Ernest Hemingway said that, and he was right. Of course he was right.
The first draft of anything is purely conceptual. It’s about sending what’s in your head through to your hands and onto the page. You shouldn’t expect brilliance. And if you think it’s brilliant, you should check yourself big time because it’s not. It’s raw, unformed and probably full of mistakes — as it should be.
Your first draft is a jumping-off point. Be proud of it. But be honest about it.
Know to walk away
It’s hard for anyone writing anything to give it space to breathe, to marinate and percolate. It probably comes from that puritan pursuit of perfection we all have ingrained somewhere in our psyches. But more doesn’t always mean better. And in writing’s case, it never means better.
Give yourself time to mull over your arguments, constructions and calls to action. While it’s fresh in your mind, you’ll notice other pieces of writing in the digital and actual worlds that will make it better. When you do, take a pic of them or write them down, then go back to your piece and see if what you learned can be applied. Chances are it can be.
Know to ask for help
You’ll always be too close to whatever you’re writing to be objective about it. That’s why no one should edit their own work; it’s akin to giving yourself a rectal exam.
Show your work to your colleagues, your family and your friends. Get as much feedback as you can. The comments that come up multiple times are the ones to address. Then when you’re happy with where your second draft is, bring in a pro editor.
Pro editors are trained to be that objective set of eyes. They’ll tell you if something doesn’t make sense because they have no horse in your race. They’ll see things you don’t. They’ll call out things that make perfect sense to you but mean nothing to anyone else. They’ll be brutal and ruthless. And you’ll love them for it.
Know to apply these rules to everything
Emails. Presentations. Marketing materials. Dissertations. White papers. Web copy. Blog posts. A first draft can never be your best work. Sure, some lines from your V1 will wind up in the final — but probably not how you wrote them. And that’s okay. Old Ernest says so.
A few months back, a Canadian member of parliament found herself being scolded by one of her colleagues in the house for what was apparently a poor choice of words.
Whether you think the simile used was appropriate or not is up for debate, but how This Hour Has 22 Minute‘s Mark Kritch handled it isn’t. He’s brilliant, and so quick. Not to be outdone, MP Michelle Rempel matched him joke for joke.
5. You believe that bad publicity is good publicity.
You accidentally refer to Fort McMurray as Fart McMurray. First it gets picked up by the usual suspects: grammar nerds who have noting better to do than correct companies. But there’s a fart in there, so before you know it, Buzzfeed, Funny or Die and Vice have gotten wind. Now you’re front page news — and so what if it’s for the wrong reason. You’ve got people talking. Except by this point, Mayor Blake and Premier Notely are making noise, going on about how the people of Alberta have gone through enough over the past few years — and now you’re comparing them to flatulence. You’d think they’d just let this one pass, but why would they when this kind of stuff’ll get them at least a few hundred votes next time around.
4. You have a crush on your printer.
You love his voice; the way he says your name; the way the ink on his hands always has a hidden message in it just for you. So yeah, you don’t mind finding reasons to keep going back to him with reprint after reprint. And, of course, even the smallest thing is cause to make the trip and spend the money: something simple like Canadian vs American spelling or an “its” vs. “it’s.”
3. You want fewer customers.
Not proofing your work is the perfect fix for this. With one typo, you clearly demonstrate you don’t care about your reputation enough to put your best foot forward for yourself so there’s no way you’d do it for anyone else. So sit back and wait for the phone to never ring.
2. You like feeling stupid.
Hey, we don’t judge. People get off on all sorts of things. Maybe you’re into people mocking you? Maybe you’re the person who always sits front row centre at a comedy club so you get picked on by the talent?
1. You want to meet the Grammar Vigilante of Bristol.
A big-budget movie production with larger-than-life stars set up shop in a small New England town. That’s the story of State and Main (2000), and about a hundred movies before it, notably Sweet Liberty (1986) with Alan Alda and Michael Caine.
But State and Main’s different. Because of this guy.
This is David Mamet. He can write dialogue like this from Glengarry Glen Ross, a play he wrote that got turned into a movie. Amazing, right? But what makes Mamet such an incredible writer is his range. Sure, he can drop F-bombs with the best of them (and he does in GGR — 139 times to be exact). But he can go the other way too, which he does in State and Main. You’ll hear a few choice curses here and there, but it’s the restraint he shows from scene to scene that makes it sing. Because you’d expect the characters to be swearing like…
Baldwin. Parker. Macy. And the late Hoffman.
