Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 2:41 PM EDT
Today, I've got something a little different for you -- a true story of how I wrote my first advertising copy... when I was 12 years old. Hopefully, it will make you laugh, even though it's pretty far from the hands-on advice that I usually give on this blog.
Before I get to that, I've got some important business to take care of.
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To be honest, I don't think it will be much of a secret when Sales Machine lands. (We're talking some big media properties here.) I sure wish I could give you specifics, because it's really cool news. If it actually happens, of course, which depends upon that pesky contract stuff.
Second, I want to thank the people at BNET for being so helpful and patient with me over the past few years. In particular, I want to thank Paul Sloan (for trying so hard to keep me at BNET), Christine Lee (whose intelligent, well-thought-out newsletters really drove the numbers), former Editor in Chief Eric Schurenberg (who brought extraordinary intelligence and experience to the team), David Hamilton (who provided superlative support and advice throughout), and my former editors Karen Steen, Todd Lappin, Jeff Davis and Michael Mattis. All very talented folks.
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And now, finally, for my last post on CBS/BNET, something completely different. No sales and marketing advice, but a personal story about how I got started in writing about sales and marketing, way back when I was 12 years old.
It's a true story and told here for the first time.
MY FIRST AD COPY
by Geoffrey James
My grandmother lived in a working-class neighborhood in Akron, Ohio, that consisted of rows of boxy two-story bungalows with clapboard siding.
Her house was kiddy-corner from that of a largish woman whom my cousins and I called "Crabby Appleton" because whenever we were outside playing, she would emerge from her house and yell at us to stop.
It really didn't matter what we were doing: if were played baseball in the street, if we rode our bikes on the sidewalk, if we set off firecrackers, out she'd pop, madder than a drenched bantam. Even walking past her house was chancy, because she didn't like children on her sidewalk, and chased them away if they lingered.
While she seemed ancient to us, Crabby Appleton was perhaps around 35, with a son of her own, a boy about two years younger than myself. We seldom saw him though, perhaps because his mother didn't want him playing with a bunch of hooligans, as she clearly saw us.
Unfortunately for Crabby, my grandmother's house was a magnet for a large family of cousins, including myself, who frequently came for extended visits.
The main attraction at my grandmother's house was the screen porch, where my grandfather stored his books and had a small office. He was rather famous as a local sports figure, and in addition to being one of the first professional football coaches in the country, was an avid fisherman, the results of which were displayed upon the walls in a series of gap-mouthed trophies.
The room also held my father's collection of "Weird Tales" magazines along with some ancient children's magazines which showed, among other stunts, how to make your own darts using kitchen matches and straight pins.
One day, a cousin and I were rummaging through the drawers when we discovered, at the bottom of a pile of "How to Draw" books, a book on "How to Draw Nudes." It was chock full of step-by-step instructions for creating cartoon versions of 1940's pin-up girls, replete with carefully crossed legs and the proverbial hand at the back of her head.
Since I was 12 and my cousin 13, we found this bit of Americana fascinating and immediately produced a series of drawings that, to us, resembled fine art.
We soon tired of this, though, and cast about for some way to put our new-found talent to more practical use. I'm not sure who had the idea first, but I suspect it was me. What I saw in these drawings was a way for us to get back at Crabby Appleton for all the grief she'd caused us over the years.
Egged on by my cousin, I turned the best of our drawings into posters advertising the entertaining notion that Crabby had opened an impromptu strip club in her home.
Needless to say, I didn't use the name "Crabby Appleton." Instead, the banner across the top of the poster read, in clear bold letters: "Come See Miss Va Va Voom!" with three trailing exclamation points.
The poster also listed Crabby's address and, just in case somebody might get confused by her appearance at the door, the following advice: "If a fat lady comes to the door, just ask to see Miss Va Va Voom!"
My cousin and I stapled five or six of these improvised posters on trees around the neighborhood and then returned to the screen porch in order to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
In this, however, we were disappointed. While we could clearly see the front door of Crabby's house, nobody came to call with the hilarious consequences that we had anticipated.
There is a point in every practical joke when it crosses a certain line and we were at that line, because my cousin (now a attorney with an important clientele) had the bright idea that we should send a copy of the poster to a local city councilman.
We consequently found an envelope, looked up the address in the phone book and after asked my grandmother (who was of course oblivious to the entire scheme) for a postage stamp.
We deposited the letter in the corner mailbox.
Two days passed. My cousin, who had been visiting for the weekend, returned home, leaving me to bear the brunt of the inevitable.
Next morning, my grandmother received a telephone call from Crabby. Apparently the councilman's wife had intercepted the advertisement and, upon running into Crabby at the local supermarket, had confronted her with it, expressing her displeasure replete with "what is the meaning of THIS?" umbrage.
My father was called and he left work to deal with the crisis. As soon as he arrived, Crabby stormed across the street and was subsequently received IN THE LIVING ROOM - a place where I had not, in my entire decade of visiting that house, ever seen a single soul actually sit down. My father was seated on one old Victorian chair to my right, my grandmother on another to my left, glowering both, while Crabby sat across from me, fuming.
It was not the most comfortable position in which I've found myself.
I had never seen Crabby up close, and now that I did, she didn't seem nearly as scary. She seemed, in fact, like any harried housewife, overworked and weary, and upset to have been made the butt of a joke. "Things have been hard since my husband left me," she whined. "The last thing I need is more troubles in my life."
Now I felt sorry for her, and wanted to do what I could to make her feel better. So, in a spirit of sincere contrition, I volunteered the following remark: "Now that I see you up close, I can see that you're not all THAT fat."
My father, upon hearing this, pursed his lips, rose, bowed respectfully to Crabby, and left the room, returning a few minutes later, his face now quite red.
Anyway, she accepted my apology and, for what it's worth, never bothered us again, although we did sometimes see her glare out the window a few times.
Eventually, the entire brouhaha (my grandmother called it "that recent embarrassment") slowly slipped into obscurity, to the point that my cousin doesn't remember it at all.
Even so, the overall experience (and the certain knowledge that my writing, when properly positioned, could attract a LOT of attention) set me on my course as a professional writer.
READERS: It's been a total blast! Email me!!!! See you in a few weeks... I hope!!!