David Ogilvy on Writing and the Spoken Word

From Brain Pickings

On September 7th, 1982, Ogilvy sent the following internal memo to all agency employees, titled “How to Write”:

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 hints:

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 reconceptualizedemassificationattitudinallyjudgmentally. 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.


Having recently purchased (at a ridiculous price) a scarce first edition of his unpublished writings, I find myself once more in the company of the colorful Mr. O.  Whenever I come to Ogilvy for inspiration, he never fails to teach me something new, and I leave the richer for the time spent with him.

Radio advertisers and radio professionals: linger over number ten.  See if it doesn’t smack you between the eyes, as it did me:

If you want ACTION, don’t write.  Go and tell the guy what you want.

Tell the guy.

SPEECH, not writing, is still man’s primary form of communication.  Print, in all its forms, whether “texting” or “posting” or newspaper advertising or whatever, is still just an approximation, an imitation, of human speech.

Words well chosen, especially when spoken, have a unique power to compel to action.

More than a few radio advertisers know the truth of this.

About Rod Schwartz

Rod Schwartz backed into a lifelong career in radio advertising in 1973 in Springfield, Illinois. He joined the Pullman (Wash.) Radio Group in 1979, where he worked until his retirement at the end of 2022. Since 1991, Rod and his family have operated Grace Broadcast Sales (GraceBroadcast.com), providing short-form syndicated radio features to radio and TV stations across the U.S. and Canada. Rod also operates an independent advertising, marketing, and communications consultancy for small business owners and professionals, FirstStrikeAdvertising.com. An avid photographer, Rod shares some of his favorite images of the Palouse at PalousePics.com and on his Viewbug gallery.
This entry was posted in Advertising (General), Branding, Client-voiced commercials, Communication, Madison Avenue, Ogilvy, Radio Advertising, Radio Commercials, Radio Copywriting, Radio Production, Sales & Marketing, Storytelling, Voice Acting, Voiceover. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to David Ogilvy on Writing and the Spoken Word

  1. Pingback: Radio Is Dead. Long Live Radio. | RodSpots – Lessons from the Streets, the Studio, and the Study – by Rod Schwartz

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