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February 21, 2011
The Copywriter: A Day in the Life
It’s 11 a.m. Why isn't he writing?
Words are needed. The account teams want them. The client expects them. And they had better be good. The presentation is tomorrow, for Pedro’s sake. So where is the writer? Oh, there he is. Slouched in his chair behind his desk, chugging his second cup of insanely strong coffee, eyes affixed to one of many websites he digests during the day. He reads some news and gossip sites. He leaves a smarmy comment under one of his many Web pseudonyms. Opens a tab and checks his bank account. That’s his balance? That low, eh? Crud. Opens another tab. Reads the New York Times. Feels bad about some suffering going on an ocean away. Well, at least he sits in a warm office in a free country. For now. Thank God for that.
Some weird music blares from his computer speakers. What is that, some obscure Velvet Underground song? Well turn it down, please. The rest of the office doesn’t care about how influential Lou Reed is, especially on a weekday. Wait a sec; that riff sounds really easy. The writer grabs his black bass guitar he keeps behind his desk. He switches on his mini-amp and adjusts the volume. THUMP. THUMP THUMP THUMP. SLIDE THUMP. It’s sloppy. It sucks. He tries again. Still sloppy. Crap. He then finds notes from another song. THUMP THUMP. PING. Ahh, nice. Tries again. Much better. He switches off his amp. He’ll work on it later. The bass is carefully leaned back against the wall as not to disturb the tuning pegs. He opens his work email—14 new ones. Five of those really matter. The rest are just two people going back and forth, an open-sourced conversation from the simple act of hitting “reply all.” He minimizes the window. Just one more check of the personal email. No one’s written. He logs into Facebook, gives it a glance and logs out of Facebook. He clicks the Word icon. There’s the blank Word document, still blank, staring back at the writer like a snake in a glass box. Headlines are needed. As are subheads. Body copy. Purpose lines. Subject lines. Alts, alts, alts. Every word must be accounted for and must be signed off by those in charge.
It’s 11:24 now, and not one word is written. The writer gets up, stretches, and goes to get a third cup of coffee. He shouldn’t, but it’s going to be a long day. The coffee pot is empty. The writer makes a new pot. He doesn’t mind doing it. There’s something hypnotically satisfying about watching the oversized coffee urn fill up with office brew. The machine whirrs and drips until there’s nothing emerging from the metal container. He dumps the grounds and fills his cup. The writer takes a sip and returns to his desk. Four more emails appear. Now what? Well, they’ll just have to wait. There really isn’t time for any more distractions. He mutes the music and reads the brief for the tenth time. He tosses it across his desk. Finally, he begins typing. The first few lines are nonsense. The writer closes his eyes and shakes his head. Come on. He tries a new approach and sticks a pencil behind his ear. He puts on classic Steely Dan. His fingers find the right keys. The words form clever sentences. One leads to another. Headlines form. They stretch the limits of selling points. Some still suck. Some are pretty darn clever. The writer feels like a dork laughing at his own words.
“They pay me for this?” he sometimes thinks.
He rereads his copy. He glances at the brief. It makes sense. It can work on a billboard. Or a banner. Or on TV. Or on the side of a bus.
“Darn right,” he says.
The page is filled. He hits the save icon. He turns on the music again. It’s well past lunchtime. The page is nearly full. He writes until he’s exhausted each idea. End strong, he remembers a mentor telling him. Leave them wanting more. He hits print. Maybe these will work. The safe ones for sure. But it’s the unsafe ones that give him a thrill. That’s progress. The writer rubs his eyes and retrieves his printout.

And that’s how it’s done.

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Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.

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