Brainstorming and creativity are often forgotten in the world of online marketing. We often jump straight into what will convert at the expense of the creative tools used by copywriters working in Ad Agencies around the world. In the 379th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob talk with freelance advertising copywriter Shlomo Genchin about his processes for coming up with creative concepts that attract attention and engage readers and passers-by. Shlomo shared some great tips for finding better, bigger ideas for the work we do.
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The Copywriter Underground
Rob Marsh: Have you noticed that the work most copywriters do doesn’t exactly fall under the description of creative? Yeah, we write about ideas, hopefully big ideas, but the work of most copywriters is pretty common. It’s like all of the other copy in their industry. So here’s a test, choose a niche, doesn’t matter which one, go to Google, find 10 companies in that niche and open up their websites. Then read the headlines. You can actually do this for the niche that you work in. Every time I do this, I’m amazed that about eight out of the 10 make pretty much the same promise in their headlines.
Now, usually it’s something like save time, save money. They word it a little bit differently, but it’s basically the same. And then the other two headlines are usually so bland that they’re not really making any promise at all. They might be trying to describe what they do, but usually that even falls flat. And it’s not just websites. With a few exceptions, ads look and feel the same. Even most content blurs into a vast mass of content schlock.
Hi, I’m Rob Marsh, one of the founders of The Copywriter Club. And on today’s episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, my co-founder Kira Hug and I interviewed creative copywriter Shlomo Genshin. Shlomo writes a lot about his creative process, how he comes up with ideas, and how to think more expansively when developing things like headlines, hooks, and more. It’s really the answer to this everybody looks the same problem. It’s something that copywriters and content writers around the world definitely need to be doing more of. So we think you’re going to like this episode.
But first, this episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast is brought to you by The Copywriter Underground. That’s the membership for copywriters and content writers that includes not just training, literally more than a hundred hours of training on different topics, but actual feedback on your copy, as well as monthly coaching calls from mentors you can trust, where you can get the help that you need to grow your business. I’m not going to share all of the details here. You can find out more at thecopyrighterclub.com/tcu. That’s TCU for The Copywriter Underground, where you can join and immediately expand your network of amazing copywriters who are all working to grow and build something bigger together this year. Okay, let’s go to our interview with Shlomo.
Shlomo Genchin: So I started just like a lot of people, I just started looking for ways to maybe to get rich online. You know, how to start a business, how to make money online. And I came across all those regular scammers that you would see. They would tell you, get rich in 10 days. And I bought one of those courses. And nothing came out of it, of course, because it was kind of scammy and not really possible to apply… to kind of implement all of that.
But one thing I learned there was copywriting. Like the magic of copywriting, you can basically persuade any person to buy anything. And it’s so easy. You just need some words. And it’s so simple. And I was like, that sounds interesting. I could sell anything in the world, do affiliate marketing, and whatnot. And then I just went to Google and looked up the best copywriting school in the world. And what came up was Miami Ad School in Berlin. So that’s it.
And fast forward, I created a little portfolio, started working for some clients just to get some experience. And I got in. I flew to Berlin and I moved there and started studying copywriting. And then I saw that it was so different from what I’ve learned before, because it wasn’t just about writing hooks, or catchy headlines, or anything like that. It was really about creating concepts, and ideas, and doing PR, and all the things that ad agencies today do. First of all, more interesting and second they’re kind of different because they’re not just about like persuading people making them buy things because you trick them into this or you were like so clever and all that. But because the work is actually interesting and entertaining and like that’s kind of my approach to content and to all those things today as well.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, that’s interesting. I didn’t attend a portfolio school or an ad school when I started out, but I remember when I started my career a long time ago, seeing the ads for Miami Ad School, also VCU, some of the others that are out there. It’s like, should I go? What will this add to my career? Tell us just a little bit more about that experience of attending an ad school, the kinds of courses that you took, and also the others that are there. Because it’s not just copywriters. There’s designers. There’s producers, videographers. And how you work together, in some ways, my understanding is it’s almost like a student advertising agency.
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah, absolutely. It’s exactly that. And you even take real clients at some point, like once you like learn the basics, you actually start taking clients like starting from like the second or third semester, which was pretty awesome. And I feel like it’s like that experience was amazing, first of all, because They kind of approach education very differently. I guess it wouldn’t be possible with other professions. You can do it in med school. You can start practicing right away. But in that school, it’s pretty simple. Right from the start, they gave us real briefs. And teachers there, they’re all working in ad agencies, and they all created directories. So they could also let us work on some briefs that their clients gave them and introduced us to startups and to interesting companies that we could work on. So that was pretty amazing. And I think in general, it’s a very intense experience. I lived with a few roommates back then. during those times and like they just say like they didn’t see me for two years basically because I was I was like either like you know at school or in my room just brainstorming all the time like it was such an intense experience and and you know like the school manager he would always say that the goal is to prepare us for the real world. And then once we get to an agency, it would be actually easier for us. Because working at an agency is also kind of intense. But then ad school, I think, is way more. You work all the time. You think all the time. Plus, you’re not as experienced yet. So things are taking you way longer. Yeah. So eventually, it made me much, much better, I think.
Kira Hug: Can you share contextually when you were in school, ad school, just so I have a better idea of, what those years were?
Shlomo Genchin: Sure. Absolutely. So that was 2018 to 2021.
Kira Hug: Okay. So let’s continue the story then. So you leave school and what happens next? What does that process look like?
