Copywriting life lessons from Bryan Adams

Ben Lloyd

Tech Write | B2B copy and content writing for IT & technology companies

Where most of my colleagues choose to hone their skills by attending industry conferences, I personally tend to look elsewhere for inspiration. If we are all exposed to the same stimuli, our copy will continue to become more generic, doing our customers a disservice and making our jobs a lot less interesting.

Or that’s what I tell the tax man anyway.

Which is how I came to be sitting in London’s O2 Arena a few weeks ago enjoying the finest dad rock Canada has ever exported to these shores (Canada has committed many musical sins – Nickelback, Celine Dion, Justin Bieber – but Adams is not one of them). So what can a multi-million selling musician teach copywriters?

Cuts like a knife – lessons for learners

In between hits, Adams took a few minutes to talk about his first interview with a British record producer. After hearing Adams’ record, the producer told him, “Great stuff Bryan, but it will never sell here. Take it back home to Canada with you. Good luck.”

If you lived through the 1990s, you should remember that (Everything I Do) I Do It for You was number one for about eight years. Which would tend to suggest that Adams’ work did catch on here in the UK.

As a fledgling copywriter, early feedback can be soul-destroying. Don’t let criticism kill your career before it starts though – use it as a spur to drive up the quality of your output. You will need to develop a thick skin if you’re serious about joining the copywriting greats.

The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You – don’t do everything

Adams is an excellent musician, and large sections of the show were just him and an acoustic guitar. But for the big numbers he hands responsibility for flashy show pieces to his long-term collaborator Keith Scott. Scott then proceeds to blow Adams away, with extended guitar solos that overshadow everything else on stage.

For the experienced copywriter, there are two things to take away from this observation. First, Adams is comfortable enough in his abilities and his limitations. He’s not the best guitarist on stage, so he passes key parts of a song to the person who is.

Secondly, rather than being embarrassed by his colleague’s exceptional abilities, Adams encourages Scott to steal the limelight. By suppressing his ego, the performance reaches a far higher overall standard.

Although confidence is vital to success in copywriting, it’s easy to believe our own hype after a few years. Those LinkedIn endorsements are the crack cocaine of testimonials…

Instead we should probably be passing projects on to colleagues we know are more skilled in specific subjects, ensuring customers get the quality of copy they need. Yes, you might lose a sale initially, but in the longer term you help to improve your reputation and that of the industry in general. Build a network of trusted contacts, and you should see referrals coming back your way too.

I’m all in favour for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new to improve your skills – but sometimes you’re just not up to the job in hand.

Summer of ’69 – keep on keeping on

With 13 studio albums, and 40 years of industry experience, Adams has a sizeable back catalogue to draw from. But he also knows that failure to play Summer of ’69 would almost inevitably end in a hail of plastic wine glasses and prawn sandwiches, a middle-class melee in the Golden Circle.

I can’t say for sure, but there’s a fairly good chance he hates that song. Night after night, tour after tour for more than 30 years he’s been forced to sing that song just to keep his fans happy.

Those of us who write customer blogs for a living may understand some of that mental anguish. Writing articles for the same clients, selling the same products is boring as hell – I know from personal experience, having written over 300 articles about hair loss treatments. Some of my projects have been running for years and nothing has changed in terms of products, services or brief.

As an experienced copywriter you could just jack it all in, or try to find a permanently rotating roster of clients. Or you could follow Bryan’s example – belt out the “classics” early on, and fill the gaps with something new and interesting to you personally. I know one extremely successful copywriter who has just published his second novel, banged out between client briefs.

Yes, it’s soul destroying – but so are the bailiffs who come knocking when you can’t cover your bills. We’re supposed to be creatives, even when we don’t feel inspired. Maybe that’s why Bryan Adams has produced another nine albums since 1984, toying with other genres – including dance music – to liven things up for his own mental wellbeing.

Inspiration is everywhere

The Professional Copywriters’ Network Conference may have been cancelled this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find inspiration everywhere if you look hard enough. Even in dad rock central.

What about you? Leave me a comment with your most unusual source of copywriting inspiration.


1st June 2016

Leif Kendall

I never would have guessed that copywriters can learn so much from Bryan Adams. This does make me wonder… what is the most obscure source of inspiration for copywriters?

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