Denver-based copywriter discovers ‘best tool is your creativity’
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Students are often taught that there is a specific road to take to achieve their dream career. But Kathryn Bass is a prime example that all roads can lead to accomplishing one’s dream.
Bass who is now working as a copywriter at the Denver-based advertising agency Karsh Hagan originally thought she’d be pursuing a much different career.
“I thought I would teach,” Bass said in a phone interview. “When I started teaching as a graduate student, I learned that when I taught it took a lot of the same creative energy that I used for creative writing.”
She went on to finish her Ph.D. in literature and creative writing at the University of Denver and began working there as an academic counselor for students with disabilities. The program was not well funded, nor properly advertised. This was where Bass discovered a skill set she did not previously realize she possessed.
“I started developing other marketing materials and realized I really liked thinking about audience and figuring out the right way to talk with people and share information in a way that’s meaningful,” Bass said.
It was from here that she began her love affair with copywriting. After working in a slew of different positions and doing freelance work off and on, Bass found her place at Karsh Hagan.
Bass has served as senior copywriter there since 2009. Since then, no day has been exactly the same. Although she does not have the typical advertising degree, she said this gives her a unique perspective on projects.
“I think my experience as a poet gives me a particular access where I exercise a particular part of my brain a lot so that I can make imaginative leaps,” Bass said.
These imaginative leaps help Bass with highly creative client work such as naming companies. While naming is one of her favorite parts of the job, not all aspects of copywriting are as fulfilling.
“It’s really discouraging when you feel like you’ve done a really good job writing something for a client, and they have a really nit-picky response to it,” Bass said.
While she credits negative feedback as one of the most difficult parts of the job, she accepts that this as par for the course in a career such as advertising. Even though negative client feedback can be discouraging, Bass is still in love with the industry as a whole.
In addition to her time spent writing for Karsh Hagan, Bass also runs a freelance copywriting business: Kadroodle Consulting. She particularly enjoys the one-on-one relationships she builds while helping small business owners succeed.
Regardless of whether she is writing for Karsh Hagan or doing freelance work, Bass finds editing to be critical in producing quality content for clients.
“If a client sees that you haven’t paid attention to what you’re writing to the level that you’re making it perfect, why would they pay attention to your ideas?” Bass said.
She said that a basic spelling or grammar error can take the focus away from the innovative copy one has written and inhibit the client from being sold on the idea.
Bass also believes that being well-versed in all styles, including MLA and AP, is crucial for providing the client with exactly what they want. Even though she said that typical grammar and style rules do not necessarily apply to advertising, it is important to know the rules so that one always knows why they are breaking them. Every piece of advertising needs to be premeditated and deliberate. Leaving things to random chance can lead to “sloppy copy.”
One way Bass avoids forced writing is by finding ways to explore her creativity in a setting outside of advertising. As of last year, Bass began applying for artist residencies to take some time off and focus on her poetry. This year, she has been accepted to the Jentel Foundation where she will spend a month with the sole purpose of producing creative works.
“I think great writers and great artists are great noticers,” Bass said. “Giving myself time to get down to the granular level makes me a better writer and a more intelligent person. It teaches me that kind of skill of dwelling and listening that I bring back into my work.”
While this particular method ultimately brings to surface some of her most enlightened work, Bass said each individual needs to find his or her personal outlet. Bass said that once one has harnessed what they care about, they have no other option but to be successful. She thinks the best way for students to find this passion is to question the world around them.
“I think my advice for anyone who wants to be a writer is that your best tool is your curiosity,” Bass said. “Say ‘yes’ to things that you don’t quite know how to do yet, and know that you’ll be smart enough to research and learn what it is that you need to learn.”