Interview reveals my mysterious past

Curious about my sordid past? Want to know some of my secret thoughts about freelancing and the copywriting business?

Well, this is your lucky day. I often do interviews with people who are curious about such things and one of them just appeared over at The Web Shop’s Best Practices Blog.

People find it curious that I started out in the weird and wonderful world of television before finding my way (with many twists and turns) into the world of direct mail and direct marketing. But it’s true.

I was a television producer (which sounds more glamorous than it is). My job was to promote syndicated shows on NBC, including The Muppet Show, Dukes of Hazzard, and Laverne & Shirley. Yep, those were real shows, for those of you too young to remember.

General LeeI gained some notoriety for driving around in an authentic replica of the “General Lee,” an orange 1969 Dodge Charger, to promote the Dukes of Hazzard. A fellow employee and I whooped and hollered and generally made asses of ourselves, but achieved our objective of getting attention for the show. It was an early lesson in how not to be subtle if you want to achieve an objective.

Other tidbits, if you’re at all curious: Read more

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The $64,000 self-promotion letter

Most people who get into the freelance copywriting business do so because they love to write compelling copy. They seldom do it because they want to spend time finding clients.

However, to survive as a freelancer, you DO have to find clients. It’s just part of the profession.

The Freelance Copywriter's $64,000 Direct Mail Self-Promotion PackageRecently, I ran across a unique resource called “The Freelance Copywriter’s $64,000 Direct Mail Self-Promotion Package.” It’s written by Pete Savage, a copywriter in Canada.

Now I’ve been around a while and have seen all sorts of e-books and reports that promise to give you the “secret” for success in this business. Most, frankly, are full of tripe and nonsense from people who don’t actually earn a living as a copywriter.

Pete’s book is different. For one thing, Pete really does earn a living writing copy. For another, it’s very specific and practical. It’s not just “how-to,” it’s “here’s exactly how-to.” Read more

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Freelance success begins with mindset

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – either way you’re right.”

It’s one of those quotes that make you think before you understand what it means. But when you finally get it, it’s one of those “Ah ha!” moments.

What Ford was talking about was “mindset.” It’s the idea that the way you think affects the way you act and, therefore, what you are able to accomplish. This is directly related to being a freelance copywriter or designer.

If you think you can’t make much money as a freelancer, you won’t. If you think no one will believe in your skills, they won’t. If you think you can’t leave your job because you’re just not good enough to make it on your own, then you’ll never even try.

Perception is reality. Read more

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Be bossy in your copy!

If you want to improve your copywriting, read this article now.

I’m going to give you one of the most powerful secrets for making your words work harder in any promotion. And it’s about as simple as copywriting tips get. Ready?

Tell people what to do.

That’s it.

I told you it was simple. But it works. You see, for the most part, people do what you tell them to do. You can’t make people do what they don’t want to do, but if the request is reasonable they’ll comply.

Do a little experiment. At the grocery store, walk up to someone and tell them to hand you something off the shelf. “Excuse me, sir. Hand me that box of Cheerios.” You can soften it if you like. “Excuse me, sir. Will you hand me that box of Cheerios?”

Every now and then, you’ll get a cantacerous old fart who will tell you to “buzz off,” but most of the time the person will do what you tell them to do. People respond to commands. Read more

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How to add oomph to your offer

Offers are the heart of direct marketing. So if you want a powerful way to improve response to any direct advertisement, look at your offer.

That’s the gist of a recent article I wrote for Target Marketing called Energize Your Offer.

I determined a long time ago that there are 3 essential elements of any direct response ad. You must:

1. Make an offer.
2. Provide sufficient information for acceptance of the offer.
3. Provide a means of easy response to act on the offer.

If you leave out any one of those elements, you not only will end up with a failure, you will be doing something other than direct response.

You can read the entire article over at Target Marketing. I provide a simple definition of “offer,” take a look at the guts of an offer, reveal the world’s best offer, and discuss how to test into offers the right way.

This is really all part of my simple “big picture” approach to effective copywriting. While little tweaks can sometimes boost response for giant promotions, and occasionally a small headline edit can make a difference, generally little changes produce little results. To get big improvements, you should concentrate on the big picture. In direct marketing that means the list, the offer, the format, and then the overall copy approach.

If you want to know more about offers, have a look at my list of 99 proven offers. You can also read a detailed explanation of the 3 elements of direct response.

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Yogi Berra: Master Copywriter?

Yogi BerraA while back, I published this article on Copyblogger. It turned out to be quite popular. So in case you missed it there, I’ll rerun it here.

Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra is a fifteen-time All Star and three-time MVP. He played in 14 World Series games. But what is he famous for? Mixed up quotes.

Someone once asked him what he would do if he found a million dollars. Yogi said, “I’d find the fellow who lost it, and, if he was poor, I’d return it.” When discussing a Steve McQueen movie, Yogi observed, “He must have made that before he died.” Commenting on a pair of gloves, he said, “The only reason I need these gloves is ’cause of my hands.”

On the surface, Yogi seems confused. But perhaps he is trying to convey a deeper meaning for those who care to consider his words carefully. In fact, I think Yogi can teach us about the art of sell copy, the sort of copywriting intended to persuade and motivate.

Let’s listen to what he has to say, and I’ll translate his “yogisms” into clear English.

