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The Copywriters Union
By John L. Cimino

The phone rang in the office of the International Brother & Sisterhood of Copywriters Union, Local 164.

“Hello, Copywriter’s Union, may I help you?”

“Yes, I hope so. I need a copywriter to do some writing for my company, and I was hoping you could help me.”

“We can certainly put you in touch with a number of copywriters. Let me ask you a few questions first,” said the man from Copywriter’s Local 164.

“First off, we’ll need to know what kind of material you want.”

“Oh, a brochure or two and maybe a few sales letters,” said the enthusiastic voice.

“OK, good,” said the man from Local 164. “Now, in terms of the letters, will you be wanting a headline, subheads, and sentences linked together into paragraphs?”

“Well, I guess so,” said the voice, sounding just slightly bemused by the question. “But why would you want to know that?”

“Simple,” said the man from Local 164. “Copywriters have become very specialized today, like doctors, dentists and auto mechanics. You’ll need one copywriter for the headlines. Another copywriter for the subheads. A different one for sentences...and even a Phrase, Clause and Syntax Specialist (a PCS man) to blend all the sentences into paragraphs.”

Astounded, the caller stammered, “Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that it takes 3 or 4 writers just to write one letter?”

“Not at all,” said the man from the union. “It could possibly take up to 7 or 8 if you want a really good letter. Besides the headlines, subheads, body copy and Phrase, Clause, Syntax specialists, you’ll also need a P.S. expert, a paragraph transition facilitator, a run-on sentence detector, and a weasel word eliminator.”

“What in heaven’s name is a weasel word eliminator,” asked the caller, who was quite sure by now that she had dialed the wrong number and was talking to an inmate from the Asylum for by for the Commercially Insane.

Undaunted, the man from Local 164 explained that a weasel word eliminator was not really a copywriter, but a research individual who monitors focus group sessions in which ordinary citizens express their displeasure and mistrust over the use of words such as, “up to,” “maybe,” “probably,” etc. Therefore, these individuals are an indispensable part of the total team effort.

“But I still don’t understand why it takes so many people to write a letter!” replied the beleagured caller, who was beginning to think that copywriting had finally gone the way of the automobile assembly line.

“Let me ask you a question,” the union man continued. “Do you live in a house?”

“Of course I live in a house.” said the exasperated creative services shopper. “What do you think I live in...a refrigerator box?”

“I’m sorry, Ms., but we haven’t reached the financial qualifications part of the questioning yet. The point I’m trying to make is that the house you live in was built by several different people all working together. You had carpenters, electricians, bricklayers, ...all kinds of tradesmen. Or what about when you go to your dentist, and he sends you to an orthodontist who recommends an endodontist who sends you to a gum specialist.”

“Besides,” continued the erstwhile union representative, “if you’ve ever tried to put together a direct marketing campaign, those people will really drive you crazy with their specialists.” standing by. Plus, there are envelope manufacturers with three different ways of making envelopes and 4 million sizes and textures.”

“Did we mention database marketing, predictive modeling, regression analysis, neural networks, data processing, desktop pre-press, computer net-working, telemarketing scripts, letter-shops and fulfillment houses?”

“What does all that have to do with copywriting?” said the caller, now warming to the task of going to battle with this unionized creative bureaucrat. “I simply called and asked whether you could help me find a copywriter,” said the caller. “I suppose if I called and asked you what time it was, you would have told me how to build a watch.”

“All right, all right,” said the union rep, “I can understand your consternation. But look at it from our point of view. I mean we don’t get the respect we deserve. We perform a difficult task under severe time constraints — often with no chance to research or delve into the product or service we’re supposed to sell. Business executives leave us out of the loop when they’re making their marketing plans, and expect us to perform miracles overnight. Then, adding insult to injury, they treat us as though we’re some oddball collection of underachievers who are a dime a dozen.”

The union rep sensed a slight twinge of empathy emanating from the female caller. He continued, “What else could we do? We had to form this union just to protect ourselves from extinction. Businessmen are out to crush us. They think we can be replaced with word processors equipped with spelling and grammar checkers. They think they can go to one seminar on copywriting and become an expert overnight.”

Now fully understanding the union representative’s plight, the caller said, “I understand your frustration but do you really think that forming a union and featherbedding your services is the right way to go?”

“I’m open to suggestions,” said the union rep.

“How about writing that brochure and a few sales letters for me all by yourself. You know, without going through the union.”

“Are you asking me to work under the table — to defy my union’s code of ethics?” asked the practically former union rep.

“Yes, I am,” said the caller.

“It’s a deal,” said the copywriter. “I’ll do the work of 7 or 8 experts for you and I’ll only charge you for my time.”

© 1994, John L. Cimino

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