I left school at 18 after completing my final exams, hoping that I would get into university so I could study to become a psychologist. But my marks were woeful. I didnâ€™t have a chance of being accepted.
In fact, I ended up failing English, with a score of just 38%. Must have been the Shakespeare essay â€¦ I knew I was terrible at writing those things. And while Iâ€™m pretty sure I understood what Shakespeare was writing about, I just couldnâ€™t read the book till the end. The language made my eyes glaze over and Iâ€™d daydream about something else while reading the same line over and over. Goodness, I even hired the video of â€œOthelloâ€ to see if that would help. It didnâ€™t.
It wasnâ€™t a good start to 1989. University was out. So â€œwhat to do with myselfâ€ was the big question. â€œNo ideaâ€ was the answer.
As I wondered what I was going to do, a friend of mine told me his Dad was looking for an â€œOffice Juniorâ€ to work for him. He was the Advertising Manager at Dick Smith Electronicsâ€™ head office. So he came round to my home to interview me and 5 days later I was working for him.
While that job was really about being a â€˜gopherâ€™ (as in, go for this, go for that), it allowed me to experience what advertising was all about. Like media buying, print buying, graphic design and copywriting. And that last one really took my fancy … copywriting.
What is copywriting? â€œCopyâ€ stands for text or words. So if youâ€™re a copywriter, it means youâ€™re a word writer â€“ an advertising word writer. You write the ads. And something about that got me excited. To be able to write words on a page and have people want to buy something because of those words, really seemed like a fantastic challenge to me. And a really effective skill to have (I had no clue how powerful this skill would later become).
So I asked the senior copywriter, Wayne, if he could teach me what he did. And he happily took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.
First job he gave me was a newspaper ad for one of the Dick Smith Electronics stores. I was so excited. Wayne said, â€œGive this a go, and show me what youâ€™d write if you were in charge of this ad.â€ So, on the train back to Emu Plains I wrote like crazy. I quickly gulped down dinner when I got home and then headed straight off to my room to write some more.
The next morning I fronted up to work early and placed what Iâ€™d written on his desk so that heâ€™d see it as soon as he arrived. About 30 minutes later he came and dropped the ad on the desk in front of me. It had a big red â€œXâ€ right through the page. He said, â€œDonâ€™t worry about writing this ad, Iâ€™ll do it. Tomorrow morning Iâ€™ll start teaching you how to really write.â€
Wasnâ€™t a great start. And the point I want you to take away from this is, I didnâ€™t have a natural ability to write advertising. I had no clue at all. I started from the very beginning and made every mistake along the way.
Would you believe that within 8 weeks I had a full time job, as a copywriter, at their competitor, Tandy Electronics? They were kind enough to give me a full time role since Iâ€™d at least worked in the industry. And from there the true work really began.
For 7 years I wrote and wrote and wrote. Writing copy for everything from light emitting diodes (LEDs) to computers â€¦ multimeters to scanners â€¦ stereo systems to microphones. Over 3000 products in all. And I gotta tell you, if you can make an LED sound good, you can make anything sell!
What I learnt was that you have to always think for the reader. Itâ€™s no good to just list on a page what features your product has. Thatâ€™s boring as hell. You have to pretend like you ARE the reader seeing this product for the first time and wondering what it does and how it can help you.
Which means if you want to be able to write a good ad, you need to always write with this little phrase in mind, â€œWhatâ€™s In It For Me?â€ Or as itâ€™s often referred to in the industry, â€œW.I.I.F.M.â€ Youâ€™ll read about that everywhere in advertising books â€“ pay attention to it â€“ itâ€™s gold.