LA copywriter, actor, rapper, and comedian, Jason Pickar, is in the club for the 34th episode of the podcast. This episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast comes with a warning label (for mentions of a controlled substances that are still illegal in most states). Jason’s an energetic writer with a portfolio full of engaging (and award-winning) work for his clients. In addition to his career path, Rob and Kira asked him about:
• How to get on the stage at The Price is Right (and meet Drew Carey)
• How Jason landed his first job (then another and another) in the ad agency world
• His creative process—an idea he stole from improv
• His “machine gun approach” to making sure his ideas get picked by the client
• Writing 100 headlines in an hour
• Why companies do “branding”
• How he stays creative, and
• How comedy and improv strengthen his copywriting
Jason’s agency experience is different from most of the copywriters we’ve interviewed for the show. So load up your iPod (or other listening device) and pull out your notebook. This one’s a good one. You can also click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
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The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
The Price is Right
Jason on the Price is Right
Break Media (now Defy Media)
The Creative Circus
Miami Ad School
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes, and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work. That’s what Rob and I do every week at the Copywriter Club podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for Episode 34, as a chat with copywriter Jason Pickar about writing for television, working on brands like Dr. Pepper with Madison Avenue ad agencies, how acting and comedy inform his writing, and how to get on the game show The Price Is Right.
Kira: Hey Rob, hey Jason, how’s it going?
Rob: Hey guys.
Jason: Hey. It’s going great. Good intro. I’m down with that intro.
Rob: Yeah, let’s get to it.
Kira: Okay. All right. So I think, Jason, a great place to start is with The Price Is Right. First of all, everyone needs to watch the video of you on that show. I just watched it before jumping on here. It’s ridiculous, and Jason’s ridiculous, and it’s hilarious. How did you get on the show, and what was the catalyst for even jumping into that arena?
Jason: You know what? That is a very appropriate question, because I appeared on The Price Is Right on the same day that I picked up my severance check from an old agency I worked at, Deutsch. The catalyst was, quite literally, that whole thing had kind of fallen apart. The creative directors, I’d gone through four of them. Finally, we landed on one. My art director had left. It wasn’t the right fit, so we parted ways after two and a half, three years or so. Then I was at home, just watching TV. I was like, “Oh, man, I’ve always loved The Price Is Right. I’m living in Los Angeles, there’s no reason I can’t go on The Price Is Right.”
So I went online, I got a ticket. You go to the studio at, like, 5:00 a.m. Hours and hours and hours before you’re even supposed to be there. I was, like, the second one in line. The key is to just have extremely high energy, be extremely friendly. In the line, they put a couple ringers in there. They’re like, a friendly old woman who is actually kind of notifying the producers who’s good to be on TV, and things like that.
Rob: Wait, wait, wait. I’ve got to interrupt here, because, “Really? They do?”
Jason: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not that early…
Rob: How did you know that?
Jason: … but later in the day. Because you go online, and you go to articles, “How to Get on The Price Is Right,” and they mention that. I wouldn’t mention it if I hadn’t had a really nice conversation with this older, African American woman, and she had kind of implied that I would definitely be on the show.
Basically, everyone waits in line, and then they let you in the CBS studios, and you keep waiting in line. You start filling out paperwork. Then they give you a name tag with your name written on it in the very special The Price Is Right way, and then everyone meets in groups of six, with the producer. You talk to a producer for 30 seconds to a minute, and they ask you some questions. Then that’s when they decide fully whether you’re going to be on the show or not.
Rob: So you’re meeting with the producer. Are you acting kind of crazy, or just sort of being … Because the clip of you on the show, you’re a little over the top.
Jason: I mean, that’s what they want, right?
Kira: Yeah. It makes great TV.
