AD NAUSEAM: a copywriter's life

Tales from the copy crypt – vol. 2

Posted in Uncategorized by CopyBlogger on the March 15th, 2012


M&S nwsltr-montage

NEWSLETTERS ARE CRIMINALLY UNDERRATED. Most people evaluating a portfolio don’t look twice at them, but to me they’re a writer’s decathlon. Can you do research? Digest complex issues and information? Conceptualize headline, graphic and content as an integrated message? Or do you just hold your nose and take the easy way out, flowing in whatever brain dump the client gives you? Here’s a successful but rarely-seen project I did at Stal-McLane (Manchester, NH) on behalf of Mastors & Servant, a Rhode Island insurance broker specializing in risk management for businesses.

The 11-issue run of this newsletter began with a deceptively simple brief: Mastors & Servant wanted to position itself not as a peddler of insurance policies, but as a risk management partner that helped general and construction clients anticipate problems that often cripple or ruin businesses. Mastors & Servant’s value-added expertise would be highlighted in a quarterly newsletter featuring a thoughtful, soft-sell approach.

That meant a lot of groundwork: coming up with a newsletter name, setting the grid and its standard elements, fleshing out the sparse client notes with Internet research and calls, laying out the articles, establishing a B2B tone of voice for general or construction audiences. Not to mention learning how to sound like an insurance expert.

Here’s a sample spread of Insurance Quarterly (IQ) and its “Thoughtful ideas for working smarter and safer.” The design was by my colleague Stephen Smith.

M&S gen-nwsltr-spread

I enjoy this kind of work, even the (often thankless) task of ghostwriting editorials for top managers who have nothing to say. In this case, I’d usually just get a topic from our contact at Mastors & Servant and write the editorial in a C-level tone of voice with a few of the company buzzwords sprinkled in. Once we had the general version of the newsletter worked out, Stephen and I would spin off a construction version for the contractor market, using a different color scheme and changing the sidebar elements to address specialized subjects such as performance bonding.

Everything was going along just fine with our little 4-page newsletter, printed double-sided on 11 x 17 paper, until the client requested an additional feature-length story. Rather than add an extra four-page signature, we created a double-sided insert on 8-1/2 x 11 paper:

M&S con-nwsltr-insert

The insert actually gave us very nice flexibility for mixing and matching handouts to different audiences. Now, a word about design.

When I was starting out as an editor for a Detroit trade association, I read everything I could by publication design experts like Jan V. White and a cranky old newsletter guru named Ed Arnold. So even today, I believe that the writer’s job is about communicating information … using techniques such as sidebars, pullout (lift) quotes, subheads and bold lead-ins.

What’s funny is that every few years some new buzz phrase comes along that re-packages this stuff. I remember when it was called “information mapping” at Whirlpool, a client of mine back in the late 1980s. Nowadays, everybody has an SEO or User Experience expert. But most of it is just fundamentals that people knew long ago.

Anyway, this newsletter proved to be a very practical sales tool for Mastors & Servant during its two-year run. Salespeople used the articles to sell insurance coverage in all its varieties, and electronic versions in PDF or online text were easily shared to enhance the agency’s image as a thought leader in risk management. It’s the kind of unsung, hard-working stuff I’m proud of.

TALES FROM THE COPY CRYPT is a look back at lesser-known projects from Dave Conley’s 25-year career as copywriter, editor and marketing strategist. To see other samples, visit