Droga5 Copywriter Karly Brooks discusses writing copy for ads, studying at Creative Circus, her favourite projects and her cooking blog
Growing up, Karly always knew she had a knack for writing, but it was only when she discovered advertising that she felt that she could put her skills with words to good use, and have fun with them as a bonus. She's studied a variety of subjects and has passionate interests outside of the advertising world, such as cooking, which she documents in her long-running cooking blog, 'I Literally Just Winged This’. Karly is now a copywriter at New York agency Droga5 so it’s apparent that her work outside of adland has helped her to improve her abilities and land a position at such a well-regarded agency.
LBB's Jason Caines sat down with Karly to learn how she got into copywriting, hear about her time at the Creative Circus and her favourite projects to date and to figure out how long she's ‘winged it’ so far in the ad industry.
LBB> What were you like as a kid?
Karly Brooks> Man, I was a weird kid. I was an only child, so I spent a good amount of time talking to myself and making up games I could play on my own. My mom was an English teacher, so reading and writing were huge in my house. One of my favourite things to do was to write little stories and make them into "books" with folded, stapled construction paper. I was also a total goodie-two-shoes and had a semi-unhealthy obsession with making good grades.
LBB> How did you first get interested in advertising?
KB> I first started to consider advertising during a class in college. It was the intro class for both the PR and Advertising majors, where you spent half the semester learning about one and half the semester learning about the other, probably under the (correct) assumption that 19-year-olds don't know the difference between the two. Ironically, I took the class intending to major in PR, but the PR section of the class bored me to tears, and the advertising part of the class was so much more fun.
LBB> You graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in advertising. Tell us about your experience and why you started the course?
KB> I started out at UNC as a Public Health and Statistics major, with all these hopes and dreams to study infectious disease or something. Then I remembered that I am absolutely shit at math and science. I made a 52 on my first statistics test and immediately changed majors, as I mentioned earlier. And just look at me now!
But in all seriousness, UNC was absolutely life changing. It was my first time away from my small hometown, and it was hugely influential in helping me become who I am. And while we're here, I want to take this opportunity to say DUKE SUCKS GO HEELS!
LBB> How did you get your first role in the advertising industry and who was it for?
KB> I attended a conference called Here Are All The Black People with a few friends about halfway through Creative Circus. I showed up to the portfolio review with a half-baked book, with the intention of just getting facetime with as many people as possible. And as fate would have it (and by "fate" I mean I low-key stalked the Droga5 tables) I ended up sitting down with Traci from Droga5. I have to confess that I thought I totally blew it and came off nervous and awkward, because, well, I was nervous and awkward. But a few months later, to my genuine shock, Droga5 reached out to see if I was finished with school and available for a position.
LBB> Tell us about your experience at the Creative Circus? Sounds like a cool place to learn about the ad industry.
KB> The Creative Circus was where all the magic happened. After I graduated from undergrad, I started applying to copywriting jobs with what I can only guess was the worst self-made portfolio in history. After applying to 200+ jobs (not exaggerating, I kept a spreadsheet) and getting 1 job offer, I decided I should probably suck it up and go to portfolio school. And it turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. My first quarter, I struggled with a pretty hefty dose of imposter syndrome.
I didn't feel like I was "creative" per se, I was just good at writing. It was in Headlines class with Josh Shelton where I realized that you can (and in fact, probably should) be both. Once I realised that, I was able to tap into my strengths and make some work I really loved. I think that that's one of the biggest strengths of The Creative Circus — it gives you the freedom to explore your own talent while surrounded by people who really believe in you and will advocate for you. For me, that person was Dan Balser. I genuinely would not be where I am today without him, and I think a lot of creatives in the industry could say the same.
KB> It really is exactly what it sounds like. I started cooking more in portfolio school, and when I'd post pictures or bring leftovers, people would always ask how I made it. My answer was always the same: I literally just winged it. I had no idea what I was doing. I just threw some shit on a pan and miraculously made something edible. So I decided to start writing it down, and it became this weird, sarcastic, ridiculous blog that I'm pretty sure only my dad reads or laughs at.
LBB> What is the best piece of copy that you've written to date and why?
KB> Personally, my favorite piece I've made so far is the student work Candice and I did for GE Brightstik. My favorite thing about it is that it took quite a few terrible ideas and bombed presentations to get to. And then once we had the idea, everything was so easy. It made us laugh, it made our friends laugh, and it made a few award show judges laugh too.
LBB> You've worked for MailChimp on their automaton campaign. What was your role on that project and how did you approach the brief?
KB> I can truly say this was the most exciting, boring brief we've ever gotten. As you can imagine, MailChimp is like the holy grail of accounts to work on as a junior at Droga5. So we were giddy to get put onto the website copy brief; we knew we had to take it and run with it. In our experience so far, the small, seemingly awful briefs are always the ones that land you on a big, exciting one later. I won't say there are no bad briefs, because there are. But there are less of them when you think of them as opportunities.
LBB> What's your day to day job as a copywriter at Droga5?
KB> The thing about day-to-day in advertising is that it's different every day. Some days, we're sprinting between eight meetings with about four minutes in between to prepare for the next one. Some days, we're watching the NCAA tournament in a conference room. But every day, we're learning. Doing something new. Honing our craft. And more than anything, pretending to know what's going on.
LBB> Is there any advertising copy work that inspires you to create work?
KB> One of my favorite pieces of work was Barton F. Graf's ‘Climate Name Change’. To me, it's the perfect marriage of work that does good in the world, and work that makes people laugh. I really believe that comedy has an important role in politics: it helps people understand complex issues, calls out things and people that are ridiculous, and ultimately brings people together. ‘Climate Name Change’ inspires me to make work that does that.
LBB> Do you have any advice for budding copywriters?
KB> There's this perfect balance between your craft and your personality. Find it. Always strive to show a little of yourself in everything you write— your humor, your emotions, how you think and how you talk. But do it in a way that's beautiful or funny, answers the brief and is well-crafted. Anybody with a keyboard or a pen can parrot a brand voice. But a good writer can do it damn well and with a little bit of swagger.
LBB> Are you currently working on any projects that you want the people out there to know about?
KB> If I told you, I'd have to kill you. That's a joke. But you know what's not a joke? Droga's NDAs.