The Art of Editing – A Copywriter’s Tale

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Editing can be tough work. And when you’re in a situation where you have to edit your own work, it gets even tougher. But for a marketer involved in copywriting at any level, it is a critical skill to learn.

Your first attempt at any copy will usually change, and it’s the process you go through to get to the final product that is so important. Anyone can sit around and think up headlines, but creating the perfect pitch that actually sells is why the very best are who they are.

Speaking of the very best, I was lucky enough to receive a newsletter that quoted David Ogilvy (considered the founder of modern advertising) and his advice for copywriters. Here you are:

  1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
     
  2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
     
  3. I am helpless without research material—and the more "motivational" the better.
     
  4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
     
  5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
     
  6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.
     
  7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)
     
  8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
     
  9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
     
  10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.