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The Francis Effect

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Check out The Economist on Francis as turnaround CEO at RC Global:



Written by kirkistan

April 20, 2014 at 10:40 am

Tip #9: Launch Your Idea. Don’t Detail It.

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We all repackage our stories for the best effect

Writing copy can be disorienting—especially for English majors. Rather than grading on how they develop an argument and how well they follow particular usage rules, they are graded on how well their copy meets a marketing need. They are graded on how well their creativity pulls in the target audience—and how quickly. Each exercise and assignment becomes more about the big idea and the execution of the idea rather telling all the detail in an orderly fashion.

Copywriting_01It can be disorienting because we might have mistakenly thought copy was just emotional marketing hype, the (nearly invisible) stuff that abides in much of our current messaging (“clutter,” you might say). Copywriters just toss any word in an ad, like “new” or “organic” or “protein” to get people to buy in, right?

But copywriting is more like a lab where you boil down the raw material to get an essence. Then you adjust the pheromones in that essence to get the behavior you want in the audience you seek.

Wait—that sounds manipulative.

If it is, it is a common trait and practice shared by all humans. We’re all packaging and repackaging our stories in real time. We constantly change-up our experience and knowledge and opinions as we deliver them to friends and family, prospective mates, acquaintances and strangers. It’s not a purposeful misleading, it’s just that the human condition is constantly changing and we see things differently at any given point. And we all want to be heard, so we change how we say things.

Mind you—orderly telling is still critical for copywriting. But audiences don’t make time for essays (sadly). And developing an argument is still critically important—it’s all just very, very fast.

The key is getting—and holding—attention.


Eight other copywriting tips for English majors here.



Image credit: Dumb sketch by Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 18, 2014 at 9:01 am

Keith Sawyer: Surprising Questions Emerge

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Where will you find transformative creativity?


–Keith Sawyer, Group Genius: the Creative Power of Collaboration (NY: Basic Books, 2007) 16


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston


Written by kirkistan

April 17, 2014 at 9:04 am

Let’s have a prune party

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In what odd corner of the universe could “prune” and “party” ever fit together?


C’mon copywriter: not everything your product marketer says is true.


Via Vintage Ads

Written by kirkistan

April 16, 2014 at 11:14 am

Why Name a Problem?

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“They won’t recognize a great solution until they see how big the problem was.”

Along the way to becoming a copywriter one must learn to name problems. This is an essential skill for anyone trying use their creativity out in the world of real people and real issues. Because when you present your bit of inspired copy to a prospective client (as one does when planning for serendipity), they will not see how inspired it is until you tell the problem the copy solved. Once they understand the problem, they can begin to appreciate the genius of the solution you created.


Naming a problem is best done in story form: there was this nasty condition and people worked around the nasty business in this way, which was inconvenient and bad. But we saw that this could be done, and so I created this. Which seemed to work and everyone was happy. Problem solved.

But naming a problem can sometimes be uncomfortable. Not usually after the fact, when everyone can easily see that it was a problem. But before: if you are the first one to notice a problem it takes a bit of courage to say it out loud to others. What if you got it wrong? What if you just don’t understand? If you name the problem, will you be responsible to fix it?

Here’s where a lesson from work fits back into real life as a human: naming a problem is the first step toward fixing it. That is true with my clients and it is true with students and it is true in all sorts of relationships and life situations. To name something is to register that a problem exists. It puts the problem on the radar and communicates to others that there may be an issue.

Until you name a problem you have very little opportunity to address it.

Naming is a bridge to fixing.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston


Planning for Moments Vs. Mapping a Strategy

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The 5-year plan is dead. Long live the 5-year direction.

Once upon a time teams of corporate lackeys spent months writing strategies for one-, two-, and five-year plans. They smoked unfiltered Camels and crunched numbers and drank stale coffee to help guess about future sales, using only the flimsiest of data points. They produced thick binders full of prose and charts and graphs and tables of numbers that anticipated revenue and profit. It’s quite possible someone even read those binders. More likely: those in the C-suite who ordered it all just listened to the executive summary and nodded in agreement.

As one does.

Those binders went on to live rich, full lives on sacred shelves. Silently wise and knowing. Until, over time, the strategies gradually got it wrong more often than getting it right (had anyone read them to notice). Predictions have never been a strong suit for ephemeral beings like humans. Especially today when technology seems to refresh every few months—complete with a new set of expectations and parameters. Especially as the economy rises and falls like sea swells.

Where does that leave strategy today? It is impossible to see into the future so we got good at guessing. And we told ourselves to make the future the way we wanted it—as best we can. To step toward the future we’d like and maybe that future will meet us halfway.

Today there are far fewer teams guessing what will happen in five years. But those organizations doing well have taken the forward-looking aspect of planning and planted it as a direction. Given our direction of travel, what moments may arise that we can take advantage of?

Today our smart friends are planning for moments that occur along the path they’ve penciled in. Everything subject to change, of course. But if all goes well: this is where we want to be.

Today we must plan for serendipity.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

April 14, 2014 at 9:29 am

Best Work Direction Ever: “Avoid giving the impression of diligence…,”

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Said the boss to the worker:



Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) (Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1969) 158.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston


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