Who moved my lobster thermidor?

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
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“One day, if you play your cards right (or perhaps wrong) you might be a creative director. It is the most thankless, trying and difficult task you’ll ever undertake in your creative career.” – Sir John Hegarty.

Sir-John-Hegarty-1024x1024Experts are kept very busy theorising on Generation X and Y – and no doubt the (sometimes) Zealots that have to coordinate us all. It’s this mish-mash of leadership styles that are really worth the marvel. I was fortunate enough to attend the Heavy Chef event with Michael Jordaan (Wednesday, 22 August) and listened as he welcomed us into his mind for almost an hour. A few basic sums will deduce that the man is no Generation-Y, but has an invested understanding into what makes them tick. And why shouldn’t he? It is the very driving force of the organisation he helms. He is a passionate advocate of the collective spirit of good ideas and their prowess for the benefit of companies, individuals and the world we live in.

Jordaan says corporates still see change as antibodies and that if yours has a culture where the people at the top don’t recognise how little they know, you’ll have no hope of inspiring innovation. Innovation doesn’t live within an autocratic culture. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to blame business owners and managers alone about everything wrong in the organisation. Recognition is defined by how you approach what you do everyday – all up and down the ‘chain of command’. And no matter how easygoing you think you are, we are all averse to change – just ask the IT guy to trade his metal for Madonna and watch him squirm.

The difference between nagging and power

I know I am not alone when I admit I’ve spent several hours (maybe more) hammering my gavel about recognition and engraved statues. It’s part of my immature charm and what makes me such a champ to have around – that, my knack for brutal honesty on what you’re wearing and perhaps just one or two other redeeming qualities. But now consider the men and women who have to manage dozens of different personalities like this, under one roof.

Horrible-Bosses-Film-Poster-Jason-Bateman-Kevin-SpaceyIn my working life (*rubs chin as eyes glaze over of memories past*), I have been told: We don’t do increases or bonuses, you can leave if you want to and will easily be replaced; and I’ve been told not to overestimate my value or believe that I am more than I am. But I’ve also been rewarded for my hard work and my spirit, and I’ve been offered jobs on numerous occasions while still in one. I’ve had some leaders leave me wondering what Darwin Award candidate put them in charge and others who I consider an absolute privilege to have known and learned from. Regardless of my reasons for moving on, it is these I am still in touch with today. You decide whether you’re going to be a good part of the process.

Quality versus quantity

I’ve said this before and will say it again: good copywriters are a dying breed. I can say this because I have faced the challenge of adding new ones to teams, and although I can’t speak for other professions, from what I hear things aren’t always sunny for other roles either. There’s this constant pressure to grab the best of the crop because there are so few of them and so many of the average kind. In a world where Kim Kardashian is the benchmark for success, it is this vapid self-belief that trumps drive in the person who wants it all for nothing. Where’s the innovation in that?

It’s far too easy to take a job, start the job, start looking for another job and all the while deliver some tepid version of what you were hired to do. I once had a client (senior brand manager) ask me where the storyboard for her radio script was. Mmm… yes… you can’t tell me she wakes up everyday, flings herself out of bed and yells to the Universe: “Today I am going to be the best me I can be.” Dealing with quality like this is what Hegarty must mean to be them trying and difficult tasks. And let me tell you something for free, that pretty petal will (somehow) own her own something-or-other one day and will be the person who says to her young assets: “We don’t do increases or bonuses. You can leave if you don’t like it and will easily be replaced.”1 Like Michael Jordaan taught, no one is smarter than everyone, so if you want to be a creative director, best you direct yourself far away from people and places like that.

Be it cheese, lamb or lobster thermidor, it’s going to move, you’re going to have to chase it and if along the way, you have any hope of actually eating any, you have to exert a little patience. Don’t take any advice from me on this one because, as a weapon of mass consumption, I want everything immediately – if not sooner. You can tell how well this has worked for me because I have my own show on Oprah’s network that’s about to take the world by storm. But before that kicks off, I am in full support of each-one-teach-one and think that we should be doing more for advertising and marketing our advertising and marketing industry to kids who are proud to live in the galaxy of their daydreams; people who subscribe to Jordaan’s model of thinking differently and who will take risks and make mistakes. It will take a little sweat, passion and commitment, but so what? Who wants Kim Kardashian’s life anyway?


1 If you find that moved lobster thermidor, please slap her with it.

© Dylan Balkind


Would the real Copywriter please stand up?

Originally written for and published on BizCommunity.com.
For engagement details, click here

In a world of SEO (dead or not) and the immediacy of content-to-consumer needed, there seems to be more copy needed than Copywriters out there. Never fear, for an article titled How to Get High-Performance Sales Copy Without Hiring a Copywriter hit the blogosphere recently.