Jason: Yeah. I went in there knowing that they want someone with a lot of energy. I actually drank a 5 Hour Energy right before walking into the theater, because I had been waiting since 5:00 a.m., and by then it was like noon. Yeah. I mean, they want someone with a lot of energy. It’s a lot of emotion. You get called on down. I had joked with these guys in this row a couple rows ahead of me that if I get called down, I’m going to just run right to them, and give them a huge hug. That’s exactly what happened.
It also helps to have a specially designed t-shirt for the show. I had this super bright orange shirt. You want a bright color that will match the settings of The Price Is Right. Then I had an art director friend of mine design that ice climber guy from the ice climber game, except with Drew Carey’s face, and it said “Yodelayhee Drew.”
Another friend of mine, who has a t-shirt company, screen printed it for me. When you work in advertising, you meet a lot of people with a lot of skills that can come in handy for things like getting on The Price Is Right.
Rob: I feel like we should probably just end the show. We’re good. So much value already, right? We’ll link to the clip of you on The Price Is Right, because it is funny, it’s fun to watch, and it’s one of those things that anybody who’s watched The Price Is Right when they’re home sick, or off of work or whatever … What a great career aspiration.
Kira: Before we move on from The Price Is Right, though, what were you thinking as you were in it? Were you just so pumped up, or were you just like, “I can’t believe this is happening?” Or were you just caught up in the moment?
Jason: It was all adrenaline. I get called up, and I run down, and they put an item up, and in my head 747 pops up, because it’s the plane. I’m like, “Sure, 747. That’s the way to go.” Then that was the right one. Which is, it’s nice, because I won that prize, but the next prize up for grabs was two iPhones … I know the price of that, 1198 … Then that’s a chance to win a car.
Unfortunately, I did not have that opportunity. A man named had that opportunity, who you see pop up later when he makes it almost impossible for me to out-spin him.
Rob: That was a tragedy. You missed the dollar by one space, right?
Jason: I missed what I needed by one space both times.
Rob: Yeah. Heartbreaking.
Jason: Yeah. It hurts.
Rob: Heartbreaking. Okay, so let’s back up a little bit, Jason, because your career didn’t start with The Price Is Right. How did you get into copywriting? You’ve done something very different from most of the people we’ve talked to, and that is, you’ve worked at several agencies. We’re really curious about the process of working at an agency, getting hired by an agency. So tell us a little bit about your career path to where you are now.
Jason: Everyone at agencies has completely different ways that they came in, and completely different stories of how their career went. I can only give advice based on me and what I’ve seen, but it started in college. I thought I wanted to be a history major, maybe pre-law. I was studying film as well.
One night I got super high. So terribly high that it’s kind of like, when you’re still beginning to smoke pot, and you’re like, “What drug did I take? Was there cocaine it that? I don’t know what’s going on. Did I accidentally smoke PCP?” It’s that weird, like, “I’m not happy about this.” So I was in a fetal position on my top bunk bed in my dorm room, and I had this realization that I didn’t want to be a lawyer.
The only reason I thought I wanted to be a lawyer is because I like arguing with people and convincing people of my opinions. Wouldn’t it be more fun to convince people of opinions in going the film route, going the entertainment route? So I was like, “Oh, I could do advertising.”
I immediately starting taking all these marketing classes, and film classes. I was a film major. I kind of put those together. Then I got really lucky, because I have an older brother, and that’s helpful because if you have an older sibling who’s gone to college before, maybe they know someone who can help you out in your career. His friend was an art director at McCann Erickson, and he got me an interview for an internship at McCann Erickson in New York between my junior and senior years of college.
I took that interview. I pat myself on the back, I killed it. I got into this internship program. They had 20 or 30 interns across media, and creative, and account and all that sort of stuff. I, again, got really lucky. I got put into this group where it was me and an art director named Jay. We were working directly with two ECDs, because they just needed someone.
They had just won the Intel account, they were working on a new campaign for Intel. So, one of my first projects ended up being something that ran, for a chip called the Intel Vive, which was for TVs and things like that. It was a terrible ad campaing that the ECD had come up with, involving people holding up two fingers in peace signs on either side, and then putting I’s in between the peace signs. It was originally supposed to be much cooler, facing the other direction, but we were informed that in England that means f-off, so we couldn’t do that.
