Sunday, August 27, 2023

Advice from the Big Boss

I was wet behind the ears when I landed the Reef Buick account. 

I'd been servicing them as a direct client for a local radio station, and when I went into the agency business, they were one of my first full service clients.

General Manager John Kelley liked me 'cause I was young and aggressive. 

Actually, I'm not sure why he liked me, but he gave me a break. Maybe he could sense that I needed one.

Reef Buick Fort Lauderdale Florida

John Kelley was a gruff guy.

He had an explosive temper and a short fuse.

And, there was no question about who was running the shop. When Kelley roared, "Jump?" You jumped.

The only excuse for not jumping immediately was to ask, "How high, sir?"

I liked him and was terrified of him at the same time.

When I would stop by the dealership to approve newspaper proofs and radio and TV spots, we would meet in his office.

His office was very spacious. It had to be. It housed the biggest desk I had ever seen. Still have ever seen.

To give him paperwork I had to lean my whole body over the desk, fully extend my arm, and then slide the paper rest of the way.

Early on, when I had attempted to bring the papers around to his side of the desk, he had let me know in his I'm-trying-hard-not-to-kill-you voice to always stay on my side of the desk. I stuck to the lean and slide method from that day on.

One afternoon I brought in an independent music production company to pitch Kelley a jingle. Their presentation was slick and well-informed, but Kelley seemed distracted. Every few minutes he'd open the center drawer of his desk a few inches, look inside and then shut the drawer again.

I could tell that he didn't like these guys and I tried to wrap up the presentation.

But they kept talking.

And Kelley kept looking in his drawer.

When I finally got them out of there, I stepped back into the office to apologize.

I thought I was gonna get my head, and perhaps other body parts, handed to me.

"It's OK. It was a good idea. They made some strong points, but I don't need a lecture from some out-of-town jokers who think they know more about moving iron than I do. Keep working on the jingle, but not with those assholes."

"Thank you, Mister Kelley. I'm on it."

As I turned to leave, I couldn't help myself. "Mister Kelley, during the presentation you kept looking in your drawer. What was that all about?"

He shot me a who-do-you-think-you're-talking-to-boy look, but it quickly softened and he waved me over.

I stopped in my usual position, but he nodded and continued to wave me forward.

Holy crap! I was being invited to his side of the desk.

I didn't know whether to be happy or scared. Would they ever find my body? But I took the long walk around.

As I approached his chair, he opened the drawer.

It was empty.

But as I got closer, I saw a 3 x 5 card taped to the bottom of the drawer.

On it was scrawled: "Keep your big fucking Irish mouth shut."

Monday, August 21, 2023

What's Your Copywriting Process?

Copywriting is a comprehensive process that goes beyond simply writing and delivering the finished product. Skillful copywriters follow a creative process to: 

  • thoroughly examine their client, their client's offerings, and their client's prospects/customers from various perspectives,
  • generate fresh ideas or update existing concepts, and
  • transform everything, including lackluster materials and their own insights, into exceptional copy.

The Copywriting Process

The five stages of the creative process outlined by creativity and marketing expert, James Taylor, can be applied to an effective copywriting process that enhances creativity:

  1. Preparation: Copywriters begin by immersing themselves in a brief or marketing campaign. They review published market research, conduct additional research if necessary, study the topic at hand, familiarize themselves with the brand and target audience, and brainstorm ideas on how to craft compelling copy.

  2. Incubation: During this stage, copywriters process and organize the information gathered in the preparation phase. It serves as the foundation for constructing the main concepts of the final content.

  3. Insight: Once the crucial ideas and information are synthesized, copywriters outline the content objectives, themes, main ideas, and requirements to fulfill the content brief or marketing campaign.

  4. Evaluation: Copywriters evaluate their ideas and seek input from the team to determine if their proposed outline or solution is the most effective approach to address the content brief. The insights are refined and revised at this stage to ensure that the actual creation is focused and impactful.

