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Original articles from Jerry Northup.
 
Writing to Scale: A ‘Pentatonic’ Approach to Better Copy
Like most writers, I enjoy my job. I look forward to the unpredictable nature of what kind of project may come in the door at any time. The challenge of starting from a blank page is always a great kick-start to my day, but I also like getting away from it.

Writing to Scale: A ‘Pentatonic’ Approach to Better Copy
Like most writers, I enjoy my job. I look forward to the unpredictable nature of what kind of project may come in the door at any time. The challenge of starting from a blank page is always a great kick-start to my day, but I also like getting away from it.

The ‘Brand’ Sandwich: How Do You Butter Your Bread?
A little mayo won’t hurt you. Granted, that statement may be true (in the absence of any allergic reaction), but it doesn’t prevent me from gasping a little bit at the sight of the pasty white condiment. Of course, you can rightly guess that I try to avoid it if possible, but there are times when the lunch caterer has laid out the spread and there’s no place to hide.

Writing to Scale: A ‘Pentatonic’ Approach to Better Copy
Like most writers, I enjoy my job. I look forward to the unpredictable nature of what kind of project may come in the door at any time. The challenge of starting from a blank page is always a great kick-start to my day, but I also like getting away from it.

The ‘Brand’ Sandwich: How Do You Butter Your Bread?
A little mayo won’t hurt you. Granted, that statement may be true (in the absence of any allergic reaction), but it doesn’t prevent me from gasping a little bit at the sight of the pasty white condiment. Of course, you can rightly guess that I try to avoid it if possible, but there are times when the lunch caterer has laid out the spread and there’s no place to hide.

Freeze Frame: Writing in the Moment
Our past is guaranteed to us. As writers, we have the privilege of taking ownership over every word we’ve key-stroked into text. Generally, that’s a good thing. In time, those efforts help build a portfolio that provides proof of who we are. Problem is, what we put down on a resume is only a rough approximation of “what we were” at any point in time; not what we can do today. Everything you do was once something you’d never done. The real test is always the blank page in front of us.

Is It The 'Buy' or Is It Brilliant?
To even casual watchers of television, certain ads stay with you long after you’ve resumed life. What we remember, of course, is also reinforced by seeing fragments of those same ads reappear in our news feeds or when we glance out of our car windows. Obviously, they work. Repetition is the key to retention. But do these overly familiar snippets of advertising...

Jacks are Better: Copywriting for All Trades
One of the many great things about being a copywriter is that you never truly get dealt the same hand twice. I started out writing voice-over copy for realty television programs. I did a lot of it. I became very good at it, but I expanded quickly beyond it, drafting text for window-treatment companies, product-packaging businesses, energy providers, and more.

Healthcare Writing: The Cure for Common Copy
Healthcare organizations occupy the moral high ground of business, which is something of an advantage when it comes to writing for them. Doctors are easily described as “compassionate,” “skilled,” and “experienced.” Health systems are “cornerstones,” “working partners,” and “leaders” in the communities they serve. Individual careers, such as nursing, are generally accepted as “rewarding.” Using these words, writers don’t have to work all that hard to create plausible advertising.

No Plan B: Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket
Most career advisors counsel against narrowing your options. Yet, at least as it pertains to entering the advertising and marketing field as a creative writer, I believe you’ve really only got one egg to work with — your talent. So, to succeed, you have to maintain, in a sense, a single-minded obsession to stick with it in both good times and bad. Carrying the analogy forward, the basket you place your “egg” in merely represents the organization...

The Red Carpet Resume
It’s been said that your resume is a mirror-like reflection of your career. However, like preparing for an appearance at the Oscars, a great deal of painstaking attention must go in to highlight your best features while concealing those less flattering blemishes — be it a gap in employment or simply underplaying periods where you played in far less inspiring roles.

Back in Blank: Lyrical Tools for Breaking Writer's Block
“I Want You … To Read This!” Although there are naturally some constants in the work of a copywriter, the job very rarely is the “same old song” from day to day. You could consider the fact that most projects do start with typically brief sketches of goals and objectives as one of the common factors, but even at that there is a large degree of variance in quality and quantity of content.