Information like this is priceless and will change the future for Laquisha, the envelope filling entrepreneur, Donathan’s Christmas present opening startup or aunty Martha who believes that her smoked haddock air freshener range is going to make a mint. It’s easy, you see? This white paper on our profession by Christina Gillick says that readers make good writers, so if you read a lot, you can do your own Copywriting.

Everyone’s a writer

I arrived at the New Zealand Chiefs Super 15 practice. They asked what I was doing there before I explained that I’d watched a few games on the telly, was a fan of the scrum and always fancied being the guy they throw in the air in the lineout. Naturally, they showed me to my locker right away, kitted me out with my costume and we won the tournament. Hoorah! Anyone can do it, right?

Not really. So would you sit down at the latest iMac complete with state-of-the-art spectroradiometers and design your own corporate identity? Quickly go and read a lot so that you could write you own objective-driven copy or sew yourself a tuxedo for that promotion-to-CEO gala dinner? You could certainly try – everyone loves a guy with a sense of humour.

I can count on my hands the amount of times I have read something and said “Holy shitballs Mom! I wish I’d written that!” – yet it would take you more than a day to count all the people in our industry who are calling themselves writers. Then try vetting them… that should blow your hair back.

I Googled one Christina Gillick and found a lovely picture of her lying under the tree with her laptop, working – obviously. It was titled: “Christina Gillick enjoying the writer’s life at her quiet country home in Texas.” They must do things differently in Texas because, let’s be honest, writing is anything but quiet-time. It’s as deadline-driven as any job and usually involves at least nine other voices in your own head before the first word has hit the page. But I’m down when it comes to helpful tips, so anytime I have to produce any High-Performance Sales Copy, I’m heading for a tree in Texas.

Supply and demand

Bad-Copywriting2Fact is, more and more people are looking for (competent) content generators. However – and whether it comes down to a budget or the urgency pandemic – the entry barrier at many agencies into these roles is not exactly up there with the bar exam. And if you believe that these agency roles are no science, then you may be part of the problem – there’s no avoiding the fact that writing decent, engaging copy is not for everyone.

Someone who kinda sorta maybe enjoyed English in High School isn’t necessarily the right talent for this work. What should be important to agency owners and clients alike is not necessarily finding someone with a Masters in English, but someone who has a natural talent mixed with an undeniable passion for their craft and a body of work that demonstrates such. There’s your candidate.


Has Copywriting lost its heart? 

Not entirely. But very often, the diluted skill-set in a room that determines the direction of a brand forgets the importance of stories. We all need stories that prompt us to feel something, and be inspired or motivated by. Whether these are seen on TV, heard on Radio, watched in a taxi or at the rank, interpreted across a series of billboards and reinforced with what we engaged with online once we got to the office, seen in a double page spread, advertorial, blog or TTL campaign – people need something to latch on to. What good is content that popped up first on your search but did absolutely nothing for you after that? And to tell stories by mastering his craft, a writer needs to be able to see something different about the world around him; to understand that the resonant power of writing is in the magic of how 26 letters are arranged together and that there is nothing coincidental about this.

There really are no sneaky tricks, nor are there quick fixes. If you want copy that moves and motivates while delivering on the brief, find a talented, passionate writer that loves to write. That’s all there is to it. Failing that, you could be master of all (none) and use Google to teach you how to do it all yourself. While you’re at it, you can learn how to remove warts, how to design a poster, how to be a good wife, how to become a vampire, how to strategic plan and how to find the best tree to lie under when needing to produce High-Performance Sales Copy.

The list is long, how much time do you have?


© Dylan Balkind


Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 4.27.46 PM
Songs have a scent like the sea has its hug,
when I acknowledge these feelings as anything but smug.
I watch my mood file through space like floating kettle mist,
but I can’t recall what it felt like before I was kissed…

You flit like particles that glide on the sun’s streaming rays,
preempting some very long nights and some of the hardest of days.
I’ve tripped on this sidewalk, I know I should cross over,
where nothing will change still about our differences–polar…

Riding this out doesn’t need to be like torture,
and I’m on my way to learning that there’s design beneath disorder.
Freedom comes to you when you learn to embrace your part,
and know that there is nothing wrong with seeing the world through your heart.

The cycles are unbalanced bubbling under heterogeneously,
which translates into this whim that is not taken seriously.
The clock ticks and will turn my time on a dime,
when the heart forgives itself for the gravity of its crime.

The force of renewal starts when you decide to unplug,
and hear the songs that have a scent like the sea has its hug.
Nothing is by chance in the melee of complicated bliss…
as our lives file through space like floating kettle mist.

THINGS© Dylan Balkind


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