by Steve Kellas

It helps me be a better copywriter when I read the inspiring personal accounts of others who have made a mark in this business.

Today I read a letter written by David Ogilvy that gave me great pleasure.

He was one of the original ‘Ad Men.’ Everything he wrote, he wrote for a reason and with clear intent.

I enjoyed his analysis of the steps he took to produce the best copywriting work he could because it clearly shows how much effort, blood, sweat and tears goes into writing good copy.

If you want to know how be a copywriter with purpose, follow along in Ogilvy’s footsteps.

Get the client to agree early on

You won’t go far as a writer if you don’t get the client to buy more of your work. The key to success with clients (and consequently to creating great ads) is to get them to agree to your direction before you write out a single creative ‘idea.’

If you follow Ogilvy’s lead here, you need to restate the problem and what the campaign needs to do.

As a web copywriter, I do this by stating every page’s purpose and goal(s) in a table that I share with the client. By asking for comments at this stage, we clarify the direction of the copy together. This becomes the roadmap and it simplifies the approval process.

With agreement early on, revisions tend to revolve around errors and omissions instead of being due to a misunderstanding of what the page is supposed to do.

Write a lot, cut a lot

This is something that is difficult to do in practice, but necessary in order to be good at being a copywriter. If you are used to writing off the cuff, you’re really missing a chance to make your copy shatter all expectations.

The first ten to twenty headlines (email subject lines, blog titles, etc) that you write will be obvious, cliché and, sometimes, ridiculous. It is only after writing every permutation you can and getting through the clutter that you can the nuggets of copywriting gold.

I always advocate writing an outline. This will help you keep your direction, making editing easier. Write each section of the outline one at a time. Write way more than you need. Write so much you repeat yourself. Go back and cut out all the fluff and tighten your writing until it is…well, tight.

Agonise over every line

I have been a copywriter for over 13 years now and I still agonise over every line of copy because I care. Or perhaps it’s as Ogilvy said: “I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement.”

Copywriters worth their weight in gold are the ones who care enough about the words they use that they feel an agonising sense of personal responsibility every time they sit down to the keyboard or notepad.

Remember this when making changes to the copy: a lot went into those words and everything was written for a reason. But, there are good ways of giving your copywriter constructive feedback.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be considered ‘one of the greats’ but I do know that I care as much about the copy I write today as the copy I wrote when I started out.

Thankfully, unlike Ogilvy, I don’t often need half a bottle of rum to get there.

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