There I was: a young copywriter working for an ad agency and with a lot to prove. I had my very first client presentation coming up for Procter & Gamble, and I had just learned I’d be the one sharing our team’s recommendations at their corporate headquarters. I’d never presented anything outside of a classroom in my life. And suddenly I was expected to tell these MBA brand managers what I wrote...and why they should like it? I was dead. I knew I would say something stupid and get fired.
In hindsight, this was not that big of a deal. Let the record show that I was not about to embark on some Mad Men-esque national TV campaign. I was, in fact, presenting options for a “Freestanding Coupon Insert,” aka ads with coupons you got in the newspaper. However, in my life, at that time, it was a big effin deal.
Back to the story. I sweated bullets as we drove over to their massive building. My mind raced as we rode up their ludicrously fast elevators. I nervously organized and reorganized my boards as the account executive ran through the objectives and timeline. And then, I was on. I shared the work. Said why I wrote it the way I did, and then waited for the firing squad.
The brand manager leaned across the table, put his hand up and said, “High five. You nailed it. I love it. Let’s go with that one.”
I’ve been chasing that high ever since.
You’re never gonna bat 1.000. But there are a few steps you can take to increase your average. What follows are four steps I take in the hopes that my next presentation will be met with a slow clap that leads to a crescendo of applause.
After writing a perfect headline or an impeccably phrased piece of content that completely nails everything I could possibly hope for, I read it out loud. There’s something that happens to words when they are given a voice. And usually “that something” is that they sound really, really dumb.
Reading aloud is a gut check. It saves you from looking like a fool in front of your coworkers or clients (usually).
Don’t settle. It’s a sad fact that the first thing I write is rarely any good at all. They call it “low-hanging fruit” for a reason. In fact, I just deleted half this paragraph and started fresh. For me, this all comes down to focusing on what I’m trying to do. Right now I’m writing a blog post. I’ve set a timer for myself, and I am going to do the best I can in that timeframe. I’ll leave these words to simmer overnight, then come back and read them tomorrow for another revision. It’s less about perfection and more about craftsmanship.
Assume that what you’re doing matters. If your writing doesn’t matter to you, why should it to anyone else?
This comes from asking the right questions. How does this product fit into people’s lives? Why do they need this? What else could they buy instead? Our clients are the experts, and I need to mine their knowledge for the things that truly matter. I can’t only rely on branding — although it’s helpful from a voice and tone perspective, it’s rendered useless when writing anything truly unique or impactful.
When in doubt, ask to talk to a few of your client’s sales people. They know exactly what customers want and what makes them choose to go with the competition. Applause-worthy content is, above all, relevant and true.
Easier said than done. I put a lot of time and energy into this work...and then some guy tells me that it’s no good? I’d like to see him try and squeeze three product attributes into a single sentence in their impossible brand voice...I might think that, sometimes. But not often. At Ample we take a serious approach to our craft without taking ourselves too seriously. Sure I put in a lot of effort, but that doesn’t mean it’s always perfect. After all, there’s a dictionary full of words out there. I can always try some other ones.
The ability to shrug things off and give it another shot saves a ton of stress and will get you to happy hour faster.
It’s a great feeling to deliver work that is appreciated. These four tips are a few of the ways I structure my process to try and get there. If you have any additional tips you’d like to share, give us a shout. I’m still waiting for that slow clap.
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