Connect Four: A Creative Exercise in Copywriting
Most of the world counts to four in simple numeric order. One of the things we learn as toddlers is how many fingers to hold up to show how old we are. Playing the “this many” game is a fun way to entertain little kids, but it doesn’t last long once they begin to master language. After early childhood, the only time you’ll likely need to count...

Finding 'X' in the CRM Equation
When the concept of customer relationship management (CRM) first became reality more than 20 years ago, there were relatively few variables at work. The concept of building databases from point-of-sale interactions, phone inquiries, and word-of-mouth endorsements was something that simply added up.

Simplicity: A Blues-Based Guide to Copywriting
The blues is a fundamentally simple form of music. People hear it, they get it; more importantly, they feel it. Yet, at the same time, the blues forms the basis for some of the most complex music on earth. Jazz musicians, for example, know there is no use in trying to solo over complex changes unless you can play the blues first. In fact, it’s precisely that simplicity — a great beat, soulful vocals, and tasteful guitar — that makes it more generally accessible to larger audiences. It’s a proven formula that not only applies to music, but copywriting as well.

Political Writing: Truth, Lies, and Facts
I used to love politics. Not as much today. Over time, aided by the power of reason and the ability to hold two sides of an argument in my mind at the same time, I’ve lost the enthusiasm I once had. But one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to agree with a particular perspective in order to see the logic behind it. The point is that points can always be made in favor or against most issues...

Honest Mistakes: What to Say and Why Not to Say It
Each and every organization I’ve spent time with has encouraged me and others to speak their mind about issues important to personal growth or company direction. I’ve never found an example where an “open-door policy” wasn’t in place. So it has always amused me when groups of 40, 50, or more freeze...

Perspiration -> Accumulation -> Preservation
Very few truly master the ability to turn ideas and concepts into words. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. But there are some fundamentals that never seem to fail when a deadline approaches. Despite assertions to the contrary, the copy never writes itself. It takes heavy lifting at the start of every project to get the words off the ground, but with persistence comes product every time. How it’s received, however, is far less predictable.

More Than Words: 'Happy Landings, Boyington!'
When I was about ten years old, I loved the late-1970s TV show Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. The program, later re-titled Black Sheep Squadron, starred Robert Conrad as Pappy Boyington, a real-life WWII American Ace fighter pilot. I used to dream of flying in his shoes, expertly piloting Corsair-AFUs in combat, then landing to generous portions of scotch-fueled camaraderie and romance. Each episode majestically powered my imagination — a very good thing for a writer. Imagining implausible connections. That the events portrayed in Black Sheep were not authentic in every detail didn’t matter. I connected with the sense of heroism (as portrayed) and still do. Incidentally, the ability to connect stories to real life in ways that aren’t actually “real” is writer territory.

Writing Under the Radar
If you’re in the creative field, you know that not every minute of your day is spent attentively tuned to the job you were hired to do. This is what other creatives, myself included, have called going “under the radar.” And, it’s a very useful tool, as long as you don’t take it too far. If you don’t know the answer, don’t ask the question. Don’t push for hard answers or challenge the motives. It could be your turn in the hot seat next. Here are a few reasons for it. Everybody does freelance work. We all have friends and family, plus former and current associates. And, usually, they all need something or other at one time or another.

Stranded on Creative Island: Clothed, Yet Afraid
Being left behind is no fun. But often, that’s how it feels to the writer. That’s not to say your workplace is uninhabited. Internal natives abound, each having a distinct agenda. Of course, there are a lot of different opinions to wade through, but the words you compose are the basic materials that build the boat. The criticism shouldn’t be directed personally, but if it is (and especially when it normally isn’t), you can use it to improve your copy. The more you defend a position, the weaker it will get. Every opinion should be strongly respected, even if it’s one you don’t agree with...

Why Great is Often the Enemy of Good
I was once given the assignment to watch inspirational/business speaker Jim Collins’ presentation, “Good is the Enemy of Great,” and summarize his lengthy keynote presentation into an article of about 750 words. In general, it was good, but certainly NOT great. I felt there were unmistakable lapses in logic and a few awkward stumbles in delivery.