We also worked on the campaign that I kind of saw happen, and helped out with a tiny bit, with laptops and celebrities on people’s laps, and things like that. You know. They gave us intern projects. They said, “Hey, there’s a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich. What’s a campaign that you can come up with for that?” This was 12 years ago, and it was still kind of a clever idea to create a group that was against whatever thing you were talking about. So it was like, people against the misuse of spice, and all these crazy stories. Kind of like an anti-drug thing.
Then we got an intern project to … There was a local doggie day care, called Biscuits and Bath. I actually ended up writing a print campaign and some videos and posters that they ended up using around this concept of “tell your human,” and we’re advertising to the dogs, we’re not advertising to the people. That was a really great way to start, an internship where I had a bunch of stuff that ended up running.
As a result, the next year, their interactive agency was willing to hire me, even though I had a very small portfolio. It did help that when I was interviewing with that GCD that I ended up working for, he was in the middle of pitching to Nikon a reality show about photographers, kind of like a Project Runway, but for photographers. I had just come back from a week as a camera operator on a reality show pilot that didn’t end up going anywhere. The fact that I came in with this other experience was really attractive.
That’s something that I’ve found throughout my career. Everyone likes seeing a good portfolio, but they’re more interested in seeing a huge breadth of capabilities and interests. They want people who can complement them in ways that they hadn’t considered before.
So, yeah. I ended up working for that agency, MRM, for just under a year. I worked on some pretty fun Wendy’s stuff that I’m still very, very proud of. A lot of comedy sketches and things for this Bureau for Better Value campaign. Nikon ended up doing a really nice campaign for the Nikon 70 D or something. I don’t even remember anymore. But we gave the camera to Flickr photographers. That was a new idea at the time, giving to who we’ll just now call “influencers.”
Then I ended up writing was Exxon-Mobile’s industrial lubricant website. So it’s not all fun. Sometimes you don’t get to just do comedy sketches.
I ended up being told to write a letter for the Army. It was the letter that people would be calling to receive this free America’s Army video game that MRM had developed. They wanted someone to write a letter that would be signed by the general encouraging people to join the army. This was in 2006, 2007. The war in Iraq was still going on. I did not feel comfortable with that. I had a creative director on that project who was British, and told me to be patriotic, which I thought was a little ironic.
I talked to an ACD of mine, and she put me in touch with some of her former co-workers, and I ended up getting a job at Tribal DDB, where I worked for two and a half years or so. There I worked on a lot. That place was a mad house. That was a sweat shop, frat house where you were just pounding out interactive ideas. As many as humanly possible.
But I got to work on things like Guinness. We did the Proposition 317 to make St. Patrick’s Day an official holiday, and did some really fun stuff around that. That was all Diageo. So I got to do Guinness, and Baileys, and Jose Cuervo, and Smirnoff Ice, and Ketel One. I helped launch Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka. I did Neutrogena, and Clean and Clear. Now I’m just listing stuff off. But I got a lot of interactive experience over there.
Did some really fun stuff for Philips. They have a product called the Bodygroom. I got to do a follow-up to a website that did very well in awards that I wasn’t involved in, called shaveeverywhere.com. When they wanted to advertise their ear and nose hair trimmer, we went with this idea that another copywriter and I came up with called “second puberty.” When you get your nose hair, that’s your second puberty. We created all these animations.
That was like a real, hard core writers’ room experience, because we all locked ourselves into this conference room, and my ACD at the time, who’s a bit of a mentor to me, he was like, “Okay, let’s all just make a list of all the jokes we’ve been wanting to make in our work for years. Then we’ll see if we can work some of them in.” It was just such a weird way to work, but really fun. We ended up with some really cool stuff.
