Direct Creative - Copy & Design for Direct Marketing
April 2009

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Note: Occasional errors in this newsletter exist to bring joy to readers who find them and point them out. Please don't spoil their fun by demanding perfection from me.

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Quote of the Month

"Properly practiced, creativity can make one ad do the work of ten." -William Bernbach"

On the Blog

Visit my blog to get copywriting and design tips for direct marketing success. Here are some of the most recent posts:

USPS offers direct mail "summer sale"

Bonus blog post:
Ted Grigg just posted an interview with me called Creating Winning Direct Mail: Interview with Pro Copywriter Dean Rieck. Even if you're not interested in reading my interview (How could you not be???), you should be reading Ted's blog anyway. It is hands down one of the smartest marketing blogs out there.

How to make money writing video scripts

In a former life, I worked for an NBC affiliate writing TV promos and commercial scripts. The pay was lousy, but I wrote literally thousands of scripts. And I never dreamed that video would ever be a profitable way to make money as a writer.

But that was then and this is now. Today, video is a fast-growing part of the Internet and most people have no clue how to write for video. It's not like sales letters or ads or brochures. If you have the right skills, you can make as much as $500 per page. I know because I've done it.

Read this and see for yourself what opportunities are available.

Response Booster: Use the right technique for the right promotion

In The 27 most common mistakes in advertising, Alec Benn listed six factors you must consider to avoid applying a good technique at the wrong time:
  1. What is the purpose of the ad? What are you trying to accomplish?
  2. What is the attitude of your audience? What is their current level of interest?
  3. What medium are you using?
  4. What is the nature of your audience? What are their interests, customs, prejudices?
  5. What is the level of quality of the item you are selling?
  6. Who is your competition? How are they advertising?
I've said for years that there are 3 levels of creative mastery in direct marketing:
Level 1 - The Novice, who doesn't know the rules. Level 2 - The Hack, who has learned the rules, but is trapped by them. Level 3 - The Professional, who knows the rules and knows when to apply them, when not to, and every now and then may even break the rules.

Following the above six tips will help you reach Level 3.

The great "push" vs "pull" advertising debate

How would you define "advertising"? Would you say it is the "process of waiting for people to randomly find your products and services"? Judging by the attitude many people have today, that seems to be the definition some would like to see adopted.

I get into this debate frequently, and it always seems to be with computer / online nerds and those who dislike advertising in general. The argument goes like this: People know what they want. You don't need to tell them. All you need to do is make the information available, and if people want your gizmo, they'll find it and buy it. So we don't need all this "pushy" advertising.

You didn't see this sort of reasoning in pre-Web days. Advertising was advertising. Merriam Webster defines it like this: "the action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by paid announcements." In other words, advertising is pushing a message out there and putting it right in front of someone's face.

Why do some think that traditional advertising is too aggressive and undesirable? Because they've been brainwashed into thinking that the pull advertising methods used online are a replacement for all the push advertising methods used for thousands of years. Plus, many in this group are predisposed to loath any sort of aggressive commerce.

But let's not worry about the psychology of it. The point I want to make is that it's wrong. Pull advertising, such as setting up a nicely constructed SEO Web site, is a wonderful strategy. But it's NOT a replacement for push advertising. Pull advertising is limited to those who have a need, are aware of a product category, who may be familiar with a particular product, and are predisposed to actively search for a solution. And that represents only a small slice of potential buyers.

How do you launch a new product if you can't push information to people? No one searches for a product if they don't know it exists. How do you build a big company by waiting for people to find you? Given that maybe 90 percent of the purchases people make are discretionary (things they don't really need), eliminating push advertising would pretty much wreck all hopes of a business beyond a certain size. In fact, it may wreck all modern economies as we know them because they're all based on sell, sell, sell.

So which should you use, push or pull advertising? Both. Why limit yourself?

Is it time to start another career?

It's rough out there. Some of the most talented people I know are getting laid off and facing serious financial problems. The economy has hit my business too, but I'm still making a good living. Why? Because when you have a 9-to-5 job, all your financial eggs are in one basket. But when you freelance, your financial risk is allocated among many clients.