Yogi: “This is like deja vu all over again.”
Translation: Study proven selling techniques. Every generation of writers thinks they are discovering selling for the first time. Many online writers think writing and selling began with the Web. But selling is based on human psychology and has been going on for thousands of years. If you want to learn how to sell today, study the sales techniques of yesterday. To get started, read Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins.

Yogi: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”
Translation: Start with a goal. After all, how can you get someplace if you don’t know where you want to go? Your goal must be specific and measurable: 5,000 subscribers, 135 sales, 750 site hits per day, whatever. This tells you where you’re going and gives you a way to know when you’ve arrived. Read more

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5 tips for more creative copywriting

Have you ever noticed that some copywriters are forever coming up with new ideas while others write the same thing in the same way over and over? It’s true of any group in any industry. You’ll have a few innovators and a lot of followers.

As I write this, I’m creating a postcard for one of my clients. I’ve written and designed many postcards for this client, but on this one I wanted the front to look more like a print ad with a lot of copy.

It struck me that the standard horizontal orientation wouldn’t work well, so I decided to turn it 90 degrees and have the front oriented vertically. There won’t be any problems in the mail since the address side will still be horizontal.

Okay, it’s not a world-shaking idea. It’s just an upended postcard. But it’s a nice little twist that could help the card stand out for this promotion. And that’s copywriting creativity in a nutshell. Doing one thing different that gives you an edge for boosting response.

How do you become more creative? There are lots of ways, but here are 5 quick ideas to get you started. Read more

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Duke University offers vintage print ad library

I’ve always been fascinated by print ads of days gone by. Besides their cultural value, they provide a unique insight into advertising tactics.

Vintage Lifebuoy AdDuke University’s Ad*Access Project has collected and scanned more than 7,000 ads printed in the United States and Canada between 1911 and 1955. This is not a collection of direct response advertising. From my brief perusal, these appear to be mass market, brand building ads from newspapers and magazines.

The ads represent five product and subject areas: radio, television, transportation, beauty and hygiene, and World War II.

I don’t know if these ads are representative of all advertising during the time period because they’re from a single collection put together by J. Walter Thompson, which could be skewed by whatever interest JWT had when assembling the ads.

Still, there’s a lot to be learned by studying mass market advertising. Ads of the past also tend to be easier to analyze since they are aimed at sensibilities of former generations, allowing a good measure of objectivity that you may not have when looking at ads directed at you today.

This is an excellent collection worthy of a bookmark. If you know of other quality collections online, let me know.

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E-mail marketing tips from the pros

Recently, I attended a webinar on e-mail marketing sponsored by Target Marketing. There were no big surprises. The experts discussed a few tactical principles that generally help improve effectiveness. Here’s a summary with some of my own thoughts thrown in:

1. Keep your copy short. E-mail is not as much a reader medium as a scanner medium. People get a lot of e-mail and want to breeze through it. If you have a big pitch, link to a page where you can expand on your topic.

2. Keep the design simple. Yes, many people have high-speed connections. But as bandwidth has increased so has volume. Simple designs with small, optimized images load quickly. Text-only messages loads even faster and may have the added benefit of avoiding spam filters, since a lot of spam is now image-based.

3. Give people several clicks. There may be some debate on how many, but from what the gurus said in this webinar and from my own experience, I’d say from 3 to 7 links on average. However, the experts didn’t talk much about text e-mails which can work quite well with a couple sentences and one link. Then there are e-mail newsletter formats that could have dozens. So as always, rules of thumb are not really rules. Read more

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The great “click here” debate resolved

Should your links include the words “click here” or is this a tacky and redundant waste of Web page space, since everyone knows what to do with a link?

The click here debate has waged for years. But I think it’s less a debate than a misunderstanding, and it’s easy to clear up.

Let’s assume that I’m writing an article online and I want to link to my newsletter subscription page. There are three ways I can craft this link.

1. I can create a link that links to my free newsletter subscription like this. Here I’ve created a simple “descriptive” link. The content of the link is clear. It uses the common metaphor of the underline to indicate a link, so if you want to know more about my newsletter, you can click on it.

2. I can create a link where I encourage you to subscribe to my free newsletter like this. In this case, I’ve created a “directive” link. Not only does it describe the link, it uses command language to tell you what to do: “subscribe.”

3. I can create a link where I tell you you to click here to sign up for my free newsletter like this. Now I’ve created a “call to action” link. This describes the content of the link and uses directive language to tell you what to do. However it goes one step further and gives you explicit instructions for how to do it: “click here.”

Which link type is correct? It depends on how important it is that someone click on the link.

If you merely wish to offer additional information, a descriptive link gets the job done. This is the most common type of link on the Web. If people click, great. If not, no big deal.

If you want people to click, though, you need to move up to the directive link. This link tells people what to do and will almost always generate more clicks.

If the link is vital, for a sales letter leading to an order page, for example, then you should step up to the call to action link and use the words “click here.” This leaves no doubt about what to do and how to do it. The fact that people know to click a link is irrelevant. This is the same as telling a direct mail recipient to “mail this reply card now.” The more direct you are, the more response you are likely to get.

So there you have it. There are descriptive links, directive links, and call to action links. Deciding which to use depends on how important it is that you get a click. The debate is ended. Go forth and link away.

Oh, and click here now to subscribe to my free newsletter that gives you lots of tips just like this. :)

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