The next year, we worked on the Bodygroom Manologues, which was like the Vagina Monologues, but for men, about body hair. That created one of my most awkward situations at work. We were working in a big pit. That’s what it was called, the pit. All the desks were facing the wall, and they were lining the outside. Then there was a strip of desks down the middle, with people right behind you.
My art director and I were working on these Manologues. I was reading out a few different monologues I had written to see if they flowed, to see if they were funny, all about chest hair, shoulder hair, ball hair, all that stuff. There was this art director who was a freelancer right behind me, and she wasn’t working on the same project we were. She didn’t know what we were working on. But in the middle of me going through this, she turns around and she was like, “Enough! Enough! I’ve heard enough about your balls. It’s not appropriate. It needs to stop.” I was like, “I am doing work here. You need to stop.”
Yeah. I feel like it’s been a while since the question happened, I’ve just been kind of monologue-ing. But then I got a job at Deutsch. Then I went freelance for a while. Then I was in charge of branded video content at Break Media for a little while. I went full time at Weber Shandwick over a year ago as an associate creative director.
Kira: Okay. Well. That is quite-
Jason: This is going to be a long show, guys. Going to be a long show.
Kira: That is quite an impressive list. I think the part that I keep asking, in my mind, as you’re repeating this and sharing all your experience is, what does a creative process look like for you in these agencies. You mentioned there was a writers’ room. You mentioned the pit. Is there a typical experience, when you take on a project, that really helps you deliver the best creative project, or deliverable?
Jason: Oh yeah, definitely. At this point, my creative director is the CCO out here in L.A., and I work directly together, and we have couple people on our team across the country. We’ve got it down to a bit of a science. Basically, it’s a lot of the same rules that you follow in improv. It’s “yes, and.” Someone comes up with an idea, you see if you can improve it. You’re positive about it. Then you move on, and you come up with a new idea.
I really had to get good at that when I was freelancing, because I’d be working for people who had never worked with me before. They had maybe seen my stuff, or heard that I was good, but we had never worked together. I would need to make sure that at least one of my ideas was something that they wanted. In order to make sure that one of my ideas was something they wanted, I would come up with 10, 20, 30, 40, however many ideas I needed to come up with until the right one was right.
It’s a very machine gun approach to creativity. It’s this idea of “there’s always a new idea, we can come up with it, and then we can decide later if it’s the right idea, or a good idea, or it needs to be tweaked.” That really helps, just positivity, bringing all that creativity forward.
There’s this practice in improv, when you’re learning in classes. A teacher might say, “New choice.” The idea behind that is, you said a line, and they want you to make a different choice. So you were like, “Oh, the dog’s really noisy out there.” “New choice.” “That balloon is beautiful.” “New choice.” That can go on for dozens of times.
It’s that same kind of idea. There’s always another way to go, and we’ll eventually find the right way. I guess my copywriting is also a little bit different than a lot of the people that you guys talk to, because I’m not usually trying to convert. I’m usually trying to inspire, engage, draw emotion, that kind of thing.
Rob: Jason, let’s talk a little bit about that process, because where we tend to put so much emphasis on the moment that somebody decides to buy, you guys are doing info-tainment, in some ways, or entertainment, and brand-building. It’s an entirely different discipline. Within the conversion side of copywriting, it gets a lot of criticism. People pan it, and say it’s not worth the money you spend on it. It’s all about entertainment, it doesn’t actually lead to sales. Talk a little bit about why companies do branding, and do creative the way you do it.
Jason: When it comes to the brand, it’s not just the website that you go to, or the flier that you see, or the Tweet that you read, or the ad, or anything. It’s everything that works together. Any brand that exists needs to come to the market with a perspective. They need a point of view. They need to be able to put their stake in the ground and stand for something. If you don’t stand for anything, then no one’s going to be interested in what you’re buying.
A lot of times, it’s a matter of tapping into something that’s happening within culture. So, maybe this is a product that can help the maker movement. Maybe this is a product that is really to benefit the slow food movement. Then you grow with that as it grows.
