I cam across these classics from Tim Delaney today. I was reminded of a truth:
Only about 2% of the general public will ever read your body copy. (If you’re lucky.)
But over 98% of creative directors will read your body copy when you’re interviewing for a job.
Creative directors want writers who can write.
So if you’re a writer, use your book to prove it.
Barbara Tuchman is not a copywriter. She is a writer of history. This is the opening paragraph of her famous book on World War I, The Guns of August:
So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and green and blue and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens – four dowager and three regnant – and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.
This paragraph is her most famous. It took her eight hours to write. How much time do you spend crafting your writing?
Writing body copy is like going from LA to Boston making stops in Denver and Pittsburgh.
You need to know where you’re starting, and where you’re going to end up, and what points you need to hit along the way. You can take some detours and circuitous routes in between, and some will be more interesting than others.
But while getting in the car and just driving can be fun, you might get really, really lost and end up nowhere interesting. Then you’ve just wasted time. If you’re writing body copy, map it out. It will look like a bad, bulleted PowerPoint presentation, but it will help you stay on course.
(Speaking of copy and road trips, here’s a link to an old Mark Fenske post
I think is brilliant.)
When I was a student, they copywriters had an entire semester dedicated to body copy. With good reason. It’s a dying art. But one copywriters should dedicate time to learn.
I remember a friend of mine (it was the blog’s co-author, as a matter of fact) had written a very nice piece of body copy. It flowed. It had rhythm. There was a cadence to it. (Always read your copy aloud after you’ve written it.) He really crafted it.
Then he gave it to his art director. It wasn’t fitting her layout, so without him knowing she contracted all the should nots to shouldn’ts, and eliminated some of the words that seemed repetitive. Short conversational lines seemed superfluous and were eliminated.
So who was right? The copywriter who wanted the copy to be as good as possible? Or the art director who wanted to layout to be as good as possible?
If you need three headlines, you should write at least 300. But if you’re going to write body copy, don’t throw out the 297.
Just because they weren’t good enough to make the final round doesn’t mean they’re not compelling arguments that paint a vivid picture.
Mine your headlines. Build your body copy.
A week ago I was called in to help do some finessing on a big pitch. One of the things I was asked to do was to write body copy for the ads.
Working from home, I wrote four pieces and sent them off. The CDs in charge of the pitch loved them. So much in fact, they asked me to write body copy for the rest of what they were presenting.
Here’s the secret: I’m not the world’s best copywriter. But I do care about body copy. I do try to craft it. And I do try to give it a voice. That’s really quite rare in this business.
It’s very easy to fill up body copy with cliches and aphorisms and words like “introducing,” and “finally.” And why not? Everyone’s doing it, and no one reads body copy anyway.
The truth is probably 10% of consumers read body copy, 80% of creative directors reviewing your book read it, and 100% of the people supervising this pitch were reading it.
If you care about body copy, writing it becomes easy. If you don’t care, it’s a headache. It’s having to get out of bed because you forgot to take out the garbage. It’s torture.
My portfolio school professor used to say writing body copy was a dying art. I agree. But if you can become proficient in that art, you’ll stand out.