I've told people this for years: A job "feels" secure, but it's not. Freelancing "feels" risky, but it's far less risky than having a job.

The trick is how do you transition from a job to self-employment as a freelancer? My friend Ed Gandia has written the best book I've ever seen on this subject. It's filled with practical, sound advice for people who are finally ready to give freelancing a try.

Read Ed's description of the book here. It may load a little slow, but be patient. It's worth the wait.

9 Last-Minute Checkups for Print Ads

While much of my business is creating direct mail, I've always had a special place in my heart for print ads. They offer a simplicity and elegance of form that are hard to match. But these very qualities often lead to problems in the creative process.

One problem is laziness. Compared to a direct mail package with all the bells and whistles, a print ad seems easy to write and design. It's tempting to just crank it out and move on to bigger projects.

An opposite problem is fixation. While direct mail is a disposable medium, people often keep publications. Print ads can stick around for years. And the temptation is to tinker endlessly with every word, overwork the layout, or force the ad to do things it was never intended to do.

So here are a few ways to get some perspective and double-check an ad before you place it:

Take a break. You can't evaluate anything objectively the moment you create it. Set your ad aside and look at it again when you're fresh. Is it still as good as you thought? Have you forgotten anything? Is there a problem you didn't see before? You'll be surprised how clear your vision gets after a few days.

Use the "5 Second Test." Show the ad to a few people who are not in the advertising business, preferably those to whom the ad is meant to appeal. If they don't understand it at a glance (in about 5 seconds) it isn't going to work. Don't play with body copy. Revise the big things. Make your headline more clear and direct. Be sure the graphics telegraph your message. Highlight your offer.

See how it looks as placed. After all, people won't see your ad tacked to the art director's wall; they'll see it in magazines or newspapers. Mock up the ad and insert it into some of your target publications. See how the ad works in context.

Try the "Stop or Go Test." You should generally speak in the second person, using words such as "you" and "your." And you should avoid speaking about yourself too much, with words such as "we" and "our." So, with a green pen, circle all words referring to your reader. Then, with a red pen, circle all words referring to you. If you see a lot of green, your copy is a go. If you see a lot of red, stop and edit.  

Compare your ad to your objective. What do you want the ad to accomplish? Do all the elements of your ad lead to that goal? If something doesn't belong, delete it. If there's something missing, add it. And don't let the designer dictate the message or copy length. Words sell.  

Consider one other way to write the ad. Even if you have a successful formula, there are always other approaches that will work. If you keep an open mind, you just might find a better way. Or you may discover improvements you can incorporate.

List all the negatives. What's wrong with the headline and copy? The layout? The illustrations? The coupon? The look or tone? Be brutal and honest. Don't get attached to particular words or images. This isn't art, after all. It's not your personal vision. It's business. So if something needs to be changed, change it.

Ask a consultant for a copy analysis. It gives you a level of objectivity you simply can't get from staff and employees. And since there are as many ways to write an ad as there are writers, you're sure to get some good ideas. Even one small improvement can mean the difference between success and failure.  

Make corporate ads work. After all, if you're going to all the trouble to position your company or products, why not distribute some literature and give your salespeople some leads at the same time? Offer a free fact kit, video, brochure, report, or anything to generate a response. This doesn't hurt your image. It shows that you want to make a connection and that you want to help.

Step-by-step guide for e-mail newsletters that get results

Marketing Sherpa's Best Practices in Marketing with Email Newsletters gives you a handy, practical guide with 29 ways to get more opt-in subscribers for your newsletter list. You'll see how to create a newsletter readers open and respond to and how to measure your results.

I know it looks easy to create an e-mail newsletter, but trust me it's not. Many of the offline things people do just don't apply online. That's why this 194-page guide is a must-read if you're serious about publishing newsletters.

No theory or puffery. It's all hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves information that you can start using today.

Click here for details and a complete table of contents. It's cheap too!

Dean Rieck is an internationally respected copywriter, designer, and consultant who has created direct mail and ads for over 200 clients.

Phone: 614-882-8823

Copyright 2009 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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