AD NAUSEAM: a copywriter's life

My best DM piece ever

Posted in Uncategorized by CopyBlogger on the April 1st, 2010

EVERY AD AGENCY claims to be results-oriented. Ditto the advertising industry, which is forever producing studies and booklets to convince skittish clients that it does indeed pay to advertise.

Truth is, many aren’t. Nor are their clients.

Oh, go over budget and you’ll certainly hear about it, but for most of my career it has actually been a struggle to obtain anything like quantitative data on conversions, readership or brand whatever. The one exception? When it’s time for a new client pitch, or renewal of the agency contract. Then all kinds of numbers suddenly turn up on PowerPoint slides, to the bemusement and snickers of insiders who know how little they’re really worth.

But today I’m going to tell you about my most effective creation ever – certified 100% effective, yielding hundreds of thousands for yours truly.


In 1990, I was about as low on the food chain as you can get in advertising … writing owners’ manuals for Whirlpool washers and dryers, while living in a Michigan beach town. The lifestyle was great, but being the best writer in a service bureau that really didn’t need writers very much was getting me down.

Then someone showed me a portfolio of work by an East Coast agency in Connecticut, and it blew me away. Smart, sophisticated, refreshingly honest yet mature enough for grownups. Wow! And here I was doing endless rewrites about the perils of sticking your hand into an active wash cycle. Oh, I ached to write copy like that.

So I decided to make a self-promotional piece just for that agency. They wouldn’t touch me, of course. But by aiming high, just maybe I could make something good enough to get a job elsewhere.

Digging around my grandma’s basement, I found a little 1962 Pan Am Airlines wine bottle. I emptied and washed it, then glued on a label: Found on the Shores of Lake Michigan.

Inside went a crumpled parchment scrap with a shakily written message in eyebrow pencil. A lost copywriter yearned to work for a certain well-regarded ad agency back East, and promised follow-up samples … as soon as he could find another bottle.

Off it went to the agency chairman.

The follow-up? Not much. Four sheets of paper about myself in a homemade folder. But within three weeks, the creative director of that agency called me about an interview. And I got the job.


I left Michigan, heading 660 miles east to New York City with a car and no home address. Too insecure to ask the agency for relocation help, I slept in my Dodge Aries at the Vince Lombardi Park & Lock on the New Jersey Turnpike. But I gutted it out, and eventually found a place to live.

Three years later, that agency planned its first European office in Amsterdam. They asked me to leave home again–3600 miles east this time–and help get it off the ground. Suddenly I’d be living in a canal house, not a Dodge.

That started my international career, serving clients in Zurich, Stockholm, London, Antwerp, Amsterdam and a half-dozen other points. A long way to go in a bottle — and still one of the favorite times of my life, proving that advertising really can make a difference after all.