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Street Level

Face to Face: Josh Womack

Josh Womack

As a former stand-up comedian and co-founder of the humor-fueled speechwriting startup, Laugh Staff, Josh Womack knows funny.
 
Sure, it's been years since Womack took the stage, and he doesn't write for Laugh Staff as much as he used to, but that doesn't mean he's lost his edge. Quite the contrary, as Womack's new job as a copywriter for Progressive has kept him sharp, inspired and motivated to take on new creative challenges.
 
Writing copy for a mega-global insurance provider may not seem like the ideal landing spot for an ex-comic, but Womack has found a home with 96 Octane, Progressive's in-house ad agency. Working in unison with its partners in production, the studio pens material for the corporation's numerous business areas, with an audience of 30,000 internal employees, in addition to anyone the world over hunting for an insurer.
 
"We're writing for people who work here and for customers thinking about bundling their home and auto insurance," says Womack, 34. "With Progressive going in a 'digital-first' direction, social media is big, too."
 
While the gig certainly carries its share of boilerplate insurance-speak, Womack also gets to breathe life into Progressive's fictional salesperson, Flo, whose bubbly optimism is a staple of the company's television, radio, print and web campaigns.
 
Womack, who joined the insurance giant in June 2015, enjoys tapping into the insurance mascot's slightly ironic persona, which he compares to Will Ferrell's excessively cheerful turn as Buddy the Elf in "Elf."
 
"When you're writing for Flo it takes on a more playful tone," Womack says. "I compare her to the 'Elf' character because she's overly optimistic, but kind-hearted."
 
The copywriting role has also allowed Womack to bring original ideas to the table, among them a t-shirt aimed at RV owners that says, "Hitch Please."
 
"That's a little outside the box and not the kind of copy you'll see on an internet banner ad," says Womack. "Our designers made a t-shirt with 'Hitch Please' and a lot of people bought it."
 
The seasoned writer says stand-up comedy and comedic speechwriting aptly prepared him for the corporate world. For Laugh Staff, he's tasked with developing a jumble of experiences into a personalized best man, maid of honor or retirement speech. Progressive's advertising mandate is far more focused, but the principle is the same.
 
"At Laugh Staff I'm writing a stand-up set for other people," says Womack. "The base skill set is already there."
 
Womack's unique background in comedy actually helped him get the Progressive job, he notes.  
 
"When I interviewed I knew was going up against traditional copywriters," he says. "But Progressive saw me as someone who started a writing outfit. I just had to translate that into their voice."
 
Womack readily admits he misses the party atmosphere of stand-up comedy. However, he appreciates being part of a creative culture that allows him the freedom to be his old, funny self.
 
"If I could leave a note for comedians, I'd tell them copywriting is a great way to keep them writing, even if they're not the star of the show," Womack says. 

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to Fresh Water, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture.   
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