conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

How You Say: Not Just “What” But “When”

with 3 comments

A word is a fuse. Light the fuse.

I’m teaching a freelance copywriting class at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul. Yesterday was our first day and I wanted the students to begin the shift from writing papers for professors to writing words to make a difference. I maintain that excellent copywriting is the very opposite of spewing malarkey and hype. Especially today, when anybody who can read and/or listen and absorb marketing messages has their BS meter set on high all day long.

The best copy doesn’t call attention to itself. The best copy is nearly invisible and absorbed without realizing it. The best copy latches on to or illustrates a larger idea and leads the reader to the idea threshold. The best copy is emotive and rational. If it can be silly too—all the better.

We talked about the differences we perceive in writing for non-profit, mission-driven organizations and for-profit organizations. At first glance we might think one organization is all about mission and the other is all about money. But that is a mistaken notion: for-profit organizations can be all about mission and non-profits can be all about fundraising. Examples abound in each category.

One of the things I love most about teaching these particular students is the sensitivity to mission. They are cool with the notion of using your writing skills to help others. Many are considering starting work with non-profits, but that is not unusual for many studying the liberal arts. These particular students are often eager to trace their motivations for helping others back to some of the ancient texts that drive much of this school’s mission.

But one thing that is not so clear is that mission-driven work exists in both non-profits and for-profits. One’s mission comes largely from within. Our job—that thing we get paid for—is an outward-focus of the mission we bring with us. A copywriter with a sense of wanting to help others can find a home in any number of organizations, whether for-profit or not-for-profit. And using that copywriting skill to bring a reader to a life-changing realization can be a primary motivation for the whole task of writing.

I would like to see more copywriters with that motivation.

My go-to example is the quiet laugh from the writer in this four-minute film. Listen for the laugh. Think about what that laugh says about delivering the right words at the right time:



3 Responses

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  1. … spewing malarkey and hype 🙂


    March 19, 2014 at 10:05 am

  2. clever! I appreciate the way your mind works…..fascinating.

    Phyllis Livingston

    March 20, 2014 at 7:18 am

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