‘The copywriters… I don’t know what they are or where they come from or what they do. It just doesn’t seem to be… Who are their heroes?’ – John Salmon.
‘I don’t think we have any modern day heroes, actually in craft.’ – one of the younger ladies.
‘We never got down to the nitty gritty of being taught the craft to a T.’ – Kat Hudson, junior copywriter.
‘In modern agencies I think there’s less and less time to actually coach and mentor people.’ – Tom Harman, ACD, TMW
That’s an interesting area.
I think it’d be great if there was more mentorship, but I also feel that the inclination for self-improvement really has to be there for that to work.
When I started at AMV I was definitely a writer. English was my best subject at school, I wrote in my spare time for ‘fun’, my parents and brother are/were professional writers… So when I got the AMV placement I also got The Copy Book (I was already mildly obsessed by D&AD) and read it again and again and again. By choice. Luckily for me, five of its authors worked in the agency (David Abbott, Tim Riley, Alfredo Marcantonio, Richard Foster and Tony Cox) along with several of the copywriters who were asked to contribute to the updated version (Mary Wear, Nigel Roberts, Malcolm Duffy, Peter Souter, Sean Doyle etc.) and others who were fucking good writers but have not contributed to that book (Victoria Fallon, Tony Malcolm, Nick Worthington, Jeremy Carr, Tony Strong – sorry if I’ve forgotten anyone).
Occasionally I had to write long copy ads, and if that was the case I’d read all of David Abbott’s old work, but then I’d also go around the offices of some of the above writers and ask them to help my make my writing less shit. It was somewhat embarrassing and uncomfortable, but it made me a better writer, so huge thanks to all who helped me.
Alas, those greats have now been scattered to the winds. If you’re lucky you might be able to find an agency (TBWA currently has Souter, Carr and Doyle) with a few of them, but otherwise their expertise is harder to come by, either because they’ve retired or because they’re freelancing from a nice big house in Norfolk, and that means the greatest, thickest links of the copywriting chain are now broken. So now all the aspiring copywriters of the next generations have to go and weep in a corner, watching through their fingers as the onset of shitty copywriting rivals the onset of climate change as the 21st Century’s most damaging development.
But fuck that right in the motherfucking ear…
If you really want to be great at copywriting there are loads of things you can do. Here’s just one suggestion: track those writers down and beg them to make you a fraction as good as they are. Write to them every single day. Stalk them like Peter Souter did with David Abbott. Pay them if you have to. Here’s another suggestion: read every single ad that has ever got into the Copy section of D&AD, then write them all out until the rhythms of great writing seep into your pores. I’m sure you can think of some more yourselves (hint: they involve the consumption of great writing followed by the production of a lot of writing of your own).
A wise man once said: you can have the thing you want or you can have your excuses.