Q: Great. And how long have you been in your current field? Since 2009, or?
A: No, I transitioned from the corporate/private banking world at JP Morgan in 2016 to the ad agency world. This is now my second agency in the last two and a half/three years, and yeah, that’s it.
Q: Great, okay excellent. Can you provide just a brief description of your primary job functions?
A: I lead and manage all agency new business and organic growth initiatives company-wide. So any opportunity to grow organically with our current client base is a small portion of what I do, but my primary focus is prospecting, developing relationships, and ultimately, earning business from brands that we want to be in business with.
Q: Okay, okay. How frequently are you required to write? So maybe, if you could estimate even in an average week, what percent of your job actually requires writing?
A: I would say I send upwards of 40 to 50 varied types of written messages every single day, that’s across social media, so LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, as well as emails. And another portion of my day is, obviously with any active opportunities that we have that we’re currently working to pitch or develop a stronger relationship with, we write pretty long and sophisticated presentations of which I probably am responsible for like, somewhere around 25 percent of. So I’d say most of my day is, maybe 30 to 40 percent of my day, maybe even more on some days, is probably focused on actual writing.
Q: Great, okay. And obviously it will vary from project to project, but typically how long do you have to complete a writing project?
A: It’s very quick turnaround. So, when prospecting or reaching out to current prospects or clients, minutes, you know, probably no more than 15 minutes are spent. With presentations, it probably ranges from, you know, we have such a large bank and I have a lot of experience to pull from it, the stuff that I’m writing is usually just modified in some ways or customized to the approach that we’re taking with that opportunity. But probably a couple hours, maybe two, three hours at most. And then usually, I kind of take over the reigns near the end once everyone’s contributed, and make sure that things are formatted and grammatically correct and consistent across each presentation.
Q: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. My next question you’ve sort of answered, but just to clarify – could you sort of list off the forms or types of documents that you most often complete? So you mentioned sort of prospecting emails, social media, these presentations – anything else that you write often?
A: Um, no, outside of like actual managing social media accounts, the things that I listed, you know, outward prospecting efforts and in presentations, it’s pretty consistently that, sometimes some internal communications. But no, I would say my role is pretty focused on those things.
Q: Okay, that makes sense. And who are the primary audiences and what are the primary purposes of those communications?
A: So, the primary purposes are to create relationships and ultimately move them through a funnel over a long period of time. So most of my sales cycles are between 16 and 18 months, sometimes longer. And the goal is to really create a consistent touchpoint throughout that journey. Obviously if I have never spoken to someone and they, you know, are consistently being reached out to by dozens of people like me, my goal is really to create innovative ways to get through to them. So, while writing is a piece of that, I obviously do a lot of things that aren’t writing based. And categorically, most agencies have like maybe three to four wheelhouses that they specialize in. Currently, for me, the prospects that we’re actively working are mid to large size universities, very health-focused consumer brands, like health foods to a little bit more of like the pharmacological products that are maybe sold for infants, or certain, you know, health issues that’s still readily available over the counter to you as a consumer, very focused cause-related work – so we work with, in northeast Ohio alone, probably 15 of the largest nonprofits, but also actively seek that out nationally. And then, those are the last spaces is our prospects in brand that obviously look and feel and map to our experience in the brands that we actively work with or have worked with, in like the hardware and home improvement space, so everything from [6:35 inaudible] brands, to raw materials, to other products that would be readily accessible at like a Home Depot or Lowes.
Q: Oh that’s really interesting, okay. Yeah, that’s really, really useful. And so when you are writing to these prospects, your audience is almost always a prospect I assume?
A: Um, yes. Or a former client, or a connection of a former client. So clearly the best way in is to have someone, you know, not just in trying to apply and earn a job, but also in the sales world, is to have someone to actually personally introduce you or make a connection. So I’d say a lot of my time is doing that, versus trying to just establish a cold relationship. But an equal amount of time spent obviously just proactively prospecting on my own.
Q: That’s useful. Okay, that makes a lot of sense. How did you know how to perform the types of writing that you’re actually performing?
