Meet Our MarketSmiths: Jim Yoakum, Word Master and Snark Lord

Jim Speaks On Managing His (Drunken) Muse & Why Productive People Don’t “Do Lunch.”

James Franklin Yoakum, known to his friends as James Franklin Yoakum (we call him Jim to keep things professional), is a master of carefully-ordered words and brazenly-wielded wit. He’s an award winning copywriter,  author, screen writer and comedian who specializes in advertising and snarky blog comments. Jim’s copywriting experience runs the industry-gamut, which is why he’s become our go-to for spotting What-NOT-To-Do: his Badvertising blog series keeps readers entertained by highlighting major branding #fails, which make us all feel a little fuzzy at the end of the day. He joined MarketSmiths, drawn to our “pouty bee-stung lips and curvaceous hips,” as he puts it, as the team’s Jim-of-All-Trades (a.k.a. multiSmith). He currently lives in Manhattan (or his head) and writes in a dark pit full of demons where he feels most productive.

In an effort to help you get to know our multiSmith, we’ve asked him a slew of hard-hitting questions. Ever thorough and intrepid, he’s answered every one. Read on to learn more about James Franklin Yoakum’s fears, inspirations, process, and his theory on the lunch bunch’s “Gang of Seven” (of which he is clearly one).

Where do you write? Describe the environment.

A dark pit filled with demons.

Describe your process. Where do you start? Do you let the words flow then revise or edit as you go? 

I listen to my muse (who is usually drunk) and then take dictation.

What’s your educational background? 

High school and playing rock ‘n’ roll.

What’s your no. 1 hobby or passion? 

Building box girder bridges.

List three more. 

Breeding lightbulbs, collecting salt cellars, buying Van Goghs.

What’s a random fun fact about yourself?

I had my entire body replaced with an exact replica.

Scrabble or chess? 

Dominos.

Lord of the Rings or Stephen King?

Phillip K. Dick.

How do you cure writer’s block?

Medication and human sacrifice.

Favorite movie?  

How I Won the War.

At what point did you realize you were ‘a writer’? 

When I realized I had no talent for anything else.

Why copy?

Why a duck?

What excites you about wordsmithing?

Taming the Muse.

List your five favorite adjectives.

I’m a noun, man.

Name your least favorite copy cliches.

“Come grow with us!”

What are rhetorical devices, words, or phrases that end up in your copy a lot? (Because they’re so darn versatile, dependable, and effective, of course!)

I use the word “the” a lot.

What’s your favorite quote about writing?

“It’s all in the dictionary, just put the words in the right order.”

What’s your favorite written piece (book, play, poem, etc.)? 

Catch 22.

What’s the very last thing you read? (Article? Blog post? 50 Shades of Grey? Be honest! And describe please.)

Honestly, the last thing I read was this question…

If you had to compare your “writing voice” to the actual voice of a celebrity, whose would it be?

Wayland Flowers and Madame

What, if anything, are you writing for fun? 

Badvertising.

If your writing style were an animal (real or fantastic), what would it be and why?

A curious salmon (because I swim against the current).

What’s your favorite Badvertising post so far?

The next one.

Who’s your writing mentor? 

Terry Southern.

If you could adopt a mentor (living or dead), who would it be and why?

Terry Southern.

What brands or specific campaigns have killed it in terms of copy?

Levi’s TV ads circa early 1970s (ex.: Levi’s Evolution).

In your opinion, what’s the most important skill a writer can have?

Patience and a sympathetic bartender.

Describe your dream project.

Finishing filling out this questionnaire.

What age do you wish you were and why? 

Embryo, because it’s all about to happen.

What’s your life like in 10 years and why? 

I’ll be 10 years older because that’s how time works.

What’s the most frightening thing your imagination ever showed to you? The best? 

Worst: there’s no money in writing. Best: one word, plastics.

Would you rather perform a reading of your work in a room full of people, or have 50 people read and red-pen the same project?

Both sound horrible.

How to you acclimate yourself to a brand new subject?

Research and sleeping with the product.

What do you like about collaborative copywriting?

Sharing the blame.

What are your predictions for the future of copy?

More pronouns.

BONUS Writer’s Rant:

I have a theory. It’s not a scientific theory or even a proven theory (if it were, then, well, it would be a fact and not a theory) and my theory is this: at any given time, on any given day, there are only seven people in the world actually doing something. The rest? They’re having lunch; endlessly discussing the idea of maybe doing something, or else smoking weed and going “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” Seven people. A Gang of Seven if you will.

Of course, there’s nothing at all wrong with discussing a project over a sandwich, but there’s a sure-fire way to tell if the people you’re with are really serious about doing something or are just members of the lunch bunch. It’s called the follow-through. This will not come as news to any seasoned veterans out there, but to those just starting out I say, sure, have a lunch meeting. Hell, have a coffee even, and go in with the best of intentions and full in the belief that the meeting is going to produce positive results (you never know), then… chill. Do nothing but wait. Wait for the next couple of days, see if anybody actually sends you that file they promised they would, or that email address, or that script, or that… whatever. If they do, then that’s a good sign that they are serious. If they don’t, then, well, all I can say is I hope you ordered the lobster. I can’t tell you how many “creative lunches” I’ve been to over the decades to discuss a film project, a book or a show—but I can tell you this: I’ve put on more pounds than projects.

I recall back in the go-go 80’s, back when people had more money than God, there was this guy who wanted to create an amusement park based totally on music. I don’t remember all the details of the project (except that there was going to be a roller-coaster called the Rock ‘ n’ Roller Coaster—lame, I know, but I blame it on the drugs), but I do remember the endless lunches. Now, a music-themed amusement park isn’t an awful idea, as awful ideas go, but after six months of eating lunch (I mean “discussing the project”) I began to notice that nothing was happening. No contracts signed, no ground broken, no nothing—and it took me a while to realize that nothing was ever supposed to come of it. It was only a way to appear to be productive without actually ever having to do any work (and I’m fairly certain the lunches were on S.E.T: Someone Else’s Tab). Thirty-plus years later and not much has changed.

The business we’re in is very difficult. It’s full of wannabes, could-a-beens, users, abusers, posers, hipsters, lunchers, time-wasters, vipers, and vampires—but remember: also out there, somewhere, are the Gang of Seven. My advice to those of you who have a great script, a great song, a talent for acting, singing or dancing (or whatever) is simple: skip lunch and stay hungry. The people out there who accomplish something don’t have the time to “do lunch,” they’re too busy actually doing things.

Janine’s passion for words is rooted in her lifelong study of literature. Following a stint in boutique publishing and a beloved job as a journalist, she discovered an aptitude for marketing that led to SEO work, marketing strategy, and copywriting for (then) startups like FAB.com and major brands like Aeropostale. When Janine found that she could expound on T.S. Eliot, pen a hard-hitting piece on vernal pools, and promote panties with equal éclat, she knew she’d found a calling.

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