Quasimodo and Copywriting
August 22, 2016
Stick with me. I recently attended a copywriting conference. I’m a relative newbie in the biz and the extra professional development was invaluable. It was fantastic. Many stories, anecdotes, pieces of advice and stale batches of convention center cookies were shared. Out of all the incredible insight I gained from writers who’d been at their craft far longer than I have, there was one powerful message that had a lasting impression. Let’s meet the main character.
Quasimodo, our friendly hunchback of Notre Dame, wanted to retire from bell-ringing. He put up a help-wanted ad in town and the next day was approached by an armless man. “I’m the guy for the job!” he said. “And don’t worry, I don’t need arms. When my head hits the bell, it’ll make the most beautiful sound you’ll ever hear!” Quasimodo decided to give the man a chance.
When the two of them reached the top of the bell tower, the man with no arms wasted no time. He rammed his head straight into the bell. He was right, Quasimodo thought, it was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard. The man turned around and said, “See! I told you I was perfect for the—” but before he could finish, the bell swung back and knocked him out of the tower. Two policemen quickly ran over to the body. Yeah. Things happen fast in this story.
“Do you know this man?” asked the first cop.
“Not his name,” replied the second cop. “But his face rings a bell.”
Huzzah! You’ve made it this far. Let’s keep going.
The next day, Quasimodo was approached by another armless man who promised he’d be a perfect fit for the job. He told Quasimodo that it was his brother who failed because he didn’t have a plan and forgot to dodge the bell on its backswing. He assured Quasimodo he knew the trick. Quasimodo told the man he’d give him a chance the next day.
To celebrate, the armless man went out and partied with friends, staying out very late. One of his friends suggested he go home and rest. “Nonsense!” said the armless man. “I could ring that bell in my sleep!”
The next morning, Quasimodo met the armless man at the top of the bell tower. The man with no arms was very tired, but he wasted no time. He rammed his head straight into the bell. It was the most beautiful sound Quasimodo ever heard. “Piece of cake!” yelled the armless man. “Now watch me move out of the—” but before he could finish, he tripped over his own tired legs. When the bell swung back, it knocked him out of the tower. Two policemen quickly ran over to the body.
“Do you know this man?” the first cop asked.
“Not his name,” said the second cop. “But he’s a dead ringer for his brother.”
OK. You’re asking yourself, How is this related to copywriting? The first man went in for the bell-ringing job eager and ready to go. As eager as he was, he didn’t have a plan and wasn’t ready for the backswing. No bueno. The second man said he had a plan for the backswing, but hubris got the best of him. No plan and too much pride aren’t the best strategies. Just ask Oedipus Rex.
Jobs can quickly pile up as a copywriter. If you take each job without taking the time to review the brief, ask questions or put thought into what you’re writing, it’s not going to impress anyone. Sure, you might get away with running head-first into a project sometimes, and you might feel so confident about a project that you put your head down and take it on alone. But chances are, the job will coming swinging back and knock you out of the tower.
What I learned from this story and all of the presenters at the conference is that success isn’t given. It’s earned. With careful planning, lots of collaboration with exceptionally talented people and a humble student-of-the-business attitude, you could be on your way to being a big can full of awesomeness. Follow these steps, knock the socks off a client, earn someone’s business, wow a creative director and totally be ready for the bell’s backswing.
I know I said this was about copywriting, but I should’ve said this is about life, business, sports, Black Friday Christmas shopping, you name it. And if you know any good bell-ringers, Quasimodo’s still looking.
James is a rising member of our copywriting team. Cash in on more of his musings on Twitter @JamesAshbery.