Lawson Clarke is a bit of an enigma to the ad world. In May, when he lost his job at Arnold, Clarke started a Web site, Male Copywriter, which featured Clarke sprawled nude across a bearskin rug, a macho chest-thumping homage to Burt Reynolds' 1972 pictorial. While the work was an unconventional way to showcase his, uh, work, it also caused a degree of controversy. Some found the site amusing; others thought it was either shocking or brilliant. I had the privilege of getting to know Lawson via e-mail, and rest assured, he is not kidding.
Beyond Madison Avenue: Who is Lawson Clarke? Where did he come from?
Lawson Clarke: I come from an advertising family. My Dad had an agency called Clarke Goward, which was a great creative shop here in Boston for almost 30 years so going into the family trade was pretty much a given. There’s actually an old audio tape of me trying to do radio commercials for dog food when I was five. After I graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles, David Lubars was generous enough to give me an internship at BBDO/West, which later turned into my first legit copywriting gig. Then I came back to Boston to go to film school at Boston University and worked at Clarke Goward for about eight years. From there I went to Arnold, which was where I was when the ad industry went up in a giant mushroom cloud.
BMA: How did you know the handwriting was on the wall, so to speak?
LC: Well, you didn’t have to be Kreskin to see what was coming our way. Everybody knew the industry was headed for some lean times, so I figured I might as well be smart and have a solid back-up plan. I suppose if I was a passenger on the Titanic, I would have been the guy dressed in full drag, casually sipping champagne by the lifeboats. But to be honest, I never really looked at Malecopywriter.com as a drastic measure. I just knew there was going to be a lot of incredibly talented people on the street, and I wanted to create a portfolio site that would stand out. And, with that in mind, I set out to design something that would make me laugh if I saw it come across my desk.
BMA: But male copywriter.com? Really?
LC: [I chose the URL] because LawsonClarke.com was already taken. I know that probably sounds like a joke, but it’s the truth. A British public relations firm owns it. I thought about sending them a link to my site with a note that says, 'Look what you made me do!' but I don’t think they’d be amused. After all, they’re British.
BMA: The photo on your site reminds me of either Burt Reynolds or Ron Burgundy. Why did you go with this?
LC: Malecopywriter.com is, in some small way, a celebration of advertising’s rich masculine heritage. And since Burt Reynolds is the epitome of all things masculine, paying homage to him was the obvious choice. Besides, I’d been looking for an excuse to grow a mustache for years. Oh, and if you’re reading this, Mr. Reynolds, please don’t sue me.
BMA: What kind of reaction did you initially get to this site?
LC: It was a pretty surreal couple of months. At first, the Web site was just getting passed around by my friends, but then Bob Garfield was kind enough to review it. From there, things got pretty weird. People started blogging about it all across the industry. Next thing I know, NPR is doing a story on it, and I’m seeing articles in Dutch, Spanish, German, Italian, and Japanese. Although, the personal high water mark for me was when I got an e-mail from some people at Playboy telling me the Web site was getting passed around the office. I can’t even begin to explain how cool that was.
BMA: My female readers want to know if you really posed nude. Or did you use Photoshop?
LC: Oh, that’s 100% Lawson Clarke. On a 100% grizzly bear. In a 100% unheated studio in November. All I’m saying is thank God that TV is in the way.
BMA: What have you been up to in the six months since you created the site?
LC: Mostly trying to return that $6,000 bearskin rug. Aside from that, I’ve been freelancing up a storm and just enjoying being a new dad.
BMA: Do you feel that the gimmick paid off?
LC: Frankly, I don’t look at it as a gimmick. A gimmick is simply a cheap ploy for attention with no substance behind it. Those who know me would probably say Malecopywriter.com is really an extension of who I am. In fact, I think the majority of the people I worked with at Arnold and Clarke Goward just sort of shrugged the whole thing off like it’s something they’ve seen me do at a dozen agency Christmas parties. By the way, I should point out one thing I particularly like about the Web site: It essentially has a self-filtering mechanism built into it. Any agency that would look at it and think, 'That guy wouldn’t be a good fit here,' is most likely an agency I wouldn’t want to work at in the first place. Of course, every creative director I’ve ever admired is probably sitting at their desks right now thinking, 'No way am I hiring this [guy].'
BMA: Have you landed a gig yet?
LC: At first, I thought I needed to land a full-time gig as fast as I could, but then I realized how much I enjoyed the freelance lifestyle. It allows me to explore lots of different agencies, hang out with some old friends, and make a few new ones in the process. Plus, my wife and I just had our first kid, so it affords me the luxury of being able to stay home for stretches at a time and be with my family. So, to answer your question, no full-time gig yet. But as far as freelance is concerned, Malecopywriter.com has really been an incredible lead generator. Evidently, I should have gotten naked years ago.
BMA: If this site doesn’t land you a new gig, what else is up your sleeve?
BMA: What advice to do have for your fellow creatives who may also be looking for work?
LC: First off, don’t panic. Chances are you got into this industry because you’re very good at coming up with creative solutions to complex problems. Of course, the majority of your career has been spent solving other people’s problems for them, but now it’s time to take that on-the-job experience and use it to market yourself. Over the years, your ideas have made millions for your clients. It’s time you got out there and focused those creative powers on your own success. And if that doesn’t work, just take your clothes off, and make a complete ass out of yourself. That’s always worked for me.