  5. Elaboration: This stage involves executing the final idea, where all the hard work and creative efforts come together to produce exceptional copy.

Now that you are through the creative process, it's time for editing, rewriting, and refinement which is a process of it's own. 

NOTE: The creative process is not always strictly linear, and individual writers may have their own unique approaches. However, having a defined creative process is indicative of a skilled copywriter who is organized, efficient, and capable of delivering creative excellence.


Check out this Headline Writing Process 
for getting the attention of a target audience and demanding engagement

Friday, August 11, 2023

“We need to talk.”

We Need To Talk - Imposter Syndrome - Words Trigger Emotions

I had taken a potentially controversial approach on an assignment.

It answered the client’s need, but I took a chance.

Because I thought it was the right approach.

I submitted it Thursday afternoon.

On Tuesday, I opened the first email from the client since turning it in.

“We need to talk” was the entirety of the message.

“How ‘bout now?” I responded.

“Yes. Call me immediately.”

We need to talk? Call me immediately?

As I dialed, I shouldered a crushing avalanche of imposter syndrome and hurriedly reviewed the thought process behind my decisions on the assignment.

Hearing “You took it too far. You’re fired.” in my head over and over, it seemed like the phone rang at least 30 times.

“Scott. Thanks for calling.”

I played it very cool: “No worries. What’s up?” 

“We’re gonna put on a major push and will need a lot more of your hours in August and September. Do you have room for us?”

“August, yes. September, no.” My adrenaline was still pumping from my fear of facing disaster.

“Let’s set up a Zoom call and work out the details. Does Friday at 11 or 2 work?”

“Two. I’ll send an invite. I thought you were calling about last week’s deliverable.”

“Yeah. That raised a few eyebrows, but it’s good to go.”


We need to talk? Call me immediately? Words can trigger emotion.

I guess that’s the lesson from this experience. Words can trigger emotion.

Either that, or as Mark Twain said, “I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”




Thursday, August 3, 2023

Caught Red-Handed


Mom taught me not to smoke

My mom caught us smoking on the porch.

I was 7. Billy Toby was 8 and had sneaked 3 cigarettes from his mother’s purse.

“Are you boys smoking?”

“Yes, Mrs. Frothingham,” Billy whimpered.

We both knew we were in for it.

And when my mother was through with us, we knew we would face our dads. Both known for their explosive tempers.


“Well, if you’ve decided to smoke, go ahead.”


Huh? This was unexpected.


“Go, ahead, Billy.”

Billy’s eyes darted towards the porch steps, perhaps considering making a quick escape. The power of adult attention kept him frozen in place.

“Go ahead, Billy. Show me how you smoke.”

Billy took a small puff and then seemed to physically shrink, making himself a smaller target.

“Now you, Scott.”

There was no way out. I took a little puff.

My mom chuckled.

"Boys, boys, boys. That’s not how you smoke. This is how you smoke.”

With that she took a long drag on the cigarette. Time slowed down until she finally released a long stream of smoke from her lips.

“Let’s see if you boys can do it right.”

She lit 2 cigarettes and gave one to each of us.

“Do it like I showed you … the biggest breath you can take.”

With a shrug we complied … giving each other a relieved glance as it dawned on us that we'd gotten away with it.

In moments Billy and I were doubled over retching.

I threw up things I’d forgotten I'd eaten. Including an Indian head nickel my cousin Bobby had double-dog dared me to swallow the previous Thanksgiving.

After 20 minutes of gagging and retching. Mom sent the ashen faced Billy staggering back across the street to his house and ushered me into the bathroom.

As she splashed cold water on my face she asked, “So what do you think about smoking?”

“I hate it, Mom. I’m never gonna smoke again.”


Mom, when I call you this afternoon, I’ll remind you of this story ... and that on our porch that day was the last time I purposely inhaled tobacco smoke.

The Parking Spot Next to the Front Door

“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...