A: I think I have a pretty natural skill set of communicating in writing the way that I communicate when I speak, and I think in the worlds that I’ve operated in, at least since I came out of the banking world – which is obviously a lot more formal, there’s a lot more regulation, and to be honest, the writing that we did was only internal, they didn’t allot a lot of external communications being written in email – and in the agency world, there’s so much jargon, there’s so many acronyms, there’s just so much fluff, and I feel like being concise, direct, and speaking to people the exact same way I would speak to them in person, you know, succinctly, I think is important. And leading with value I think is a key in sales overall, but really, you know, if I’m one of 40 people that have reached out to this really influential person at an organization that day or that week, the only way I’m going to cut through is either saying or doing something that’s a little bit out of the ordinary that they happen to see at the right moment, or they have to be in the phase where they’re actively looking to buy, or we already have to have an established relationship or connection and I’m simply following up at that point. So it really just trying to cut through the clutter and be as direct and concise and as personable as possible.
Q: That makes a lot of sense. It’s interesting, because you’ve only been doing this a few years, so I feel like it’s useful that it’s so fresh to you, and I’m wondering, was there a time early on in this sort of world that you’re in that you felt unprepared as a writer at work?
A: Yeah, my comfort level of knowing exactly what to say– everything is trial and error in sales. If you’re not getting traction, everything’s trial and error. So you have to try new things until you realize what works, and then even when you find out what works, you have to constantly evolve the way you do it, and try to constantly be ahead of the rest of the crowd. And while I’m new to this space, the core skills that have made me successful throughout my career in technology, private banking, and the agency world are all very similar. So, what I did when I transitioned to the agency world, one, it was a very methodical transition, but two, I had a very strong foundation to bring with me that most people in the agency world do not possess, and for me to learn the lingo and the types of things that are important to my prospects and internally was really the only thing that I had to learn at that time, and then just constantly evolve the way that I communicate. So it probably took six months before my comfort level was like kind of churning, but here’s the thing, you know, I’m lucky to be in a position where, if something doesn’t work out and no one responds, no harm is done and there are so many other countless prospects in each category that I can put my energy into that you try not to spend too much time beating yourself up for what could have been, instead of just focusing on the now. And at a year, I mastered is probably the wrong word, but feel like I can run with the best of my peers in the category and in the industry.
Q: That’s great, yeah that makes a lot of sense. When you were trying to overcome those early challenges, and you know, it sounds like most of that was really just learning the language, learning sort of the way things are done here, not the actual act of communicating well, right – were there certain things that you did to get yourself acclimated in that six month period?
A: Like a high volume of internal meetings and interviews with just my team. So I was at a 150 [inaudible 11:33] agency, and just getting as much as a downlook from them constantly knowing that I was probably only digesting ten percent or twenty percent each time we spoke, but over [11:43 inaudible] pulse for one, their view of the position and what they would like to see, and obviously take what you can and then kind of come up with what you think is the best step, and a lot of times it’s very aligned to the overall goals of the organization, and a incredible amount of podcasts and just everything I could listen to audio-wise to get my hands wrapped around it, and then over time it’s really being a part of– you know, I’m actively managing, am the quarterback of every external relationship, that doesn’t mean that I am the reason they’re doing business with us, but I’m the opener and definitely a closer, and in this world, collaboration’s everything, like, it’s not selling a product. It might take months to strategize and come up with a formal recommendation to present to someone, and I had a very small, you know, maybe twenty percent input on that, and the subject matter experts are really the ones guiding that, and I’m just constantly focused on the story arc, and the way that we communicate, and what we communicate, and just the gut feeling of whether this is something that will earn us business. And I think the higher volume of meetings and conversations and sales opportunities and pitch opportunities I have, in my role, you just, you learn to add those conversations to your arsenal, and my knowledge is a mile wide, versus their knowledge being a mile deep, and I think what makes a successful salesperson is being competent in how you deliver things, even if you’re not confident that you are the subject matter expert in that situation. So at least being able to talk the talk enough to continue the engagement.
Q: That’s really interesting, yeah. I wanted to go back to one thing you said there – when you were talking about writing those presentations or having some input on those, the pitch, a formal pitch to a potential client, you talked about story arc – can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?