Of course, a screenwriter is only as good as the actors he has to work with and the director at the helm. Mamet had the second part covered in State and Main, as he directed it himself. But the talent he had was unquestionable. He had Alec Baldwin (a GGR alum) and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Hollywood elite, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the screenwriter, Bill Macy as the director and a wonderful performance by character actor David Paymer as the hot-shot producer who comes in halfway through as unexpected muscle — funny given he’s known in cult film circles for this little ditty:
Too many lines to choose
Some movies have a line that defines it. “That’s not a knife.” “You talking’ to me?” And “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” come to mind. But with State and Main, the whole script defines it. It’s almost impossible to pick the best zinger. Actually, that’s not true — it’s fairly easy:
We got new office space earlier this year at Queen and Dufferin. That’s in the southwest corner of downtown Toronto, between up-and-coming Parkdale and formerly up-and-coming-but-now-booming Beaconsfield Village.
There really is an alleyway called Milky Way. Our building backs onto it. We’ve yet to find milk in it.
But the front of the building is pretty cool. We have a cute little courtyard lined with trees and greenery in the summer that provides a reprieve from the wind in the winter. We have a covered area complete with bike racks and a few chairs.
But the office itself is the real piece de resistance. We have a 100-square-foot end of a 35,000-square-foot room with brick walls, 35-foot ceilings, three breakout rooms, a sound studio, a ping-pong table and the nicest man at the front desk. His name’s Behrooz and he loves klezmer music.
We were the very first tenants so we got our pick of location. When you come for a visit, you’ll see that we chose our “where” wisely. Seems to be a theme.
Funny thing is that we found this place through an ad on Facebook. We tell ourselves that Facebook ads don’t work. That we’d never actually click on one. Well, we did. And we bought. Facebook ads worked on us. Good thing too, because Dan owns a bit of stock.
On March 10th, 2017, the Page 7 Copywriting brand was folded into Re:word. For nine years, p7 was the copywriting agency of choice for some of the biggest brands and best agencies including Google, BBDO, HP, Bodog, The National Ballet of Canada and Madd Munchies Late Night Food Emporium.
But the name Page 7 was always meant to be a placeholder. Dan promised himself he’d change it when he had some downtime. It never came. Probably a good thing. But if he did change it, Re:word would’ve definitely been a contender. But then Gina would’ve had to take Dan to court and it would’ve been a whole thing.
So this way is way better. But a lot happened in those nine years that deserves a place of honour because, well, they’re damn good stories.
Here’s one of the best:
It was May 2008 and Dan was looking for a job. He had just turned down a job offer in Calgary with a company called Watermark* and had found a posting for an ACD position in Toronto. He sent his CV in and got a call back requesting an interview for Friday morning — except Dan was going to be in London, England, visiting friends. No problem, he thought. He’ll do a phone interview.
Friday morning came and Dan called in to have his interview with Sean (that’s important) and a few other people. And the first thing Sean said was, “Hey…you and I live on the same floor. You’re in 412 and I’m in 417 — so we could’ve done this in our bathrobes.”
“Would’ve saved me some long distance charges for sure,” said Dan. Everyone giggled. Good vibes. And they got on with it.
Nothing came of the interview, and a month later, in June, Dan started Page 7 with no clients and no clue.
One random Thursday morning in July
It was 5:45 in the morning, Dan’s wife was out of town and the dog started barking. Dan woke up, and standing at the foot of his bed was a half-naked girl. She was wearing a bed sheet around her waist and nothing else.
Naturally, Dan thought he was dreaming. But no…there she was.
“Hi?” he said.
“Who are you?”
“Sean, it’s me, Sabrina.”
Then an awkward moment of silence, after which Sabrina “woke up.” She had slept walked out of 417 (Sean’s place — told you it was important) and into his place.
“Oh my god!” she exclaimed as she covered herself with her hands.
“Relax,” said Dan, pleasantly confused. “We’re all adults here. Would you like a t-shirt?”
He got her a white t-shirt and politely walked her back to Sean’s.
The next day, Dan wrote this note:
Dan here from 412. Still have your email address from the spring. Hope all’s well.
Listen, your friend walked into my place last night. She’s a very nice girl and I got her home safely, but you now have my shirt. If you could just hang it on my door whenever you have a chance, that’d be great. Thanks. : )
page 7 copywriting
chose your words wisely™
A minute later, Sean responded.
Holy shit dude…
I heard the other side of the story. Wildest thing ever. Yeah, I’ll get your shirt back to you. Also, I see you started a new business. Looking for work? I’m leaving here soon and I need a copywriter at my new place.
And because of Sabrina, page 7’s first accounts were Scotiabank, RIM and Ford. And Dan’s not locked his door since.
If it wasn’t for Maui’s bark, who knows where we’d all be?
When a copywriting job comes in, the first thing we do is create a brief.
If you’ve worked agency before, you know that some briefs should really be called lengthies or novels or endless streams of written diarrhea that leave you more clueless than you were when you were actually clueless.
We respect the word brief. We’re known for that.
We keep it short to give the creative process room to breathe. We give our writers what they absolutely need to know and let them come up with the rest. And we hire writers that can.
