Before the Chicago Portfolio School, my academic background was in engineering and nutrition science, and my writing experience was mostly sketch comedy, short stories and asinine emails. Being accepted to attend CPS as a copywriter has been a defining moment for me, but after my acceptance, I realized that I really didn’t know anything about copywriting or advertising.
I panicked. Then, I started building a library.
I read Advertising Creative: Strategy, Copy, Design, a comprehensive textbook that discusses issues ranging from strategy, ethics, international advertising and job-hunting. It was a good intro, but ultimately too broad in it’s scope. Reading Ad-Critique was interesting; it discussed how to look at the various strengths and weaknesses of different ad campaigns, but it didn’t offer many tools for a copywriter. Where the Sucker’s Moon is an insightful narrative and great read about the ad industry and all the bureaucratic obstacles that come with it, however it speaks more to the business end of the industry than the creative side.
The seminal classic all creatives in advertising are encouraged to read is Hey Whipple, Squeeze This (and it was incredibly helpful), but it doesn’t take the top spot. The best book for aspiring copywriters is The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry.
The premise of this book is that no amount of production value can save a bad idea from itself and that the crux of advertising is the concept. Barry offers a comprehensive guide to being a creative in advertising by covering a multitude of topics while offering tips and strategies to create compelling advertising ideas. His lessons are fundamental and subjects include: generating strategy and ideas, tv, ambient, integrated campaigns, presenting and selling your work, and creating a student book.
While his premise is important, and informs the book’s structure, two aspects of this book raise it above the rest. First, Barry uses over 400 rough comps of award winning ads and campaigns to demonstrate the techniques he outlines in the pages. These rough comps both clarify his message and act as concrete examples for aspiring creatives. Second, the text is full of reference material like common print ad ratios and typical pixel dimensions for digital ads. These features have helped me through concepting new ideas for presentation in my classes, and have given me a short cut when thinking about how to expand campaigns beyond the realm of print. I almost always keep this book in my bag, and I recommend that other aspiring creatives do too.
Written by: CPS Blogger and 3rd Quarter Copywriter, Jon Podulka