One of the things that fascinates me is the way that people forget that they’re not writing to a list. They’re writing to an individual. Let’s suppose you’re writing a television commercial. Now, you may run at peak time and you may think that 20 million people will see that television commercial, but they’re not all just sitting in one big room. They’re each on his own or her own, watching that commercial. If you write an email, each person is reading that email on their own. So you’ve got to write to one person and I suppose …
Grant Leboff: It’s interesting you say write to somebody, not everybody. Do you have that person in mind when you write? How specific do you become?
Drayton Bird: I have, on occasion, done it. By far.. well to me, the letter that I wrote, the piece of creative work, whatever, that I did that I am proudest of, was for Save the Children. There’s a guy called Steve Harrison whom I trained originally who’s been very, very successful. I was asked by somebody who was interviewing me, somebody from New York, who said could you talk to us about some of your best creative work? For the life of me, I couldn’t think of anything that I’ve done that I was particularly pleased with because you write it and you think it’s great at the time and then a day later what a crock of shit that was!
I rang up Steve who would then would become creative director of Ogilvy and I said “Steve, I’ve got a real problem. Adam McClain of Direction magazine in New York wants me to talk about good creative I’ve done. I can’t think of anything.” He said “That thing you wrote for Save the Children, that’s been running for 8 years now.” Well, this was a typical example of the creative challenge. I had a client Save the Children, who actually eventually came to work for Ogilvy and ended up running Ogilvy in New York, Wendy. I sat in the meeting with her and her boss and they said “Do you think you could write something to persuade people to leave more money to us in their wills?” I said what I always say, “yes.”
Then, I did what I always did. I went away and I thought; how in hell will I do that? How do I start talking to somebody about ‘Hey, let’s talk about you dying and what you’re going to [leave]’ ..you know. What I did was I had a few drinks. I’m not saying this will always work, but sometimes it does. Then, I had a few more drinks and then I took my dog, a dreadful hound, for a walk. I thought who do I know that might be the perfect prospect or something like a prospect for this. I thought of my mother. My mother ran a charity for animals.
One of the things that she used to do a lot was talk about when she died what kind of funeral she would like, really depressing stuff. I thought as I get older and I suppose I was maybe 50 by then, something like that. Anyhow, I was very young. I too begin to think about when I die, I’ve given up on it now. I thought what should people think about what will happen when they die. I started the letter by saying “Have you ever wondered what will happen after you die?” “How will people remember you?” The line of argument was; will they think you were a wonderful human being because you did so and so and so and if you want to be a wonderful human being… You can do this.
Grant Leboff: That idea came from having a specific person. In this case, your mom.
Drayton Bird: I had a specific person in mind. I would say to people that it’s a good way to do it, trying to think of a specific. The thing is you see, but I’ve been doing this for so long that I don’t do that consciously, but I think I do it subconsciously. I’m doing the work for the business schools. I do have in mind the kind of people I’m talking to and I modify my language. That’s another thing that is wrong with a lot of creative work, it’s all written in the same language. Actually, what happens on the internet, which I was writing about this morning because I can’t stop writing things, is these people write “Hi. Hope you are well – question mark” – Which is not a question and it’s from somebody you never bloody met. You have to ask yourself, how do you feel if somebody you don’t know comes up to you and says “Hi. How are you?”… [and I want to say] F*** off!
I don’t know you. What are you talking to me about? Well, I don’t think that I’ve used many times, which usually works is; ‘you and I have never met’. The process of persuasion is very simple. It says I have to say something that you cannot disagree with or something that is going to strike a cord with you. If it’s ‘quite frankly the American Express card is not for everyone’, that’s going to strike a cord. Maybe for me or, ‘you and I have never met’, or ‘Have you ever wondered?…’ You can say anything after that.
I was doing a seminar, years ago, for the Institute of Direct Marketing. I said to the students because I often say things without thinking – as you have noticed! I said “I believe that if you were to write to somebody a letter beginning with the words “I was thinking about you today, it would work.” Three months later, one of those students wrote to me and said “I tried that opening. I was thinking… it works.” How can anyone object? Who objects to people thinking about them? As opposed to somebody you don’t know who says “Hi. How are you?” I reply “How are you? Obviously, illiterate!”
Yeah, you’re trying to think of the person you’re talking to you’re trying to think if I’m writing to say the business school people, I’m thinking these are people who want to improve their careers and I’ve got a good brief because I understand that times are getting tough for business schools. Students are getting more demanding. It’s harder to build a reputation at a business school, so I start thinking what are these people’s problems. How are we going to solve those problems? In the case of this business school, what’s different about this business school? The most important document that we have, I think, for our clients is this thing called the general briefing template, which I send to people. It’s quite long. I say , if you fill this in and ask all these questions, number one I guarantee you’ll start thinking about your marketing more carefully.
You’ll start thinking … You’ll give me the answers that I need to be able to write copy. It’s very easy for me to write the copy, once you fill that in. That copy… all starts about who you’re talking to, why do you think they should choose you, who else could they choose, what have they said about you, have you written for them before, what happened. The whole story of the relationship. The reason why Lester Wunderman, for a while, used to invent new names for direct marketing everyday. Relationship marketing you talk about. You are talking about a relationship. It’s not a strong relationship, but it’s some sort of relationship. With your communication, you’re trying to build on that relationship to the point where people will do something for you.
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