Shlomo Genchin: Even before I leave school—all the, all the fun stuff happened while I was in school. because first of all, I got into this, into this internship at Ogilvy Berlin. And that was one of the greatest springboards I’ve ever had because I think something that’s very special about this agency, I must say, and there are a few agencies like that, is that they would actually give you real work. You wouldn’t be the intern who would look for stock photos or do anything like that. They would actually give you the most interesting briefs and give you an equal opportunity to crack them. And during that time, like during those like three months, you know, Wielder Berlin, I’ve done some of my best work. Like it was incredible. I’ve got that. I’ve got one brief for a ketchup company from Austria. And we won D&AD with those ads. And then, I think, got shortlisted and won some other awards. Anyway, but then we also had a brief for Burger King. And we won a bunch of awards for this one too, print ads. It was about our experience, basically, of all the creatives that worked on that. of how during that time during lockdown we would just sit outside and we would go out to eat and we couldn’t like you know it was lockdown in Berlin and we couldn’t like sit there at the restaurant or anything like that so we would have to take the food out and just improvise tables at different like random places you know so we would go to like I don’t know just sit on the staircase or or like it’s yeah just in the park or whatever And then when the lockdown was about to end, then Burger King asked us to create something that would talk about that. And we created this campaign where we just took pictures of people actually doing that thing on the street and said, proper dining is back. You can go back and eat at the restaurants. And that got a lot of words, a lot of views. And that was a really good beginning to my creative career.
Rob Marsh: That’s amazing. I am really curious about your brainstorming process. So, you know, you mentioned you get handed a brief and then, of course, that’s what the work starts. You know, for most listeners who listen to our show, they’re freelancers. They’re usually not in an agency, although there are a few. So I’m curious about that process because I want to hear or I want to compare your process of brainstorming, coming up with ideas, concepts. hooks, headlines, all that to my process. So will you just walk us through, when you get handed a brief, what does that look like?
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah. So I think the first thing I start, I actually have like all those processes on my side because I usually do a lot of different things. But I think the first thing just like, just like every like copyright or creative would do is research. I go and I, and for me, research is not necessarily like for facts or anything like that, but it would be researching for mostly for insights. Like that’s the thing that I want most. That’s, you know, like if I have a good insight, just like with that Burger King campaign, I know that I’m in a good place and I know that I’ll figure out that execution. But if I find like a good insight, a good human truth that people could relate to, then I know that I have something good here, right? Because people like, you know, like anything that’s interesting, it has to be human, right? Like, we’re not interested. There’s nothing like interesting in seeing just something like robotic, unless we can see something human in it, right? Like, think about it. Even when we look at animals and we kind of think that they’re cute or interesting, it’s because they do things that are a little bit human or a little bit relatable. And I think it’s the same with advertising, right? We always want to find those insights, those little truths that would make things, that would make people actually care about our campaign and not just want to skip it or scroll on. So that’s what I’m looking for. And the way I do it is I go to different places and I call it creative procrastination because that’s like the most fun part about being a creative or a copywriter or whatever, because I can actually do things that other people are not doing. When my girlfriend comes in and she sees what I’m doing, she’s like, you’re not really working. You’re not really busy because I’m browsing Reddit. And I’m a non-gag, and I’m looking at memes, and I’m watching movies. I’m looking through some YouTube stand-up comedy videos and all of that. And I always try to keep it kind of around my subject, right? Because if I go too far, I would definitely lose it. But then I always try to find interesting things that are related to that. And then based on those things, like once I read all those insights, or as Dan Nelkin calls them, buckets, and all those interesting topics that I can explore, then later I go and I try different techniques to actually come up with interesting executions. And those techniques, they’re a bunch of different things that I do. But for example, it would be trying to write some headlines and try to phrase those things in different ways. So for example, using literary devices, and I would try to use alliterations just to try to write that thing in one way. And then I would try to rhyme it, and so on. So that would be this first part of actually finding insights and then writing. And then I guess from there, I would fill my notebook with a lot, a lot of ideas. And it sounds like it’s kind of quick, but it could take two, three days of just going back and forth. And usually, for example, in my current job, I work at a VC firm that’s called GroundUp, and I help our startups create ads. So I usually have enough time to do that. when I worked at an agency, then I would have way shorter deadlines and I wouldn’t have the option to go through that process all the time. But right now, usually the deadlines are not that strict and I really have time to go through the whole process and sometimes give it some time to incubate and actually and actually work through it. So then once I have those headlines and once I have those first things, I sometimes go to the other direction and I would look for visuals. One thing that I really like to do, and I call it visual roulette, where I would go on a website like Unsplash.com. And I would look for random visuals there, right? Or get images or shutterstock. And I would look for completely random images, not something that’s related to my subject. And I would find images that would be anyway intriguing and interesting. And I would try to connect them to my subject, right? Like I would see how this image of like, I don’t know, a person skiing could be relevant to, I don’t know, to an accounting app. And then there, something really special happens, because this lateral thinking process, where I try to connect the dots between two completely unrelated things. And then I also think about my insight that I had before, and maybe the headline that I had before. And then something really special usually happens there. And then I come up with some ideas. I guess it sounds kind of messy, but I guess that’s the creative process. No matter how linear we try to make it look, it’s still a little bit crazy.
Kira Hug: Well, it could, yeah, it could be messy, but it also could be orderly. So I guess for you, is it mapped out somewhere and captured? I know you write about a lot of your processes and share it with your newsletter list and with your community. So is it like—I’m actually going to work through this process I’ve documented, so I cover all the creative exercises? Or is it more organic, where you can look back afterwards and say, here’s what I did to get here, but I kind of just move and figure it out as I go and stay in the flow?
