Smart Copywriting Is Poetry With A Pitch

The best poets magically fit an entire world into a single poem.

When you read “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg, “Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats, and “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou, you’re set adrift in poetic wonderland. These poems are universal and timeless, and all employ an incredible economy of artful language.

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night-walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

-Opening stanza of “Byzantium,” by William Butler Yeats

The western mind wants to figure poetry out. That’s not the point of poetry. Let the language wash over you. Let it take you to a place of redemption and remind you of your connections to all living and loving things.

Poetry is the singular pursuit by a playful wordsmith.

Poets, unlike copywriters, screenwriters, and journalists, don’t have anything to sell. Poets have their point of view to convey, and no clients or anxious team members looking over their shoulders.

Also, poetry is not a capitalized asset and this frees poetry to be something above and beyond the purely commercial. How rare is that today?

What’s a Copywriter, Anyway?

When you meet someone outside the ad industry and mention that you are a copywriter, it can be like saying you a forensic pathologist. Curious, but not wanting to appear uninformed, the listener may nod politely and change the subject.

I’ve also had people ask me if I worked at a law firm in the copyrights division. It’s a fair question, but no, copywriters have nothing to do with protecting intellectual property. If we’re any good at what we do, we build brand value every time, and from time to time when conditions are ideal, we help make our clients rich and famous.

There are at least a handful of identifiable types of copywriters, which further muddies the waters.

Direct marketing copywriters are all about following the formula and playing it by numbers. It’s an exact science to them.

The social media manager, on the other hand, jumps in a seies of fast-moving social streams each morning and rides memes and trending topics all day.

Then, there’s the classic advertising copywriter who is all about the idea and how it will play out on every size screen.

Copywriting Illuminated

The art and science of copywriting (in all its forms) is not something that practitioners learn to master in an online course or in a one-day workshop.

Copywriting is like writing poems, songs or essays–when you’re serious, you spend years learning from the masters and you diligently practice the craft every day. In other words, you don’t dabble in copywriting and find success.

You let it consume you like a fire.

You sit bolt upright in the night with the answer to the copy riddle.

You learn to become your own toughest critic.

You learn not to waste words.

5 Copywriting Tips You Can Bank On

  • Don’t make outrageous claims that you can’t back up
  • Care more about the reader/viewer than you do about anything or anyone else
  • Overly clever wordplay draws attention to itself, not to the customer solution embedded in the product or service
  • Discovery before strategy and concepts before execution #pencilsdown
  • Bring poetic language and narrative technique to the client’s communications problems

Any questions? Pick up the phone!

IN RELATED NEWS: I write poetry and invite you to give this new poem, “Maria from Monterey,” a read.

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now, The Hour Is Getting Late

Decoding a brand’s messaging is like breaking enemy code sometimes. That’s how dense and inarticulate the language can be, especially in certain business-to-business cases.

Examples abound. Here’s one from the Boring Company:

When we come upon these misshapen brand identities it is our nature and our desire to make them right, and we have a successful history doing just that.

Our results are positive and consistent.

In each case, the company’s “look and feel” was improved and their focus on serving customers narrowed.

Clear Messaging Doesn’t Flow Naturally like Water from a Spring

Process matters.

Too many marketers are obsessed with what they want to say, instead of focusing on what their audience needs to hear. Many are also looking to close, instead of looking to serve.

This is the pressure of quarterly numbers at work and a reality that isn’t going away. Nevertheless, our role as a strategic advisor is to help brand teams earn their customers’ attention and trust, and this means overcoming all obstacles, including short-term thinking in the C-Suite and beyond.

Are You Ready to Lace Up Your Walking Shoes?

The pathway to better work does NOT start with neat ideas about what could be. Better work is not about coming up with clever headlines or flashy graphics—it’s about understanding how to relate to people in the audience, and to do that we need to push back from our screens and take a brisk walk in the customer’s shoes.

Getting on the customer’s page isn’t easy but it is necessary to open minds, doors and wallets. When you’re ready, we will help you walk this walk and think about things from your buyer’s perspective—she may, in fact, have a genuine interest in your product but no time to weigh its benefits. In a case like this, the “no time” barrier is the first communications problem in need of a solution because you can’t sell your wares to a distracted person. Instead of making more ads, we might recommend that you intentionally make “focus time” for your buyer, where you can make her feel cared for and give her access to tools and events that make her work life better.

When you adhere to the process that delivers actionable insights, you end up carving waste from your marketing budget. Take the scenario above. A branded event may have never entered the realm of discussion, much less possibility. That’s the danger of moving too fast and putting projects ahead of the discovery and strategy sessions that are necessary to align your brand communications with the true marketplace opportunity.

Replace Request for Proposals with Discovery and Strategy Sessions

The ad business has been disrupted, but one thing that has not changed is the RFP process. Marketers still rely on this arcane process to locate their new agency team, and the results speak for themselves. CMO churn is legendary and “agencies of record” are no more.

Bonehook does not respond to RFPs. We don’t have the resources to dedicate to free work and we don’t believe that speculative thinking, no matter how brilliant on the surface, is how real life communications problems are solved. RFPs amount to a grown up’s “Show and Tell,” when it needs to be a rigorous business process that produces desired results.

