guest post: quickly learn the lingo of brandspeak

perk up your work with a word list

perk up your work with a word list

work on any account and you’ll quickly discover that every industry has a language all its own. on top of that, you’ll notice that every brand has its own special way of saying things, too.

when you’re writing for an account for a while, both brand and industry lingo become second nature. but when first starting a project, the words and phraseology of that trade may not be so obvious. and if you’re presented with a looming deadline, you’re going to need to learn the vernacular fast.

whenever i’ve been thrown into this situation, i’ve devised a little trick to get “word savvy” and build creative momentum. before ever writing a line of copy, i create a “words & phrases list.”

quite simply, i scour both the client’s and competitor’s websites and marketing materials, and jot down 50 to 100 industry-related words, phrases, and expressions for inspiration.
for instance, i recently started writing website copy for a brand of coffee. to avoid using the word “coffee” a gazillion times, my research provided me with alternatives such as blends, brews, roasts, beans, and grinds that i could sprinkle in.

and while i’m sure the coffee is “delicious,” it would be pretty boring if i kept describing it that generically. some alternative adjectives I came across for my list included aromatic, bold, balanced, complex, decadent, delicate, exotic, flavorful, full-bodied, handcrafted, indulgent, lush, premium, rich, satisfying, smooth, and seductive.

because coffee was not top of mind prior to starting this project, would these words have popped into my head without doing this research? probably some, but not all.
another good way to find helpful terminology is to Google industry-related news stories, and to choose the “related words” options at rhymezone.com and the OneLook.com dictionary.

putting the list into practice

during my first week, when assigned to write emails promoting a $5 sampler offer, i pulled out The List. With a menu of coffee-related words at my disposal, the process of generating strategically-sound headlines became that much easier. here’s the result:

SIP, SAVOR AND SAVE.
Try these blends for just $5 each.

GET BEANS FOR BEANS.
Find new favorites for just 5 bucks.

New Perk for New Customers:
BUY & TRY FOR JUST $5.

while wordplay like this may be frowned upon by some brands, others just love it. so know your client.

beyond words, are phrases. and if you’re working on an established brand, chances are, they have an established way of saying things. as writers, we should all strive to develop original and inventive copy. however, some clients are loathe to veer too far from their approved terminology, which they prefer to use again and again to “reinforce the brand.”
so, if in your brand word audit you see the same expressions used over and over again, you may want to throw them in here and there to put a smile on the client’s face. for this particular brand of coffee, pet phrases i massaged into the copy included:

– Distinctively rich, smooth taste that’s never bitter.
– Make your life rich and flavorful every day.
– Experience a uniquely luxurious coffee indulgence at home.

once you’ve compiled your word and phrase list, you then have a database of thought starters you can refer to whenever you need inspiration.

something to keep in mind: the word list may not be the best approach for highly conceptual projects, which initially, are less about words and more about big ideas. but when faced with fast turnaround for a brand or category that’s new to you, the word list could be just the thing to quickly get your creative juices flowing.

what writing tips and tricks work for you? share them here in the Copy Lab!

by mitch lemus, copywriterMitch

over the course of his copywriting career, mitch lemus (www.mitchlemus.com) has written about everything from automobiles to airlines, fast-food to fashion, and technology to travel at some of new york’s top agencies. accounts include Wendy’s Hamburgers (The Kaplan Thaler Group), Ford (Razorfish), and Citibank (Atmosphere BBDO). mitch has also worked directly with Barnes & Noble, American Express, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Capital One. when not getting people to buy, he hopes he can get them to laugh — reading his short stories, parodies and social satires on Pen & Pixel.

show my portfolio and have my ideas pilfered?

this question is asked with trepidation by copywriters, and by anyone who shares creative work: scriptwriters, authors pitching books, inventors, app developers, fashion and graphic designers. it’s a question of trust, and the answer is obvious. you must share your ideas or they’ll gather dust, and someone else will think of them eventually anyway — or something very close that will arouse your suspicion.

there are precautions you can take. you can password-protect your online portfolio (you need an online portfolio) or you can send a pdf of your work, but the best defense is to forge a good working relationship with anyone who wants to view your portfolio. the idea being that the real thing (you, hired) is so much more prolific and reliable than a one-off cheap theft, even if you’re simply kept in mind for a later hire.