Shlomo Genchin: I think it depends on whether I’m stuck or not, because if I’m not stuck and if it’s just happening organically, then, of course, I would just do it because I’ve done it so many times and I can kind of trust my instinct that my brain would lead me to the right direction. But then if I’m blocked, which happens every single day—then I guess I would go back to my website or my documentations or anything like that. And I would try one of the techniques, right? Like I would try maybe to find an enemy and then go into that direction. Or I would find to try just like really interesting facts that could work and try to build something around them. Or like a visual, as I said, or maybe play with literary devices. So then of course I would go like to that process or maybe find phrases or quotes or something like that and connect these to my subject.
Kira Hug: Could you share? Because you mentioned the Burger King campaign that won awards and it just connects deeply with all of us, right? Because we live through the pandemic and you just look at those images of people eating Burger King on the street and you’re like, oh yeah, I did that. Could you share maybe a couple ideas or maybe ideas or exercises you went through that didn’t quite land but helped you get to the end result?
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah, absolutely. So for example, one thing that I tried there… I have this cheat sheet, this like big list of different media channels, right? So these are like different channels where my idea could live. And I, and I always think about it in this way. So rather than thinking this is the media that people usually use, or it’s a tech company, so probably it should be a LinkedIn ad. I always like to look at this list. And I have all the channels there it’s one basically one of the first techniques that I’ve been using. I remember like back in at school I thought about that thing and I just printed all those like different channels on the little list and just carried that folder around with me all the time because it’s so useful you know… I have print, TV, radio, and these are the simple ones. But then I would also go to guerrilla and I would have bus stations, or floor speakers, or or a podcast, or keyword hacking. And there are so many different channels and places where this one idea could live, where this one insight or this one truth could actually happen.
And then when I tried that with that Burger King idea, together with my partner, we try to kind of turn it into this guerrilla idea where we would go out on the street and put those stickers on the floor, for example, and say, this is not a table anymore. Right. And there would be like with this Burger King logo and then in different places. So that was like the first idea.
And that came just like directly from that inside using that list. And then, and then, you know, and then our creative director who was like, He’s an amazing person and he’s done some of the biggest campaigns, I guess, we all see all the time. A lot of work for Ikea, Burger King and some other great brands. He said, this is not working. We kind of need to turn it into something a little bit more real, right? There are no people there. So think a little bit more into the direction of street photography. or something that is a little bit more human, which is, I think, like an amazing piece of feedback, right? Because it’s not like, he didn’t just say like, it’s not working, but he actually thought of how we can turn something that, you know, that at the time was a little bit flat, turning just a floor sticker into something way more human and understandable and relatable and intriguing. So that was, for example, one technique that I used and didn’t work, back then, but it led me later into something good.
Rob Marsh: Talking about something good. So how do you know when you’ve hit the idea? I’m thinking about my own writing process. I’ll write 25 headlines or I’ll have 10 ideas or whatever. And of those ideas and headlines, I know five of them are actually pretty good, right? How do you choose the one? How do you know that’s the winner? Do you have a process for that? Or is it gut feel? How does that work for you?
Shlomo Genchin: So there are a few parts to it. So of course, it’s gut feeling in a way. It’s just that taste thing is something that you develop with time. And I think that even having a good taste, it’s something that happens even earlier than you start making good ads. Because as soon as you start watching a lot of good ads and enjoying them, then you start appreciating good work. But then it takes some time until, at least it took some time for me until I started producing relatively good work that I could also appreciate and see that it was good. Because before that, I just felt like everything I did was bad at some point. So I think, yes, I think definitely it’s just this kind of feeling. and this kind of taste that develops with time where you see like, okay, like this could really work. Like this really reminds me of that campaign or this really, like I can see how like the opposites in that sentence or like the contraction here could be like, like the contrast here, sorry, it could be like really, really interesting. And that’s how it goes from the beginning. But there are also other things that I sometimes do when I need to cook. Because sometimes I just fall in love with my ideas. It’s really hard to kill my babies. Because once I love that idea, and once I’ve been working on that for so long, then suddenly it looks pretty good to me, even if it’s not. And there is something that I’ve been doing for a while now since ChatGPT came out, especially GPT-4, that can process images too. And I use that. to get better feedback on my ads. And there are two exercises that I like to use. So the first one is basically just uploading my image, uploading my draft or my first layout to QPT for, and asking it, just explain this ad. And just this exercise, you sometimes get me really good results because often when I try to be too clever, then I’m risking that I’m not really being clear. And then if GPT gets that, if GPT explains that ad to me in a clear way, then I know that I’m probably heading in the right direction. Or at least I know that people would get it. If people don’t get the ad, which is something that happens sometimes, especially with creative ads, people just don’t get the point. Then if I know that GPT gets it and it explains it well, then I already know that I’m in a good direction, even if nobody has seen it. Because there is no real way to validate an ad except for running it, right? Eventually, we can think as much as we want, but eventually, we won’t really know until we run it. But I think this technique has been working really well for me, just asking GPD, either explain this ad or even doing a more in-depth process where I would ask, what would be the risks with this? Because we’ve seen so many examples of brands uploading social media posts that would get them into so much trouble. I’m not even saying if it would perform well or not, but literally just like, getting the company into real trouble. And I think so much of that could be avoided if sometimes we would just ask GPT, well, what’s the worst that could happen? And usually you would get pretty good answers. And then I’m not saying that you should never take risks anymore, and you should just go super safe always. But at least you would know that, OK, maybe this sentence could be problematic. And that’s something that I’ve been using GPT for quite a lot.