Creative Firepower: The Big Guns in the Brain
The brain is capable of making surreal links between people, places, and things. It’s why we have talking airplanes in movies, tuxedo-clad camels in ads, and big mouth bass as wall ornaments. Personification is just one technique that gives flight to seemingly incongruent concepts, but that’s only a small part of the full arsenal. If you can see what it is, don’t say what it is. Pictures don’t need words to explain what they are, but they require creative text to be anything more than drone strikes.

G-Rated Copy: Two Thumbs Up!
While we’ve come to trust the G rating as a good decision tool for families, we also know it’s usually synonymous with the bland and boring. That’s not the way I’m defining a G rating in terms of copywriting. To me, copy needs to win the general approval of any audience. Prompted by the question, “What makes a writer great?”, Lee Odden, CEO of Top Rank Online Marketing, recently provided this remarkable insight...

Ladies and Gentlemen, 'Milton Murphy!'
Over the summer, stuck in a van on a long trip, I started to dream up alternative personalities for the GPS system. I imagined that the navigation voice belonged to a bellhop sort of chap with a charming, effusive demeanor. Soon, he would introduce himself in my mind as, “Milton Murphy, here fo’ ya’.” A friend seated next to me chimed in with, “So, where do ya’ want to go to-day?”

Words Written In Stone
“The Lord gave man these fifteen … these, ten, ten commandments.” If you’re a fan of old Mel Brooks movies, you’ll know that this line came from his classic comedy, History of the World, Part II. But within it lies a certain insight for those who write copy for a living, and those who read and approve it — namely that words are a stationary target...

'And'...Another Thing from Tina Fey
Even during those meetings when the smartest thing to do is remain quiet, I usually just can’t do it. The good thing is that, as a writer, I know I am not alone. Tina Fey admits much the same in her bestseller, Bossypants, wherein she speaks candidly about speaking up. Generally, as writers, we do not have the luxury of waiting for direction to come to us; we have to go to it.

Pictures Can't Say 'Ain't'
The cursor is blinking at me. So what’s taking so long? All it takes is hitting the keys in sequence to create a document. Standard punctuation is a given. Sentences may string together aimlessly, but it’s just words on a page. How hard can that be? And why does it often take so long for a writer to type out a simple paragraph or two? This is not something an artist in the visual medium has to contend with. (And yes, I just closed a sentence with a preposition. You got a problem with that?)

Why Would Anybody Read This?
I ask myself that question each time I work out a new topic for this blog — a series of articles intended to provide relatable perspectives on all forms of B2B and B2C writing to the talented people who do the work and everyone else that reads it. That’s a pretty big target audience because, the way I see it, that audience basically includes EVERYBODY. To many, the ability to write well is becoming a lost art. I’d submit the larger problem is the lost art of reading.

Meet Dr. Franken-Copy
When writers lift information from different sources, but do little else other than to narrowly avoid plagiarism, what you get is an odd “Franken-Copy” structure where the stitches are plain to see in poorly reproduced and terribly misaligned language. Reading this “new” creation, you can practically see the misshapen words slowly stumble forward like zombies. This kind of writing is frighteningly real, appearing on a disturbingly more frequent basis. But take heart; copy of this being is most certainly NOT alive. What you re-write through will make you stronger. Just because an individual knows a subject inside and out does not mean they know how to write about it.

Who Says How Much Copy is Worth?
There is a legitimately high stock value afforded to professionals who have an uncommon ability to speak well. More tellingly, the best in the business make it look easy — something that earns them respect — even though speaking is a common skill. Not necessarily so with the job of a writer. Since everyone can also write, many analyze text that looks and reads easily as easy to create. Compounding the problem is an increasing sense that composing an article of around 500 words should happen about as quickly as it takes to type 500 words. I hope you hear the opening bell that I’m trying to ring.

A Body of Work
Your work as a writer can’t be judged until you can get people to read it. Sometimes, the right picture can do the trick. The thing is that for writers, we deal in words. And words do not speak for a thousand pictures. While it’s true that “every picture tells a story,” effective written commentary is intrinsic to the effectiveness of whatever story you’re telling, whether it is to consumers or between businesses. The copywriter acts as an intermediary, and over time, your efforts should result in a body of work that’s uniquely personal and worth closer examination. Copy is also a snapshot in time. The evolution in style, phrasing, and sentence structure is a natural process in the development...

