seven different agencies. And no. You can't borrow it.)

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