Kira Hug: Yeah, that’s a really good use case for it. I mean, I’ve used it in many ways, but I haven’t necessarily used chat GPT to reflect back, like, what am I trying to say here? Can you, do you get it? Is it clear? Cause it’s always clear in my head, but I also know that sometimes it doesn’t translate or the transitions don’t make sense or the idea is off. And so, yeah, that’s, that’s a really great idea. I want to go back to your story and just kind of continue your story just so I have the full picture. So can we just talk a little bit about leaving ad school and kind of where you’re working today and what that looks like today and that shift for you?
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, so once, you know, like once at school was, was about to, you know, about to be over, I, you know, I just, I just had seen that I like, I should, I should do something, right? Like, I should find a way to, you know, like, I should find a way to kind of figure it out for myself, because I knew I don’t want to work for an agency, just like as a full time employee, like I knew I want to travel the world, and I want to do something interesting. and I wanted to kind of you know like try new things and I knew that like that agency life was not really for me as much as I love the craft and as much as I love the people but I had like kind of other dreams I surf and then I wanted to travel the world and surf And I had a lot of other plans.
So at that point, I kind of got on LinkedIn. And before that, I thought that LinkedIn was just like the most cringe place in the world, where people basically just brag and share the boring stuff that they did. But slowly, I saw people like, Eddie Schleiner and a few others that were writing some amazing stuff, and Dan Nelken, and they were writing some amazing stuff and breaking down their processes and giving really useful tips. And at some point, and at school was great, but then I started learning quite a lot from there as well. I would go on LinkedIn, And of course, sometimes just scroll through a bunch of useless posts. But then a few of those people really inspired me. And at some point, I decided, yeah, let’s give it a try. I also write a lot of headlines. I make a lot of ads. Let’s just start breaking those down on LinkedIn. Because at that point, I also noticed something pretty interesting in general about creatives. I think like there’s something about creatives where we’re really like and copywriters and designers were like really people we’re kind of afraid to share our work right because because it’s kind of a scary thing especially like our process or how it did things and sometimes just easier to kind of you know, to kind of share only your best work, right? Like just like Instagram influencers would only share their best moments and only share like the stuff that you’re really proud of, but not share anything else, like no sketches, or never share like, I don’t know, just like raw ideas or stuff like that. And at that point I thought like, and that was like my insight behind it, I felt like it would be interesting if I would just like transparently share everything I did. And that’s what I did. I started sharing my campaigns and then showing like the process like step by step. And that was like kind of my things like add recipes. That’s how I call it today. And showing like this is step one, this is step two, this is step three, and this is how I wrote this headline, right? And then quickly like it went viral. I remember like there was one post that I did for Tinder, and I showed how I wrote a tagline. So the tagline was for every single person, which by the way, a few months later became the tagline of, I think, OKCupid, just randomly, without any connection to me, because I think they worked on the problem much earlier. But it was just a funny thing to see. It was kind of a cool confirmation. But yes, so I really show like that process of writing, which I called elaborate, eliminate, and play. And the idea there was to write this long manifesto about the brand, just write every single word that comes to mind, then eliminate all the unnecessary words, just delete, like scratch out everything that doesn’t matter, and leave only a bunch of keywords, right? So like if we had this like long paragraph full of words, then we would only keep the most interesting ones, like swipe. or single, or person, or the ones that actually mean something. And then take those words and put them in this little word bank, and then play with them until you get an interesting result. You’re going to get a cool headline or tagline. And that was the technique there. And I remember like it exploded, you know, it got like, got like 1000 likes or something like that. And it immediately kind of honestly, like changed my life because I get I like I got a bunch of offers from from potential clients. And from that, you know, and from that moment, I just And I was still in school back then, but I already kind of landed my first clients. And I was like, okay, so this is possible. I don’t have to find a job at an agency. I could actually just freelance and share my stuff online. And that’s going to be pretty interesting.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, I agree. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff that you’ve posted on LinkedIn, some of the stuff that you share in your newsletter, and I really like the approach that you take as you walk through the thinking process. It’s sort of a unique way to teach copywriting in a way that is so different from everything else, everybody else is posting about, you know, the way that you should, you do headlines or, I mean, you’re, you’re walking us through the creative process. And I remember even seeing some of this thing and immediately it starts ideas in my head. I’m like, wait a second, I could use a line like that to promote this product that we sell at the copywriter club, or I could use a concept like that, you know? And so it’s a little bit like—the comparison is like looking through a Communication Arts Awards Book for inspiration, only I’m getting a small dose of it on LinkedIn or in your newsletter.
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah, exactly. First of all, thank you so much. And that’s the thing that I’ve been trying to create because I think even when you look through those like word books and all of that like you never get the recipe behind them right like sometimes you would get an interview or you would get a short description about the process or anything but like you never get an insight really inside you know like what really happened like how did they find those images like what were the struggles and all of that and i think like that’s that’s really the interesting part, right? And that’s what I’m trying to show transparently, even like when it’s, I don’t know, not as magical as I would like it to be, right? Because I feel like sometimes we like writers or creatives, we want this kind of like vibe of like being magicians, right? Like we want to think that, okay, we just like magically came up with that and that’s our brilliance. But I think like there is also something like very humble and also, I don’t know, like maybe also, kind of good for us because we know that we could reproduce that process if we actually break it down and look at it more simply and actually as a step-by-step process rather than like something completely measurable.
