Thursday + Gregory Huffstutter = The Ad Man Answers
Thursday + Gregory Huffstutter = The Ad Man Answers
Continuing our Ex-Ad Guy/Gal interview series, this month we’re thrilled to bring you a chat with Louise Ure.
Louise began her advertising career in Account Management at Ogilvy & Mather/New York, then moved west to open the fledging O&M office in San Francisco under Hal Riney. She then moved to Foote Cone & Belding/SF, leading the accounts for Alaska Tourism, Clorox, Pacific Bell and the unforgettable Dancing California Raisins.
Her work at FCB continued in other cities, including stints as Vice President/General Manager of the Seattle and Singapore offices. She also had the distinction of holding the position of Vice President/Group Management Supervisor in FCB’s Sydney office while also acting as the Director of Marketing for their client, Time Warner, at the same time. She was, in fact, her own client.
Her first novel, Forcing Amaryllis, won the Shamus Award as Best First Novel. The next, The Fault Tree, has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Nero Award, and the Macavity. The latest book, Liars Anonymous, has been named one of the Ten Best Crime Novels of 2009 by Booklist.
Take it away, Louise…
For people who aren't familiar with ad agency life, account executives are the link between the outside client and the rest of the agency (which means they often take abuse from all sides). AE's tend to be extremely organized, politically savvy, and deadline-driven. Does that describe you? If so, how did that help your writing career?
Extremely organized? Politically savvy? Deadline driven? You make us sound like Rahm Emanuel clones. Come to think of it, he probably would have made a pretty good AE.
I’ve always thought of Account Management as the place where all the other elements – creative, media, research, budget, clients – come together. And that’s not such a bad description of an author either. Sure, we spend the bulk of our time on the “creative” side, but we also need to call on those other talents to get the book researched, edited, marketed and sold.
In a more direct answer to your question, yes, I’m deadline driven. To a crazy-making fault.
Most AE's I know are good with short form writing -- PowerPoint presentations, business e-mails, newsletters -- why did you gravitate to novel writing? Was that an imposing leap for you?
I had never done any creative writing before (unless you want to count a couple of particularly imaginative IRS submissions) so it wasn’t the long format that stunned me; it was the attempt to write anything fictional at all. And believe me, a business plan or a Power Point presentation on branding is no help in learning character development and good storytelling.
But I do remember telling a copywriter friend of mine how liberating it was, after all these years of evaluating billboards and headlines and copy for thirty-second commercials, to be able to take as much time and space as you wanted to get the message across. Imagine! Eighty thousand words instead of six!
Why do you think advertising provides such a fertile training ground for novelists?
All great advertising tells a story, don’t you think? From Tabasco’s “Mosquito” ad and the original Got Milk “Aaron Burr” commercial, to this classic spot with Brad Pitt for Levi’s. Characters developed in a heartbeat. Conflict described with one image or line. Resolutions – of a sort – by the end of the ad. So maybe a career in advertising is like a life spent in flash fiction – with whole worlds wrapped up in :30 bites.
While copywriters and art directors are the ones most likely to directly translate their skills to a longer print format (or film-making), I think those of us who toiled in account management or media or research have the same love of a good story and have learned to recognize it when we see it, whether it’s in a :30 spot or a 400 page novel.
But there’s a second and equally relevant piece of training we got in advertising.
We’re using to selling our ideas, exciting the client with a rough drawn storyboard or magazine headline, getting them to imagine the finished product using only a tagline or a key image. And that’s exactly what writers are supposed to do in crafting a query letter and seeking an agent.
So maybe advertising doesn’t teach you how to write; instead it teaches you how to sell what you have written.
Given your background, how involved did you get involved in marketing your books? Was that encouraged by your publisher?
We’re all deeply involved with marketing our books, aren’t we? I don’t mean sharing the decision-making with our publishers (both of mine have been supremely uninterested in my advertising background), but in actively participating in any way that we can.
Sometimes it’s with additional funding to extend a tour. More often it’s helping with flap copy or using our email lists and social networking to get the word out about a new book. I blog and write newsletters, I print bookmarks and postcards, I speak at libraries, I create video trailers, I talk to booksellers.
It’s a partnership for sure. My publisher can’t do the kind of hands-on person-to-person marketing I can do, and I can’t replace their international sales and marketing efforts. Together it works well.
So far, what has been the most effective use of your advertising dollars? And if you had a Steven King budget for your next book release, how would you spend it?
The most effective use? That would have to be (in order): 1) my website, 2) participation in national organizations like Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers, and 3) book launch tours. Of course, none of the three ever pays out in immediate book sales, but I think they’ve given me fairly robust visibility with readers, reviewers, booksellers and other authors that I could not have otherwise attained as quickly.
And if there were Steven King dollars available? I’d probably put it all in co-op toward product placement (table top and end of aisle displays in stores, email and home page visibility on Amazon). But I’m still enough of an advertising slut that I’d love to do TV, as well.
In our next column, we’ll ask the ex-advertising slut – I mean, Louise – about her website, cover art, and branding her books. Don’t miss it!
Gregory Huffstutter has been punching Ad Agency timecards for the past dozen years, working on accounts like McDonald's, KIA Motors, Suzuki Automotive, and the San Diego Padres. His first mystery, KATZ CRADLE is on submission while he's working on the sequel. The first 100 pages of his novel are linked here. For general advertising questions, leave a comment or send e-mail to katz @ gregoryhuffstutter dot com with 'Ask The Ad Man' in the subject line.