Here’s what our brief looks like:
What are we doing?
Be specific. Mention the client, the type of work and the reason for doing it.
Example: We’re writing new web copy for Bobby’s Bits because their organic search rankings are poor.
What do we want people to do?
This is an action.
Example: Get a quote; Call in; Vote for the candidate; Start following us.
Who are we targeting?
Describe the target audience in as much detail as you have. Personify them if you can.
Example: Bill purchases tractors for his company. He’s been buying working vehicles for 20+ years. He knows what’s important and what’s not, and he can smell bullshit a mile away. Quality is more important to him than price. If he sees the long-term value is something premium, he’ll find the money for it. He’s married. He has grown children, none of whom work in the business.
How will we benefit our client?
This is a feeling.
Example: They’ll feel confident in their purchase; They’ll feel smart for saving so much money; They’ll feel more connected than they’ve ever felt; They’ll feel like they’re in the future; They’ll feel desirable; They’ll feel young again; They’ll feel invincible; They’ll feel heard.
What does our target think now?
One sentence to describe their mental/emotional relationship with the company, product or service.
Example: I’ve never heard of this; These guys do this really well, but nothing else; These guys do everything, but don’t do anything really well; These guys are a blast to work with.
What do we want our target to think?
One sentence to describe the mental/emotional relationship we want to create.
Example: I love this brand; I could see myself wearing/using that; These guys make me laugh every time; I’ll go to them first; They’re my new fallback.
Why should our target believe us?
These are proof points — reasons for people to think what we want them to think and do what we want them to do. List them all out, even the little ones.
Anything else we need to know; Any attachments and where to find them; Thought starters.
We were in Banff last week at The Gathering, a celebration of “cult brands.” Incredible speakers, considered content, a well-curated guest list and the occasional throw-down made it by far the best conference we’ve attended in years.
Our favourite speaker was JoAnn Sciarrino, Knight Chair, Digital Advertising and Marketing, at UNC Chapel Hill. She spoke about the difference between brand loyalty and brand attachment, arguing that creating attachment (I want to be near you) is more powerful than loyalty (I want to keep buying from you). Essentially, she made the case for telling over selling, which is what we tell our copywriting and editing clients all the time. When you make them love you for who you are instead of what you can do for them, you’re moving them from the selfish to the selfless. They see you as more than a supplier of something; you become a part of their identity.
As Professor Sciarrino spoke, we got to thinking about our Detroit Lions. Yes, they’re our Detroit Lions — we’re pleased to report that Gina has jumped on the bandwagon, despite a hard attempt from Matthew O’Neil, Sr. Director Brand & Media at the Dallas Cowboys who blew us away with his speech on delivering a customer experience. His best bit was about “The Second Song,” which he described this way:
“When a fan walks through the door, the music he hears will set the tone for the entire game. But as you’re planning the second song for him, remember that that same song will be someone else’s first, and the tone you set for her will be just as important.”
But back to the Lions. They’re so ingrained in the fabric of Dan’s being that his 40th birthday cake was Lions-themed. His Facebook profile pic is a Lions logo. He travels to Detroit at least once a year for games.
And they’re the worst team in the history of the NFL.
But that’s the point. For Dan, the Lions are a Cult brand. It’s not about winning and losing. It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself; something you can believe in; something that inspires you to seek out others who share your passion. This year’s honourees for Cult Brand of the year were Fender, Mountain Dew, Chapstick, Make A Wish, Levi’s, Canada Goose and Zappos. Zappos won, amazing considering how much older and established the other nominees are.
As incredible as the program was (and it really was, so kudos to Cult), the best part of it all had nothing to do with professional development:
It only took 30 months to write. Seriously. In all fairness, it’s 18,259 words — but in all fairness, that’s 1.198 words per hour. Shameful.
But the reality is that writing about yourself is hard. You’re too close to what you sell. You can’t separate what you’ve learned from what you instinctively know, which is tough because you have to stay firmly with the latter or you’ll lose your audience.
That’s why people hire us. We came close to hiring someone — but pushed through in the end. We’re glad we did — it’s some of our best work.
We hope you like the design too. Allie Payne did it for us. She dug deep to find the perfect image for each page. And she nailed it all. Our favourite is the gentleman on the editing page. We named him Maurice. He looks like a Maurice, no?
Fusion Studios Inc. did the development. They were very…um…patient with us. Kudos to you, Kevin. You’re the guv’nah!
We also started using Canva to make Instagram posts. Honestly, it’s a writer’s best friend. We can’t design our way out of a paper bag. Now we don’t have to.
Check out @rewordcommunications.
And please pass our new website around. Tell your friends. Tell your enemies. Tell your customers and suppliers. Tell your parents and grandparents. Show your dog (kinda curious to see what happens there). And tell anyone you know with any connection to the marketing department at Club Med. #DreamClient