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Stealing Your Copy [Tricks of the Trade]

Copy steal

I imagine most of us have those Oh Crap moments when we sit down at our computers or with our notebooks and pens (if you’re old school like me) and attempted to write content. It really doesn’t matter what it is—content for websites, product packages, sales materials or blogs or newsletters.

Creating something from nothing is daunting and can paralyze you before you write even one word. 

I remember as a young strategist the first time I sat down to write a creative brief I nearly had a heart attack. It was my job to craft this ever-important document that would inform and influence an advertising campaign, and I had no clue how to begin. No bueno.
Know what I did? I looked at old briefs written by strategists for other brands and copied as much as I could. Then I filled in the gaps and tweaked what I needed to for it to make sense. The first brief I wrote wasn’t a masterpiece, but it also wasn’t a total flop. Over time I got better at writing briefs, and now I can create one out of thin air. But that wasn’t always the case. I had to start somewhere, so I started by cheating off my peers. Thankfully there’s no detention in the advertising world.
Just the other day, I led a big brainstorm for one of my clients. We needed to come up with several potential claims and messages for his brand. First we looked at what our competitors were saying. That was good to know but not particularly mind-blowing or catalystic. So we decided to look outside our category and into everything from liquid plumbing to organic cosmetics to automobiles to energy drinks. We looked at their websites, their packages, their social media and their product reviews on Amazon. When it was time to come up with ideas for our brand, we literally stole, or stole and then tweaked, what all those other brands had to say. Granted we didn’t steal everything. We created brand new copy as well, but the exercise of stealing and tweaking undoubtedly acted as our catalyst for creation.
So yes, I recommended strategically stealing your copy—especially at first and especially if your resources are limited. Over time you’ll get better at crafting content. But in the meantime, don’t feel guilty.

If you really think about it, most everything, including what we think of as innovation, is a rip of something else. {Tweet it}

Steal. Then tweak. Then create something new. 


How to Start Thinking Strategically

As a classically trained actress, it’s impossible for me to not evaluate someone’s acting, either on stage or on screen. When you train at something long enough, the techniques, the observations, and the impulses become a part of who you are and how you operate. Then, you become skilled at sensing this training in others. When the acting in a play or a movie is good, I get the momentary escape I’m seeking. I know the actors have done their homework and perfected their craft because the “acting” is invisible. I believe them, I trust them, and I allow myself to be swept up in their story. When the acting is bad, well, I’m generally at least mildly entertained.

You do not have the luxury of being mildly entertaining. Mildly entertaining brands and businesses fail. {Tweet it!}

You must learn your craft, practice it, and then make it invisible. You must learn the value of thinking strategically. If you haven’t been taught how to ask the right questions, dig deeper, or see a challenge from a more holistic perspective, it can be quite difficult the first few times. Then, after a while, it becomes a habit just like anything else.

Last night, I taught the second of ten classes at the Brooklyn location of Miami Ad School. The class, “Thinking Strategically,” is meant to teach copywriters and art directors how to create work that is strategically sound. Designing my lesson plans has proven to be an invaluable refresher for me as a teacher and a strategist.

Because I am a strategist by trade, I often take it for granted that businesses and brands think their messages through before they put them out into the ether. This, of course, is not always the case. I’ve been guilty of this. I bet you have too. I see companies making these kinds of mistakes all the time. Sure. Some mistakes are inevitable and valuable because they help us grow. Others are just plain ridiculous. Sometimes I think, don’t you know better by now? Clearly not.

Below are 5 things you can start thinking about and doing right now to become more strategically sound in your business and your life.

See the Big Picture

Yes, it’s important that you meet this quarter’s sales requirements or land that new account. Short-term goals have their place in any business. But if you are making short-term strategic decisions that could affect your brand in the long run, it’s best to consider your choices carefully and err on the side of long-term customer affinity and build a solid brand slowly. This is why action plans and strategic blueprints are so important. If you don’t have a vision for your brand, you will be hard pressed to create anything sustainable and of real value.

Discover Your Brand’s Purpose

It’s much easier to write a vision statement when you are crystal clear on your purpose. If you don’t know what your brand’s purpose is, simply start the conversation. Rest assured its purpose is more than what your brand does or how it does it. Purpose is often discovered when you dig deep—deeper than you’ll probably want to go. Realize that growth happens when we get out of our comfort zone and start asking the question, Why? Just like a little kid full of excitement and curiosity, ask yourself why you love your brand or business. Keep asking why to the answer until you can’t ask why anymore. Ask a friend to do this with you and have them write down the things you say. The answer is there. You just have to be open to it.

Talk to People

Really good strategic insights don’t just fall out of the sky. Ok. Maybe someone woke up one day with an insane insight that translated to an epic campaign that made fans of millions and some company a whole lot richer. But I wouldn’t take that as the norm. There is a ton of work and discovery that goes into insight mining. And in my opinion, nothing can substitute for some good, down home qualitative research. Interview your target. Interview your current customers. Interview your staff. Interview yourself.

Ask the Right Questions

Again, there is no real substitute for pure, human contact, but if you are asking the wrong questions, you are probably wasting everyone’s time. What are the questions, if answered, that could make a difference for your company today and over the next 20 years? What are you dying to know? What does your target want you to understand about their beliefs, behaviors, and motivations?

Ask Yourself What You Really Want to Do

I see ideas die all the time because someone at some company thinks they are too risky. Or too high level. Or the ROI is too uncertain. So the brand stays exactly where it is, and nobody ends up really giving a damn. If you believe in something and your intuition tells you to go for it, then go for it you must. Otherwise your brand will be stuck in a world full of regret that your customers will smell and your competitors will eat for dinner. Think of the brands you truly love. Most of them are pretty bold, right? Whatever it is that you really want to do, get your mind on board with your heart and go for it. And if you need a little encouragement, feel free to print out the picture I took while boarding one of my favorite brands, Virgin America.