The Craft Of Writing

One of the most important skills of a Suit is communication. There are others (ordering cabs, carrying bags, paying for Lunch, Lunching in general, etc.) but communication is right up there – and rightly so.

From the day a Suit begins his career, he or she is (if the AD responsible is worth their salt) told quite clearly that every single item they send to the Client, or elsewhere, reflects upon them. Whether it’s a status report, a piece of copy that they’re sending on, an agenda, a timing plan or an ad, if it comes from your email address, it has your signature at the bottom of it, and as such its content reflects upon you.

Now, whilst there’s an obvious point to be made here about checking everything before you send it out, that would make this more of a Junior Suit point, which it isn’t intended to be at all. (But do check everything before you send it, please.)

No, this is a post about one of the things that separates us as Advertisers from our Clients, and that separates us as Suits from the rest of the Agency – our ability to write, and to write well.

In short, my question is this – why is so much of what we produce written so very badly? I’m talking about emails, I’m talking about blog posts, I’m talking about presentations, and yes, I’m talking about text messages. It drives me (and I think this is the first time this word has appeard on ALS) fucking crazy.

A couple of myths I’d like to debunk:

Myth No. 1: Emails are informal pieces of communication – as such, typos don’t matter.
No, I’m afraid they’re not – and they really do. Emails are now accepted as the standard means of formal, written communication between Agency, Clients, Production Companies, Procurement Companies and anyone else involved in the process. They are, as such, the formal written record, and should be treated as such – that means getting rid of the typos. Typos, spelling mistakes and poorly structured sentences make you look slapdash and unprofessional, two things no Suit should ever appear to be.

Myth No. 2: It’s ok to make mistakes if you’re writing from a Blackberry, iPhone or similar.
It’s not ‘ok’ – it’s lazy. There’s a whole post (if not a whole book) to be written on Blackberry abuse, but for now suffice to say that if you’re making typos on a Blackberry, it’s because you can’t be bothered to check what you’ve written, and that’s not down to technology, it’s down to apathy – sort it out.

I’m not insisting that everyone becomes Henry James, nor am I having a pop at people who genuinely have issues with written English, be they dyslexics, non-Native speakers, or whatever. But Christ, people – there is such a thing as acceptable mistakes, and then there’s just laziness and bad writing. The craft of language is one of the most important skills we have in our arsenal, and treating it with disrespect reflects badly on us, and everything that we do. You doing it will make me angry, and I will think less of you as a result – as will everyone else who reads what you’ve written.

You can spend two hours writing an email to a Client explaining exactly why the artwork you’ve presented would absolutely not be improved by introducing a lurid flash across the top that will ‘bring the rate out a bit more’; but why should he take your arguments about the craft of advertising seriously, if you can’t even structure an email correctly, or spell a word how it’s supposed to be spelled? I don’t care how passionate you are, if you express yourself like an over-excited teenager, you will not be taken seriously. And that’s a damn shame.

Postscript: Whilst writing this, I’ve received an email from a client that used ‘your’ when it meant ‘you’re’ in the first line and ‘you’re’ when it meant ‘your’ in the fifth line. By the time we reached the seventh line, said Client had clearly given up, and settled for ‘ur’. We, as Suits, owe it to ourselves to be better than this. If you’re not sure, ask. And once you’ve asked, then check. It’s absolutely fine not to know whether you should be using ‘practice’ or ‘practise’, or not to know the difference between ‘uninterested’ and ‘disinterested’ – it’s absolutely unacceptable however, whether you’re an Account Exec or a CEO, to just pick one and go with it – it matters. Deal with that.
  1. Ed
    April 7, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Point well maid and understood…I have driven myslef mad with this in the past 😉

  2. Copybot
    April 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    You’re so right. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I instinctively judge someone a bit when I see them make a howler. Misspelling difficult words doesn’t count, of course – I’m not evil. But basic bugbears like your/you’re will always boil my blood.And I think it goes for clients, too. So many times I’ve received client feedback on my copy that was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, and worse, textspeak. How is it fair that someone judging the quality of my work can’t themselves tell the difference between “their”, “there” and “they’re”?

  3. AdLand Suit
    April 8, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    @Copybot – completely. Only difference being that the Client at least pays the bills – respect them or not, you still have to pay them some attention. As a Suit, respect (and, perhaps, an expense account) is all you’ve got.

  4. Anonymous
    April 8, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Also, pick up the phone.

  5. AdLand Suit
    April 9, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Too true. Written correspondence is important, but don’t hide behind it. It’s much easier to send an awkward email than it is to have an awkward phone call, but the results are rarely as good.

  6. Will
    April 12, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    This also goes for planners. Well written briefs are a joy; briefs riddled through with so much data only Stephen Hawking could understand, or briefs which attempt to over intellectualise, are crimes.

  7. Selina
    April 15, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Interesting…I frequently come across presentations just as they are about to be taken out, and formatting, font and image issues aside (yes I work in the marketing department), the language is cringe-worthy.

  8. AdLand Suit
    April 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    It’s heartening to see that other people care about this too – we can change it, people! The Written Revolution starts here!

  9. AJ
    April 15, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    I once used a semi-colon in a text message. Too much?

  10. AdLand Suit
    April 15, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Only if it was misused. Otherwise, it’s to be applauded.

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