A: Yeah, we’ve all seen awful presentations, right? And in the agency world, they are truly a piece of art. It’s not something that can be in Keynote or Powerpoint, it’s a fully designed presentation through InDesign, you know, we have a foundational deck that I created and our team created when I came on which we call our capabilities deck, which is really the foundation for any early stage conversation. It’s the makeup of who we are, some of our personality, obviously the aesthetic and the design is there, like very high design across, case studies, just additional thinking and high level strategic flies that we can drop in and out based on the type of opportunity or the position of the person we’re speaking to, or something they may have said early on that they want to learn more about of how we approach that. Pitches are that plus a very custom approach, but the look and feel and the tone of how we communicate is consistent. So it looks the same, obviously the flies have different content, but at that point what we’re really focused on is it’s not solely about us, but it’s our thinking and it’s creating an overall story arc that allows them to see that one, obviously we’re the right caliber and have the right experience, two, we understand the challenge that they have laid out or the challenges of the industry, and kind of bringing them through that as we’re discussing the challenges, really putting our frameworks, our processes in place, and telling them along the way how we would approach this and why we would approach this and in some cases, taking it to the extent of doing a speculative creative that shows them the caliber of the work or early stage ideation, which is kind of a BS thing in the world because essentially they are getting free work from, I don’t know, four or five agencies or more, and it’s just laying it out in a way that is insightful, energizing, obviously intellectual and factual-based, but with a ton of energy. And the presentation in a pitch is obviously something that we’re narrating and we’re presenting, so the dynamics are much different, but you always have to be cognizant that the things that you’re sending and putting them after the presentation if you provide them with a copy – it has to live on its own, because the real decision takes place when you’re not in the room – and so it’s a fine balance between making sure that it’s not word soup, and it’s not logo or diagram soup, or process soup, but also there’s enough there that someone could draw the same assumption that we call back during the presentation when they’re meeting with their team or other team members or a board at some point. And understand the rationale on their own as well.
Q: That’s really, really interesting. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense but it’s something I’ve not experienced and not thought too much about in the past. I’m wondering, I mean that feels like such a specific way of thinking and way of crafting, was that something that was new to you? Or have you worked in sort of genres like that before you got to the agency? Have you done work like that before?
A: Yeah, I think being a natural and effective communicator in presentations are obviously, has always been a sweet spot, whether I was actively doing those right before I transitioned I don’t think is relevant. But I know what’s relevant and energizing to people, and in sales, you win because you have a natural ability to size up a situation, read body language, read between the lines, and obviously not just cater to them but understand what’s important for you to address. And I think you instinctively see what has been presented in the past, so I got there and clearly, they’ve been pitching for 70 years so they know what it looks like, and I did a full assessment of where they were at, and they just weren’t, you know– we started foundationally with revamping our capabilities deck because it’s the foundation for every deck we create after, and we were not effectively communicating us, it was very scattered. And most agencies, while they create these beautiful brand strategies and messaging and content strategies for others that are usually very concise and straightforward, agencies fall to the same issues that their clients do in they don’t focus on themselves. And so the first step is to do that, and then the second step is, you roll out that iteration to the specific customized presentations, and I know what they look like, and I know what they should feel like, and I know what information is relevant and what information’s not relevant, based on what I’ve seen, you know, based on what I see when I’m reading it as an unbiased person. And also when I’m in the room practicing and presenting with our team, it really gives you an opportunity to be very critical, and because I’m only making up probably 10 or 15 percent, you know, maybe the opening and a strong close near the end, my goal is really to provide active feedback to the team, and help them self discover to a certain extent what is necessary and what’s not, and I think once people have seen it once or twice, it becomes very easy to replicate it. So we finally had an opportunity after let’s say ten months at my first agency to do it the way that we wanted and push the wrong people out of the situation and really just managed it closely, and it went so phenomenal, and it was a huge swing out of their weight class and we won a substantial piece of work, and so from then on, we had a pulse for what that looks like and feels like, and you just try to replicate it in different scenarios moving forward.
Q: That’s fascinating. Yeah, that’s really, really helpful. Thank you. Is there someone who oversees your writing at the agency, or no?
A: So it’s a little unique. So at my first agency, 150 people, we had a whole team of copywriters, right? Junior level, senior level, and then creative directors that came from either the art director or design background, or came from the copywriting. Usually it’s a 50/50 mix, because you need both. At that agency, we also had a proofreader. So while it was a first swing by each of us kind of contributing our piece, and then probably a partner overseeing the overall and giving their very direct input throughout the process and managing it very closely with me, ultimately the copywriters and the creative directors would take it and bring it back to us for rounds of revisions, and would really have, they had their entire hand in writing it the way that is on our brand and tone. At my current agency, we have two creative directors, one that comes from the copywriting and once comes from design, and even when the one from the copywriting background isn’t involved in one specific opportunity, she’s has a heavy hand in helping us revise it. And there’s a lot of us that I’d say in the grand scheme of the world, were probably B+ writers, but [21:20 inaudible] salesman, and so when we get it that far down the field with the content, it’s usually one or two people that have a hand in helping us revise it before it’s finalized.
