5 copywriting cheats to write better and faster

Copywriters are not starving artists living in ivory towers slaving over delicate poetry. They are sales people with word processors.

If you’re a copywriter, you have to write copy that works and stick to schedules. And no matter how creative and energetic you are, you can’t just pull great copy out of thin air day after day.

What I’m getting at is that it helps to have a few “cheats” up your sleeve to help you get the job done, better and faster.

So here are a few copywriting cheats that I’ve found helpful.

Lift key ideas from existing promotional materials. No, this is not plagiarism. There is no such thing as plagiarizing your own company or client. Most existing businesses have brochures, sales letters, print ads, annual reports, a website, product sheets, trade show materials, and all sorts of information ready-to-go.

Not only should you study all this as background, you should take notes on some of the better copy. Often you can find buried copy that would make a great headline or theme. Look at testimonials especially, since these can be a gold mine of copy ideas.

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Copywriter Information Center now live!

Copywriter Information CenterWhen I started out as a copywriter, few knew about copywriting as a profession outside of ad agencies or direct mail shops.

But in recent years, interest has grown dramatically. Maybe it’s the economy and job losses that has people seeking new opportunities. Or it could be the small industry that has grown around promoting copywriter career information.

Whatever it is, there are more people interested in discovering what this “copywriting thing” is all about than ever before.

I’m always getting questions about this, so I’ve put together a Copywriter Information Center on my main business website. Aspiring copywriters can find information about what copywriters do, who does the hiring, typical pay, available full-time jobs, and more.

I’ll be adding information over time, so bookmark the page for reference. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, let me know. I’ll make notes for future updates or answer your questions on my ProCopyTips blog.

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Marketing to seniors: Interview with Senior Market Advisor

seniorsSome time ago, I did an interview with Senior Market Advisor, a publication that gives advice on selling insurance, annuities, and long-term care insurance to the senior market.

The interview focused on direct marketing techniques and I thought you might enjoy reading it.

What kind of message works best when you’re trying to get prospects to fill out the reply part of a mailer?

The reply is the moment of truth, and you don’t want people to have any doubts about what they’re asking for or getting into.

So briefly restate the offer and benefits. This can take the form of a “statement of acceptance.” If you think of direct mail as a dialog between a business and a consumer, then the reply is where the customer “speaks” back to the person who sent the package.

Your statement of acceptance should include an affirmation, benefit statement, request for the item, summary of the offer, sweeteners, and a guarantee.

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5 simple SEO tips to boost your search traffic

SEO for searchWhat’s the point of having a website if no one ever finds it?

This website, for example, is responsible for the bulk of my own business. I get calls every week from prospects who say, “I found your site. The information is great. I wanted to ask about a project …”

This is not by accident. Like any carefully constructed website, mine is easy to find because of a few basic principles of SEO or “search engine optimization.”

SEO has become a deep and complex area of expertise, but there are a few basics that are responsible for most of the results you get.

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7 stupid ways to screw up your direct mail

Screw up Direct MailA famous chess player once revealed to me how he wins so many games, often against far more experienced players. I had expected some arcane theory or secret formula. However, what he said was this: “I try to avoid making mistakes.”

I’ve never forgotten that bit of wisdom. In fact, I routinely give similar advice to my direct mail clients. Yes, I have all kinds of deep and well-thought-out ideas about creating effective direct mail, but the first thing I tell them is this: “Avoid mistakes before seeking brilliance.”

What sort of mistakes? After working with over 250 clients in the U.S. and abroad, I’ve seen lots of smart people making lots of stupid mistakes. But there are a few particularly stupid things I see again and again, each guaranteed to screw up your direct mail big time.

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FTC cracks down on endorsements and testimonials

FTC Testimonial CrackdownTestimonials have been a powerful advertising tool for generations. But now the FTC is stepping in to rewrite the rules for how you can use testimonials and endorsements.

While I’m not clear on how this will shake out, the press release issued by the FTC doesn’t look pretty.

The guidelines will not only affect the testimonials used in ads, they will also affect consumers, experts, bloggers, organizations, and celebrities who endorse products.

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Snap Pack Facts: part deux

Back in March, I posted an interesting interview with Ted Grigg about snap packs, the red-headed step child of direct mail.

Like so many things in direct mail, snap packs work far better than they look, in part because they look personal and important rather than flashy.

If you haven’t read that interview, read it now. Then watch this video from Ballantine Blog showing two types of modern snap packs.

I love the Ballantine Blog videos. Yes, they’re meant to promote printing services, but they’re highly educational for anyone interested in direct mail.

And you should be interested in direct mail. For those of you who think direct mail is going away and everything will be online in about 5 minutes, heed my warning: Direct mail will be with us for many, many years. It works like gangbusters and you ignore it at your peril.

You can see what I have to say about the death of direct mail at DM News.

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Design and legibility: 7 tips for high ad readership

This is part 2 of a 2-part post on ad design and legibility. In this part, we’ll look at how to use basic reading concepts to get more people to read your advertising.

Meaningful sales messages are transmitted through language, not design. The goal of design, therefore, is to encourage and support readership. In general, a designer should strive to:

1. Draw attention to the copy and help the reader get started reading.

2. Make reading easy by applying the basic rules of layout and typography.

3. Help communicate the writer’s message (not produce a work of art).

Specifically, a designer should make every effort to work with the realities of how people read and make the process as easy and transparent as possible.

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Design and legibility: 10 basic principles of reading

This is part 1 of a 2-part post on ad design and legibility. In this part, we take a look at how people read.

With no special instruction, people instinctively learn spoken language. In fact, within just three years, an infant will master a vocabulary of about 1,000 words. Reading, however, must be taught. It’s a difficult process, and even after years of instruction, most people remain relatively poor readers into adulthood.

Reading is literally an unnatural act.

This is crucial for you to understand, since so many marketing efforts, and most especially direct mail and print ads, depend on your getting people to READ. In fact, I would go as far to say:

Direct mail and print advertising is all about READING.

Reading envelope teasers. Reading letters. Reading brochures. Reading order forms. Reading headlines. Reading coupons. Without reading — easy, effortless reading — you have no sales.

Therefore, one of the most devastating response barriers is simple legibility. Can your prospects read your message? Can they read it effortlessly?

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Sales lead call backs: strike while the iron is hot

strike while the iron is hotLead generation is a fairly straightforward task. You reach out to a list of prospects with letters, postcards, emails, ads, or other promotional material. You offer something, like a quote or brochure or other freebie. And you follow up with those who contact you to begin the process of getting customers.

Call backs are an essential part of this process. The point of lead generation is not merely to distribute promotional literature or create awareness, but to winnow your prospects to a list of sales leads to give to your sales force.

A sales rep must then call back quickly. Why? If you’ve ever watched a blacksmith work, it’s easy to understand.

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