More Cowbell! Don't Fear the Reader
If the word comes down that your copy isn’t exciting enough or just doesn’t “grab” whoever is in the position to approve it, don’t assume it’s because he or she lacks the basic comprehension skills. Brilliant copy can sometimes fall between the cracks of individual experience, which causes “four out of five” to love it but leaves one out of the mix. When an intelligent person has to be led through a particular idea, other readers will be misled as well. Even if it’s a small minority that don’t “get it”...

The Myth of Big Market Superiority
Not to disparage the many talented writers at the biggest Madison Avenues, but I’d like to offer some perspective on the inferiority complex prevalent in small markets. Of course, there is a certain cache rightfully due those who develop the advertisements we see every day. But does anyone with a creative bone in their body really think most of those are in any way superior? It’s not about the budget.

If It Sounds Good, It is Good
I approach my written work much in the same way I approach playing the guitar. Edward Van Halen said it best: “If it sounds good, it is good.” I happen to think the same holds true for most B2C and B2B copy. As a writer, you need to cultivate the ability to read your work back to yourself. It takes practice and a lot of it. Sometimes aloud; most times not, but if you’re verbally or silently tripping over yourself time and time again, it’s time to go back to the woodshed. A breakdown is just the last point before a breakthrough. Very few of us are so talented, so gifted, that copy just flows without persistent effort. As you write, you encounter plenty of peaks and valleys...

The Word on 'Grunt' Writing
Every copywriter has felt the weight of what seems to be too many projects on his or her plate at one time. The truth is, when your workload seems to rise above what’s reasonably deliverable, you’ve got to rise above the work. The only way to do that is to break the whole hog down into individual parts and begin consuming the information — not as quickly as it comes in, but in a systematic fashion that allows you to “turn and burn” without sacrificing quality for speed.

Give Us the Parts to Build the Plane
A written piece is the product of a general assembly of individual parts, each stamped out of specific sources. The job of the writer is to mold all of those elements into copy that flies. When done poorly, the result is rarely air-worthy. “Ohhhh, the humanity!” You can always do something about what you do. Writers are often asked to make “something out of nothing.” But it’s far better when you’re building copy with the right parts to begin with. There is “push/pull” effort required to accumulate information...

Mistakes? Let Me Correct That
To be a great writer, I honestly believe that you have to go through the growing pains of being bad. Not in terms of poor grammar, but clumsy sentence structure. Not necessarily by misuse in definition, but in overuse of euphemism. And not by virtue of errors in comprehension, but rather, gaps in translation. Am I really that stupid or is he really that smart? Go to any number of websites and read the “Who We Are” company introduction/overview pages.

The Cul-de-sac of Creativity
I’ve often said that finding out what a client doesn’t want is just as important as finding out what they do. From time to time, you will find yourself “running around in circles,” but that doesn’t mean that the project isn’t going anywhere. It may not always be apparent, but the truth is, you’re making progress even if you think you’re not. How do you take your ideas to the edge without going over it? I’d like to say that everyone involved in the creative process is on the same team, but really, that’s not true. Each stakeholder in the process has a different idea on how to get there and a different agenda. 1. Just because you build it doesn’t mean “they” will come. I’ve seen the most brilliant campaigns shot down by the most simple of minds.

Stretching the T-r-u-t-h.
Before readers will “buy-into” what you write, the brand promise must be plausible. Copy that over-hypes or over-sells will do serious damage to otherwise good products, while wiping bad ones off the face of the earth.

Changes? Over My Dead Body
Writers don’t like changes because they generally think of their words as children. Not a big secret, but not necessarily a bad thing. I do believe that for copy to be authentic and persuasive, some degree of personal attachment is essential. Then, and only then, can a good writer let it go. It’s not all about you (except when it is). This is a crucial point.

The Page Is Blank. Now What?
That’s the question I asked myself when I first thought there could be value in trying to put into words what copywriters do to put concepts into words. There isn’t just one answer. But my goal is to provide insights that will help writers at every level generate better copy while providing greater understanding of the job itself (what copywriters do and how they do it, etc.) to those who employ and work with them. Ideas on paper are never a waste of paper. I’ve often heard it said that, “Great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone.”

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