An Advertising Agency Legend Teaches Lawyers How to Write

I know lawyers are great writers. They have such a clear grasp of the subtle meaning of different words and can craft

Foto de David MacKenzie Ogilvy

David Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather

unambiguous sentences so their contracts can be interpreted correctly.

But copywriters are also brilliant communicators.

Is there anything lawyers could learn from copywriters? I offer this evidence that there might be……

On September 7th of 1982, advertising legend David Ogilvy sent an internal memo to all employees of his advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. The memo was entitled “How to Write,” and consisted of the following list of advice.

(Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners)

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, demassificationattitudinallyjudgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.

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.


*Writing That Works, by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson

Notwithstanding that this memo was written for advertising executives in New York in the early 1980’s, might there be some relevant messages for lawyers (or any other executives or young professionals) in the 2010’s?

This entry was posted in Business Development and Selling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to An Advertising Agency Legend Teaches Lawyers How to Write

  1. Pingback: Don’t write, talk | Bill Bennett

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s