My freelance career as a marketing writer isn’t looking very promising right now. I’ve often been accused of writing too tight and too newsy when it comes to marketing copy. “Fluff it!” I remember one editor told me. “And that’s why I don’t do marketing copy. I write editorial,” I muttered to myself. But she was right, it’s a whole different kind of writing that I lack. So, my resume as a marketing copy writer remains scant after I was commissioned to write a corporate brochure for a locally based company and then decommissioned after they saw what I wrote. Naturally all of this has been bothering me for weeks.
My assignment was writing about the CEO, how he founded the company, and its mission, and offering a ghost-written letter from him as a starting point to write his own. Before I wrote anything, I told the CEO I’m not a copywriter by trade, but I can write editorially with authenticity, which is the key to real, meaningful writing and the best way to connect with the audience. In our interview, I asked him about the struggles and the hard times, as well as the triumphs and the good times. He told me stories of traveling nearly 300 days a year for another company before founding his own, and how that made him feel. It was real, raw emotion that showed me how human this successful CEO was.
I wove it all into what I wrote. Handing it over, I thought, “Yes, this is what the network marketing industry is missing. Realness.”
But that copy didn’t make it past the newly hired communications department. “Too negative, too much gloom. I couldn’t get past the first page,” I read in a comment thread on the company’s project management system that I don’t think I was supposed to see.
I can’t help but wonder, did they read my copy knowing it was written editorially, or did they read it like every other company brochure is “supposed” to be? And does it even matter?
I respect the company’s decision to go a different direction and while I’m not going to argue that my take on the company brochure was the best piece for them, I stand by what I wrote because that’s the real authentic stuff I’d want to hear from a company CEO.
Too often, marketing copy is full of sunshine and blue skies that ignores any hazy skies in the distance. Just paint the sky with rainbows and big fluffy clouds.
It goes back to the mantra that smarmy real estate agent Buddy Kane recites in the movie American Beauty: “To be a success, one must convey an image of success at all times.” Really? That’s a really boring image. There is no success without struggle.
In their book Type R: Transformative Resilience for Thriving in a Turbulent World, mother and daughter authors Ama Marston and Stephanie Marston point to some of the greatest ideas, art, and inventions — the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham — that never would have emerged if not for hardship.
The success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books came when “I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless,” she said in her commencement speech at Harvard University in 2008.
Rowling shares her raw emotion that’s inspiring and moving.
The Marstons argue the most successful people are “type R” personalities, borrowed from the personality trait schema of type A or type B, who possess certain characteristics that help them come out of tough times resilient.
So, I come back to my short-lived career as a freelance marketing writer, and my piece of gloom and doom copy because I think there’s a good takeaway from this. When talking to your clients, employees, or readers, write like a human is reading this. Admit what you struggle with. Show that you’ve had as many down times as you have up times.
The most compelling leaders show their most human side, the side that every day people like you and me can identify with. I can’t identify with a top executive earning a high six-figure salary. But I can identify with feeling tired and overwhelmed, and looking for the one thing that’ll push me through to taking the next weary step. That’s the type of executive I want to follow — someone who’s felt the struggles I feel and found a way to rise above it.
I know being authentic like this is a tremendously tall order on social media like Facebook and Instagram, where friends and family display their life’s highlight reel. Every time I open up my social media apps, I have to repeat this mantra to myself: “Facebook and Instagram are not real life.” In no other universe has life been conveniently edited to remove all the bad hair days, big blowups with your spouse, or boring days that don’t involve happy hour or brunch.
So whether its corporate marketing copy or the social narrative we post on social media, we gloss over those rainy days because that’s just the way it’s done.
But you don’t have to paint rainbows over your stormy clouds.
Be real. Admit your struggle. Show your human side. Show some authenticity. There’s no such thing as a rainbow without a little bit of cloudy rain.