Thursday, April 26, 2007

Long, long ago in a galaxy far away . . .

Well, actually, it was London and the year was 1979, and all I wanted in the world was a job as a junior copywriter in a big ad agency. I had no experience, and not much else to offer, so I spent a lot of time writing long and immensely witty letters to creative directors, in the hope that my verbal pyrotechnics would dazzle them into offering me a job.

Nobody did, and pretty soon I started to get quite despondent. (I've never been much good at that "try, try again" approach to the pursuit of success.) In fact, my spirits sank so low that I did a dreadful thing. I abandoned all my efforts to demonstrate my vast creative talents, and fired off a simple three line note to Tony Brignull at CDP.

(Pause briefly to establish context: at that time, CDP was widely regarded as the most creative ad agency in the world, and its creative director Tony Brignull as the joint best copywriter, with David Abbott.)

I don't remember what I said, but I know that my letter was concise to the point of terseness: desperate to be a copywriter, no experience but loads of enthusiasm, any chance you could do anything at all to help me . . . or words to that effect. But I do remember the reply I received just a few days later; or, at least, the first sentence, which began, "I liked your letter so much that I've decided to offer you a month's work experience at CDP".

When I met the great man, I couldn't resist asking what he'd liked about my letter, the unadorned simplicity of which I was now feeling rather embarrassed about.

You've guessed: what he liked was the unadorned simplicity. Every day, he told me, he received a sack full of immensely witty letters, and other more elaborate types of communication from young hopefuls like myself, desperate to impress him their creative potential: a hollowed out pineapple with a flashing lightbulb inside; an arrow with a message wrapped round the shaft, fired through his window; a fake terrorist bomb, complete with lifelike detonator, and so on.

A short, simple letter, written from the heart, stood out - and made a nice change, he told me.

Sadly, the ending of this story is a bit anti-climactic. I did my month's work experience, and learned a lot from it. But Tony Brignull didn't anoint me as his chosen successor, or even offer me a job. He just shook my hand and wished me luck with my future career.

But there is a reason why this episode has stuck in my mind for almost 30 years. And it may not be exactly the one you're expecting. Because I'm not saying that short and to-the-point is always better.I'm saying that it pays to think very hard about the competitive landscape. If everyone else is having a hernia trying to look creative, be simple-verging-on-dumb. If everyone else is telling the story in six bullet points, write joined-up prose. If everyone else is writing joined-up prose, consider rhyming couplets.

In short, if everyone else is zigging . . . zag.


At 7:35 pm, Blogger Harry said...

I'll be sure to show him this post!

Harry Brignull

At 9:39 am, Blogger Lindsay said...

Thanks for this, Harry. Your father was a great professional hero of my mine, and it's been a massive pleasure for me to have established a bit of contact with him recently.

I'm guessing you're Mia's husband? If so, I'm absolutely delighted that she's interested in taking part in Yig and Yogg.

At 8:30 am, Blogger Harry said...

Hi Lindsay,

Yes, she is, I put her up to it!

By the way, I bought your book on amazon and read it over the weekend. It's very useful.

At 12:36 am, Blogger pelfad said...

Hi Harry!
Just stumbled across your blog entry. I didn't realise your father was soo big in the ad world...just remember him as Rosise father.Say hi to her for me and great your father and mother.
Heard that you married a Danish girl - I have been living here in copenhagen for years now so maybe I will bump into you both someday.


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