Q: That’s great. That makes a lot of sense, yeah. The next question is about process, and I’m wondering if you could pick, maybe you could actually speak to the social media writing that you do for the agency, and talk just a little bit about, you know, how maybe one recent example, how that looks start to finish. Like how do you decide what’s going on there? How is it crafted? Is there revision? How does that work sort of start to finish?
A: Yeah, and this is probably not the best example because one, we’re small and two, social media in a perfect world, and I believe in the power of it, and I would even say that we should invest 100 times more in it than we do, but at this point, it’s meant to be like a fact checker, kind of like a check box. One, it’s just meant to show a little personality. If someone we’re already in conversation with us or in the early stages of vetting and they happen to likes Instagram and uses it heavily, if they were to check us out it’s visually engaging, it shows some personality, it’s consistently showing our brand, like we, it’s consistently designed, all which I do in an app in about five minutes a day. We show our culture a little bit, and it’s meant to be more smart sarcasm and wit, is kind of the energy and vibe that we give off outwardly, I don’t know if that’s necessarily like the type of people we are, but it’s usually energizing, it has a little bit of a wit to it. And when I’m writing, it’s pretty plain, you know, we’re leveraging some type of quotes, or writing about a client and keeping it short and sweet, and just really trying to boost people’s awareness in our active community of what that is, and then I think over time, it could lead to more organic reach. But it’s pretty straightforward, it doesn’t, I don’t have a ton of input, I think I’ve, we all know what social media looks like, and we know what the popular people on social media post and the copy they write, and you just try to mimic something that looks and feels authentic to you, and is still obviously, you know, lighthearted.
Q: Sure, that makes a lot of sense. That’s useful. Let’s talk then maybe about the process for, you had mentioned that it’s still just sort of a matter of 15 minutes sometimes, but maybe a first or second pass at reaching out to a potential client – what does the process like that look like? Does someone give you contact information, is that someone you seek out? Like how does that process start and where does it go from there?
A: Yeah, so it’s as simple as early stage assessing the case– so we take a look at what we’ve done, that’s number one. Okay, we’ve done this. And you start kind of bucketing them, and I think we ended up in those categories that I mentioned, right? And it’s just a gut thing. If I were to call someone today in a certain category and you pick one, do I, is there something that relates to them strongly that they would want to have a conversation? Not to say that you need to have direct category experience, but it’s a massive piece of, you gain an upper hand if and when you have that. So the goal is start categorically, and then really start finding brands. So that’s a pure collaborative effort. I would say I’m responsible for 95 percent of it, and I take some input from members that have ideas occasionally, but at end of the day I’m the one that’s driving it fully, and my previous agency I managed a smaller team where I was the head and they were responsible for kind of like executing some of that, and then it came to me, and I was really the one that was still prospecting. And then, once you determine the brand, you have a list, you know, you dig into them a little bit more. You kind of learn more about their brand, sometimes maybe it takes you seven or eight minutes, and whether they are someone that has worked with an agency or currently works with an agency because that’s a great indicator that they would work with you as an agency at some point, whether today or a year from now. And then it’s kind of navigating the hierarchy of the position, so like, literally using everything. Using Google to search for the different types of agencies or any type of press releases or anything that would give way to new decision makers or organizational changes or work that they’ve done historically or recently, LinkedIn to really navigate the complexities of who, you know– some organizations have 20,000 employees and I’m trying to find the right one, it’s based on title, and over time you really learn what you’re looking for based on the size of the organization and the type, and sometimes you’re reaching out to the CEO and sometimes you’re reaching out to like, mid level brand manager as a first point, and sometimes both. And from there, then obviously there are a lot of paid databases that give you contact info, but that stuff is the basics. Once you decide you’re going to reach out, understanding the right cadences, and understanding kind of how to hack through to that. So I think when I talked about constantly evolving what I do, I rarely send a cold written email any longer, outside of maybe a [26:49 inaudible], I record videos on a thumbnail of me, literally saying and articulating the exact things that I would say in an email, except they see an attachment, very straightforward language about trying to cut through the clutter of their inbox, and would love the chance to connect at some point. And then they see a video, and if they open it, my response rate’s through the roof. The same thing goes for, obviously at some point I do write lengthy emails, especially to people that I’ve already been in conversations with. Calling is still a major piece, right? So calling them, trying to cut through and get through gatekeepers when possible, you get them out of office when they’re on vacation and they happen to put their cell phone in there, you immediately gain an upper hand, like there are all very small field tactics, but then leveraging Instagram and Linkedin and Twitter, like DM’s. Like those are the most, you know, Linkedin has become what I would consider email used to be in the professional world, right, and people are almost at this point kind of becoming