Tips from John Forde and Bob Bly on How to Get Ahead in Tough Times

We asked AWAI Board members what tips they had to offer for writing in tough economic times. Here's what John Forde and Bob Bly had to say.


We're headed for recession… thank God. Don't get me wrong. I’m not a gloom and doomer. It’s just that recession — it turns out — might be an excellent time to shine as a copywriter or marketer. Let me show you what I mean…


Projections say advertisers plan on cutting this year's budgets by 3%. And according to the Myers Report, a survey of ad execs in December 2000 pegged 47.6% with plans to increase ad budgets. A new survey has only 20% planning to increase ad spending. Over 30% actually planned to cut back on marketing. Big mistake. Take a look at the lessons of history:

  • Companies that had higher sales and net income during the recession of 1974-75 didn't touch ad budgets. What's more, they also beat non-advertisers in the two years after the recession ended.
  • According to McGraw-Hill, companies that increased ad budgets during the 1981 recession trounced competitors not just during the downturn, but for three years following.
  • Kellogg pushed their ads through the Great Depression. Post didn't. Guess who dominated the cereal market for the next 50 years. Can you say Corn Flakes?
  • Stanley Tools launched it's biggest ad campaign during the 1974 recession. Their consumer product division took off. They grew at twice the rate of competitors every year thereafter.
  • Chevy pushed car sales in 1975. Ford scaled back by 14%, afraid of higher gasoline prices. Chevy picked up 2% of the auto market. It took Ford five years to regain the lost ground.
  • In recessions of 1949, '54, '58, and '61, companies tracked for ad spending cutbacks saw sales and profits fall off. Those who kept ad budgets, saw profits increase… and kept an edge after in the years that followed.
  • Consumer spending has increased during every post-WW II recession, according to The American Association of Advertising Agencies.
  • Coca Cola increased their worldwide marketing budget $350 million for 2001. So far, net income is up 22%. IBM increased ad budges 17% last spring. Sales are up 8.9%.


A lot of mental real estate opens up when recessions hit. Competing marketing messages grow quiet. But consumers still need solutions.

Translation: They're still willing to buy.

As a copywriter – especially a freelancer – these stats are a selling point to clients. Now more than ever, it's time for them to step up their efforts. Emphasize reliability and quality. And hammer hard on the product's core values. Other than that… the one piece of advice I can think of is: Offer hope.


Add value to your existing service.

In a recession or soft economy, customers in all areas are more concerned with price than ever before.

Actually, though, their real concern is making sure they get the best value for their dollar.

You can win new customers and retain existing ones by enhancing your service and providing them with more value for their dollar.

For instance, if you are selling a commodity item, you could add value by offering faster delivery than your competitors. Or a larger selection. Or more colors. Or more options. Or easier payment terms. Or a better guarantee.

There is no need to "give away the store" and promise an excessive amount of extra service. Just a little extra effort or service on your part will be perceived as a significant increase in value by the client or customer.

The "extras" you provide need not take a lot of time or cost a lot of money.

Always look for ways to give your reader not just their money's worth but more than their money's worth. These "little extras" always pay big dividends in client or customer goodwill and ongoing future assignments.


The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: November 5, 2001

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