also, your attitude should be “help yourself — there are 50,000 more where that one came from” because if you’re a working copywriter, then you’re in the business of generating endless ideas. you’re an idea fountain, tapped into an eternal flame of creativity.

if someone does steal your idea, feel sorry for that pathetic person with such a limited imagination. it’s better to have an endless bounty than to be the empty shell of a person who grubs around for someone else’s ideas.  but keep in mind that people really do come up with eerily similar ideas – i’ve seen it happen often in classes.

i once sent a script to a friend at Paramount, and a year later a movie that was clearly my script was released with a virtually identical plot, and the same beginning and ending. flabbergasted, i researched the screenwriter and discovered that “my movie” was actually based on his own book, which was conveniently published well before i had ever written the script. so sometimes ideas are just in the air.

don’t worry about someone purloining your unique concepts, worry more about presenting them before someone else does.

have you ever had someone lift your idea? if so, what did you do about it?

by
kim taylor

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

ten alternative advertising tips

surrounded by good company and a few cocktails, we congregated in our own section of a plush, art deco lounge in the flatiron district last night. Meanwhile, R/GA senior copywriter jenna livingston led us in a two-hour alternative advertising workshop, complete with creative brief and thorough q&a session. the highlight of the night was hearing ideas from attendees themselves, who came up with some of the most ingenious and hilarious non-traditional campaigns (or should I say “antics”) that very well could be the beginnings of the next big viral ad campaign. unfortunately, that’s all i’m able to share. you really had to be there! but as a quick recap, here are ten great tips jenna shared last night: 

  1. if you want to work for a certain agency, include work in your book that would appeal to them. make ads with similar clients you would like to work on.
  2. contact creative directors whose work you admire. Creativity and AgencySpy are great places to learn about industry news and agency happenings.
  3. do side projects, like Starbucks Spelling, that can be added to your book to make you stand out.
  4. ideas that can be done inexpensively or free are a major plus for attracting agencies looking to hire creative talent.
  5. in interactive, the idea should always come first. then figure out what the technology is (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc).
  6. bounce ideas off of other people. working alone is good, but can only get you so far. you never know when something someone says could spark a whole new idea and lead to an even better direction.
  7. you should try to add new work to your book every six months.
  8. ask for help. offer to pay other ad people to help you improve your work. giving a junior designer a couple of bucks to make your work look good will make you more desirable. same goes for asking writers to help out.
  9. go on artistic dates. take time out of your week to see a movie, go to a museum, people watch, and get some inspiration.
  10. many people have great ideas but never make them happen. go for it! you have nothing to lose.

for those of you who attended last night and have other key points you’d like to share, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. and don’t forget to sign up for next month’s speed-date networking event!

by
kendria smith

talking shop with jenna livingston

we’re very excited for our october workshop led by R/GA’s stellar senior copywriter and Webby honoree jenna livingston. as she prepares to share her knowledge about the world of alternative advertising this wednesday, here’s a little background on the woman behind the words:

CLwhat do you love most about working in advertising as a copywriter?

JL: i love going on production and seeing many months of hard work come to life. casting is really fun too. i like making things from start to finish. it’s like giving birth. I think.

CL: if you weren’t a copywriter, what’s your career plan b?

JL: i’d do something with kids. their imaginations are limitless and you have to be creative with them. you always have to be thinking of different ways to make them laugh and keep them entertained.

CL: where do you get inspiration for your more unconventional campaign ideas?

JL: i look for holes in culture and try to fix problems that have yet to be solved. like with Starbucks Spelling, for example. it’s a user-generated Tumblr i created that collects horribly misspelled names on Starbucks cups. before that people were just uploading photos of their misspelled cup. i created a central place where everyone can share their cup, and laugh at other misspellings.

CL: what are some of your favorite websites? who are you following these days?

JL: i like sites where i can learn something. Business Insider, Huffington Post, and Fast Company are all good. The New York Times is great when i have some quiet time. but usually, i get my news from Twitter. i enjoy following comedians and other writers and people with a good sense of humor.

CL: do you have a favorite app?