It’s this idea that when people are making a decision on what to buy, it’s not science. It’s not fully rational decision. It is always an amalgamation of everything that they know about the brand, everything that they’ve experienced with the brand previously.
When you’re buying a Coca Cola, it’s not because you love the commercial. It’s because not only do you love the taste, but it reminds you of when you were eight, it was July fourth, and you had a picnic with your family, and it was a great time. That’s why it’s “Open happiness.” They want to tap into those nostalgic, happy memories that you have.
As opposed to a Red Bull, which, you want to talk about infotainment, Red Bull doesn’t need to inform you what they do. They go out and do it. So when they’re out and creating Flugtag, and soap box derby races, and crazy jet races through buildings and things like that, that’s not them saying, “Hey, we give you wings,” that’s them giving people wings. They don’t need to defend it, because everyone knows that’s what they do. That’s just another aspects of, okay, brands can build themselves into culture and be fully embraced by the people who could most benefit from the product.
Kira: Jason, I’m going in a different direction here. From your experience in agencies, what do you think you do there, or you learned, that freelance copywriters are just completely missing out on?
Jason: Here’s what freelance copywriters are missing out on. More than copywriting. Because my entire career, I’ve survived by doing stuff that wasn’t copywriting. When I was at Tribal DDB in the middle of the recession, I would write. But when they needed me to, I would export the videos that needed to be exported the right way, I would edit and do some small after-effects things. Whatever was needed to be done, and if I could help, I would. That helps you gain trust amongst other people.
Again, it’s about this breadth of experience, and about this ability to do more than just write. That’s where ideas come from, and that’s what clients are looking for, because these days, I don’t pitch TV spots as much. I don’t pitch even necessarily, like, “Here’s a website that you can do.” A lot of times it’s a brand act. Something that the brand can do that can get attention and get people to talk.
One of the most successful ones in the last couple weeks, McCann Erickson actually did this defiant girl against the Wall Street bull for International Women’s Day. The number of people who aren’t in advertising who I saw share a news article about that was astonishing. That’s good for them, and that’s not a TV ad. That’s not a print ad. That’s just standing for something, and you know what, I don’t even know what brand it was, which is unfortunate, because that’s not good for the brand, but clearly it’s good for McCann Erickson. It’s about more than writing, and more than writing what you know, is what I would say.
Rob: I think what you said there about not knowing what the brand is, I think that’s the weakness that a lot of people point to so much, brand advertising, is that the story is so good that the brand message can get lost in the story. So it’s pretty critical to be able to have both the brand message, or whatever that idea is, but that it ties to something that’s core to the brand’s purpose, to that they’re related.
Jason: Exactly. When you’re doing new business, a lot of times you find yourself writing a lot of manifestos, and writing a lot of tag lines. Again, I take this machine gun approach. When I’m trying to find the right words that represent a company, I’m going to create a list of 100 or 200 lines from a huge range of different ways to go about it, and then I’m going to look back and circle the ones I like, and focus on those ones and see if those can be tweaked or should be tweaked.
I remember when I was an intern working on that Intel stuff, and my creative director said, “Hey, I need you to make a list of 100 possible tag lines. I like the idea of a leap. So something about a leap.” So I created 100 lines. “Leap beyond.” “Jump ahead.” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He landed on “Leap ahead,” which wasn’t one that was on my list, which further proves that there’s always more that you can write.
Rob: You mentioned, when we started talking about your career path, that everybody has a different entry point into advertising. If I were just out of school, or maybe I’m a 30-something, and I want a career change, and I think I might want to get into a job as a copywriter in an agency, what kinds of things would I need to do? How do I develop that book, or how do I get that attention?
Jason: There are any number of schools that can help you create a portfolio, which are taught by agency professionals. I know at least in New York, Chicago, L.A., and other major cities there are these night classes that are taught by professionals. If you’re just out of college and you still have some time, and you’re thinking about doing some sort of master’s program, there are some really good ones out there.
