How to Write a Weekly Column

Or: What the Hell Have I Gotten Myself Into?

By Published on .

When Ad Age asked me to write a weekly column, I thought, gosh, that sounds fun, and really, now, how hard could it be if it's only 500 words apiece?
Sally Hogshead
Sally Hogshead


To demonstrate the cold splash of reality currently drenching my face, consider that I've already checked the word count of my writing so far (55).

In the next 445 words, I'll describe how this will be a career column that's not about careers. At least, not exactly. The reality is that careers in advertising are changing impossibly fast. We are, each of us, more vulnerable than the 30-second spot.

When I got into this business in 1993 as a junior copywriter at Fallon McElligott, my job focused on writing campaigns for clients, preferably with an ironic or poignant or pithy headline, depending on the strategy. Puns had just recently gone out of favor (although a recent national award-winning ad sold a pasta maker with the headline "Pasta, Fasta." Ouch).

Like all copywriters, I spent a high percentage of my time on things like clever turns of phrase. Back in those days, an ad without a headline was so out-there that it seemed almost inconceivable for anyone but Neil French. A copywriter's market value was determined by his (or her --I was the second female copywriter hired at Fallon) ability to write good words. Soon, however, the TV reel became the currency du jour for creatives, and words began to fall out of favor. Headlines became passe right around the time I got really good at writing them. Damn.

Around that time, a nifty gadget named "the Internet" (with a capital I) became popular, which led to these things called "Web sites" (with a capital W). Of course, any self-respecting creative would never under any circumstances want to work on a "Web" assignment, for the same reasons we shunned FSI coupons. And besides, this whole "Internet" thing didn't even have an award-show category.

It all seems rather quaint in retrospect, no? Today, virtual gaming assignments can propel a copywriter's career farther and faster than a print campaign possibly could. Interactive agencies handpick from the choicest portfolios. And TV campaigns, while still among the juiciest opportunities a copywriter can enjoy, hardly represent the be-all and end-all anymore. In fact, the most admired TV spots work more like websites in their level of interactivity.

I wonder: Is there a status reversal in the works? Will words become obsolete in a copywriter's career? Are headlines the buggy whips of advertising?

As consumers turn away from TV ads, how long until a creative director's DVD reel gets replaced by cellphone screens showing mobile content and URL links of online branded entertainment?

Will a 30-second spot one day be the dregs of assignments? ("Give the Super Bowl spot to Mikey. He'll work on anything.")

If you work in any field even remotely related to advertising, odds are good your job changed as fundamentally as mine has over the past decade. When our industry reinvents, so do our own careers. What are you doing today to evolve your job description?

I'll admit, I don't have all the answers. Nobody does. That's the fabulous/terrifying part of working in advertising these days. By the time the answers become clear, they are already defunct.

Each week in this column, I'll be exploring a different "how-to" on these topics. How to survive the ADD workday. How to hone your competitive advantage in a fragmented environment. How to navigate the new forms of branding, media, technology and innovation. How to kick ass in a world that's kicking yours. Well, lookie here: 598 words already. I will now demonstrate how to end an Ad Age article.

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Sally Hogshead is a speaker, author, and consultant on radical innovation. Read more on the Hog Blog.
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