numb to it, right? Email replaced mail, and cold calling kind of always is in there as relevant if you’re using it the right way, and LinkedIn has kind of replaced email at this point in some ways, and now you have this beautiful thing called Instagram, and obviously have to be very cautious with what you say and how you say things, because you are reaching out to people on their personal profiles, after you [28.25 inaudible]. But the response rates in the digital age, especially with any of us that are like, a little bit older millennials or gen-Z or even people that are just actively involved in the tech space Gen-X, if you position it correctly, even though they may be a little hesitant, or may even make a joke about you reaching out, obviously I would call that out, “I understand I’m reaching out on your personal profile, trying to the clutter, would love the opportunity, here’s a little bit,” and usually when they respond, it gives you a direct opportunity to speak with someone and the same thing with Twitter. Sometimes LinkedIn brings the same type of result, but it’s a combination of all those things, and even mail in those cases kind of cutting through the clutter of like, sending them something like very high design, well [29:22 inaudible]. They’re all pieces and writing plays a factor and it’s across the board, whether you have to be very very detailed and articulate, whether you have to be very high level and playful, you really have to adapt what you’re saying and when you’re saying it depending on where you’re at in the process with them.
Q: That makes a lot of sense. That’s super useful and really, really interesting, Josh, thank you. The next question is a little bit more broad and it’s what is at stake with your writing?
A: What is at at stake? Can you clarify what you mean by that?
Q: Yeah, I mean, what happens if your writing succeeds or fails? And obviously we have sort of this idea of the financial stake that is really obvious in sales, right? So I would imagine that’s the primary thing that’s at stake in your writing, but are there other things that you feel come from that writing in a sense, like, are there other consequences of your writing?
A: Sure, yeah. So the obvious that you noted, so like in a presentation, right, just making sure that things are grammatically correct and punctual, you know, spelled, and the right punctuation, I actually have a rule of thumb that people in the agency world spend like a ridiculous amount of hours just going through every minute detail to make sure that there’s not one grammatical error. And my thought is, if someone doesn’t want to do business with us – clearly put your time in and try to create a strong product – but if someone doesn’t want to do business with us because of a missed period or comma or one misspelled word, then like, we don’t want to do business with– like pardon my language, fuck them. Like, they’re not the right fit, clearly like, they’re missing the overall point. But as far as like, the day to day contacts, it’s a really sensitive balance. You never know if you’re actually getting through when someone hasn’t had an active relationship with you. But if they have– clearly I document literally every piece of outreach and conversation ever, going back, every small email, everything is in a CRM, chronologically updated in Salesforce, and I have a very meticulous follow up schedule according to when the next touchpoint makes sense, whether they’re in the funnel and I’m trying to convert them, whether I’ve never talked to them, it’s always detailed. But you are aware of brands that are very well suited for you, and you really feel passionate that if you were just able to get through, it would make sense. Sometimes you don’t know if the points of contact, even if I believe that there’s right cadences and know they are, you never know how they’re perceived on the other end. And you’re just always conscious of being seen as generic, or creating a barrier of them just literally blindly deleting or avoiding you because of the things you’ve done and said. You know, you must balance that as a salesperson with, there’s so many opportunities out there that you can’t dwell on every opportunity, and it’s like an internal struggle that you physically feel even though you would never say it outwardly to your team, you just know that everything you do is going to be interpreted somehow, and obviously you move on and you try not to dwell. But also, from a personal perspective, the world’s very connected, and I’m not representing only my agency, if anything I think in the digital era, especially using those other mediums besides email, you’re representing yourself, and clearly want to be as articulate and sound as smart as you possibly can and know that the people that you’re potentially connecting with are connections of your connections, you constantly have to be aware of what you say and respecting that relationship without bastardizing it. And also, you never know who you’re going to come in contact with, or who knows who, and their point of view or feelings about the things you’re saying, so you just, through trial and error and through being able to read people on each medium and understanding the complexities, you just have to be constantly aware. And I would say especially on Twitter, and especially on Instagram, with different gender dynamics, clearly I am a white male that is a tenacious human being, and it’s not likely the first time I’ve reached out, and so I have to be very compassionate and understand the situation that I’m putting them in by reaching out to them. They have the opportunity to ignore it, but still, there’s still an emotional and professional reaction that takes place if they do read it and when they do read it, because everyone checks their Instagrams DMs. So just constantly aware of the things that I’m putting out in the world, and how I’m portraying myself, and obviously my company and my organization as well, but, it’s much more personal. It’s knowing that, you know, clearly you have influence but, you don’t want to obviously be perceived negatively or as if you’re intruding on their own personal space.