Kira Hug: Today, are you finding your clients, are they finding you through LinkedIn mostly, through your newsletter or through other channels?
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah, mostly that LinkedIn, LinkedIn and newsletter. And yeah, and right now, like, I’m, I’m still freelancing, I’m still like doing workshops and, you know, and taking some interesting client work. But I’m mostly working for that VC firm that I told you in the beginning. Because I found that I really wanted to focus more on creating and less on just dealing with clients. Most of the listeners are freelancers, so you know what I’m talking about. And it was just a nice thing for me, first of all, in terms of creation to find that arrangement, but also in terms of opportunities. Because it’s so much nicer to… In our firm, there are 40 to 50 brands that that I can work with and they’re all like early stage startups and they all do super interesting things. So, you know, so I actually get to kind of see the process from inside, like see them grow, see them raise money and also help them, like, you know, come up with ads with creative stunts, help them grow their personal brand. So it’s kind of like a whole, like, it’s kind of a different process rather than just having clients. It’s kind of like really being there, you know, seeing everything from the inside. So that’s also kind of exciting for me.
Kira Hug: Is that something that we could replicate? If someone’s listening, they’re like, well, that sounds good. I want to do something similar and work with a VC firm. I’m sure a lot of it’s about connections too, but how would you recommend a copywriter, a freelance copywriter listening could pursue something like that, which we haven’t talked about on this podcast as much.
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah. Well, actually, I get that question a lot. And when I got that call from the VC firm, I didn’t know what VC was, honestly. At that time, I worked at BDC Paris, and I created just ads for big consumer brands like Michelin, Duolingo. I did all that kind of stuff, and I knew nothing about it. I knew I worked with startups before, but I didn’t really know a lot about this world of venture. and, you know, and raising money and like early stage startups. So yeah, so I was kind of surprised. But then like, you know, when I heard that, and I also didn’t have any connections before, right? It’s not like I was super connected, but it was really through LinkedIn. So I think like, like the point here is that What I always say and I also have like this I wrote this article once about like fake ads create real opportunities. And I think like that’s a really important thing that I live by that, that if you’re really want you know if you want to work with a certain type of clients. no matter what it is. I can go back to the VC firm thing later. But anyway, it’s important to share the type of ads that you want to create, even if you’re not a student anymore. I’m going to create fake ads or spec ads, call them however you want, for the rest of my life, I think. Because I just have those ideas and I just want them to happen. So I just create them and I share them on LinkedIn. sometimes it would be the you know and sometimes just someone would see them and think okay like that’s the kind of work i want to see because you you can like if you only produce work for clients it would never be the work that you want to create like sometimes it would be but but it wouldn’t be always because in many cases like you know you would have I know you would have to sign some agreement that you can share that, or they would make changes at the last moment. But sometimes, if you want to create the work that you actually want to see in the world, or the copy that you actually want to create, then it kind of puts you in a different position. Because you can share that, and people see that, and they would appreciate it, and those opportunities would come to you. That’s exactly what happened to me, and it’s still happening. There was one post, and I think that was just the craziest moment where it got like, I think, 500,000 views or I think even more. And that one post filled my calendar for a whole year. And these were fake ads that I just created for a cup company where I just showed my process. And a lot of people like that. And that’s it. I just got clients for a whole year, basically, just from that single fake ads post. So I think it’s not really about VC firm or or agency or anything, because I think in a lot of places you could get that kind of work where you work with a lot of different clients and you’re not necessarily working full time, but also not really freelancing. But I think the point is that if you want to create a certain type of work, you should create it. And somebody in the world would see that because that’s the power of the internet and you would get those opportunities.
Rob Marsh: I love the idea that fake ads create opportunities. I’m trying to process through, okay, I write sales pages. It’s not likely I’m going to write a 10-page fake sales page. I could certainly create lists of headlines or leads, hooks, those kinds of things, and talk through the recipe for coming up with that stuff. There are probably ways to apply this to white papers and others. I think you have a slight advantage in that you you’re really in this creative sphere where the idea is usually going to be a one-liner attached to a visual, but that thinking process applies across all kinds of work. I’m just really trying to draw a line out of this because I think this is an idea that more copywriters need to steal.
Shlomo Genchin: I don’t think so, yeah. And I really don’t mind them stealing. I try to convince them to do it more, really. Because I think it would make, first of all, we would see more good work online. And second, I think people would get the clients that they deserve. Because if you’re just like, pitching people, you never know if you just try pitching companies separately, which is not a bad thing. I don’t think cold outreach is a bad thing. I think it’s great and it takes courage and it also takes skill. But I think that when you post something that you’ve created online, you pitch 80,000 people or 100,000 people sometimes at the same time if it’s something good. And that’s a whole different scale, right? And then out of those people, probably someone would find you. And that’s kind of different to try and, you know, each company separately where you don’t know what process they have. You don’t know if they actually need someone right now. Like it’s not always about your skill, just like about being there at the right moment as well.
