David Ogilvy’s 10 Tips on Writing

Posted June 25, 2013 by Katherine Toll in On the Ladder

I recently finished reading Mad Woman, by Jane Maas, an advertising executive during the Mad Men years. She offers her perspective on the era from a woman’s point of view providing an utterly charming read, which includes all sorts of gossipy tidbits and anecdotes from her time with David Ogilvy, among others.

I hold a wild fascination with Ogilvy and the other men and women who shaped the face of advertising and subsequently, how we communicate, so I set out on a research expedition to gather more information.

Ironically, a few months ago I saved this fabulous Ogilvy item in my Evernote ‘Article Ideas’ notebook. It’s from the site Brain Pickings, written by Maria Popava. It was originally published in 1982 as an internal agency memo. Considered yourself one of the insiders now!


10 Tips on Writing

The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.

Here are 10 hintstips

  1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson book on writing. Read it three times.
  2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
  3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
  5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
  6. Check your quotations.
  7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.
  8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
  9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
  10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.


About the Author

Katherine Toll

Katherine (Kathi) Toll possesses more than 20 years of management and consulting experience within the retail and beauty industry. Her industry experience combined with her special brand of irreverence fuels her mission to find the ‘must-have’ beauty products for Career Girls of all ages. She aspires to remind women the airbrushed perfection of the beauty industry must be tempered with a healthy dose of humor. Kathi holds a general management certification from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, along with an undergraduate degree from Northwestern’s School of Communications.