Q: Absolutely, yeah that’s a really interesting answer. And this sort of might lead into this next question, and that’s what’s the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?
A: Umm, avoiding redundancy in the wrong ways. So like, the hardest part is if someone doesn’t respond three or four times, and then you, you know, it’s days or weeks or even a month before you’ve maybe touched them two or three times, and it could be longer, because you really have to play your cards right and understand the season, and understand the timing, and understand like the history of who they’ve selected as an agency and where they’re at on potential projects. And, I think the hardest part is, most people, let’s say 90 plus percent people have no recall of me reaching out at all. Ever. And so allude to previous points of contact in some cases, sometimes I just play the cold card again, because today might be the day that they’ve spent five minutes on their email, or on their phone. And it’s just making sure that the story of first contacts through when they decide to reply or decide to, even if they say no, you know, a reply is a great understanding ‘cause it allows you to know how much effort you’re going to put into something. So it’s just really avoiding generic outreach and putting us in a light that won’t allow us to kind of deliberate, you don’t want to ever, in any situation, make it seem like I mass-customized a piece of outreach, and I don’t. Even though I have a lot of similar emails that are being sent, they’re very customized in the sense that like, I’ve just become very good at and efficient at changing the things that need to be changed, but that’s years and years, dating back to the beginning of my career, knowing how to do that. But to them, it seems like a very focused email. Avoiding that redundancy is huge, especially because sometimes, in most cases, I could reach out for ten straight months. Most of my big wins I’ve reached out for ten months, nine months a year, and then after that period of time, they finally respond, “Josh, I really appreciate your persistence in reach out. I’ve been meaning to get out to you. I’d love to talk tomorrow.” So like, for a year, they weren’t in a buying position. They weren’t in the state that they were ready to talk to someone. But the day that they were, my email happened to come through around that time, and they remembered me somehow. Or I seemed like someone that they wanted to talk to even if they don’t recall anything. And that’s the opportunity. So just knowing that there’s a fine balance between continuing to repeat the same things because they’re your value propositions, but not churning and burning emails with the same type of copy or messages with the same type of copy. Everyone has email history, like, in one second they could see all your Twitter DMs, all your Instagram DMs, your Linkedin messages, so if I send six in a row, like clearly that conveys a message. And if they’re all the same, that looks even worse.
Q: Absolutely, right, okay that makes a lot of sense, yeah. This is more about sort of your development as a writer. Has anyone helped you in the workplace formally or informally develop as a writer?
A: I am someone that just picks up things from other people, so I think I was, like I said, like a B– compared to you, Brian, and my wife, I’m a C writer. Compared to the rest of the world, I’m a B+, right? So in the grand scheme of things like I say, we jokingling, but like, truly there’s a upper echelon of people that are so incredible and it’s an art, and it’s a subject matter; they’re subject matter experts. And clearly I wouldn’t presume that I could be immediately be as great as them. I think I’m an effective communicator, but those are things that I’ve picked up over time, that I’ve picked up from subject matter experts or other people, but, also just being with Sarah– I’m really focused on transitioning careers at this point into something that has been on my mind for years, and just going through a cover letter and a resume with her, the bulk of the things that I wanted to communicate were there, but like, what she did and what she helped me with while working through those things, it’s an art. And the end product is significantly greater than where I would have ended. So I think, just organically picking things up from people and knowing, at least how to translate my spoken word into writing format, and then also, obviously collaborating and being around people that are very strong writers.