Kira Hug: Yeah. That’s definitely inspiring. And I think we all need a kick in the, you know, a kick in the butt every once in a while to just like try something new and also share our work. I think there’s so many copywriters and I’m one of them where it’s just like, I don’t. I do the work, and I don’t share it. And it’s just a good reminder that as we’re posting on LinkedIn or any social media channel, and we’re creating all this content, one of those posts needs to be, here’s something I worked on, whether it’s real or it is some spec work. This is getting really granular but I know some of the writers listening probably have questions because I think there’s a lot of mindset limiting beliefs or just head trash around. Oh my gosh, how do I do this, can I do this, so I guess can you break down. When you’re posting that and you’ve done the work and you’ve created this tagline or headline for this company, are you then tagging the company? Are you trying to get their attention or are you less worried about that and you’re just trying to share this really cool headline or tagline with your audience knowing that it’ll just attract a lot of attention? I guess, can you just like break down the details of how you present it and your thinking? Because again, I know a lot of writers want to do this, but they just won’t do it. They won’t do it.
Shlomo Genchin: Absolutely. And I think like two things about that. So the first one, like two things kind of encourage me to do that because you know like I don’t have as much experience as you guys for example right and like like and there’s always like you can always get better right like it’s not like you’re never perfect you’re never like ready to share right like it’s always like you’re always waiting for like for the right moment to come. And I was waiting for it for a while. And then two things kind of shifted my mindset. The first one was that book, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but I think it’s amazing. You can read so much stuff online about start sharing your stuff, build your personal brand. I think all of that is pretty unnecessary. If you read his work and if you read his short little book, it covers literally everything you would read on LinkedIn about building a personal brand in five years. So I think that’s an amazing resource and that helped me a lot. And then the second thing was I spoke to a friend of mine and I was like, I’m, and that was back when I just started and I was like you know I’m just I’m just a student like nobody would listen to me and like why would I like I’m not an authority like why would I even share what I think if like, you know, like, like how can I give other people advice. If I don’t even know what I’m doing myself right. And then he told me something really smart. He said, you know those guys on YouTube who just build boats and just share their process? They just say, OK, I’m going to build that boat. And that’s it. And they take you with them as they learn, as they go through the struggles. And eventually, they have a boat. They don’t just brag and show their boat. They actually take you through the process. And he said, yeah, so be that guy. Be the person who builds a boat and not just shows their boat. And I was like, yeah, you’re right. Everything I need to do is just use those kind of humbling words. Rather than saying, look at what I’ve done, look how great I am, or I’m so honored to share my awesome work or something like that, I would just say, yeah, here’s a little something I tried. Or I challenged myself to do this, this, and that. Or here’s my process. What do you think? and all of that. And I still do it in the same way, because I still don’t think I’m some sort of authority, and I’m ready to share all my advice. I don’t think I’ll ever will be ready. I’m just learning. So really, you can look at all my last posts, and it’s always like, I challenge myself. I created those concepts. I tried this. I challenged myself to write 50 headlines. Let’s see how it goes. And then sometimes, yeah, I would tag the company. And sometimes I would speak to them, and maybe it would work. Maybe it would not. But it doesn’t matter because even if it doesn’t work out with that specific company, it would work with another. So it’s more about sharing that and less about lending that specific client. Although that could be cool as well.
Rob Marsh: Okay, I want to go back. You know, you mentioned how you were using ChatGPT to validate ideas in the ads that you come up with. I’m curious, what other ways are you using AI to increase your creativity or your writing process? You know, what things are you doing with it that maybe we could adopt?
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah, so I’ll give you a few ideas that I’ve been exploring lately. So one is really that interview. It’s kind of hard to understand other people, right? And one example that I gave in one of my posts was I was doing those spec ads. I was creating those spec ads for Kindle. And I wrote that I really don’t get people who don’t use Kindle, right? What is it about real books? And I have a couple of books here, but this is literally my physical library. I don’t have any books because I’m obsessed with Kindle. And I think it’s so much better. And then you know, when you write ads like that, you really have to understand the other side, right? Because even if you’re convincing people to use Kindle, you still need to understand the objections. You still need to understand why people are not using Kindle.
And that’s one of the things that are great about GPT, because you can ask it to step into anyone’s shoes. And then what I tell GPT is like, okay, you’re a person who knows about Kindle, you know about the benefits, but you’re still deciding not to use it. Like, tell me, like, what’s, what’s wrong with you? Like, what’s the matter? And then GPT would go like, okay, so I like the smell of books, right? I like the, I like the physical, like kind of feeling of it. in my hands and I like the fact that it’s you know that it decorates my room it’s it’s on my shelf and all that and then suddenly I would get like 10 objections that are pretty perfect and I wouldn’t like sometimes I would be able to think of them but then like you know in five seconds I get like a perfect list of objections that I can immediately work with and either try to tackle or just to understand, or at least I’m aware of them and I know what it’s all about. So that’s one way. And then another way is really just something that I called the before and after table. And the before and after table is when I think how the life of my customer, prospect looks before they know about the product or use it and how it looks after. And often, I would really ask GPT to write that schedule. I would say, write me the schedule, write me a day in the life framework or I don’t know what of a person who lives in New York and she just moved there and she can’t speak English. For example, if it’s an ad for Duolingo or some English school or something like that. and all the situations where she encounters that. And then I would get this beautiful schedule, hour by hour, where she goes to the subway and she can’t speak English, so she can’t buy tickets. And then she goes somewhere else. And I can see all that day, and all those struggles, and pain points, and all those interesting situations. Because if we’re creating ads or copy, they’re useless if we don’t have specific examples of what actually happens with the reader’s lives. And then there we can get those beautiful stories and schedules, even if they’re not super creative, but still it gives me a really good idea of points I can tackle. And then I do the same just with the after. So I think about the before, and then I say, OK, so now how their life would look once they know about the product. And then I get all the rest of it. So these are two techniques that I’ve been using a lot.
