Once upon a time, I had an agency. And on Wednesday mornings, nobody worked there.
Instead, teams were sent to muck out the gibbons at London Zoo. Decorate cakes. Clean cars. Tour cancer wards. Shadow bakers. Stand on an opera stage. And the rest.
In short, discover.
The difference between discovering and being informed. It’s what differentiates an inspiring writer from one who just writes.
It’s what makes consumers read editorial and not your copy. The journalist has seen, felt and smelt it. Not just seen it in a blog.
It’s what tells your audience that you’ve shared their fear, malady, yearning, joy or fantasy rather than read about it at the briefing.
That in mind, my first advice to any writer, embryonic or mature, digital or less so, is not just to read. But do.
Go to the opera. Walk Niagara Falls. Keep pigs. Keep bees. Feed the homeless. Meet some mental patients. Ice skate. Look round a prison. Dig graves. Train falcons. Go backstage at the opera. Or Radio City Music Hall. Or the Moulin Rouge. Or a Tom Misch concert. Go up a tower crane. Go down a sewer. Or a coal mine. Risk your life. Date a circus performer. Drive a stock car. Rock climb. March for a cause.
Talk to an astronaut. Hug a dying man. Live on a drilling rig for a week. Gatecrash a royal garden party. Join an army squadron. Or the crew of a banana boat. Do Burning Man. Get to know a surgeon and watch a heart transplant. Gut fish on a boat all night in the middle of nowhere. Visit a nunnery. Sing Mozart. Sit cross-legged next to a busker for a day. Learn the tuba. Deep-sea dive. Join a demolition team. Volunteer for a medical experiment. Eat bear. Bribe a security guard to get close to a president. Go to concerts you’ll think you’ll hate. Learn to weld. Or change a clutch. Shadow a news team. Or a mine-clearing team. Get on the news. Break up a brawl in a bar. Eat insects. Get arrested.
Anything but stare at a screen.
Only then you can sit in a swivel-chair, stare at a screen and get informed on how to put it all in context.
To successfully influence consumer’s lives in any way, a copywriter must live. I repeat live. One step ahead of them.