Q: Great, okay, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Do you remember–
A: And I went to a very, very good high school, so like, the number one ranked public school in Ohio for like, I don’t know, ten out of fifteen years. And that’s not like a [40:09 inaudible] point, but I remember my high school teachers saying – I was like a, I think that I was really a B or B+ student consistently through high school – and they said that like, “Our C students, you’re going to go to college and the majority of you will be in the upper echelon of writing students because of the education that you’ve received.” And it was true. I went to a small school, I was planning on going to the naval academy, but ended up at a small school, and this B+ writer was an A+ writer among other people, except maybe the top tier of actual writers, because I received such a stellar education. And from there, it was just, you know, I don’t know how much I’ve evolved, but I think I’ve just learned how to communicate a little differently.
Q: That’s great, yeah, that’s really, really interesting. Do you remember or either in highschool, but I guess more specifically in college, what kinds of writing were you asked to do?
A: I was in political science and was pre law, and just like, not going to the naval academy like a month before, and deciding to back out, I decided to back out of attending law school, like a [41:13 inaudible] and got my MBA instead, and everything worked out great. But in college, I had like two or three professors that were, like one was the former head of the entire political science program at Xavier, one was a Harvard law grad and worked on the federal circuit, and they were extremely influential. And the writing that we did for those courses, in liberal arts you have a lot of gen ed classes and bs stuff, but it’s pretty bland, and if you just do your work, you’ll get through it. But in those classes, your writing was everything. You know, you might only have one or two papers a semester, and two four hour long, handwritten or typed exams, with a plethora, like a crazy amount of case histories, and really taking a current case and dissecting it based on the things that are already in law at this point. And I really honed my ability for rational thinking and strategic thinking at that point, I think it took me from someone that thought he was a pretty good writer at communicating simply and concisely to, here are these things that have already taken place, and I had to rationally connect the dots between the two of them, and I think my writing skills probably doubled during about six different classes [42:41 inaudible] over my junior and senior year.
Q: Oh, that’s great. Yeah, that’s wonderful. Do you think that those experiences prepared you to write in the workplace?
A: I think in some way. Transitioning right from that and being like law-focused to going to the MBA world, where I still was in a lot of business classes and it was a focus in college, during my MBA, I think the same type of strategic thinking and writing was critical. So, here’s our recommendation, here’s why historically, here’s the rationale behind it, and then, you know, kind of being succinct in summarizing the recommendation again, and it’s very similar to what I did: here’s the idea and here’s the answer, here’s the historical and rational context behind it, and leading it ultimately to your final points. And I think they’re very similar in a lot of ways, and I think that’s almost identical to how we operate in the agency world of, you know, here’s us, here’s the recommendation, we’re going to walk you through a long version of why, we’re going to show you how we’ve done it ourselves, and then here it is, very, very straightforward on one or two slides. Here’s the whole picture of what we want to do and why we’re going to do it.
Q: Hmm, yeah I can see the mirror there, yeah. Are there things that would’ve been useful for you as a college student that you didn’t get that would’ve better prepared you?
A: I don’t think a lot of college courses focus on careers. I think they focus on academia, like the academic version of what subject matter these students are studying versus how that translates to an entire industry or job function. And while it’s difficult obviously to focus specifically on a role, I think it’s much easier to focus it on an industry, and push people to– you know, what I loved about my two law professors were, they were literally pushing us and running the course as if we were at a top tier law school. It was an identical [44:58 inaudible], and now that maybe doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the real world, but it prepared us for the next logical step in our lives. All of us were very serious prelaw students. I had a lot of marketing classes, and I had one where we did do a pitch and worked through things, but I don’t think, at least at a small liberal arts school like ours, there wasn’t a ton of– it was an expectation, some professors probably were much more critical than others around the actual grammar and in writing skills overall, and some were less and more focused on the answers, and the thinking. And I just think equipping students to sell themselves and understanding how to communicate ideas, recommendations, values that they believe in, values that they bring to a certain subject or field, I think all of those things are really important, and I wish that someone would’ve spent more time maybe pushing us to do that. Especially, I would say like of all the things I’m an expert at, is networking and interviewing, like jokingly. But I love that the most in this world, and I’m phenomenal at creating a story arc of me personally and professionally and kind of combined. And I honestly think that if some students– like most people suck at selling themselves. They’re more focused on responsibilities than values they’ve delivered and results, and I think that that’s the case in a lot of business writing at least, is a lot of people spend too much time on the details versus communicating the value and the overall idea, and I think students probably, especially as they’re headed in the real world, not resume writing, but like, communicating the specifics of why in their story arc, and having a story to tell, I think that’s always important. And it starts on a piece of paper as an outline, and then you tell it enough that you kind of grow it and evolve it over time, and feel more confident in it.
