Monday, May 24, 2021

What's the difference?

One of the best things that ever happened to my career was getting fired from R\GA where I was an Executive Creative Director running their first television account, at the age of 56.

Undoubtedly, being fired sucks but you can't let it suck the life out of you. You have to figure things out.

I quickly landed a two-day freelance job with Brian Collins and his great, at the time, 20-person shop. Way back in 2014, they were housed within Ogilvy & Mather (when Ogilvy was still a growing, viable agency) and soon people from Ogilvy began asking me for help.

But I knew I didn't want to be a long-term freelancer. I wanted to get a full-time job.

One of the things that seems lost in the ad world today is the distinction between saying what a brand or product does and why that brand or product is better.

The new 154-second Extra gum spot is a good example of this malady. It's a decent spot, but it's for the category, not for Extra itself. (It's also the length of more than five normal gum spots and since Extra doesn't give me five-times the chewing pleasure, as a piece of advertising, it doesn't work for me.) It doesn't tell me why Extra. So if I'm compelled to buy gum at all from the spot, it doesn't give me any especial reason to buy Extra.

Compare the efficacy of that spot with this spot from Fiat--which tells me why I need to buy a Fiat, not that I merely need to buy a car, and you'll see what I mean. 

The Extra spot, to be repetitive is for the category. The Fiat spot is for that one car.

Now, back to me.

I needed an agency not to hire a copywriter. I needed them to hire me. I didn't want a category sale. I wanted a George sale. So I set to showing what I could that  makes me different and better--not just what makes me available.

In part, that's where this blog comes in. Just about anyone can write the "obligatory" blog. Find some funny photos or a joke or a meme and post something once a week. Follow that protocol, as so many have, and chances are your blog will fizzle in a few months after not having taken off at all.

But remember, I wanted people within agencies to say, "I need me some of that George." Or, likely more accurately, "George is a fucking obstreperous asshole but he writes like nobody's business. I'll put up with his bullshit just so that I can get his pen."

Rightly or wrongly, I set my sights on the agency that used to be called Ogilvy and on their flagship account, the market-cap $150 billion IBM account, not the $20,000 Zippo lighters account.

And I set out, like I've done every morning since 1983, to make myself smarter than the average copywriter. Some of the best "intelligence" on the business world comes from the cheery neo-fascist Wall Street Journal, so I read it every morning. Until I knew more about the Cloud, more about AI, more about the Quantum pipeline and IBM's massive business issues than probably anyone else in the world.

I also wrote a pretty good blog post every day. So the people looking for people to hire could see what I could do, every day. I suppose in advertising we call that "showing, not telling." And that's what I tried to do.

If competitive copywriters were worried about style and euphony, I was able to contribute more substantively. I was able to help guide the brand strategically--because I knew something about the brand and its marketplace. I wasn't just a stylist. To use a missile metaphor, I set my sights as an ICBM, not just a Howitzer.

Finally, I got to know the CCO who was running the account. I noticed he got in around eight.

So I got in around seven. And about once-a-week I had fresh copy in his in-box for him to enjoy. Oh, and whenever there was a log jam or an inferno, I went running toward it. The best way to become indispensable is to be indispensable.

There are about twenty-million self-proclaimed copywriters in the world. And the number isn't decreasing. If you want to be the one--if you want to be chosen--you have to stand out.

Assume for a second that no one can really tell or remember the difference between one writer or another. It's like telling the difference between one stick of gum or another. It's pretty hard to distinguish between Bazooka, Duble Bubble and Extra. 

One good portfolio or reel is not discernibly better than another. You might be able to recognize a difference between Ed McCabe and me, but not McCabe and Marty Puris.

So you have to do something more.

You have to be not just different, differenter.

And show the world that you are and how you are.


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