Bob Levenson was reckoned to be the best copywriter ever.

That’s Bill Bernbach’s opinion.

That’s why he made Bob Levenson head of copy at DDB New York.

At a time when New York was stuffed with the world’s best copywriters.

And they all agreed Bob was the best of the lot.

In fact David Abbott says Bob Levenson taught him how to write copy.

So what was the secret?

This is how Bob Levenson says he wrote copy.

“Before I start, I write Dear Charlie at the top of the page.

Then I write the copy.

Then I cross out Dear Charlie.”

Bob Levenson wrote as if he was writing a letter to a friend.

Because you’re only ever talking to one person.

You’re not addressing a crowd.

Only one person at a time can read the copy so that’s who you talk to.

You convince the person that’s reading it.

I was trained in New York about ten years after David Abbott.

My favourite writer was Ed McCabe.

Ed was younger than Bob Levenson and more aggressive.

Instead of ‘Dear Charlie’ we all thought Ed wrote ‘Hey Shmuck’ at the top of his copy.

Then crossed it out later.

But what Ed’s writing had in common with Bob’s was it was always talking to one person.

Always telling the person reading why it made perfect sense.

Recently I was looking at a young copywriter’s portfolio.

The body copy was readable and persuasive, and that’s rare.

I said “This is really good copy, where did you learn to write like this?”

The student said Nick Wray taught him.

He told me Nick had said “Write as if you’re talking to a bloke in a pub and trying to convince him. Because you’re only ever talking to one person”.

I thought that was great advice.

I called Nick up and asked him where he learned that.

Nick said “You taught me you daft bugger”.

I’d forgotten about it, but of course I was really pleased.

As soon as you read something written like that it jumps off the page.

Nowadays I take it a step further.

Before I write anything I rehearse what I’m trying to say.

Not the exact words, just the general drift.

I get someone and try it out on them.

I don’t tell them I’m rehearsing it, I just tell it to them the way I’d tell it to someone over a pint.

Naturally, if I want someone to listen I’ve got to make it interesting.

So I try to say it a way that will keep them interested.

And as I’m telling them I listen.

I listen to what I’m saying, and I listen to how they react.

I listen to see which parts are interesting and/or convincing for them.

Which parts get a reaction and just as important, which parts don’t.

Because I’m listening for which parts to cut out and which parts to make more of.

And if, when I’m finished, they say “Wow, that’s great” I know I can sit down and start writing.


To one person.