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Managing Marketing: Creativity, Copywriting And Caring About Your Audience

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Dr Ryan Wallman is the Creative Director and Head of Copy at Wellmark, a creative agency for healthcare brands. He is also the author of a fabulous book on advertising and marketing titled “Delusions of Brandeur”. Ryan shares his thoughts on the role of creativity and particularly writing in engaging the audience and the particular challenges and discipline required to write in categories that are often quite technical and regulated. He also shares how he found and embraced Twitter and can be followed at @Dr_Draper

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today I’m sitting down with Dr. Ryan Wallman, Creative Director and Head of Copy at Wellmark, a creative agency for healthcare brands. But he’s also the author of this fabulous new book, Delusions of Brandeur. Welcome, Ryan.

Ryan:

Thank you very much.

Darren:

Welcome Doctor, I should say.

Ryan:

Yeah, yeah, of course, I insist on my honorary title.

Darren:

I’ve found that creative people can come from all walks of life. I don’t think that many people (unless their parents work in advertising) wake up and say, ‘when I grow up I want to be a copywriter or an art director’ do they?

Ryan:

No, most people don’t even know what a copywriter or an art director is when you talk to them. That’s evidenced by the fact that almost every story of anyone in advertising you hear, ‘oh, I kinda fell into it by chance’. It’s very unusual for someone to come out of school thinking I want to go into advertising—that’s my experience. So the backgrounds tend to be pretty diverse.

Darren:

You grew up in Perth, WA. You did a medical degree. What made you have this career shift? You were compelled to, weren’t you?

Ryan:

I was in the end. It was a bit of a confluence of circumstances really. Combine the fact that I had become quite disillusioned by my medical work as well as the fact that I had always had this yearning to do some writing, and I had always written so I wanted to try and find a way to marry the two.

It led from there. I did a graduate certificate in professional writing and was trying to find something that would allow me to use my scientific and medical background but still allow me to write and it went from there.

Darren:

Apart from the work you’re doing as head of copy and creative director at Wellmark, and we’ll get back to that because it’s an interesting category, the healthcare, pharmaceutical, (and I hate this term) the wellness industry.

It’s been said that the trouble with being a copywriter is that everyone thinks they can write.

Ryan:

It’s one of the themes in my book. It is a constant problem, even compared to art direction for example. Not everyone knows how to use Ink Design or Photoshop but pretty much everyone can open a Word document and use a keyboard. It’s a real challenge sometimes convincing people that they can’t necessarily write as well as they think they can or in the way that copywriting techniques have been proven to be successful. Yes, it’s a problem.

Darren:

Especially when you get a piece of copy back and someone’s taken to the red pen almost like your 3rd grade English teacher marking your first composition and they’ve marked it all up for you. It’s almost like well why did you ask me to do it when you could clearly do it yourself?

Ryan:

It’s a very good point. Track changes are probably the modern equivalent of the red pen. Dratenburg talks about this, ‘why hire a dog if you’re going to bark yourself?’ It’s very true. If you’re going to entrust someone to be a copywriter for you then meddling is probably not the best way to go.

Darren:

I personally experienced accounts management coming back, ‘the client loved the idea; they just want to change the headline, the picture and some of the copy’. So, which part of it did they actually love? I get the idea of providing feedback with a positive but I’m not feeling very positive.

Ryan:

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. Account management is often in a difficult situation because they need to be able to provide some kind of positive feedback but a lot of the time it would be easier if they just said, ‘try again’ rather than kind of softening it.

Darren:

There was a very talented copywriter called John Turnbull who used to work at the Campaign Palace.

Ryan:

Great agency.

Darren:

And if it came back with significant changes he would say to the accounts management team, ‘scrap that and I’ll do a better one but I need to understand what is it about this that needs changing’. Because he would keep coming up with ideas and executions until the client went ‘yeah, that’s the one’ without having to have their input.

Ryan:

Until you’ve read their mind. That’s obviously an issue and there are very different types of feedback and some feedback is very constructive as long as there is some kind of rationale behind why they don’t think it’s going to fit the strategy or the brief, then that’s fine.

But subjective feedback is the issue when people don’t like something for whatever reason.

Darren:

In your experience, what’s got us here? There was a time when the creative process was something to at least be valued whereas now it feels like just part of a service provider.

Ryan:

Definitely. Obviously, I wasn’t around in the days when that really was the case that the creative process was strongly valued by clients and it was a real partnership. Having said that we certainly have clients where that has been the case. My feeling is it’s probably a few things.