I never went to Brand Center, but everyone I know who went there at Virginia Commonwealth University, everyone I know from there not only is doing great in their career, but they’re also really smart and really good at what they do. That’s a really good leg up, to start surrounded by people who are already ahead of other people. The Creative Circus, the Miami Ad School, those are all good schools. The Book Shop, L.A., and Ad House. I forget the names of all of them, but that’s a good way to get some briefs, get your feet wet, try creating some communications, and learn from people who know what they’re doing.
Start learning how to take notes and how to change your ideas, because a lot of what advertising is … People go in thinking, “Oh, okay, I’m a writer,” or “I’m an art director. We’re artists. People are going to just trust us that what we say is right.” Actually, no, the job is mostly compromising. It’s almost 100% trying to convince people that this direction is right. Then a client doesn’t necessarily want to take that huge risk, so let’s take it a step back, or do this, or do that, or how can we change it, or what can we do to keep it alive.
There are those schools. But if you’re not anywhere near any of those schools, or you don’t have the time or money to take classes, the other move is to find other people who are trying to get into advertising. Find yourself an art director. Find yourself a wannabe, even a strategist, who might help you come up with different ways in.
A lot of times, creative is helped largely be the strategists, and the person who says, “You know, this is a really interesting cultural territory to explore, why don’t you focus there?” It’s about finding other people. You can go on Craigslist, or Facebook, or however you do it, and you build a portfolio together.
Then, once your portfolio is together, usually five or six campaigns, not all print ads, show some sort of guerrilla tactics, show some sort of digital engagement tactics that are clever and interesting, and show that you are approaching things from a completely original and new direction. If you do that, then it’s a lot easier to get your foot in the door if you have a really cool portfolio.
The other thing to do is, okay, you have a cool portfolio. If you went to one of these schools, they put you in touch with possible places to work. There are job fairs that you get hired right out of school. If you didn’t do that, maybe you do a stunt. Maybe there’s something you can do that can get a little bit of attention.
I used to do this when I still knew people who were working at AgencySpy, I used to, when I needed more freelance work, I’d be like, “Okay, here’s an ad to hire a Jew to work for you on Christmas. Hey, AgencySpy, could you run this?” Things like that.
I saw a recent one, this isn’t the best example, necessarily, but there someone who they said, “Okay, I’m going to write an ad a day for a year. Some of them were pretty good. They’re all one-offs. They’re all print ads. My criticism would be, “Hey, show us full campaigns,” but the fact is, he got attention for that. He got press for that. I’m sure he got some work out of that. You’re giving your clients advice on how to get attention, how to convert. You need to do the same things, and you need to be a step ahead.
Kira: I was just going to ask you how you stay a step ahead, and how you actually really just stay creative? Because clearly you’re a creative guy, but I think we all know, once you have project overload anyone can feel burnt out, and lose their creativity. Even as you were listing your great ideas for us, coming up with 100 different ideas for a tag line, that was something I was like, “Yeah. Why am I not doing that? I usually come up with five, and then I’m good.” It’s usually because there’s pressure for time, and there’s overwhelm. How do you deal with that, and stay creative?
Jason: It’s about the speed. How long does it usually take you to think up those five lines?
Kira: I don’t even know. Maybe an hour?
Jason: Right. The same way I would come up with five lines would be stream of conscious tag line writing. You’d write one, you’d press enter, you write something slightly different, you press enter, you write something slightly different, you press enter, and you keep going, and you keep going, and you keep going and then you go back and you look. It’s the same idea, with kind of, okay, let’s do some really fast brainstorms. Let’s come up with lots of ideas, because if we come up with lots of ideas really quickly, it’s hard to get worn out, because it’s over in half an hour or an hour. Then you move on to something else.
Kira: That makes sense. Speed is the game, right? And not editing yourself as you go, which I tend to do.
