The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook

Book by Joseph Sugarman

Review by Thomas Hartmann, originally published at buzzflash.com on April 2, 2007.

Want to use the written word -- from a blog to email to articles to op-eds to pretty much any written format you can imagine -- to change the world? Joe Sugarman will teach you how.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that I owe much of the quality of the life I currently have to Joe Sugarman.

Back in the mid-1970s, he was one of America's most famous advertising copywriters and I was a twenty-something partner in a small Michigan advertising agency. I attended a workshop that Joe taught, and it quite literally changed my life. Joe gave me my first real keys to the kingdom of communication, and I've made a living using them ever since.

While the passage of 30-some years since that time has dimmed my memory of when and where I was listening to Joe, I remember well many of his lessons. One of the first was to understand that good advertising copy is one of the most elegant forms of communication. It's designed to produce a change in a person's thinking and, most importantly, an immediate change in their behavior.

The same is true of the most effective political writing, whether it be that of Karl Marx, Barry Goldwater, or conservative strategist Richard Viguerie (who was also a student of Joe's).

I remember Joe telling us that the most common mistake of writers of all stripes (particularly advertising copywriters) is thinking that they're writing to an audience. He said that when writing copy, one should imagine a person you know, who you like, and who would be interested in the topic (product) of your writing. And then write it as a letter, even if you have to insert a personal preamble that you later delete.

I've used (and advocated) his technique for years, writing everything from advertising copy for some of America's largest corporations, to strategic communications, to hundreds of published articles and 19 books currently in print.

You can find the essence of Joe's advice about writing in a personal way in Chapter 15 of his book The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook. But that's just the beginning. And even though Joe's book is entirely about marketing and advertising copy, the lessons are important -- crucial -- for political activists.

Political persuasion is simply a variation on commercial persuasion (assuming that historically the latter preceded the former). The tools that make you a good marketer are the tools that work in politics as well.

In that context, The AdWeek Copywriting Handbook is one of the most valuable tools political activists will ever encounter.

In doing research and show-prep for my daily talk radio show, I encounter lousy political communication at least a half-dozen to a dozen times a day. Activists who don't know how to condense what they're saying into an easily-understood form. Activists who bury the lede. Activists who try to "sell" the details of policies rather than their benefits.

If you want to know how to be an effective communicator in print -- from writing letters to members of Congress to writing posters for the upcoming march to writing your blog -- Joe Sugarman is the man to teach you. Just mentally transform his "sales and marketing" examples into political examples -- it's surprisingly easy -- and you'll be brilliant.

As odd and offbeat as it may seem, Joe Sugarman's AdWeek Copywriting Handbook should be in the library of every political activist (and already is in those of many conservatives, starting with Viguerie). Learn what they know -- buy it now!

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