Copygirl: The Pink-Covered Novel Every Ad Guy Should Read
December 17, 2015
By Ken Wheaton
et’s not beat around the bush. “Copygirl” is unabashed chick lit. It’s got a pink cover and a twenty-something narrator who’s slightly insecure but, like, totally funny as she navigates her troubles with love, family and work. You know from the start how it’s going to end. But since when does that matter? You know how 99% of the books you read and shows you watch will end, especially in popular entertainment. The good guys win.
But you don’t read for the resolution as much as the journey and the journey of Kay, the protagonist of “Copygirl,” just happens to include a career at fictional advertising agency Schmidt Travino Drew, a New York-based hot shop. In the book, this fictional agency has just been named fictional Advertising Age’s Agency of the Year. (I wonder what the fictional editor of fictional Ad Age does in his or her spare time.)
It’s helmed by a senior partner who phones it in (literally) from a yacht, and the day-to-day work is carried out by his henchmen, ranging from the obnoxious credit-stealing and clueless creative directors to the pack of junior male staffers who just rolled out of a factory that assembles hipster-fraternity bros from spare parts.
For anyone who has spent five minutes in an ad agency, this all makes for fun reading, trying to map annoying traits of these characters to the real people in your office (or, even better, trying to figure out who the partners are based on). That alone is almost worth the price of admission, which for some will be trying to get on board with Kay’s verbal mannerisms, her inability to go two paragraphs without a too-cute play on words and her insecurity.
But it’s that same insecurity that makes this required reading for the guys out there.
“Ugh, quit whining,” is something a guy might think within the first few pages. It’s a guy’s typical reaction to complaints, especially complaints from a woman.
But the authors paint an agency world in which you see where the insecurity comes from, an adland in which you can see — without getting lectured on Twitter or at a conference — how the not-so subtle bro-ism of an ad agency starts to shut out women (and some men!) or pit them against one another or just turn them off of the business entirely.
Which means the authors don’t let Kay off the hook completely. That tendency to see the one other woman at her level as a threat is a decided character flaw. And some of her slights at work are precisely because she won’t stand her ground and undercuts her own contributions over and over again. At times, a reader may want to reach into the book and give her a good shake.
It’s a vicious cycle, y’all.
But “Copygirl” is not a slow and bitter discourse on gender inequality.
Like I said, it’s chick lit set in the ad world. So it’s a fun read that just happens to be laced with observations that might make you think about gender roles.
Our hero Kay is still a twenty-something out to make her way in the world. And while Kay has her own self-worth building sideline outside of the agency, the best parts of the book — from an action perspective — involve the advertising. Kay starts out struggling on copy for a cat food brand. This sounds like a horribly unsexy piece of business, just the sort of thing that most authors — especially escapees from adland — can’t help but make fun of. There are a couple of jabs at the product and advertising in general, but the reader is made to see that as absurd as it all is, this is respectable work, hard work and that even for creative hot shops, it’s sometimes the least sexy brands that keep the lights on. Even better, we get to see how petty agency creatives can be when they squabble over something like a cat-food account.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Michelle Sassa, one of the authors, was a copywriter in a previous life, including a stint at Berlin Cameron where she worked on Ad Age’s “Age of Ideas” print campaign back in the day. (I was here back in the day, but too far down the totem pole to be involved with our marketing.) So she, along with co-author Anna Mitchael, do a great job of capturing the madness.
And the madness escalates when Schmidt Travino Drew is invited to pitch a major soda account and the leaders pit one creative team against the other. The entire process might be over the top and amped up for the sake of drama, but the nail-biting combined with some almost surprisingly low-handed back-stabbing make for a great ride.
Like I said, you know how it’s going to end, but that matters little. It’s a fun ride. And this is a book that will hopefully be read by more than 3% of the agency world.
It’s a fun read that just happens to be laced with observations that might make you think about gender roles.
Even a bit more horrifying and a nod to the continued dearth of women in creative director roles, Sassa wrote, “One partner actually told me to my face that there would never be a female creative director at his agency ever! But the clients loved my work, so he was forced to pay me like one anyway.”
My how times haven’t changed at all.
The book goes on sale October 6 and you can order it here .