The increasing pace of work being turned around and expectations of short term turnarounds and we don’t have months to work on campaigns and that kind of thing. The short term targets/ sales have to be shown to be increased within a couple of weeks or the advertising campaign isn’t working. And a lot of that has been fed by the digital behemoth.

Darren:

The insatiable beast of Facebook and Google and the like.

Ryan:

Yeah, so it’s a lot of things and as you say, partly the democratisation of media and the fact that a lot of people are out there creating stuff and writing on social media and so on so there probably is a sense that anyone can do it and that it’s not a particularly important skill.

Darren:

It’s a bit like that Pixar film, Ratatouille, where Gustave said, ‘anyone can cook’. Well, anyone can cook but not everyone should. It’s the same with creating content, writing something. There is lots of writing on the internet but the fact that no one reads it is probably indicative that it’s probably not that good.

Ryan:

Yeah exactly, and I think that’s been part of the problem. It’s part of my problem with the content marketing industry; there’s a push to put out content for the sake of putting out content irrespective of what the quality is. That’s a challenge and an opportunity at the same time.

Really good quality writing stands out and still cuts through but I think the fact that it’s not highly valued anymore is a constant stumbling block for us.

Darren:

Is this why your creative release is Twitter? You have great insight and turn of phrase that really gets people going.

Ryan:

I think that’s a fair observation. It has really been a creative outlet in many ways. When I got into it we were very much a pharmaceutical agency so our opportunities for really creative work were pretty limited. That’s changed now we’ve diversified. I found it gave me an outlet for doing something a bit more creative and commenting on some of those issues within the industry that we’ve been talking about. And it seems to have struck a chord. It’s fun.

Darren:

One of the good things about Twitter is the instantaneousness. The other thing is that the limitation of the number of characters actually impacts on what you write, doesn’t it? You have to be very concise because it doesn’t allow you to just waffle on. Is that one of the things you like; that discipline, that challenge?

Ryan:

Yeah, it definitely is. It’s interesting because I hadn’t even considered going on Twitter in its early days.

Darren:

This is as Dr_Draper, which I think is an inspired name by the way.

Ryan:

Thanks. It was on a bit of a whim at that stage. I can’t change it now so I’m stuck with it. I used to think of Twitter as being frivolous and I honestly couldn’t get my head around why people would want to be on it. Partly because of that character limit I thought how much interesting conversation can you have with that kind of limit?

But over time I’ve come to realise exactly what you say, that it enforces discipline on you and makes you a much more pithy writer. Certainly, I’ve found that anyway.

I think it’s improved my writing at work and in other realms so it’s certainly not just confined to that medium.

Darren:

It’s also interesting because you do build communities of like-minded people and it also makes them available to you to get instant feedback. I’m sure you’ve used it that way.

Ryan:

Yes, very much so, and you’re right, I’ve developed some really strong communities on Twitter. There are a few that are kind of interrelated. There is a very strong copywriter community you’ve probably seen, particularly for me in the UK. And strategy Twitter is a related community, and the ad world more generally.

As you say, there are a lot of like-minded people, a lot of support, and it’s been invaluable in terms of learning but the other side of it is the instant feedback. One of the things I used in putting the book together was that I knew which things had got a good response on Twitter so I used that as a kind of triage system for what I was going to include in the book.

Darren:

Crowd-tested publishing. You’ve done your own market research amongst your audience.

Ryan:

Exactly. It is really good for testing what is going to work, not that I started out that way but that’s how it transpired.

Darren:

The book, Delusions of Grandeur—I found it interesting from the point of view that it’s a collection of thoughts but there is an overarching theme, which is let’s stop focusing on the shiny new thing, the latest trend and let’s get back to the very core of what makes great communication, advertising; focusing on who you are talking to, who you’re trying to communicate with and how do we engage them.

It’s so easy in today’s fast-paced complex world that marketers, agencies and even some creative people have lost sight of that.

Ryan:

It is. It’s remarkable really when you think about the fundamentals of it and just how over complicated a lot of people make it and how distracted people are by new technology. As an example I saw something on Twitter today where one of my contacts said he’d been working with these big tech companies who genuinely only consider or conceptualise marketing as being marketing for one particular channel—usually a social media channel, Instagram or whatever.