Kira Hug: Yeah, that’s great. I’m going to snag the before and after idea for one of my emails, future emails. I want to go back to agency life. And so I never worked for an ad agency. I did get an offer for a job out of college at Kaplan Thaler in New York City. Should have taken it. I should have taken it. I was like, this doesn’t pay enough. It was $27,000. And I was like…
Rob Marsh: Typical. That’s the problem with ad agencies. Entry level is so cheap…
Kira Hug: But then I took another job. I took a worse job. A way worse job for basically the same amount. And so anyway, regret that. But I guess going back to like you shared, you know, you went to ad school, and then you knew coming out of it that you didn’t want to work for an ad agency. And here you are, like, you know, really talented, creative person that the ad agency world lost. And so I guess I’m just wondering if you have, you know, a viewpoint on the future of ad agencies, and if I don’t think you’re atypical. I’m sure there are many creatives who are just like, I don’t want that. That does not serve a creative life. And so I’m just curious what your view is on the future of ad agencies, knowing that it may not attract all the talent that it used to.
Shlomo Genchin: Yeah. Well, I think I’m going to answer the question quite differently. Because I don’t think I have a really smart view or take on the way ad agencies are structured or built. Because so many people have spoke about it already, and they know much more than I do. Because first of all, I didn’t spend enough time working at agencies to actually know everything about it and say, OK, this model is broken. It’s still working. And I still don’t see another alternative. I really believe in in-house teams, and I see that a lot of big brands are doing it today. But I still don’t think there would be a solution that would solve everything. We still need agencies. So I really don’t know about the future of them. But I can say one thing that I think that really a lot of creatives are moving into the B2B world now. And a lot of people who used to work in those traditional agencies are kind of discovering that the tech world and the B2B scene is really interesting. In the past, we thought, all right, so there are the cool brands like Burger King and Duolingo and Doritos and stuff like that. And then there are the boring brands like, I don’t know, IBM, or even stuff that is even more boring. I don’t know, like Asana or something. We know that they exist. We know that those are huge companies. But we don’t know anything else about them as creatives at agencies. But then I feel like a lot of creatives are now discovering. And I kind of always compare it to those times in the 60s, before the creative revolution, where everyone was like, Sure, like if you want to advertise in a car or promote it, you just need to show the features, right? You just need to show like why it’s the best and that’s it. And then came people like, you know, David Ogilvie and all the other people in the creative revolution and they kind of changed it and they turned it into something way more interesting, engaging, creative, and what we know today as advertising. So I think the same process is happening with B2B right now. I think we’re in the middle of this revolution because you’re seeing so many awesome ads from brands like Upwork, Soundly, and Slack. and things like that. I think that’s only the beginning because if you look at S&P 500 or Fortune 500 companies, you would see that there are so many tech companies there that they have brands, they have a logo, they have corporate colors, but there’s nothing really happening behind that. And I think that a lot of creatives would move there And I don’t know what would happen to regular agencies. I guess there are enough people to make ads, because it’s not like we’re heart surgeons or something. At the end of the day, we’re creatives, and it’s OK. They would find someone to make ads, I guess. But then I think that a lot of times, people would find a lot of interesting challenges and a lot of interesting briefs and adventures in the tech world. And I think that would get a lot of attention in the next 10 years, in my opinion.
Rob Marsh: Yeah, as I think about advertising agencies and where they’re going, in my head, there’s really two functions of the agency. One is ideas, and then everything else is distributing those ideas and getting them in front of consumers. And I think It’s really easy in a lot of ways to separate the ideas from the agency itself. I don’t see the other stuff going away. If you’re a company with many products and you need ads showing up in order to attract those consumers, there’s efficiencies of scale that happen in the agency with planning, with account management, with media buying, that kind of stuff. there’s no reason that we can’t peel away a lot of that creative thought and, you know, the ideas and have, you know, like what you’ve done, you know, it’s like, I can come up with the ideas all day long. I’ll give you, you know, campaigns flushed out, you know, images, copy, whatever, and then turn it over and let somebody else handle, you know, okay, well, where does this have to appear? You know, how, how many times, you know, how much, you know, reach do we need to achieve with this particular campaign, all that kind of stuff. So I do think there’s a huge opportunity here for more creatives to freelance for agencies. It’s something that we haven’t talked a lot about on the podcast, but certainly people who have that capability and tons of good thinkers out there.
Shlomo Genchin: Right. Yeah, I totally agree. And I think like, yeah, and by the way, like freelancing for agencies, like whether it’s B2B or B2C, like, that’s also what I did most of the time, because when I worked for B2C, for example, I lived in Mexico and Costa Rica, I was like, I really wanted to kind of make this dream come true and serve there for a while and that’s you know and I worked from there and just did everything from there and that was that was like awesome you know like I didn’t of course experience the agency life and you know like all the cool stuff that they have there but I had the freedom that I was looking for and also like the creative challenges that I wanted so so I think totally like I think that’s that’s a really good arrangement for a lot of people and I guess for agencies too because I think if we’re talking about the future of agencies, then I guess their biggest problem in a way is that they have so much stuff. And then you never know. Sometimes they would have a lot of briefs, and then everyone would burn out. And then sometimes they won’t have any work, and then everyone is just sitting there and not doing anything. So I think for them, working with freelancers is also a great arrangement. And a lot of agencies are doing it now. So I think this is also a good opportunity for us writers.
Kira Hug: Yeah, definitely. So as we wrap up, I just have a couple quick questions or just one quick question. You mentioned you wrote for Tinder, right?