Q: That’s great, yeah.
A: I’m all over the place, I apologize.
Q: No, no, that’s super interesting! And again, it’s sort of not something that we think about that often I think in the classroom, that’s great. I actually have a few more questions, they’re relatively short, I want to be conscious of your time. How do you think you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?
A: Less fluff, much more succinct, I think is number one. I’ve learned how to communicate way more specifically and effectively. I’ve learned how to take my personal spoken style and the way I am as a human being, the way I just naturally communicate with others in any medium, and translate that to what I’m doing professionally in writing. Depends on the medium, but like, I think if you were to see the things that I write, small, big, across the board, wide range, banking, technology, agency world, you would say that that’s, it’s pretty consistently Josh. That’s my tone, my language, and I think I’ve learned over time how to do it more effectively. So I don’t think I’ve always been that great, but I think, you know, even after working through the resume and cover letter, like, Sarah clearly has input on things, and I just know instinctively that that doesn’t sound like me, or that’s not a way that I would articulate something. I think that’s just how I am, I believe that you just have to be yourself when doing those things.
Q: Great, okay. To what extent do you think writing is valued in your agency and in the sort of field as a whole?
A: In the field it’s maybe the most critical piece. It’s how everything is communicated. So clearly, pitches and different things, like you’re articulating an idea, not just spoken, but also written, and actually written first, and then you adapt how you speak about it. Every brief, every simple operation, from changing a logo or creating a new logo, which isn’t as simple as it sounds, to a full brand new brand strategy or messaging strategy, there could be ten pages of just showing them and creating a guide for how this brand will communicate with the outward world and internally. There are briefs and emails exchanged before those projects are kicked off, there are const and communications that are taking place with prospects and clients throughout the process, the actual work that you deliver oftentimes outside of like a pure design piece is written. And even in that case, it’s written so that there’s context to the entire situation. So, every nuance of advertising, the written word is the most important in so many ways. And specifically at my agency, I believe, everyone believes in the power of it. But it’s kind of siloed, where we all take our pieces and understand that we’re all pretty good writers and hopefully it comes together well in the end and we’re all pretty critical of it, but unfortunately we don’t have the time to value it as much. At my first agency, you have brilliant copywriters that you literally give them a pile of garbage and they come back and give you like the most beautiful piece of art in the world and you have no idea that something could be communicated that way. And when you do read those things and the things that actually make it to the client, versus things that are internal, it could solidify the value that you deliver and them wanting to do business with you. So I think it’s just dependent on the team and the agency. I think it’s always valued, but some places it’s like an unspoken expectation, and other places it’s an art.
Q: That’s great. That’s great, yeah. And our last question actually – how would you have defined successful writing as a student versus being a successful workplace writer now, and would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?
A: I would say I’m a successful workplace writer, and I would say that it’s something that every single day I’m focused on evolving. Like I walk into work every single day knowing that I have to evolve in even one sentence, or half a sentence, or one piece of communication has to evolve in order to continue kind of optimizing the way that I communicate. And the results that it brings – in college, you know, there are just so many different types of writing. One, I wish I understood, someone maybe was able to articulate and walk you through the spectrum of the different types of writing that they could encounter, right? You have your literature classes, and you have your law classes, and you have your business classes, and they all require a lot of different things, and they all focus on writing dependent on the professor, but I think to be able to summarize where they fall on the spectrum on what’s important, I don’t know if I ever had a professor tell me in a non writing-focused class what they’re looking for specifically in the writing, outside of like a specific idea or missed idea in a lot of cases. I also think that understanding the mediums as to which people are going to be writing in this new age, helping them understand that. Everyone has their own interpretation of what’s important, right? Like the things that Sarah says are really important are platforms that I rarely use, or use completely differently, and the way I communicate is completely differently, and I think just having an appreciation and understanding of that, and allowing people to understand like the full range of technology and the way people communicate on those platforms, and if the professors are not subject matter experts, not acting like they are [chuckle], and really people to obviously give them guidance on what that looks like, and I think understanding that whole range in that space I think would’ve been really awesome for me to know, you know. And I think it could have potentially guided me out of law. Had I known in college what a lawyer from a writing perspective, and the volume of documents they write and format and change every single day, I’m pretty sure I probably would have pivoted a little bit earlier.