I didn’t sell a single home as a real estate writer (and why you should still hire me)

 

Pen and card image - no background

My very first copywriting job was at a real estate agency in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I joined an in-house marketing department of several writers and some admin staff. We worked closely with outsourced photographers and designers.

The company’s owner would tell an anecdote about how this team came about:

One Saturday morning in the early 1990s, he was perusing the real estate pages of the paper, as he always did, when something struck him. Every one of the ads for homes listed by his company began in precisely the same way:

“This stunning 2/3/4-bedroom home in [Suburb Name]…”

Two would have been a coincidence. Three would have been annoying. Every single one demanded action.

Up until that point it was the salespeople who were writing the copy. These agents fueled the business’s engine with their interpersonal and negotiation skills; they didn’t need to be burdened by tasks they had no interest or training in. The owner saw an opportunity to eliminate the proverbial two birds. While removing an unwanted task from his agents’ daily schedules he could make a significant change to the way his company presented itself to the public.

That was the foundation story of the marketing team and, in a way, a foundation stone for the way I thought about professional writing from that moment on.  Continue reading

Do people read anymore?

They say you should never speak ill of the dead, but Steve Jobs, widely considered to be a visionary, and to many a god, made some predictions that suggest he was neither omnipotent nor even particularly far-sighted.

In 2008, for example, he suggested the Amazon Kindle was doomed to failure. Here’s the full quote from the New York Times:

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore… Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.

Let’s put aside the fact that referring to less than one book is a either a peculiar way of saying “no books” or a missed opportunity to delve into the fascinating world of book fractions. And let’s ignore the fact he was flat out wrong about the success of the device. And let’s, for a moment, look at his reasoning: “People don’t read anymore.”

He said it twice. He must have been sure about it. Continue reading

Copywriting – taking things slowly

Jess Wootten

Jess Cameron Wootten in his workshop

Before I started The Ink Bureau I was freelance copywriting, but not full time. I was working for clients on weekends and after work. One of the people I did some writing for was Jess Cameron Wootten, who had just opened his own shoemaking and leathercrafting shop, Wootten. He needed some website copy.

I went and visited Jess at his workshop in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran to have a chat, get an idea of what he needed and see how he plied his craft.

The word “inspiring” is grossly overused these days – I avoid it like I avoid the startlingly white-teethed attractive people holding clipboards who stand on street corners and lure people into their monthly charitable donation lairs. But I have no hesitation in using it here.

I’ll get to that in a moment, though. Continue reading

On Brighton Grammar’s bullying article

Try hard

Earlier this week a private boys’ school in Melbourne got a lot of unwanted media attention for publishing an article on its website on the topic of bullying.

You can read the article here and Brighton Grammar’s responses to the uproar here.

The article was written by Melissa Anderson, who describes herself as a “resilience coach”. She’s also a counsellor and a pharmacist.

My first reaction to it was astonishment, disgust and a kind of despite-myself amusement. I admit, I spent a good half an hour ridiculing it on social media.

As I read and re-read it, though, I began to wonder: what if it deserved the benefit of the doubt? What if this wasn’t the work of a person with very bad ideas, but merely the work of a very bad writer?

What if somewhere past the corporate tinniness; deep within the thick, barely penetrable forest of the gardener anecdote; beyond the jarring non-sequiturs and sudden change in addressee there was something worthwhile?

What if this was… salvageable?

So I went through it as a kind of exercise in morbid curiosity. Here’s what I came up with: Continue reading

When a copywriter should step back

A copywriter thinking

A very fine copywriter in deep contemplation

It may seem odd that in just my second post for the Ink Well I should write about copywriters having no business getting involved in certain marketing activities. But that’s exactly what I’m about to do.

In most instances I think a writer is an essential member of any marketing or communications group whose objective is to persuade, disarm or enlighten. If they – the copywriters – are not wielding influence, they should at least be wielding a pen with vigorous intent.

At least. Continue reading

Bill Bernbach’s “trap of bigness”

Ink Bureau cards - Bernbach blog post

I love the blog Letters of Note. If you haven’t come across it in your digital travels, it’s well worth a look. One of my favourite letters (among many) published on the site is written by famed ad man, Bill Bernbach.

He’s described in the introduction to the letter as “a real-life Don Draper… one of the greats”. But in 1947 at the age of 35 he didn’t have that reputation. That was the year in which he wrote to the owners of the quickly-expanding Grey Advertising, where he worked as the Creative Director, warning against what he saw them turning into:

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

I’m intrigued by this trap of bigness and have been for a long time, but until I read Bernbach’s letter, I didn’t have a name for it.

Continue reading