The Robert De Niro Approach to Copywriting

The Robert De Niro Approach to Copywriting

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John Smith
Published: 16th June 2015

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Robert De Niro is not only one of the greatest actors of all time, he’s also the actor that I believe embodies all the qualities required to be a great copywriter in the marketing to schools sector.

In many ways copywriting is a lot like acting. Creating content for clients’ email campaigns means that I inevitably spend a significant part of my day effectively pretending to be somebody else.

What's more, the dizzying array of clients we work with means that I have to play a huge variety of roles on a weekly basis; from Historians and playground designers right through to Hip Hop artists and even Sir Paul McCartney!

It can be pretty challenging moving from one role to another, which is why I often find myself thinking back to Robert De Niro’s infamous ‘method acting’ technique as a source of inspiration.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with ‘method acting’, it relates to the extraordinary lengths that De Niro would go to in search of absolute authenticity in his performances.

Put simply, he believed that the only way to truly inhabit a role was to meticulously research the character and literally ‘become’ that person in his day-to-day life.

This famously led to him learning how to box for his role in Raging Bull, working as a cab driver for three weeks prior to filming Taxi Driver, and bombarding a co-star with anti-Semitic epithets in order to ensure their onscreen animosity ‘felt real’!

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that I go to quite the same lengths in my role as a copywriter at Sprint. For instance, I recently worked on a campaign for the youngest woman to climb Everest and going ‘fully De Niro’ in this instance would have probably finished me off.

However, I truly believe that to write great copy for a client you need to get into ‘the zone’.

For me, the zone is the point at which I feel I understand the client’s business and brand almost as well as they do. It’s the point where I feel the same level of excitement about the product or service as if I’d had a hand in creating it myself.

Once you’re in the zone the copy almost writes itself. However, the road to this blissful state of nirvana is paved with much soul searching, nagging self-doubt, and emotional torment. In short, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

NB: If you’re starting to quake in your boots, stop reading now and see instead The Arnold Schwarzenegger Approach to Copywriting – which is basically; turn up, shoot everything full of holes, and let someone else clear up the mess!

Getting into the zone is hard work…

It requires consuming as much information as you possibly can about the client. You need to read their website from front to back, back to front, and front to back again; you need to watch all their videos at least half a dozen times; and you need to speak to the client personally so you can tap into their passion while filling in any gaps in your understanding.

Then you need to research the sector. Find out how the client positions their product or service in relation to their competitors. You’ll also need to trawl through the internet in search of Ofsted reports, relevant newspaper articles, and case studies that can help you get a feel for the wider context.

Finally, you need to allow time for all that information to seep into your bones. You need to take it home with you, take it for an evening walk, and fall asleep with it on the pillow next to you. When you wake up the next day you’ll realise that you feel somehow different.

This means that the De Niro approach is starting to work its magic. Now you’re finally ready to start hitting the keys.

But, if at any point you feel like you’re still ‘winging it’ (even if it’s just a lingering doubt in the back of your mind), then STOP! This is your subconscious telling you that you need to get deeper into character.

When it comes to The Robert De Niro Approach to Copywriting there’s no middle ground and no room for compromise or half-heartedness. It’s tough, exhausting, and can have a sometimes shocking effect on your social life.

But the results for your client will be worth it all!

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