JL: swackett is currently my favorite app. it’s an unusual, unexpected way to get the weather. and it tells you what you should wear for the day. saves me 20 minutes. i also like Dark Sky. it tells you exactly when it’s going to rain and when it will stop.

CL: what’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

JL: only put in your book what you love.

by
kendria smith

for more info and to sign up for jenna’s alternative advertising workshop, visit The Copy Lab.

tips for surviving meeting overload

we’ve all been at the meeting that feels interminable. the person in charge is shuffling through papers, or speaking in a monotonous tone, or there’s no end in sight or agenda. or there’s an agenda, but people meander blithely off topic and take merciless tangents. you dream of being able to do something more constructive — like your work.

here are some tips for reclaiming your sanity, and expanding work time:

  1. ask your boss if someone at the meeting can fill you in later, because you’re on a creative roll and don’t want to stop working. extra points for being so inspired.
  2. if the meeting is mandatory, and you suspect no one would buy your “on a creative roll” excuse anyway, then jot down work ideas as you’re listening. just as some people take better notes when simultaneously doodling, you may find paying attention easier when you’re able to simultaneously jot down an idea. be sure to participate in the meeting though, so it doesn’t seem like you’re working on your novel.
  3. honesty is truly the best policy – bosses need and appreciate feedback. if you can’t manage to slip in some work at the meeting, then be frank with your boss and say you need a better balance of work vs. meeting time for your projects. your boss should recognize the magnificence of this request. you should be instantly knighted.
  4. if you have a boss who doesn’t appreciate your quest to work more beyond meetings, and you’re expected to fully participate in lots of meetings by talking and strategizing, then you may have to concede that your job is to be in meetings – at least for the most part.
  5. if you have to work overtime in order to meet deadlines, then you’ve reached that proverbial fork in the road where you must ask yourself if it’s worth it. Ideally the answer will be yes. and that’s how you deal with it. if the answer is no, then join The Copy Lab, network with people from other agencies and recruiters, and find a better job with a more satisfying meetings-to-work-time ratio.

how do you deal with meeting overload? send advice!

by kim taylor

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

what kind of person becomes a copywriter?

i’ve had a few people ask me if they’re suited for copywriting.

copywriters come in all flavors and sizes, with backgrounds that include playwriting, scriptwriting, journalism, PR writing, catalog writing, sketch comedy, linguistics, fiction writing, editing, marketing, and account management.

do you love words? are you interested in cultural nuances, or psychology, comedy, food, drink, parenthood, childhood, pets, music, fashion, sports, or the arts? if you do crossword puzzles, or know latin, or love film and fiction, or if you’re a polyglot with a gimlet eye for the persuasive, you can be a copywriter.

if you relish slang and love to communicate, you can be a copywriter.

if you don’t mind rewriting and polishing, then reworking, then starting over, then reworking again, you can be a copywriter.

If you can take negative feedback with grace and a somewhat philosophical attitude, if you can sit through long and tedious meetings, and if you can work well both on your own and in teams, you can be a copywriter.

if you get excited by creative possibilities, if ideas spew forth and unfurl like dazzling fireworks, and if the mere thought of being a copywriter excites you, then welcome to The Copy Lab: you are already a copywriter at heart.

if you are a copywriter, how did you know that you wanted to write? what’s your writing background for bridging into advertising?

by
kim taylor

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

6 reasons not to miss this!

Creatives: The Copy Lab has R/GA’s award-winning copywriter Jenna Livingston on deck to give the low-down on crafting amazing alternative and experiential concepts (plus R/GA creative recruiters will be there!) oct. 24, 7-9:30 @ flatiron lounge. for info & to sign up: www.thecopylabnyc.com/Events

developing your necessary thick skin as a copywriter

every one of us is vulnerable to criticism, whether it’s when presenting a creative idea for an ad campaign, acting in a play or improv skit, unveiling a painting, sporting a new look, or even dancing at a friend’s wedding — in other words, while living. So we all should be prepared for those who will critique.

just as you may balk, celebrate or remain neutral over Taken 2 being a box office smash, or turn your nose up at cold cherry soup, each person has a set of likes and dislikes that stem from uniquely personal experiences, encompassing family, culture, personality and education. so if someone doesn’t like your idea, don’t take it personally — it’s possible that they don’t have the same frame of reference you do. Or more likely, maybe the idea really does need to be reworked.

