How a New York City Defense Attorney Ended Up Writing Copy for a Super Bowl Ad

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Presenting a pitch to one of your agency’s biggest clients can be outright terrifying, especially early on in a career. But for Will Binder, who used to hold client meetings on New York’s Rikers Island, it’s just another day at the office.

Binder is now a copywriter for Wieden + Kennedy. Before his start in the advertising industry, Binder was a criminal defense attorney for a New York City firm handling both state and federal cases.

“It was pretty intense,” said Binder.

A creative writing major, Binder wasn’t sure what to do with his English degree. He spent a gap year bartending in Park City, Utah. At the time, the lifelong Indiana Pacers fan figured that if that team’s general manager Donnie Walsh had a law degree and could run a professional team, why couldn’t he? Binder started applying to law schools.

After passing New York’s bar exam, Binder spent the next three years working at Gould Fishbein & Reimer. As an attorney, he felt the full weight of some of his cases, ranging from terrorism to murder.

“I would constantly be at war with the system, and I wasn’t able to compartmentalize it the way I saw some people would,” said Binder. “I noticed early on that I didn’t have that in me.”

It also wasn’t a creatively fulfilling job. At a friend’s suggestion, Binder enrolled in ad school. After a year of school and an internship under his belt, he was hired by R/GA as a copywriter in 2013.

To Binder, there are similarities between the two professions. In both industries, there’s an “overarching theme of advocacy” and an emphasis on trust.

“I was an advocate for my client, and I would argue his point of view, or as we would say the theory of the case,” said Binder. In advertising: “You have your clients and their brand identity that they trust you with. … You don’t want to do anything to jeopardize anybody’s job or reputation along the way.”

At W+K, Binder got a chance to work on the agency’s famed “This Is SportsCenter” spots for ESPN. This year, he’s working on his first spot for the Super Bowl—a commercial for Heinz.

“There is the pressure of doing right by everyone, but it’s going like every other spot I’ve ever done,” said Binder. “We’re not letting the extra weight of ‘this is a big, huge Super Bowl spot’ pull everything apart.”

Of course, if things don’t work out, Binder can fall back on his law degree.

Big Mistake

“A couple of times I’ve made employment decisions based on landing a better job title,” said Binder. “Those didn’t work out.”

Lesson Learned

Instead of chasing a title or a salary bump, focus on fit. “It’s really important, maybe the most important, to be where I fit in,” he said.

How He Got the Gig

Binder was recruited to join W+K by a former colleague at Saatchi & Saatchi. 

Pro Tip

To Binder, nothing’s more important than your personal preferences and how they are reflected in your work.

“As a creative, you really have to know what your tastes are and what the tastes of culture at large are,” he said. “Being able to tell people who your favorite writers are, what your favorite music is, your favorite films and how you think about certain issues. All of that brings a kind of unique perspective to your work. Your work is what makes you uniquely you and not a cookie-cutter creative.” 

This story first appeared in the Jan. 27, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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