19 Feb What Gordon Ramsay taught me about copywriting
I love cooking. I find it very therapeutic. Producing something that gets immediate feedback (usually positive).
Very different from my day job…
I’ve taught myself to cook. Mainly from TV programs: Ready Steady Cook (loved that show). Masterchef (the UK one. Still the best, I reckon).
And Gordon Ramsay – anything he’s in. Kitchen Nightmares. Hell’s Kitchen. US Masterchef. The F Word.
One of the common issues he (and, to be fair, other chefs) raise is not enough seasoning.
Watch any program he’s in, and you’ll hear him shouting at aspiring chefs: ‘Taste your f@*#-ing food!’
It does seem extraordinary that people don’t.
I constantly taste as I cook. Does it need more salt? Less salt? Too watery? Too strong? Too sweet? Too much garlic?
How can you confidently serve up a meal if you haven’t checked it as you go?
Same with your copy.
Cooking vs copywriting
I often use cooking as an analogy with copywriting.
You get a bunch of ingredients you have to work with (the brief).
You start by getting rid of stuff (peeling, unpacking: what’s the pure essence, the single-minded proposition?).
You have a deadline. An audience to please (food allergies, anyone?).
It’s got to look appealing to the eye.
You get the idea.
What I like about this analogy is it takes the pressure off. I’m expected to produce something within a certain time, based on the ingredients I’ve been given, for an audience I’ve thought about.
No ingredients (no brief)? Can’t do much.
Don’t like the ingredients? Tough. Work with what you’re given.
Don’t get it done on time? You’ll miss the customers.
And then the analogy of tasting your food/copy.
For me, there are three ways you can use the ‘taste as you go’ analogy.
Here they are…
1. Experience the product
This one is vital for anyone trying to sell anything. Can you experience for yourself what you’re trying to sell or promote?
A chef will taste (or smell) the ingredients, before they start to cook. Check for freshness. Test for flavour. Work out how each ingredient will work with the others.
Just like you with the brief.
Are you writing about something tangible (a piece of stationery, for example)? Can you buy it, or try it?
I remember, many years ago, working on Range Rover.
The client sent me photo of the car with the brief. I thought it was pretty damn ugly, actually. A brick on wheels.
But I needed to find the passion, so I went off to a car dealer.
I sat behind the wheel. Sank into the comfy seats. Smelled the leather and wood. And, in that moment, the product (car) gave me an idea. ‘Hard on the outside, soft in the middle‘.
I can work with that. Send out a dozen free range eggs, with a message about ‘Protecting what’s inside: life.’
Or a life-size poster of Gordon Ramsay, with: ‘Tough exterior, softie on the inside. Just like a Range Rover’.
By ‘tasting’ the product, I’m getting ideas. Finding unusual flavour combinations.
Oh: not selling something tangible? A service, perhaps?
You can still experience it. Call the phone number on the website. Talk to a customer, and experience it through them.
Taste your ingredients (the product or service) and you’ll get ideas (recipes) and insights.
Onto analogy number two…
2. Read as you go
Two, read the copy as you edit it.
Just as you’d taste your food as you cook, you need to check your copy, as you go.
Start by writing exactly what you want to say. Don’t hold back: just go for it (more on that in this article).
When you’ve run out of things to say, stop.
Go back and question every word, starting with the first. Is it 100% necessary? If not, delete it.
At that point, stop. Read what’s left: does it still make sense?
You’re tasting as you go. Getting a sense of the overall flavour, even as you change one small part.
Delete, stop. Read. Delete, stop. Read. Repeat.
It’s a constant process. Right up until you serve the food (email the copy).
3. Be your audience
I really liked the Kitchen Nightmares series.
Often, Gordon would be dealing with someone particularly stubborn. Stuck in their ways. Doing the same thing for 20 years (and going bankrupt in the process).
So, off he’d go. Do some street vox pops. Or try his suggested menu on complete strangers.
He was listening to the audience. Gauging them. Checking the product met their needs.
Same for you.
You need to be your audience. Become them.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Feel the pain they feel. Imagine how they feel as they read your copy, and where they are. Taste the message and proposition, as they would taste it.
Then constantly refer back to that, as you write and create.
Don’t have one favourite recipe, and repeat.
Keep your product fresh, by referring back to the audience, and their needs.
Since audiences change all the time, your copy (and ideas) need to change to reflect the new tastes.
Food for thought
I have to admit, Gordon Ramsay makes me cry.
Yep. And not in the way you would expect.
There he is, working with an incompetent restaurant owner whose business and marriage is failing.
He turns it around, donates new equipment – and one of his own chefs to help out for six months. The marriage is saved, as is the business.
I find it very touching.
His passion – some see rudeness – is because he actually, genuinely cares.
How cool is that?
I hope I bring that much passion to my writing (and the process).
Be more like him. Be tough, fight for the reader. Don’t let egos get in the way.
And keep tasting, at every step.
Right. All that thinking about food has made me hungry.
Time to break out the salt and pepper.
Gordon Ramsay photo credit: 20th Century Fox/Everett/Rex Features