Less Copy, More Story: Giant Spoon's Ian Grody on the Role of a Copywriter Today

Copy, as a word, is problematic. My team and I do more than put words on paper.

Ian Grody
Creative Director Giant Spoon

How did you get your start as a copywriter and what inspired you to pursue it as a career?

I started my career as a screenwriter, creating series and scripting pilots for networks like SyFy, MTV, and CMT. Which can be super fun. But too often you find your work shelved—pages upon pages never see the light of day. Eventually, I realized I could take everything I love about storytelling and bring it to advertising—where brands are hungry to build worlds and shape narratives and push them live. Years of freelance copywriting lead me to do the agency thing, where I climbed and led teams and finally managed the content arm of a company.


How much has the role changed since you joined the industry? Do you believe the craft has suffered because of these changes?

Sure, things have changed. But for the better. Ads feel less like ads these days. We’re not pushing product, we’re telling stories. We’re finding ways to say, ‘this narrative is thematically related to our brand—if you’re into it, you may be into us.’ Which is just a stronger, more modern point of entry into people’s lives. Plus, new canvases and story forms come our way all the time, courtesy of digital and social innovation, meaning more first-of-their-kind delivery systems for messaging and entertainment are available.


What set of skills do you believe it takes for a copywriter to thrive in the current advertising landscape?

Literary skill has become table stakes. Story skill has become a differentiator. It’s no longer enough to craft a tag or a title or a manifesto. That’s important, but it’s even more important to understand how introducing dramatic questions in everything we write compels people to keep watching and reading and listening. It’s important to understand how a story that escalates can be incorporated into new forms and narrative vessels. And maybe more than that, to understand how a single tale can play out in linear and non-linear ways across touch points. That stuff, to me, is what wins.


Where do you seek inspiration that helps you in your craft?

One of the million things that drew me to Giant Spoon was its philosophy about creation through the lens of culture––inventing ads and experiences that have everything to do with the world around us. Which makes so much sense. Our output is designed to strike a chord at this exact moment. So, I’m always looking for as many contemporary cultural inputs as possible. I’m watching TV, I’m listening to podcasts, I’m reading novels and comics and hanging out at the museum. Which isn’t to say that everything I consume is new—far from it. But I’m looking for stories and story forms that can help deliver meaningful messages, today.


What’s the most challenging aspect of the job? What helps keep the work interesting for you?

When my team feels gratified and proud and inspired by the stuff we’re making, I’m happy. They’re smart, they work their asses off, and they’re always pushing to introduce new ideas and canvases for story. The challenge––and we meet it––is showing clients that going further pays off. Being first pays off. That’s just an interesting way to work. So, interesting isn’t my problem. Making sure we don’t lose interesting in translation from pitch to deliverables—that’s where we have to be extra vigilant.


Is there a part of the role that you feel is often misunderstood? If so what?

Copy, as a word, is problematic. My team and I do more than put words on paper. We concept campaigns. We go all in on story. We write pictures that say more, more succinctly, than words can. In fact, literary execution is the last thing we do. And I think people sometimes marginalize or don’t fully grasp the creative strategy behind all of the language we ultimately turn out.


What advice would you give to young copywriters who’ve just entered the business?

Every creative challenge is an opportunity to learn more about yourself as a human being. Are you the type of person who says, “It’s good enough, I’m going home?” Or are you the type of person who makes sure every idea, every word is as good as it possibly can be? At the end of the day, it’s about you, your relationship with yourself, and whether or not you’re deriving all of the meaning you can from the process.