They simply haven’t thought about marketing as being anything broader than that. And I think that’s one of the biggest problems we face; that there is this splintering of expertise and a lot of people haven’t had any training in marketing. They don’t understand that it’s more than just communication or even that it’s more than just one channel. There is this general ignorance and that’s where we are.

Darren:

Part of this is if you look at marketing in the fullness of the discipline, the most visible part of it is the communications.

Ryan:

Yes.

Darren:

If you get down to product design, pricing, distribution, these are all largely hidden. They are hidden from sight. They’re important roles or levers to pull from a commercial sense but it’s the marketing comms where the visible money is spent in media. It’s where content is created that’s going to be shown to the world. This is where people are attracted to like the proverbial moths to the flame.

It’s where all the shiny things happen, where the big news stories come from as far as marketing goes. You don’t see headlines such as ‘pricing mistake on item such and such’. But you do see ‘ad fails or creates outrage’ don’t you?

Ryan:

There is no pricing brief magazine as far as I know. That’s exactly the problem. It is hidden and it’s not (I hate the term) sexy. It doesn’t excite people that kind of stuff. The 3 p’s aren’t that exciting. So a lot of marketers have been drawn to that flame, and a small part of that flame, not even just communication but very specific areas of communication—all those Martech tools and the rest of it.

I think that’s the challenge of our age in marketing.

Darren:

I’m passionate about marketing even though I have a science degree and loved science as a kid. I ended up working in medical research but when I got into marketing I loved it. What I loved about it was the uncertainty of it; the whole idea of empirical proof and evidence.

And it’s increasing. People are looking for how to inform marketing with more data analytics and insights and really proving the performance of marketing but it’s still largely about human beings and you would know from your medical training that the great thing about human beings (and they say it in behavioral economics) we’re predictably irrational.

We are irrational but there is a predictability about it so any science that’s based on human beings is always going to have a certain level of uncertainty and lack of predictability.

Ryan:

Absolutely. My background is in psychiatry so I’m probably more aware of that than most. We do need to understand the principles that stand the test of time and I think people like Byron Sharp have brought that into focus more in the last decade or so.

But then of course there is always that layering of unpredictable human behavior and that’s why marketing can never be an exact science.

Darren:

We call it a social science, which if you’re in a pure science such as physics, it’s basically saying it’s not really science.

Ryan:

Exactly. And a lot of people do say that about marketing and to some extent fairly. I think where it starts to get dangerous is when people start to think it is an exact science and everything you can measure must be correct. The problem of course is not everything is measurable. People like Rory Sullivan talk about this a lot. The arithmocracy has overtaken marketing and that’s fine for the parts you can measure but not so much for the rest.

Darren:

Luckily complexity theory will do them in because it says you can do the same thing over and over again and get totally different results because the system you’re testing is constantly changing. In fact the testing you are doing is actually influencing the change in the system.

As a creative person you must be aware of that. Every campaign, every piece of stimulus that you put into the market system has some sort of impact, either positive or negative, that fundamentally changes the system.

Ryan:

And there’s even a lot of luck involved at times. The KFC campaign comes to mind, the finger lick’n, which is horribly timed because of the Coronavirus, but they could never have known that. Sometimes there is no way to predict how things are going to go down.

Darren:

They say social media has democratised communications but how quickly things like that will turn—they call it a meme and it will go viral. It’s interesting that we use all these medical terms; we’ve actually got a pandemic virus going on but the industry would love to have their own virus for every brand.

Ryan:

I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable with the pseudo-medical terms that are used because they almost trivialise some of these things.

Darren:

I think they diminish the meaning of them.

Ryan:

Meme is a good example. Meme has a much broader meaning than just the internet meme, an image on a computer screen but for a lot of people, that’s all it’s become.

Darren:

You touch on it in the book but one of the things that advertising and marketing seem to be particularly creative at is either coming up with new words or hijacking existing words and making them mean something completely different.

Ryan:

Yes. Even the word marketing has changed meaning for a lot of people as we’ve already discussed. Or it’s this trend of throwing out what’s gone before and completely reinventing it even though the principles of it are the same. Content marketing is a good example of that. A lot of the principles of content marketing are the principles of good marketing but it had a nice new name and became the next big thing.

Darren:

I had a conversation with a content marketing expert a while ago and I said, ‘this is not new’. Benjamin Franklin created an almanac that was one of the earliest forms of content. The tractor company, John Deere, has been producing content for over 100 years.

Ryan:

And the Michelin Guide is often cited as being a good example of it.

