Freelance life, Hall of shame

The Stupid Mistake That Made Me a Better Copywriter

upset studentLike Mary Poppins, many copywriting ‘experts’ are practically perfect in every way.

Well, not this one.

Over the years I have made some honking great mistakes. But I have, I hope, learned from them. Here is one of my top five (believe me, the list stretches well into double figures).

Mistaking the means for the end

It was 1987, I think. And I had just seen file copies of a new brochure I had written for a reference book. Now, this wasn’t any old brochure. This was in colour.

I was so excited I took the stairs three at a time in my anxiety to show the new baby to our marketing director.

Bursting into his office, I thrust the still moist brochure under his nose. “What do you think of that?” I trilled.

Try to picture his expression. If you imagine the Head of Sixth Form being interrupted from the Times crossword by a prefect proffering a new changing room cleaning rota, you might have an idea.

“How many have you sold?” he said.

“Well, none. I haven’t mailed it out yet.”

He bent his head and returned to the crossword. Interview over.

It was hard to leave his office with any dignity, as, at two inches tall, I had trouble navigating the pile of the carpet.

Bruising though the encounter was, it taught me one of the most important lessons of my career.

What matters is not the words, but what they achieve.



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