It’s not marketing copy

I like my day job. It’s not exciting like beat reporting, my old job, when my schedule could change with one call over the police scanner. Now, my days aren’t quite as unpredictable, which, I’ll admit, I’ve grown to like. Yet, I’m still learning what exactly a communications associate for a law firm does, so in that respect, every day my work varies.

Last week, my boss told me to write marketing copy for a brochure about asbestos exposure. We’re taking it to a union meeting in St. Louis later in October. This project coincided with an email from my grandpa telling me that he’d been exposed to asbestos while in the Navy. All the men in my life have always refused to go to the doctor and my grandpa is probably the worse. He wrote he didn’t seen the point of getting checked since mesothelioma (caused by asbestos exposure) is a terminal disease, several of his Navy buddies have already died from it, and he knows he’s got asbestos fibers in his lungs already. So why go through the hassel.

When I write, I visualize my audience and why they would want to read what I’m writing. That didn’t seem to work when I sat down to bang out a draft of the union brochure. Every time I tried to visualize union guys all’s I could think of was my grandpa – a navy guy – and what I would say to him to make him go to the doctor.

I waited for an hour or two for the image of my grandpa to fade, but it didn’t. It was stuck. So I typed it out and sent it off to my boss. It made me nervous. The tone was esoteric and nostalgic – not what you want to write when someone’s going to spend less than 30 seconds reading it.

My boss called me into his office this afternoon and confirmed my fears. “It’s not marketing copy,” he said. “I like it. It’s good writing, but it doesn’t work.” We picked at my draft for a few more minutes. Then one sentence emerged as the perfect first sentence for marketing copy.

So what is marketing copy? I’m still learning. If I hadn’t written the copy that was more drawn from my own personal experience than a textbook formula, I wouldn’t have found the brochure’s true first sentence, and it wouldn’t have been as effective. Marketing copy that knows its marketing copy is never as good, anyway.