Jason: Exactly. But you asked how I stay a step ahead, and how I stay creative. A lot of that is I’ve been doing stand-up for 10, 11 years. I rap. I’ve been doing improv comedy. I act. Kind of tapping into this other aspect of my creativity helps inform and push the creativity that I have to do for work.
Rob: Can we dive into that, just a little bit?
Rob: I’ve watched a few of your comedy sets. I haven’t seen your improv, but I’m assuming that what you were saying earlier about the plus one, or the “and one” ideas always, it does something to inform the way that you write and what you bring to the table for your clients. Tell us a little bit more about how those two interact.
Jason: The good news is that if you’re working for good people, who want creative people, then they want to see you doing all this side stuff, because they know that they benefit from it. It comes down to when you are working on a sketch, for your comedy friends, the things you learn about timing and what people find funny and what was successful there, is exactly what can be applied to some internal corporate video that you have to write for one of your clients.
I’m really lucky, because Weber Shandwick, they really do consider themselves to be one of the best places to work, and as a result of that, they act that way. When I have something like a Gilmore Girls audition, I can leave a meeting where we’re working on new business that’s been happening for months, and be cheered, and told, “Hey, go get it.”
If I get something, then they’re flexible in letting me take that time off without as much notice, because they understand that by allowing their people to express themselves and find these creative outlets, that not only do their clients benefit, but Weber Shandwick benefits as well. If my career as a character actor goes as well as I would like it to, and I can still keep working at Weber Shandwick, then Weber looks great because they have this somewhat known entity who’s coming up with ideas for them, and hey, you need a spokesperson who looks like me, then great. Because I’m already on the payroll.
It’s all about encouraging the exploration of your creativity. I was doing improv in college and in high school, but I didn’t do stand-up until one night at work, we did this thing called a pecha kucha. Everyone has 20 PowerPoint slides that take 20 seconds each. You talk about whatever you want, you make your slides about whatever you want. I made mine about procrastination, because I procrastinated on the project.
Afterwards, people were like, “Why don’t you do stand-up?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, why don’t I do stand-up?” Actually, that started as a result of being encouraged to go into it from creative directors. From people in advertising.
Kira: Do we all have the capacity to be a star like you? Is that something that we can all nurture? Especially with today’s marketing world, where we have Facebook Live, we have YouTube, we have Instagram Stories. Do we all need to nurture that, when we’re running our own businesses and we can’t hire an advertising team, or a team or actors? Do we become the entertainers in our own brands?
Jason: First of all, star … I thank you. I’m not as good about that as I should be. I Instagram occasionally, and I post political articles on Face … I’m not hosting Facebook Lives, and I’m not creating original content that I should be and could be. If I had done that, maybe I wouldn’t even be in advertising. Maybe I’d be in entertainment at this point.
If you can, if you have the capacity to do that extra work, to step out, and maybe it’s not comedy sketches. Maybe it’s not a stand-up set, or a quick, funny video. Maybe what you do is really thoughtful podcasting and interviews, like you guys. Maybe you’re more interested in long form writing, and you can become a thought leader on Medium, or on LinkedIn.
A lot of what I end up doing is, we tell our corporate clients, “Okay, you need to have your board of directors creating content and being thought leaders. If you are doing this work, you can be a thought leader, too. You just need to write the articles and get them out, and maybe put a little money behind it to make sure that it gets read by the people who you want to read it. Then you can have the opportunity to do more things. Maybe get invited to speak at a conference. That can only improve your opportunities for work. It’s just about taking any opportunity you can find and grabbing at it, if it feels natural to you.
Rob: Jason, one of the things that I see copywriters, especially in agencies, are generally doing what you’re talking about. They’re really good self-promoters. But you don’t have a Jason Picard website. You don’t really have an online portfolio, other than a few things you’ve posted on Pinterest, and Twitter, Tumblr a little bit. Tell us why.
