The year was 1994 and it was a Saturday morning. I was happily reading the weekend papers and had skipped to the weekend magazine. A major airline had a double-page spread that read:
Left-hand page: [airline] flies to [xx] destintions in [xx] countries. (26 pt)
Right-hand page: [Country’s] favourite airline. (110 pt)
I couldn’t believe my eyes, and I had a friend who worked on that particular account.
The following Monday, I called him to confirm that the agency still had the airline account.
Him: “Yes, we do.”
Me: “Maybe not for much longer. Have you seen the weekend magazine ad?”
My friend said that the art director had come to him about this ad, saying it didn’t look right. He saw immediately that the tag line was missing the possessive apostrophe…but everyone, including the client, missed the ‘a’ in ‘destinations’.
On the strength of that pick-up, I got an introduction to the head of direct marketing. (I wrote letters…this is back in the days before email…to all the senior agency people who worked on that account but only the DM manager got in touch.)
We decided that, as I didn’t have formal experience, the agency would give me a trial. My first job was to proof all three frequent flyer brochures, check for typos and that we had all our Bronze, Silver and Gold references in the right brochure. Luckily for me, there were several errors so the art director and the copywriter understood that I could be useful and not a threat.
The rest, as they say, is history. I can trace every job I’ve ever had to that first engagement. As people changed agencies, or formed their own, they’d take me along. The DM manager left to form his own agency, as did the art director. Those agencies win awards regularly and I still work for them both occasionally.
What happened to the airline account and the agency? Well, not too long afterwards, the agency lost the account, along with three other major accounts, and then imploded. It was taken over by an international agency and limps along. Today I checked their website, only to see “gloriously purile” as a tag line for one client. Another ad is a direct copy of an ad created for a similar client by the agency for which I worked back in the 1980s.
A good proofreader does so much more than pick up a typo or three. As a proofreader, I regard myself more as a quality controller. When I proofread a document, I work with my editor hat on as well. Not only do I look for the obvious, but also, I check all the links, check spellings of personal and company names and make sure that everything makes sense. With my brand warrior hat, I make sure we use the appropriate trademarks (particularly important for major brands such as Microsoft, MasterCard and Adobe, all of whom I’ve worked for in the past). With my copywriting hat on, I optimise copy for search engines and offer alternative copy if I think it’s warranted.
The arrogance of the agency with the airline account led to their downfall. I’m not saying I could have stopped the rot, just that the lack of interest in my services was indicative of their lack of understanding of quality control.
How did you get your first proofreading or editing job? Do you still have relationships with colleagues from back then?