Confessions of a Wordsmith

By Lee Rugen

Advertising CopywriterWordsmith. That's what I call myself. I like the sound of that. A craftsman. A communicator. I believe that’s what we are. I mean, that’s what this industry is all about, right?

Unfortunately, that is not always apparent. It seems that in recent years, in our rush to getting something – anything – on the air quickly, we sacrifice quality for speed. And often, it’s not really necessary. The real writing, the effective communication, has taken a back seat to things like cost-saving measures, poor planning, and giving in to whatever the client wants. Even if it hurts the client's image. And our image.

At times we've been told that it doesn't matter how the message gets out there – it just needs to be done as quickly as possible. The content and potential effectiveness of the project are to take a back seat to speed. That might mean entrusting the task to the lowest bidder. Or someone who is not a proficient communicator. The end product? A simplistic message that sounds like every other spot on the air.

A wordsmith is more than someone who simply writes copy. We are like a blacksmith who crafts a common hunk of metal. They mold it, shape it, and refine it to become something beautiful and useful. And they take pride in their work.

We too, mold, shape, and refine a message that needs to be broadcast. But this is more than a matter of personal pride. A good writer doesn’t manipulate the listener. An experienced communicator doesn't yell at them. No, a wordsmith attempts to touch the heart. We want to take the listener to a place they never expected, so they are compelled to act. The recipe for that includes experience, knowledge, finesse… and care. You have to believe that the message that you're conveying is critical to improve the life of those who hear it.

A craftsman is also always learning. They are constantly trying to improve and push the creative boundaries. We strive to produce the best product possible, and don't rest on our laurels.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when it's necessary to alter the creative masterpiece that we originally had in mind. There are no guarantees that we always have the time or resources we'd like to produce the ultimate message. But just like the blacksmith, we shouldn't sacrifice quality to meet ridiculous deadlines.

So what do we do? We don't give up. We don't throw in the towel. We strive to create the best product possible with the resources that we have at our disposal. We've been told that “content is king.” But we need to insist that superior content will be our objective.

And if you work with a wordsmith, please communicate with them the moment a project is conceived. Include them in the process. Support them. Give them as much time and resources as possible to practice their craft. I assure you that these craftsmen will work their hardest to deliver an effective message that will deliver for you and the client.

Wordsmith. a person who works with words; especially :  a skillful writer. Yes, that's my job, and I'm proud of it.

Lee Rugen is Senior Producer / Network Production Services and Morning Show Content Producer for Moody Radio Network in Chicago, IL. He welcomes your correspondence at

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Comments (6)

  • Lee..."Just hurry and get it on the air"...has been the challenge for radio creatives for as long as I can remember.
    I started in radio in 1978. As a creative, it is infuriating. Some things change very little over time. It requires training the sales staff, sales management, station management and , ultimately, the client, about the power of good creative and how short-circuiting the process is a recipe for poor performance of the ad and a waste of client's money.

  • You're right about that, Jean. This has been an obstacle for years. One of the keys, as you say, is training. But it does take a bit of compromising, too.

  • Guest - Jean Hetherington

    Lee Rugen

    You bet! If you become a copywriter/ Production Director and don't have the ability to compromise, you are in for a rough go! :)
    (and a short career.)

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  • Jean Hetherington

    Lee and Jean,

    And hundreds of other creatives. Yeah, I hear you, and, yeah, this theme has been the main complaint of any copywriting effort or other similar pursuit since Mott's argued about first typeface on Adam and Eve's first apple. The Fast, Good, Cheap triangle is almost always there. So, you're preaching to the choir, right?

    Other than to illustrate that it's still going on (and probably will forever), what useful purpose does it serve? I had a nice thing happen over LinkedIn recently, one of the guys who worked as a creative at an ad agency back in the day when I was Production Director at 98Rock in Baltimore, complimented me for the "more than expected" creative work I did for his client. This was over 30 years ago and he still had a lasting impression of my work. I can't pay any bills with that, but it was unexpectedly nice to hear.

    Back then, there was no "creative department." It was up to one person, the Production Director, to come up with the concept, write the copy, pick the voices from the air-staff, or more frequently, do the voice yourself.

    I saw the shift to adding a Creative Director in addition to the Production Director at some point, but I was out of radio by then. I think that was before broadcaster were allowed to own so many stations in a market. After that wall was broken, I can clearly see why a radio group needed another individual's creative juices to fuel the never-ending demand for high quality spots and promos.

    Jean's plan of training the rest of the station? That's a good idea. We did that whenever possible. The boundaries can be slippery and get pushed around a lot, but if everyone holds the line, things can improve.

    I also like the idea of having a Creative Concierge Service within the station. The rules about adequate turn around time are hard and fast and the client needs to PAY FOR THESE SERVICES over and above the regular ad rates. This spans the gap between the everyday station produced work and the ad agency submitted work. It's a pretty easy sell. Clients who are paying attention to your station hear the (hopefully) better work and comment on it. They are told by the AE, "Yes, that's our new Client Concierge Creative Service. It's cheap at twice the price and will only ad $x to your buy. When would you like to start?"

    See how that boat floats.


    Ty Ford

  • Ty Ford

    Ty, I appreciate your comments. There were 2 main reasons I wrote this.

    One was to encourage the creative's out here by letting them know that they are not alone. Despite the pressures, we need to keep taking pride in our work.

    Also, I was hoping that if anyone in management, sales or other departments were to see this, they would have a better understanding of what we do. We want to work with them and hopefully this would encourage them to try to work with us for the good of the client and the network/station.

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  • Ty Ford

    You're right about that, Jean. This has been an obstacle for years. One of the keys, as you say, is training. But it does take a bit of compromising, too.

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