Shlomo Genchin: So that was just a spec ad.
Kira Hug: Yes. Okay. What type of research did you do for Tinder? Can you just give us a glimpse into the research process in like a minute or so, what you did for Tinder?
Shlomo Genchin: Absolutely. So I think the coolest part there is that I didn’t do any research. I just did that manifesto and I just wrote everything I knew about the brand. And I already knew it. And I think it’s an important point as well, that sometimes we spend so much time on research and we spend hours in front of our laptops just thinking, all right, maybe this next article will get us to the thing that we need. But then if we look at the best campaigns and best ideas, usually they’re kind of based on things that anyway, everyone knows already. This is usually, especially if we’re talking top of the funnel stuff, like creative campaigns and billboards and stuff like that, usually it would be stuff that everyone already knows. And that’s why I think there’s something really awesome about just closing your laptop and actually just writing everything you already know about the brand. And sometimes, first of all, you would save a lot of time and effort. And second, sometimes the best ideas would already be there just without doing any research, which I’m all for research. And I use Google Scholar a lot. Sometimes I dig really deep to find facts and interesting ideas there. But then I also think that, especially if it’s a famous brand, It’s always just interesting to go after the things that you already know, because you’ve been living so far for I don’t know how many years, so you already know a lot of things anyway intuitively. So why not use that? And that’s exactly what I did there with the process.
Rob Marsh: That’s the end of our interview with Shlomo Genshin. And I want to just add a couple of thoughts to our conversation just to give you just a little bit more to think about as you apply these ideas into your own business.
At the very, very beginning of this episode, Shlomo mentioned the magic of copywriting and this superpower that we all have to persuade anyone to buy anything and that it is easy. Of course, anybody who’s been doing this for more than a few weeks know that it’s actually not that easy. There are skills that you need to develop. You can’t just write words. There are persuasion techniques you need to learn. You need to understand where your customer is in their buyer journey, what their worldview is like, the problems that you’re going to solve. all of that stuff. And so, yeah, it’s kind of funny. A lot of us are attracted to copywriting because we do think of it as this superpower that we can exercise. And some of us even buy into those promises, work from the beach, make six figures, all of that kind of stuff. Obviously, there are a couple of different approaches to getting into copywriting and Shlomo took the ad school approach. which is literally a college built around building a portfolio that shows off your thinking ability, your strategic ability, and your ability to come up with great ads, campaigns, and ideas, solutions to problems.
We talked a little bit about this with Luke Sullivan in episode 115. He actually runs an ad school. And so if that’s an interesting idea to you, You should definitely check out that episode. You know, it really is a different way of creating hooks and headlines, concepts and big ideas than most of us take when we’re writing in the direct response world or in the online conversion space. because ads living out in the world need to be interesting, entertaining, engaging, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from it or even borrow some of these techniques because capturing attention, being interesting, being engaging is just as important for the work that we do. And that’s part of why we wanted to talk to Shlomo about what he does.
Shlomo also mentioned brainstorming as a process, but it’s not just, you know, sit down, totally freewheeling it, put ideas down on paper, there’s actually a process that good copywriters go through as they’re thinking through ideas. We talked about this with a couple of other copywriters recently on the podcast, Dave Harland, that’s episode 339. He shared the grid that he draws out as he brainstorms different ideas. And Shlomo even mentioned Dan Nelken, who we interviewed in episode 348. Dan talks about his approach to bucketing out ideas and shares a few other tips when it comes to creating headlines, hooks, and different ideas.
And as we talked about brainstorming, Shlomo mentioned one other thing, and that is that he’s always searching for that good human truth. This is an idea that I first learned about when I was writing in an ad agency way more than 20 years ago. I learned this from a creative director who was telling us that we should be looking for the weird truth. Something weird, something that stands out and is true that is going to resonate deeply with the person that we’re writing to or trying to help. So looking for that good human truth or the weird truth or that insight is absolutely critical when it comes to the brainstorming process. That’s really what it’s all about.
I appreciate that Shlomo shared that his research includes everything from watching movies and YouTube and watching standup and collecting memes and checking out platforms and channels—what he called visual roulette. I think these are all really good steps in the brainstorming process to come up with ideas and to see things a little bit differently.
Finally, Shlomo mentioned the LinkedIn post that he said filled his year with clients. Those are the kinds of ideas on the podcast that always make my ears prick up. I’m like, wait a second, you filled an entire year with clients based off of one post? And I’m sure that’s something that a lot of you listening would love to replicate.
Remember, the kind of content that Shlomo posts is unique. It really does stand out from everything else. And it’s not just speaking to an audience of copywriters, but it speaks to the process that he goes through so clients can see how he thinks and how he solves problems. Remember, as a copywriter, you don’t just write words. You are solving problems. And the bigger the problem that you solve, the more valuable you are. And Shlomo’s posts show that in a very big, unique way. That goes along with that idea that we were just talking about. Fake ads create opportunities for the same reason. You’re showing how you solve a problem when you create a spec ad or when you just show your thinking ability. You show that you solve big problems. So that’s something to consider as you think about what you’re going to share on social media, whether it’s on LinkedIn or Instagram, Twitter, wherever you show up in the world, you want to do it in a way that stands out, but also shows off your process for solving big ideas so clients can see how you think.
I want to thank Shlomo for joining us to chat about his work. You can find out more about him by following him on LinkedIn or by visiting his website, thecreativemarketer.net, where you can sign up for his newsletter. And that’s where he shares his creative recipes. Definitely worth checking out.