Darren:

So there are all these examples. All we’ve done is use technology. It’s now cheaper, easier, and faster to create content and deploy it to a large market.

Ryan:

Potentially.

Darren:

And going back to your earlier point; it still has to be relevant, interesting, engaging. This is the skill of creative and production people to actually achieve that.

Ryan:

Exactly and there has been this whole industry built around trying to convince people otherwise, in some ways, that it isn’t a particular skill; anyone can do this and any company can do this. It’s one of the reasons we’ve seen this proliferation of nonsense (low-quality content).

Darren:

There are platforms now that can actually produce content and deploy it for you. You just tip in the ingredients and out the other end comes all this material. In fact, my business partner in the US, Michael Farmer, has been tracking agency scopes of work and outputs since 1995.

He said, around the turn of the century or the millennium, the average brand would produce around 150 to 250 pieces of work a year. In the last 5 years that’s closer to 3,000 to 5,000. It’s this mass production but the secret to mass production is to actually maintain or improve quality whilst still being able to customise.

Henry Ford produced cars for everyone, as long as it was black, whereas production lines now have to produce a blue one with a red interior, a green one with etc.

Ryan:

I think social media content is a particularly good example of that. You see a lot of organic social content that really is just pointless. And it seems to be a FOMO that brands think everyone else is doing it so we have to do it irrespective of what the returns are. And often they are impossible to measure.

Darren:

If you don’t mind I wouldn’t mind moving onto the wellness category. I think we both agree it’s a poor use of the word. We do a lot of business in the US where they can advertise pharmaceuticals on TV and they do. In fact, if you go to the US and turn the TV on, 2 out of 3 ads are for a pharmaceutical.

The thing that worries me is the disclaimers; the possible contraindications may cause nausea, vomiting, and even death. At that point I think, hmmm, I’m not sure this is the product for me.

Ryan:

I assume that Americans tune out because they’ve seen those disclaimers so often that they become desensitised to it. But it’s obviously a very different market. We can’t, as you know, advertise pharmaceutical products to consumers here. So, there is no DTC advertising here, which means what I do, in terms of pharmaceutical marketing is confined to brand marketing to healthcare professionals.

And then the only kind of advertising you can do to consumers is disease awareness campaigns.

Darren:

Or ask your health professional.

Ryan:

Exactly, that’s how it kind of ends. It is a very different market. It’s odd because there are all these disclaimers at the end of their consumer ads. So, they’re obviously highly regulated but the regulation doesn’t extend to banning that kind of advertising. And we obviously face that issue and it’s a challenge for us here.

Darren:

The interesting thing for me is that in medicine globally there is a belief about informed consent. That means if you’re informing a consumer/ patient about any sort of treatment or pharmaceutical, that they need to be informed so they can actually consent to having that treatment.

The interesting thing is it doesn’t just apply to pharmaceuticals; it applies to financial products and so many other things. The world has become so complex and complicated and so much of advertising and communications is trying to simplify everything to get through people’s natural filters of ‘I haven’t got time for this’.

How do you deal with that? And what do you think is the opportunity there? I think there’s a gap there that’s not being filled.

Ryan:

There is. It’s interesting you say that about financial products because for a time my agency diversified out of healthcare, more broadly into other B2B areas that are complex and highly regulated such as financial products and corporate ports so there are definitely parallels there.

But as for how you reach that balance it’s a really tricky one. A constant problem we face is we will write something that is simple and clear as can be.

Darren:

If you make it too simple you often cut out the essential pieces that inform the audience, the reader.

Ryan:

Yeah, as simple as it can be. But then it’s not like an ad agency where it just goes to the client so it may be legal. But we then have all these other people who are involved; the medical approvers and regulatory and all this. It’s very rare that it gets through all of those people without being complicated or diluted in some way.

That’s the challenge, that you need to try and balance that input with what you think is going to be the clearest communication. And that’s the strength of an agency like ours that is used to dealing with those kinds of problems.

Darren:

You take on the challenge full-steam ahead. But you’d think with all the focus on financial services in the last couple of years, the idea of the product disclosure statement, which was pages and pages long—no one is going to read it. And yet they are accepting and bound by those legal terms.

How many times have you signed up for some online service and it says terms and conditions here? Apparently if you click on Google there are effectively 13 pages of terms and conditions, one of them being that you can only hold them accountable in Ireland.

Ryan:

Well that’s the only place they pay taxes isn’t it?

Darren:

You’ve actually got to turn up in Dublin and issue your court orders.

