How Rene Gnam Beats His Own Control...
by John Francis
Neither Rene Gnam or I had a tad of facial hair in the days when we started writing copy together at Wunderman, Ricotta and Kline. "But, you should see us now!" Trade and Mark, those famous Smith Brothers, have nothing on us!
We bump heads now and then at various industry confabs and when confronted by the same assignment for the same client. Sometimes, Rene wins. Sometimes, well...
But when Rene beat me on a split test for Popular Computing, I held my breath and asked him to tell me how he did it. Breath-holding is common when you ask Rene for something. You never know what you'll get from the man who once gave Pete Hoke permission to talk on the extension telephone through the sunroof of his Eldorado.
(John Caples, Mal Dunn and Guy Yolton were in Rene's car. Pete asked them for cassette interviews on the car phone.)
But Rene's reply to my query contains uncommon thinking that I'd like to share with you. Here it is, unedited so you'll have a glimpse of the man:
Rene Gnam's Step-by-Step Control-Busting Concepts"STEP ONE: Get the assignment. How? By promising you'll use all your experience to try to succeed. Never promise you will create a winner.
"STEP TWO: When backgrounding arrives, scan it. Don't study it, but thoroughly read and understand every issue of the publication, every catalog sheet from the manufacturer, every life-saving effort of the fund raiser, every benefit provided by the association.
"STEP THREE: Make love. Go to sleep for a long time. Wake refreshed. Take a long shower or plunge in your pool.
"STEP FOUR: Read the client's previous promotions, all of them. Read the control, yours or someone else's, twice.
"STEP FIVE: Repeat step three."
Gnam's Most Important Creative Technique"STEP SIX: Daydream with a notepad or tape recorder. At my summer spa in Massachusetts, I do it by sitting at my waterfall, watching otters and deer play. At my Florida creative retreat, I do it while watching pelicans dive. Look into yourself for concepts, not copy. Find what worked and why. You have an attache case jammed with backgrounding and other vital data as you think under your favorite palm...and you use the pad or tapes to focus your thinking about major strategy, platform, positioning and offer concepts.
"STEP SEVEN: Repeat step three.
"STEP EIGHT: With unending time ahead, start creating at a furiously-fast pace, writing everything in one session. Eat from crockpots. Sleep only when necessary. Take no calls. See no one. You are at your own Walden's Pond. Get your focused thinking from step six on paper, by typewriter or word processor, as fast as possible. Correct nothing. Let it all flow, fast.
"STEP NINE: Sleep, baby.
"STEP TEN: Review everything you wrote against all data and reference material. Slash your copy to bits. Rewrite. Edit without mercy. Rewrite. Start your layouts. Revise. Polish. Edit. Set it all aside.
"STEP ELEVEN: A week or two later, ask yourself if you would respond to what you created. If yes, do your final editing, revisions and layouts. Send it to the client.
"STEP TWELVE: Repeat step three with Bordeaux."
Tighe Ties Gnam Down"Didn't you omit something in your written checklist," I asked. Rene replied: "Yes. To focus thinking at step six, look for two critical points."
"Okay," I said. "When Publishers Clearing House says you're 'driving away from your home at Post Office Box 6435, Clearwater, FL 335l8', probably going to the beach or the mountains, what are those two points?"
"John, those are the trade secrets that put wine buckets in my cars."
"C'mon, Rene, people will quote you."
"Okay, but you owe me one."
And then he revealed exactly what sets him above 99.44% of this world's response creators:
"Recognize that great minds constructed the previous efforts. Do not discard their thoughts for an ego-pleasing new creation. Build on their expertise, marrying it to your own special concepts.
"With that credo, you can find the two breakthroughs that guide your new creativity:
"First, a unique way to do what has been done better.
"Second, a unique way to blend new concepts with old."
Gnam Answers A Question"Are you saying that simple approaches outpull creative elaborateness, Rene?"
"Most frequently," he averred. "Tell your readers I said a great thought creates great copy! And that's why the focused thinking of step six is more important than all the copy drafts you'll ever struggle with. Copy flows if thinking is on target!"
"Those are powerful words, Rene."
"Just like my copy, John."