Everyone needs to be a better writer. Regardless of your chosen profession, you need to be able to write well. Don't write a lot? You need to be even better so you so make a serious impact every time. Or you just need to write more. Too many people think their need for clear and concise writing ends when they are done with school, but in a digital age swamped with flashy images and digital marketing noise, the perfect headline and copy can still get attention on you, your business, and your product.
Any student of advertising knows who David Ogilvy is. Widely recognized as the "father of advertising," his success and philosophy helped define the "Creative Era" of advertising, a period later dramatized in the AMC show "Mad Men." While we love the characters and storytelling and advertising on the show, many of the principles illustrated by Don Draper come from executives like Ogilvy whose work made him "the most sought-after wizard in today's advertising industry" according to Time Magazine in the 60's.
On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent a memo to the employees of his advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. Entitled "How to Write," it listed out the principles of great writing, and was later reproduced in The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners.
"The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well.
Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches.
Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don't write. Go and tell the guy what you want.
Written for a company of advertisers and copywriters, you may not think the same advice can apply to your small business blog, but it does! It applies to your eBooks, copy on your website, internal memos, client emails, and every other part of your company. I think you can boil down the 10 tips above into three main concepts:
1. Don't overthink it. Writing in a style that isn't yours will just make it clunky. Inserting long words into longer paragraphs will just make people start skimming, so keep it tight. I'm definitely guilty of writing way too long on something, so keep it short rather than bore people with a wall of text.
2. Get second opinions. Have a coworker read what you're writing and make edits. Sleep on it and revisit your blog the next morning. Check your work and make sure you are clearly making the point you need (and want) to make.
3. Whether you are making a sales pitch or just sending a memo to your team, make sure there is a call to action. What do you want to happen after this? Make it clear to the reader. Know when to stop writing and go speak face-to-face.
Even the best writers can improve, and all of your favorite authors have people challenge, correct, and edit their work. David Ogilvy helped create some of the most famous and powerful advertisements of his era, and helped pave the way for all the creative and digital industries we see today. If his advice is good enough for some of the best copywriters in the world, imagine how it can help your blog posts! Denver marketing firms like ours are constantly working to become better writers and communicators for ourselves and our clients. Don't settle for good, when your writing can be great.