In my time as copywriter at an advertising agency (exclusively Brogan & Partners), I’ve worked on accounts spanning all industries – healthcare, financial services, nonprofits, retail, etc. I’ve written for almost every medium – TV, radio, print, outdoor, social, digital, web, etc. And I’ve thought of thousands of ideas to help our clients boost their business… some of which even went on to win awards (hey look Ma, I made it!). However, if you looked behind every one of those successful campaigns, you’d find hours, days or maybe even weeks of work, plus a bunch of other directions that simply didn’t make the cut.
In eight years, I’ve learned this job requires the ability to dream up never-ending new ideas just to see if they’re worth working on. And, believe it or not, it’s just as challenging as it is rewarding. Seeing a simple idea turn into something that plays on TV screens statewide is an opportunity I never really knew existed. But now, I can say with 100% that I am oh so glad it does.
Get inside my mind (it’s swell, I swear)
While every copywriter probably has their own personal process that’s proven to be effective, today… I’m going to outline mine. When a new project arrives on my desk and I’m ready to devote the day to it, here’s where the work starts.
- Research the topic. Step one is my due diligence: learn what I’m writing about. Sometimes, it’s obvious and it requires no research. Other times, like when promoting MRI-guided radiation oncology or explaining treatment options for acetabular dysplasia, I need to know what I’m talking about… before I can even attempt to talk about it. (That’s why I’ve awarded myself honorary degrees in property and casualty insurance, orthopaedic surgery and HoneyBaked Hams.)
- Review existing assets. Before I can think about what to do, I have to think about what’s been done. When I get briefed on a big campaign and I’m ready to brainstorm, I’ll start by searching for what other advertising agencies, or even just in-house marketing teams, have already created. So, if I’m working on a campaign to promote the hepatitis B vaccine, I’ll Google “hepatitis B vaccine ads” and scroll almost endlessly – looking at the headlines that have been used, the visual imagery other art directors chose and the concepts that bring them both together. Doing so helps me get in the right frame of mind, and it also helps prevent any accidental campaign copying. (Story time: When I first entered the industry, I was working on radio spots that would encourage parents to help prevent their kids’ asthma attacks. Being an asthmatic myself, I knew how important it was, and I knew what an attack felt like. Within seconds, I thought I, a copywriter fresh out of college – who didn’t even major in advertising, had the extraordinary idea of comparing a child’s asthma attack to a goldfish with no water. Meanwhile, any seasoned advertiser will know the Ad Council impeccably executed it first.)
- Play with words. As a writer and a self-proclaimed word lover, this step just makes sense. I’ll take five minutes and write down every single word related to the topic I’m thinking about. I’ll spend time searching through a thesaurus. I’ll look up rhymes, puns and idioms. For alliterative headlines, I’ll look for words that start with the same letter, same two letters… even the same three letters. I like to pace around the room with my iPhone (or go for a walk outside/on the treadmill) and jot down every quippy, clever and creative combination of words that could possibly be considered… and then I’ll cull it down to what works well.
- Think visual first. As much as I’d like to believe words are the most powerful element, I know a picture really is worth a thousand words. In TV, print, outdoor and more, the concept has to be visually interesting, or it will be virtually ignored. That’s why I also spend some time searching stock photography sites – challenging myself to find a compelling visual before the copy. As a result, I’ll send a lot of texts/emails to my art director partners – asking if what I’m imagining is even able to be executed. Sometimes, my pie is too high in the sky, but I still consider it a worthwhile creative exercise. Especially because you never know until you try. (Rhyme intended.)
For more on writing in the advertising industry, read 7 things this copywriter has learned from her clients.