The email as great as a press ad

Some thoughts after a late night working

It is Friday, 9.51am. 21 minutes after the urgent briefing was supposed to start. It is a panic job, a rush job, a crash job, a rewrite job — two emails and a landing page. Of course there are no actual briefs. I do not ever want a kicking from the client like the one I received yesterday, the account person announces. Copy goes over at the end of the day, whenever the end of the day happens to be.

**

It is 10.47am. I am in a windowless room, surrounded by sheaves of paper, empty, tea-stained mugs. There’s only one book on the shelving unit: a dictionary of the future from 2001. The steel grey cover has faded to a muted matt finish. It looks sad. I tweet that I am writing about the future, with a pencil. It gets favourited twice.

**

It is 11.34am. An old colleague brings her newborn daughter, seven weeks old, in to do her first corporate meet and greet. We talk about how even in the short time she’s stepped back from working things have changed — everything’s speeded right up, there’s not enough time to think now. All I really want is some time to stand in the garden, looking at the shrubs.

**

It is 2.17pm. I finally manage to get a first draft of copy for the two emails up and running. I circulate it to all and sundry, and whisper a silent prayer that I’ve got it right first time. Hedging, I send a text cancelling the plans I had for tonight.

**

It is 2.59pm. Feedback arrives. I like it, but it’s too long — people don’t read, remember. Can’t we break it up, bullets or subheads or something? Body copy for each of the two emails is 100 words long.

**

It is 5.53pm. We’re looking at designs for the email on the screen, weighing up which header image might illustrate the abstract nouns that are the basis of my headline the best. I worry about having the image reflect exactly what the headline is saying — what about cat cat? There’s a look of incomprehension from everyone else.

There’s one we all like, though it looks a bit fuzzy, rasterized on screen. Printed out, it’s fine in the design — pity, says the designer, that it looks better on paper than it does on screen.

**

It is 6.43pm. There is some sort of mark on one of my printouts. It’s blood. I’m now bleeding for this client. Somehow I doubt that Hemingway would have been that proud.

**

It is 7.02pm. I get a direct message on Twitter, something that lifts my spirits, something I want to keep in some way I spend about seven minutes thinking how do I print this? How do keep this?

**

It is 8.12pm. The account person is sorting dinner, from the pizza place round the corner. He phones to tell me that he ordered the meat lover and mate, the entire place erupted. I laugh heartily. It provides some distraction from the copying and pasting I’m doing to give me a structure for the next bit of copy I have to write.

**

It is 9.32pm. We are experiencing the difficulty of finding enough energy to look at this last lot of words dispassionately enough to spot any mistakes or errors. I suppress the thought that any of this might matter. The account person shows me the draft of the email he’s preparing to accompany the copy docs. I’m impressed he’s able to still be so chipper in his tone so late.

**

It is 10.22pm. I’m finally on my way home. I look like this. I feel like this.

**

It is 2.03am. I can’t sleep. It’s always the way when you’ve had a day like the one I’ve just had, when it feels like you’ve pretty much pulled the words out of nowhere, and because of that you’ve hollowed yourself out just that little more.

I think about how, somewhere in one of my archives — the one under my desk at home, maybe the one under my childhood bed — I’ve printed out and kept the emails that have meant something to me. Not many, not many at all. That’s not a surprise. Who writes emails that might be remembered? Who even thinks any more that emails could be remembered?

I think about how I can’t remember the last time someone said maybe you want to put a bit more emotion into the email copy you’re writing. It’s as if the medium demands rationality, and is suspicious of any attempts to put in anything else.

I think about how, in all the briefings I’ve ever been in to write an email, no one’s ever said, you remember how the press ads that you fell in love with, that made you want to do this in the first place — David Abbot’s Sainsbury’s ads, say — that’s the level of ambition, and craft we want from this email. How no-one’s ever said, you know what, don’t worry about the length — make the words brilliant, and we’ll trust people will read them? How no-one ever says let’s make an email as great as a press ad?

I think about how maybe the problem is most of what I have to write about is intangible. Those Sainsbury’s ads came out of having a jar of olives on your desk, so you were able to touch feel smell it, having the time to look and think and find your way in to describing it, starting the myth of selling it. How do you touch a bank account or an energy tariff or a cloud software platform? How do you feel the emotion in those?

I think about what Dave Trott said this week, about how he starts writing by imaging he’s writing to one person, then crosses out the name. And I think, well I do that. Expect I’m writing to ‘Dear [Name]’. And that never gets crossed out.

**

It is 5.02am. The cat on my feet moves up to my chest, puts a paw out as if to say why are you still worrying about this? Stroke me, and go to back to sleep.

Hunger, Fire, Harrumph.

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