Ryan:

This is exactly right; it’s so complicated. I believe there are some agencies dedicated to translating some of those terms and conditions into plain English. It just makes no sense. I guess it’s historical and it protects companies from being sued. It’s not meant to be communicated clearly is basically the answer.

Darren:

What role do you think education plays? I think we do a really bad job at educating everyone in things like their own bodies, health, financial futures, all sorts of things.

Ryan:

Yeah, that’s something we do quite a lot of in healthcare. Advertising is a relatively small part of the communications we develop. A lot of it is education, whether it’s medical education for doctors, for example, or patient education. We do quite a lot of patient brochures and websites—that kind of stuff.

And that’s really the key; trying to simplify information which can be very complex. Even doctors are often not very good at communicating information simply to their patients. That’s really where our forte lies.

Darren:

I’ve had the first-hand experience because having some science and medical training, the number of times I’ve been with someone in hospital and they’ve been asked to sign something and I go ‘hang on, this says informed consent; when are you going to have the conversation?’ But everyone’s time-poor. Everything is so complex, so hard.

Ryan:

Yeah. I think doctors are getting better at it and they’re being trained better in it now as well in providing properly informed consent. But it always used to be very much just throwing the form at them and getting them to sign it. But I think that is changing and patient education and communication is a real focus of medical education and training now.

Darren:

But beyond agencies like Wellmark where you’re focused on doing this, the danger is there are a lot of other products that may not strictly fall under the regulation, the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, but still, there is a need to inform consumers so they can make a proper decision.

Ryan:

Yeah and I think there are a lot of industries that haven’t really caught up to that fact or haven’t had to adhere to regulations. When we talk about the wellness industry more broadly there are a lot of cowboys out there who aren’t really beholden to any of those specific paid bodies so you see a lot of very dodgy claims.

It’s a real minefield for consumers.

Darren:

As a writer, you’ll appreciate it when they say things like ‘maybe implicated in improving intelligence in children’. Whereas the same product appears in somewhere like China and it says ‘will improve the intelligence of your children’—proven fact.

Ryan:

It depends very much on the market and regulations vary a lot by market. You start to recognise certain words on products—the lawyers have said you can’t say this.

Darren:

Lawyers are such good communicators, aren’t they? They really should become copywriters and then we’d have a lot more long copy advertising because there’d be clause after clause.

Ryan:

A lot more semicolons.

Darren:

And who doesn’t like a semicolon?

Ryan:

I used to as a school kid.

Darren:

Well, it’s better than a full colon in every sense of that phrase. Going back to your book. Who was it you produced this with?

Ryan:

It’s an agency in the UK called Garth, and more specifically it was Giles Edwards who was one of the founders of Garth and he has been a friend of mine on Twitter for a few years. So we talked about it briefly during a Twitter chat and all of a sudden it escalated into writing a book.

Darren:

It’s also beautifully designed.

Ryan:

I agree.

Darren:

I think they’ve done an amazing job of taking the content and presenting it. What was the objective? Was it really for you just to collate all of these thoughts? Or are you hoping it will have some sort of impact on the outcome?

Ryan:

It’s both but it was definitely the first one first but it happened pretty much exactly as you said. I realised that I had written quite a lot of stuff over the last few years (articles, blog posts, little Twitter snippets) and I was looking back through my archives and realising there was a lot of content there.

Part of it was I wanted to put it in a more permanent home but then I came to realise that there was this theme running through it that maybe people would enjoy and learn from so I guess that’s how it ended up.

Darren:

The feedback you’ve been getting, especially on Twitter; people photographing their favorite pages. There’s a flow diagram or quiz to work out what sort of writer and it’s interesting how many people are disappointed that they’re a ‘PR hack’.

I bought mine through Amazon. Is it available anywhere else?

Ryan:

No, unfortunately, it is only Amazon. We were limited. We decided early on that we weren’t going to try and get a publisher because it’s such a niche publication.

Darren:

But you’ve sold 1,000 or more already. What’s it up to?

Ryan:

About 1100 I think. Maybe we can get a sponsor for the next one. As you say, the snippets that people have been photographing—I think a lot of the credit for that has to go to the guys at Garth because it is so good to look at and neatly contained in little snippets. I’m pretty happy with it.

Darren:

Ryan we’ve run out of time. Dr. Ryan Wallman, thank you very much. I have a question for you before we go. Is there another book in the making and will it be even more pointed than this one?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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