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Why an advertising career can be good training for a novelist

Before I wrote my first novel, I had a career as an advertising copywriter/creative director. It was a lot of fun. I never took it as seriously as legendary New York ad man George Lois, who threatened to jump out of a window if a client didn’t buy his campaign for matso crackers. But there were a lot of great debates as we encouraged clients to buy breakthrough work.

Renowned authors James Patterson, Salman Rushdie, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many others all spent time writing advertising copy. 

Writing ads taught me never to take readers’ attention spans for granted. When you only have 30 seconds, or a quarter page, or a banner ad to intrigue people, you can’t write flabby copy.

I used to embrace the challenge of simple, text-only ads. The most austere of these were career ads. 

Before the internet, the newspaper was the go-to place for job ads. And there was no search function. You had to read the classifieds or career pages. Lots of firms were content to simply list the position and prerequisites. But I always took it as a great opportunity to make a company stand out.

I wrote an ad for our ad agency with the headline,

“Once a woman sat in our reception area for 17 months.”

The copy went on to reveal that she was our receptionist. She did a great job, proved herself, got promoted, and now we needed a new receptionist.

I knew I’d written a good ad when we got a ton of responses for the entry level job. 

One was a phone call from a guy in Montreal. He said he wasn’t interested in applying, but he’d read the ad and it made him laugh (LOL hadn’t been invented yet). He was in the midst of an arduous, unsuccessful job search. He’d been unemployed for a while and the ad had put a smile on his face. So he called to say thanks.

Makes your day when that happens. 

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