There a lot of good copywriting schools in and around Toronto, producing a crop of talented young writers. But a 2-year program, regardless of its quality cannot prepare an up-and-comer for all the demands of an agency writing position. There’s simply not enough time to learn the basics in all media. Agency staffers are expected to move freely between short and long copy, mass media and print as well as social and traditional direct marketing.
Program directors have a tough time creating a curriculum that will provide this breadth of knowledge in such a short time. So, the graduates arrive as interns, armed with whatever knowledge they gleaned in a few semesters, and start their careers somewhat, but not completely, ready for the task. They enter a hectic environment that often provides limited mentorship. This is unfortunate but those with determination will ask questions, self-educate and rise quickly.
If I had to choose three or four books for mandatory reading, here’s what I would recommend and why.
When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It, by Ben Yagoda.
Why? Because all writing assignments require careful assembly of words. Learning to write with clarity and accuracy is important these days because we often need to write for tiny spaces and places, such as online advertising, tweets and company posts. We’re also asked to write long copy for newsletters and brochures that will become PDFs to be downloaded from blogs and sites. Yagoda’s book demonstrates simple ways to make content more effective and efficient by eliminating the unnecessary parts of speech. It will quickly improve the quality of work.
One Great Insight Is Worth a Thousand Good Ideas, by Phil Dusenberry.
Why? This is an old book, written by one of the old masters in the ad game, but it remains relevant. Interns are exposed to the word “insight” almost immediately. The first briefs they read will contain a sub-head asking for the most illusive of all marketing thoughts: “The Creative Insight”. They might mistakenly believe they are reading a genuine insight if they don’t have an informed opinion on the difference between an insight, an idea. a wild guess and something written to simply to gain approval. Until I read this book I was unable to articulate the difference between an insight and an idea in just a sentence or two. Now I use a version of Dusenberry’s answer.
Trout on Strategy, by Jack Trout.
Why? A good friend and creative director that I respect once made the comment, “The farther you are from strategy, the closer your job is to India.” He’s right. It’s getting easier to outsource a lot of functions but there is no substitute for local strategy. Writers must understand business strategy in order to come up with successful tactics. Furthermore, clients want writers who understand their language and can contribute to business discussions. I chose this book for three reasons. First, Trout explains the thinking behind his first, and influential book “Positioning, the battle for your mind“. It’s because of Trout that we see this word in every creative brief, used with various degrees of accuracy and understanding. Second, it’s one his most succinct summaries of the strategic thought process. Third, it’s always a good idea to read the books that clients read. They long for creative-types who want to understand their business. Learning to speak their language goes a long way to building rapport, confidence and respect.
Eats Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss.
Why? This a broader look at the writing craft than Yagoda’s book. Both are excellent but they are different and equally instructive. This is a humorous look at classic mistakes in grammar and writing and contains the most in-depth, easy-to-understand instructions on commas and apostrophes. If this sounds boring, look for a job in account management. You won’t enjoying the writing life if you don’t enjoy this book.
Thoughts? Suggestions? Should I post more books?
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