David Ogilvy’s 10 tips for clear, concise writing

In 1982, the “father of advertising” wrote a memo to his employees about how to write well. His advice in that memo is relevant today.

This article first appeared on PR Daily in 2014.

David Ogilvy is widely hailed as the father of advertising for his ability to communicate a clear vision and a deeper passion at the highest level of achievement.

In many years as an advertising executive and copywriter, Ogilvy produced some of the world’s most iconic marketing campaigns. These include the legendary “Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” plus notable efforts for Rolls Royce, Schweppes and the island of Puerto Rico, among many others.

It was no surprise when, in 1962, Time called him “the most sought-after wizard in the advertising industry.” He was truly the original mad man.

Content marketers can learn a lot from the legendary Ogilvy. He was a pioneer of information-rich, soft-sell ads that didn’t insult people’s intelligence. For example, he produced “The Guinness Guide to Oysters,” an early form of what youngsters call “native advertising,” in 1951.

Today we study Ogilvy’s successful advertising campaigns to learn how to persuade prospective customers, influence readers and create memorable, evergreen content. But the “father of advertising” also has plenty to teach us about productivity, branding, research, ambition—and writing.

On Sept. 7, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo, titled “How to Write,” to his employees:

“The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly-minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well. Here are 10 hints:

1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.

2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.

3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.

4. Never use jargon words like ‘reconceptualize,’ ‘demassification,’ ‘attitudinally,’ ‘judgmentally.’ They are hallmarks of pretense.

5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.

6. Check your quotations.

7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning—and then edit it.

8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.

9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal-clear what you want the recipient to do.

10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.”

We can draw plenty of inspiration from the creative thinkers who came before us. Who inspires you?

A version of this article originally appeared on the Inbound Marketing Agents blog.


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.