Jason: I do have a portfolio. It is available at jasonpickar.com, which then forwards you to pinterest.com/adportfolio. Back in 2008, when I needed a quick portfolio, WordPress was still fairly early, so I made a blog, because that was the thing at the time. In 2010 when I needed a new job and Twitter had become a thing, I got twitter.com/adportfolio, and wrote little 140 character words, and that’s where I would forward people to. When Pinterest was popular, I said, “Okay, let me put my portfolio on there.” I haven’t changed it since, because the rest have all been through relationships. I’ve always felt that by having my pinterest.com/adportfolio, it’s a subtle smile to the fact that, look, I’m not the one who is going to code you a beautiful website, but I will use tools in ways that you haven’t necessarily thought of using them, and here’s the proof. That’s really what it comes down to. The portfolio’s there. I’m not as good at updating it as I should be. But again, my current job I have because I ran into one of my old creative directors at Whole Foods, told him I was freelancing, I freelanced there for a year and a half and then they brought me on full time.
Rob: One last question for you. Because we ask so many people about how they make their money, what they make, what they charge, what could a copywriter working at an agency like the one you work at, or some of the others that you’ve worked at, what could they expect to be making at that point in their career? Same question about assistant creative directors, creative directors. What does the pay scale look like?
Jason: Sure. A copywriter, you could be starting, depending on the size of the agency and the city where you’re working, you might be starting anywhere between $35,000 and $55,000. Then you move up from there. 50, 60, 65, 70, 75.
Sometimes you keep moving forward. You make a bunch at one agency and then when you move on, after you freelance for a while, you take a little bit of a pay cut. That’s fine, because if you’re doing good work, that gets you attention. That’s what matters. Senior copywriters could be up to 95 or so, probably.
When you’re talking ACDs, I think the average is anywhere between maybe 130 and 160, 170. Again, if it’s a huge agency, all bets are off. You never know, right? That’s kind of the 130ish and up is the average ACD range. Midwestern agencies may pay a little less, New York agencies may pay a little bit more.
When I was freelance, I started trying to get $1,000 a day, because that’s what I knew people were getting in New York, but I wasn’t able to get that. Maybe some people are able to get that in L.A. I wasn’t able to, I had to discount it to $800 a day instead. Even at that point it was like some agencies … I had one production company that would hire me for three hours at a time, because they couldn’t afford my full day rate. I would just come in and rapidly brainstorm for them, and then really quickly write up TV commercial ideas.
Kira: Well, Jason, this has been really helpful and interesting just to get a glimpse into the ad agency world, especially for so many of us who’ve never been in that world. I feel like there’s a lot more we can learn.
Jason: Yeah. I feel like I rambled a lot. There’s probably a lot more we could’ve talked about.
Kira: I was going to ask you, you’ll just have to come back, because I do want to hear more. I think there’s a lot more in there that we can benefit from as copywriters. In the meantime, where can people find you online?
Jason: People can find me on Twitter @jasonpickar, Instagram at jasonpickar, jasonpickar Facebook is my acting Facebook page. That’s always a good thing to check out. If you want to check out my album, it’s available. Freewordsfree.com/free. If you live in L.A., I perform improv and stand-up around town, so come check it out. Follow me and I’m sure there will be a way that you can see where I’m at. Yeah. That’s probably pretty good.
Kira: Last question. Where do you want to be five years from now?
Jason: I alluded to this earlier, but I would love to be a more regularly working character actor while still able to hold down a creative director position, and providing that kind of larger vision and manifesto type work that can be done between takes, or whatever. If people recognize my face, and said, “Hey, I want to cast that guy in something,” that would be wonderful.
Rob: So let’s hope our massive audience of casting directors is listening, and can reach out.
Jason: And all of your copywriters who write TV ads. Because I know that’s the kind of copywriter who’s listening to this show.
Rob: Let’s make it happen.
Kira: All right. Thank you, Jason, and we’ll have you back on again.
Rob: Thanks Jason.
Jason: Yeah. Thank you so much.
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You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available in iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, and full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.