Notes From the Road to Marketing Nirvana - Part 9

In Notes From the Road to Marketing Nirvana, Insights by Joe Aragona November 26, 2018

**Road to Marketing Nirvana Part9-TP-04

Not Everyone’s a Writer 

True story. 

A urinal is the last place you would expect to be for a marketing lesson. But that’s exactly where it happened one day early in my career when I was working as a writer in the marketing department of a national telecommunications company. I was fresh out of journalism school at the time and my days were focused on taking technology speak and turning it into digestible text for everything from ads and brochures to newsletters and case studies. 

There I was minding and doing my business when one of our product managers burst in with an obvious issue on his mind that had nothing to do with the purpose of the room. Tall and slender with close-cropped blonde hair and boyish good looks, Phil always looked a little overdressed in the double-breasted suits and suspenders he usually wore to work. This was at a time when we all wore suits to work, so overdressing took a conscious effort that only a few would make. 

On this day, Phil was in his shirtsleeves with his red suspenders screaming for attention. It was immediately obvious that he was not in a good mood. His normally pale complexion had gone red. His brow was furrowed and his pale green eyes had gone dark with anger. He was clutching a piece of paper in his right hand that he waved in my face as he stepped up to the urinal next to me. 


“What did you do to my text?” he asked angrily as I tried to collect myself from the shock of having someone accost me while I was in a compromising position.


“What did you do to my text?” he asked angrily as I tried to collect myself from the shock of having someone accost me while I was in a compromising position. “This is not what I wrote!” 

I remember not being able to fire back an immediate answer. I was more concerned with tucking myself back in. I managed to get out an “Ummm,… what…?” as the thought crossed my mind that he had actually followed me into the washroom to have this conversation. But Phil continued without waiting for me to collect myself. 

“I gave you 500 words and I don’t recognize half of what I wrote in here!” he blurted. 

“I had to edit it to fit the newsletter,” I offered as I zipped up my fly and turned to the wash basin. 

“You rewrote most of it!” he shot back, raising his voice. 

I found myself suddenly at a loss for words, so I focused on rinsing the soap off my hands as I tried to formulate an answer that wouldn’t insult him and make him angrier. As a newbie to the company, the last thing I needed was to make an enemy of one of the senior product managers. How could I tell him his writing sucked? Luckily, I didn’t have to find the right words. The flush from a nearby stall and the immediate snap of the lock on the stall door cut through the silence as John, my boss at the time, stepped into the middle of the conversation. 


“Calm down, Phil,” John began in a quiet, controlled, and chiding monotone as he moved to wash his hands. “You’re going to burst a blood vessel.” 


“Calm down, Phil,” John began in a quiet, controlled, and chiding monotone as he moved to wash his hands. “You’re going to burst a blood vessel.” 

The equanimity with which John managed the daily grind was always something I respected and appreciated about him. In his late thirties at the time with a round face highlighted by a bushy moustache, his short frame had started to fill in around the middle and his hair was thinning at the top. He had the quiet reassured manner of a manager who had been there and done that, and the hazel eyes behind his steel-framed glasses were always calm. As he dried his hands that day, he seemed mildly annoyed by the fact that he was about to have this conversation in a washroom. 

“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Phil shot back. “Did you see what he did to my text?” 

“Of course, I did,” John answered calmly. “I approved it before he sent it back to you.” 

“What? Why?” 

“Because it didn’t work for the newsletter. And it’s his job to fix it,” John answered. “I warned you about this when you said you would write your own story. This is a customer-facing newsletter. It’s not a technical product brief. You wrote technical specs from an engineering point of view, but the stories have to be written to deliver key points in a specific way. It’s not enough to just talk about the new features without getting into the benefits and value they offer to customers. So, the text was restructured to present that information.” 


“You could’ve just told me to do that,” Phil pressed. 


“You could’ve just told me to do that,” Phil pressed. 

I saw a flicker of disapproval flash across John’s eyes and then it disappeared behind his quiet, controlled manner. “There’s a little more to it than that,” John answered as he tore a paper towel from the roller. “He’s trained for this and it’s more efficient to have him do it than to work with you through the process.” 

“What the hell does that mean?” Phil scoffed. “Everyone is a writer.” 

“I hired him because of his training in journalism,” John sighed, as if resigning himself to a conversation he did not want to have. “So, he already knows how to write in the style we need for the newsletter.” From there, he launched into a lesson in the different types of writing used in the marketing process. 

In the next five minutes, John explained the journalistic inverted pyramid style that journalists use to report the news and why it was the best approach for a customer-facing newsletter. He outlined how that style was different from a tech brief that a product manager writes to explain a product to a technical audience. With Phil’s attention, he went on to explain how text for a newsletter was also different than text for a brochure and how that differed from the text used for a datasheet. On a roll, he continued with a quick overview of the differences between all those writing styles with the text in a white paper, a video script, and a speech. He touched on tone, voice, and structure and how they differed from one tool to another. Finally, he concluded by briefly delving into how a professional writer approaches each assignment to pull out the relevant messages, fold in the right positioning, and deliver the key points so that the reader remembers them. 


Throughout it all, John kept his composure. Phil listened attentively and I took mental notes about John’s approach so I could use it myself if the same conversation ever came up again. 


Throughout it all, John kept his composure. Phil listened attentively and I took mental notes about John’s approach so I could use it myself if the same conversation ever came up again. 

When he was done, John tossed the paper towel into the wastebasket and turned back to Phil. “So, you see, when it comes to marketing, not everyone is a writer. It’s more efficient to have Joe write the text than to have you try to figure all this out. That’s what he’s paid to do.” 

Phil glanced at me and then back at John. He seemed to be at a loss for words. But he quickly regained his footing and tried to wrap up the conversation. “Okay, I get it,” he said. “Maybe you should’ve told me that before I spent two hours writing this crap.” 

“Maybe I should have,” John answered, diffusing the situation with a smile. “I’ll know better next time. Now, do you mind if we get out of the washroom and get back to work? I’d prefer not spending my day talking about marketing beside a urinal.” 

We all returned to our desks a little more in sync with each other. 

Later, Phil apologized for accosting me at the urinal. He and I went on to work very closely to produce great marketing material for his product. Over time, he insisted on having me in his marketing corner for all content. 

John became director of marketing and eventually left corporate life to develop a successful consultancy focused on investor relations. 

And I’m still somewhere on the road to marketing nirvana. 

But that’s another story. 

Aragona Agency - Road to Marketing Nirvana Part 1-1

This blog is based on a true story from my notes on the road to marketing nirvana. The names of the companies and people involved have been eliminated or changed to protect the guilty.

Joe Aragona

Written by Joe Aragona

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