It’s been really hectic here at WideAngle. We’ve been hiring like crazy and bringing on some wonderful new customers. Admittedly, one item that has taken a back seat is producing quality content on our blog. We’ll this is the start of fixing that problem. A few days ago I came across The Forbes Book of Great Business Letters on a bookshelf. After perusing the book for a few hours, there are 4 letters that speak to hard work, clever penmanship, and sage advice.

Hopefully you’ll have a bit more inspiration after reading.

David Ogilvy to Ray Calt

I love this letter because it proves method, process, and hardwork produce some of the most creative work. Mad man David Ogilvy wrote this description of his work habits in response to a letter from Ray Calt, an executive at another advertising agency. Despite — or perhaps because of — Ogilvy’s application of hard work and an unorthodox approach, he developed a reputation as one of the finest copywriters in the advertising business. 

April 19, 1955

Dear Mr. Calt:

On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copy writer. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

  1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.
  2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
  3. I am helpless with researched material — and the more “motivational” the better.
  4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
  5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
  6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a batter headlines.
  7. At this point I can no longer postpone doing the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)
  8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.
  9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramaphone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.
  10. Next morning I get up early and edit the gusy.
  11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)
  12. I am a lousy copywriter, I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry — because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.

Altogether it is a show and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.

Yours Sincerely,


Norman Rockwell to Harry W. Brooks

A consummate workaholic, illustrator Norman Rockwell placed more credit for his success on his industry than his talent. This letter was written in response to a query about his “secret.” 

March 8, 1965
Mr. Harry W. Brooks
Plastic-Line Inc.
Knoxville, Tennessee

Dear Mr. Brooks:

In reply to your letter of February 8th, I feel a little presumptive to give a formula for success, but here goes: “A little talent, a lot of ambition, some self-confidence and a pile of hard work.”

Sincerely yours,
Norman Rockwell


P.T. Barnum to James A. Bailey

Written five days before his death, P.T. Barnum offered some final words of advice and affection to his partner James A. Bailey. Bailey ran Barnum & Bailey Circus after Barnum’s death, sticking to the principles that Barnum prescribed.

Bridgeport, 2 April 1891

My dear Bailey,

Although I would not pain my family by expressing such an opinion openly to them, yet I cannot feel that my present sickness must necessarily have a fatal termination. If such should be the case, I know you will not consider a few words of advice from me an impertinence, but will heed them and treasure them up as a legacy.

Although all arrangement for the continuance of our show are now completed and I have made further directions for its management in my will, still, a few words from one who has been more than ordinarily successful in the journey of life will not come amiss in the control of your future movements. I fully believe that if you faithfully follow my methods you cannot fail.

It has been my universal plan, as you well know, to make public aware of what I was about to offer it, to get the best of everything and the most of it, and then to advertise freely and without fear. Never attempt to catch a whale with a minnow.

I am indebted to the press of the United States of almost every dollar which I possess and for every success an an amusement manager which I have ever achieved. The very great popularity which I have attained both at home and abroad I ascribe almost entirely to the liberal and persistent use of the public journals of this country.

But it is of no advantage to advertise unless you intend to honestly fulfill the promises made in this manner. You must — I repeat it, must — have always a great and progressive show and also one which is clean, pure, moral, and instructive. Never cater to the baser instincts of humanity, strive as I have always done to elevate the moral tone of amusements, and always remember that the children have ever been our best patrons. I would rather hear the pleased laugh of a child over some feature of my exhibition than receive as I did the flattering compliments of the Prince of Wales. I am prouder of my title “The Children’s Friend” than if I were to be called “The King of the World.”

I regret exceedingly that my bodily weakness prevents my being present at the exhibition in New York, for I veritably believe that if I could again see the rows of bright-faced children at our matinees and observe their eyes grow round with wonder or hear their hearty laughter, it would do me more good than all the medicine in the world.

I am too weak to write more now, but let me entreat you to never allow the honorable and honestly acquired title of “The Greatest Show on Earth” to be in any way disgraced of lessened in fame. Go on as you have begun and I know you will continue to prosper.

Should this be, perhaps it may, my last communication to you, I wish to assure you of my unalterable esteem, affection, and trust in you, and to bestow a fatherly blessing upon one who is in every way so worthy to become my successor.

Fraternally yours,

P.T. Barnum


Andrew Carnegie to Himself

In 1868, the future steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie wrote a letter to him vowing to not become a prisoner of the money he made. Employing hard-nosed and keen business acumen, Carnegie came to dominate the steel industry over the next thirty years. Having amassed an incredible fortune, he later gave most of it away to charitable causes. 

Beyond this [50,000] never earn — make no effort to increase fortune, but spend the surplus each year for benevolent purposes…Man must have an idol — the amassing of wealth is one of the worst species of idolatry — no idol more debasing than the worship of money…To continue much longer…with most of my thoughts wholly upon the way to make more money in the shortest possible time, must degrade me beyond hopes of permanent recovery.