Instead of guessing and wheel spinning, Bonehook replaces the RFP with discovery and strategy sessions that result in a strategy document to support your new product push or your annual plan. We also include brand guidelines that specifically address brand voice.

This initial engagement gives everyone a chance to work together on a trial basis, before committing to any long-term services-based agreements. What do you say?

    • Are you ready to drop the RFP and get to work?
    • Are you prepared to get on your customer’s page and stay there?
    • Are you excited to tighten up your brand messaging and appeal to customers with clear and compelling offers that are easy to act on?

If doing things the way they’ve always been done works for you and your company, thanks for reading this. If you need to go in a new direction, we’re here to guide the expedition into customer-friendly waters.

Are Clients Trying to Put Agencies Out of Business?

Disruption has swept over the ad industry like a rogue wave. The changes washed a lot of people out to sea and they continue to threaten the livelihoods of agency workers, in particular.

Did you know that nearly 80 percent of Association of National Advertisers (ANA) members have some form of in-house agency? This is compared to just 58 percent of marketers who took some form of advertising in-house in 2013, and 42 percent in 2008.

That’s a lot of change on both sides of the client-agency table within the past five to ten years.

“The work being done by in-house agencies is no longer confined to ‘low-hanging fruit’ such as collateral/promotional materials and internal videos,” said ANA CEO Bob Liodice.

While marketers are turning increasingly inward — respondents said more than half of the total amount of work (58 percent) is done in-house — the survey also showed that 90 percent still work with external agencies.

The Root of the Problem: Lack of Trust

Bill Duggan, group executive vice president of ANA said the findings “weren’t a huge surprise,” pointing to major client/agency trust issues as the key driver for this increase.

“The reasons for in-housing historically have been cheaper and faster, and nothing has changed,” he said. “Two recent trends that have accelerated in-house agency: transparency/trust and data.

“I believe trust between clients and agencies is at the lowest it’s ever been throughout my career.”

The Rigorous Path Back to the Mountaintop

Duggan and Liodice are on the client’s side. Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A’s has another agency-friendly point of view.

Agencies need to, quite frankly, step it up and talk about the positive impact they make and the positive business solutions they deliver. I think there’s tremendous value in what agencies bring because of the complexities that exist today.

Agencies are more important and needed than ever to help guide and give that perspective of what’s next and what’s coming. We don’t celebrate enough of those stories.

Bonehook and 99 percent of the agencies in this country do not belong to the 4A’s. We don’t have a spokesperson at an official organization to lobby on our behalf. We must do it ourselves.

Insert Bonehook Case Study (In Miniature)

It’s story time, friends…

Once upon a time, in a western desert not too far from here, Bonehook helped a healthcare and human services company assess a painful operations problem in need of a robust communications solution.

We worked with Danville Services Corporation in Salt Lake City for several years on a “Recruit and Retain” communications plan and the phased rollout of this plan. Danville, like all companies serving people with disabilities, found it hard to find qualified candidates and tough to keep them for more than a year, once hired.

We brought several inter-related solutions forward, including the creation of new collateral materials and a pop-up booth for use at career events. We also automated Danville’s Job Postings made to the company website.

I highlight this relatively simple solution because it showcases how we work. We help the internal marketing and/or creative teams, and we work with people in sales, IT, product development and HR. For Danville, which has multiple offices across four western states, the communications solution had to be shared with and activated by more than half a dozen stakeholders.

There’s no ivory tower anywhere near this, us or the customers we are honored to work closely with on important challenges to their current and future profitability.

Take a Right on Respect Street

I’ve also been seated at the table with clients who lacked trust in our ability to move the needle for them. It can be hard at times to not take their slights personally, although it’s our job to keep the focus on the communications problem(s) before us.

I’ve also worked with plenty of clients who prefer to rewrite and redesign the project at the table, instead of providing legitimate feedback based on the creative brief and letting the talent work it out. It can be maddening, but again, it’s our job to educate and to do that we must be patient and compassionate.

If you’ve ever worked with me, you know how much I care about your business and my own. You also know I am in the room to question, to challenge and to get everyone to think. That’s why my time is valuable and why we command a premium price. It’s also why we get fired, sometimes, and why we choose to walk away at other times.

Be Curious, Adventurous and Prosperous

From our end, critical assessments of a company’s marketing opportunities are always well-intentioned, but the insights and recommendations we bring can cause sparks to fly. It’s human nature to get stuck in one place. We all do it, but in business, stasis is a problem. That’s why we must continually find new ways to break through old patterns (and the people who can help to push us across the finish line).

As the agency, we are professionally obligated to enter the room curious. We know how much there is to learn and we love to learn. We never assume interest. Like respect and trust, we seek to earn it from our own customers and our customers’ customers. Many of our peers spend a lot of time trying to impress prospective customers with how much they know. This is what we know…our customers have unique marketing challenges that our standardized offerings can solve.

It’s not easy to clarify your company’s product or service offering and move people to care, but there are steps we can take. To discuss our Brand Messaging Assessment, Brand Messaging Live Workshops, and/or our Discovery and Strategy Sessions in greater detail, send a note to and we’ll find a good time to talk.