you’ll know you’re a pro when you no longer worry about negative criticism, because accepting it with equanimity is part of the being-a-copywriter deal. you’re paid to come up with tons of ideas that will be rejected, and a few that will be accepted too. you’ll come to view criticism as useful and constructive, compelling you to create your best work. or perhaps you’ll want to bang your head against the wall, mid-critique.

the thicker your skin, the more of a rhino you’ll be. and we all know rhinos sallie forth with horn lowered, ready to take on anything. the true king of the jungle.

be honest. have you developed a thick skin? when was the last time you successfully managed to keep your cool in a touchy situation?

by
kim taylor

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

ten challenges of a creative career

when it comes to the world of advertising, there is so much to be grateful for: Blendtec’s: “Will it Blend?,” Volkswagen’s The Force, and, of course, the Old Spice Guy. but the industry has its issues just like any other. so while many were enjoying the mingling and merriment of The Copy Lab’s launch party last week, i ventured into the crowd to get the inside scoop on what ails the average creative.

yes, call me “debbie downer,” but after surveying guests of all ages and experience levels for the majority of the evening, i was very pleased with a roundup of results that i believe honestly reflect a broad spectrum of areas in which many struggle. some had to think long and hard, while others jumped right in, venting fervently about problems they were currently facing. maybe you can also identify with these ten issues:

  1. developing a thick skin and a good sense of humor to combat negativity and criticism
  2. spending more time in meetings than you have to actually get work done
  3. getting enough work as a freelancer to support yourself in such a competitive industry
  4. trying to maintain your own voice and sense of style
  5. having your work “revised” by clients or CDs to the point where you don’t even recognize it anymore
  6. dealing successfully with the creative egos of coworkers in order to produce great work
  7. there’s less time to do great work because clients are not paying as much as they used to but still want great work even more quickly
  8. determining what to put in your book so it actually reflects your style and not just work clients force you to do
  9. trying to keep up with innovations in portfolio appearance (i.e. digital vs. keeping a physical book)
  10. women can be very catty and competitive with other women, making it difficult to find support, encouragement and guidance when trying to make career moves

do you see anything missing that should be added to this list? we’d love your feedback. stay tuned for future posts full of tips to help you overcome these challenges, which will hopefully lead to improved work, a better environment and an overall happier career.

by
kendria smith

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.

jenna explains it all: advice for advertising creatives

jenna livingston

jenna livingstonaward-winning senior copywriter at R/GA and purveyor of creative prowess and recreational mayhem (did you miss out on “Gosling Easter?” Google it!), took some time out on wednesday night to celebrate our official launch.

in typical fashion, jenna charmed our guests with her warmth, ease and sense of humor as she shared the story of her career and some insightful tips for creatives—check  them out below and sign up now to secure your spot in her october 24th alternative advertising workshop, where you’ll get a glimpse of her eclectic portfolio and the inner workings of an experiential campaign. sign up now and bring your burning questions: www.thecopylabnyc.com/Events

jenna’s ten tips:

  1. 10% on your 401k.
  2. try not to burn bridges. you don’t know where people will end up and your enemy could end up being your boss.
  3. the more people you know, the more chances you have of hearing about job opportunities and or even getting some freelance work.
  4. go to ad parties and make friends with reps and have them take you out. you’ll network, meet important people and maybe even find a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  5. find a mentor or two you like and respect. someone you feel comfortable showing work to and can give you advice on how to better your book.
  6. go on job interviews in other cities even if you aren’t interested. you’ll meet people and keep in touch until you are ready to move, and they move somewhere you want to work
  7. try people out – it’s ok to pay people to do work for you. from writing copy to making an app, you’ll get a feel for if you like working with someone and get something good out of it for your work.
  8. do side projects. always keep your book fresh – especially if the work you’re doing at your agency isn’t portfolio-worthy. always good to have something in your back pocket.
  9. keep in touch with people. build relationships.
  10. join The Copy Lab. network. build your book. build your skills. build your career!

by
kendria smith

for more information on our membership and events, visit The Copy Lab.