Wisdom from Luke Sullivan – applied to life, grant writing, presentations and running an organization.

I read Luke Sullivan’s book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This and was amazed at how universally relevant his advice was. Here are some excerpts from the book as applied to everything important!

Read, learn, memorize

Tom hired me as a copywriter in January of ’79. He didn’t have much work for me during that first month, so he parked me in a conference room with a three-foot stack of books full of the best advertising in the world. He told me to read them. “Read them all.”

He called them “the graduate school of advertising”.

I think he was right, and I say the same thing to students trying to get into the business today. Get yourself a three-foot stack of your own and read, learn, memorize.

Sweat the details.

Go to any length to get it right. Don’t let even the smallest thing slide. If it bothers you even a little bit, work on it till it doesn’t. Poet Paul Valery said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

When you’re done writing your body copy, go back and cut it by a third.

Once you lay your sentences down, spackle between the joints

Use transitions to flow seamlessly from one benefit to the next. Each sentence should come naturally out of the one that precedes it. When you’ve done it well, you shouldn’t be able to take out any sentences without disrupting the flow and structure of the entire piece.

Five rules for effective speechwriting from Winston Churchill

1. Begin strongly

2. Have one theme.

3. Use simple language.

4. Leave a picture in the listener’s mind.

5. End dramatically

Reductionism. Ad 5 is almost always going to be better than Ad 1.

Show, don’t tell.

Pose the problem as a question.

In his book The Do-It-Yourself Lobotomy, Tom Monahan puts it this way: “Ask a better question.” By that he means a question to which you don’t know the answer. He likens it to “placing the solution just out of your reach.” and in answering it you stretch yourself.

Avoid the rush at the front door. Try the side door, or even a window.

If you can’t get in to see the general, talk to a lieutenant.

Have an opinion.

Offer to do the grunt work.

I overheard a junior creative wisely coach a student by saying, “Trust me, you don’t want to be on a TV shoot. You can’t imagine how clueless you are right now.”

Make hard work your secret weapon.


Which doctor would you have perform your next surgery? The doctor who has a dusty biology textbook from med school moldering high on the shelf behind his desk? Or the doctor whose desk is piled high with copies of the last four years’ worth of the New England Journal of Medicine?

Well, if you propose to sell yourself as an expert to your clients, you’ll actually have to be an expert. You’ll have to read. And learn. And learn a lot. There is no shortcut to being the best. No easy way around it. You have to know your stuff and know it cold.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

“You’ve got to play this game with fear and arrogance.”

Somewhere between these two places, however, is where you want to be – a balance between a healthy skepticism of your reason for living and a solar confidence in your ability to come up with a fantastic idea every time you sit down to work. Living at either end of the spectrum will debilitate you. In fact, its probably best to err on the side of fire.

A small, steady pilot light of fear burning in your stomach is part and parcel of the creative process. If you’re doing something that’s truly new, you’re in an area where there are no signposts yet – no up and down, no good or bad. It seems to me, then, that fear is the constant traveling companion of an advertising person who fancies himself on the cutting edge.

You have to believe that you’ll finally get a great idea. You will.

9 replies
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