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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.



Walking the Walk (How Not to Be Full of Crap)


Photo by Caminando de Suiza

I’m a wee bit frustrated at the advertising and marketing world at the moment. Everywhere you go you hear sermons about being authentic and having integrity. I’m a strong proponent for these two things, and I’m rather irritated by those who simply are not practicing what they preach.

Now granted from time to time, we all screw up. I’ve found myself not acting in accordance with advice I’ve given others. It happens. We’re human. But once we realize what we are doing, we have to make better choices.

If you are an entrepreneur, small business, or non-profit please pay attention. If I’m thinking these things, most likely your target is too. If you have a brand, or are preparing to launch a brand, I want you to ask yourself something:

Am I full of shit?

Sounds a bit harsh maybe, but ask it anyway. What’s your first reaction? Yes? No? I’m not sure? In marketing, we talk a lot about something called, “Reasons to Believe.” Simply put, these are the reasons why anyone, especially your target, should believe anything you have to say. Often Reasons To Believe include information on your brand’s ingredients or features, heritage, benefits, affinity and so forth. This is all well and good but we marketers, creatives, account people, and strategists (yep myself included) have forgotten to ask a major question.  

Are our brands (or the brands we work for) walking the walk? If not, we’d better stop using the word authentic right now. {Tweet it!}

I’m flabbergasted every time I look at a “social media” agency that hasn’t updated their social media in several months. Or the agencies that claim to be “digital” but have websites that look like there were designed 10 years ago. Or the healthcare and beauty brands that maintain they are good for you even though their products include carcinogens and other hazardous ingredients. It’s unclear why these companies aren’t being called out more often, but it doesn’t really matter. The point is not to make the same mistakes they are making.

If nothing else just ask yourself the question from time to time, Am I Full of  Shit? And if the answer is yes, step up and force yourself to take actions to change that until you can say with 100% authority, I am not a phony. I am walking the walk.  


In Honor of Griffin Farley

For a while now, years perhaps, I’ve been talking about the value of mentorship. I have tried to seek it out as I transitioned from one life phase to another and as I grew in my career. Sometimes mentors appeared. More often they remained hidden, a sort of treasure I once told myself I must not be worthy enough to find.

Over time, I learned I could get to the next level on my own. But if I’m being honest, it was often a lonely journey. Then in the Winter of 2012, I decided that if I couldn’t find a mentor for myself I might as well become a mentor to others. I became a personal development coach, started working with non-profits, and let many of my advertising peers know that if aspiring strategists needed advice they could contact me. Secretly, I still longed for mentorship and guidance. I wondered if other people wished for it as much as I did.

A few weeks ago, I mentored five bright, aspiring strategists through the first ever Griffin Farley Search for Beautiful Minds. I did this to honor Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Griffin Farley, a brilliant strategist who was known for giving his time to young strategist looking to break into the business. If time is love, and I believe it is, he gave a lot of love. Griffin passed away earlier this year due to a rare form of cancer. Though I never met Griffin in person, he has altered my life forever.

When people ask what my goals are in life, I always say the same thing—to help someone else do the impossible. On July 18, 2013 Griffin and BBH helped me do that.

It was a long, long shot. 10 teams of 5 had been selected from many applicants. The finalists received a crash course in strategy and then applied what they learned to the execution of a brief for New York’s Citi Bikes. Only one team could win … and win, we did. (See how we did it via Rainbow’s post.)

I’m proud we won. But it was never really about winning. The team Gautam Ramdurai and I mentored was comprised of a bunch of driven, passionate, and collaborative strategists who pushed themselves long after Gautam and I left the work sessions. They had the same values and the same goals—be extraordinary and make Griffin proud.

The spirit of Griffin’s generosity continues through BBH and every mentor that participated in the event 2013 and will participate in the future. It gives me hope that over time my generation and the next will not want for guidance and leadership, but rather we will come together to offer each other support.

Thank you to Rainbow Kirby, Mackenzie Beer, Daniela Madriz, Elicia Banks-Gabriel, and Jonathan Wang for allowing me to help guide you. Thank you to Sarah Watson, Angela Sun, and everyone at BBH for creating this beautiful and inspiring event. And thank you to Griffin for showing us that the mentorship we long for is possible and for reminding us that we are never alone.


Team “E”- I will never forget you.