April 10, 2022

I spent the last week with some of the most inspiring (and aspiring) copywriters working in our industry today—however you define “our industry.” 

This was the first week of the Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp, where we began unraveling the secrets contained inside the greatest book on copywriting, marketing and human behavior ever written (Breakthrough Advertising)…and I also had the privilege of speaking with a wonderful group of up-and-coming copywriters (known as the “Reign Makers”) led by a superb copywriter, Alex Cattoni. 

Both “events” confirmed something I knew already: 

Copywriters are the best guests to invite to any party. 

Many are introverts…but when you get them talking and sharing, miracles happen. 

I was in both places to teach something (supposedly)…but as is always the case when I am asked to teach, I learn so much more. 

This past week I learned what it means to be a copywriter at the highest level, a level I will never achieve but still marvel at; but I appreciate it..and exploit it whenever possible. 🙂 

My week as a teacher-student also reminded me of a conversation I had with copywriting legend John Carlton a few years ago that is as relevant today as it was then. 

He made the brilliant observation that the next “big things” in marketing may not be in the areas of whiz bang technology but rather in the blocking and tackling that we old school direct marketers are still especially good at…including such seemingly mundane and non-sexy things as state-of-the-art list segmentation, creating irresistible offers and of course, writing kick ass copy. 

These ideas were front and center at the Bootcamp and with the Reign Makers. 

While I always bring guest speakers to my events who are practitioners of cutting edge of marketing techniques, there are also copywriters on every “Titans agenda” as well. 

Those who spend more time storytelling and less time figuring out the next big “ninja technique” (hate that term as you can read here), will be the big winners in the long run. 

Great copy and innovative creative approaches create businesses. 

Ninja techniques create revenue events. 

Both are critical to the big picture—you need innovative tactics all the time too…but tactics without a bigger strategy enveloping those tactics are just things to keep you busy. 

You’ll make some money…but it will only keep you focused on the present and not the future. 

I maintain it’s the copywriters who predict future trends more than anyone else. 

They are the canaries in the coal mine…and for those of you who aren’t familiar with the meaning of this phrase, here is how Wiktionary defines it:

“An allusion to caged canaries (birds) that mining workers would carry down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gasses leaked into the mine, the gasses would kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately.” 

Now I don’t want you to take me literally saying that we should sacrifice our copywriters for the sake of saving the lives of everyone else in marketing. 

And no copywriters were harmed in the writing of this post. 

Copywriters are people too. 

But my observation (as well as Carlton’s) is that the best copywriters are always ahead of the curve; and because of their insatiable curiosity and need to research everything at the deepest level before putting pen to paper, they are in the best position to warn us of what is happening in the marketplace…and what will make people move to action. 

Alex asked me to talk with her Reign Makers about “marketing psychology” including: 

  • How to discover your market’s secret desires anytime you want. These are the desires they don’t want anyone to know about.
  • How to present your offer as THE solution for your market’s strongest desire.
  • How to sell to a market that doesn’t trust you (yet).

They didn’t need me to talk about these areas because Breakthrough Advertising is the Bible on these topics.

Since I am not Gene Schwartz I deferred to talk about research.

It’s intense research and never settling on the obvious or the mundane which separates the best copywriters from the average ones…and allows them to be the canaries in the coal mine to protect us mere mortals from impending doom.

We can stop the metaphor here…no one needs to die to make my point today (canary OR copywriter).

But I want to talk about some examples of why I think top copywriters are the folks to pay the closest attention to if you want to know the best route through your marketing tunnel (and yes, that’s “tunnel,” not “funnel”).

At theTitans of Direct Response event in 2014 (TODR), I began the trend of putting as many copywriters as possible on stage at the events I host…and as I mentioned earlier, many are shy by nature but they are never shy once you get them going, talking in depth about their craft.

There was a panel consisting of the top four copywriters who I worked with the most at the time of the event, four writers responsible for over 600 million pieces of successful direct mail over 20 years (just for my former company Boardroom).

I affectionately called them my “Mount Rushmore of Boardroom Copywriters” and they are heroes to me: Eric Betuel, David Deutsch, Arthur Johnson and Parris Lampropoulos are not only top canaries, they became the most important partners to our business (which was consistently $80 million to $100 million in the period they wrote for us, hitting a high of over $150 million).

Note: I’ve also got a “Pre-1995 Mount Rushmore of Boardroom Copywriters” who I have highlighted in previous posts.

Gene Schwartz, Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz and Mel Martin are those guys—just go to my blog page and put any one of their names in the search bar to learn more about any of them.

I’m not just name dropping here.

My point is that we always had the good sense to hire the best and we were never cheapskates when it came to hiring top creative talent…why leave this critical area to amateurs?

And that led to my new philosophy, always inviting folks like them to round out any guest list at any gathering.

Back to the coal mine…

Those copywriters didn’t simply push an “easy button” to write the way they did with the results they achieved.

They read, researched, studied…and then read some more.

And researched some more.

And studied some more.

Here are four interesting lessons I learned specifically from Parris Lampropoulos and Arthur Johnson:

1. The best creative platform might be right in front of you

A Boardroom trademark was how we brought our experts together on a regular basis…whether at our famous “Boardroom Dinners” or just assembling experts from a particular discipline to meet and debate to see what sparks would fly.

When they got together in a moderated discussion those sparks always turned into the best story ideas.

One time we brought together all of our tax experts in one meeting from all over the country…and we were smart enough to not only invite our editors to listen in but also one of our copywriters (Parris).

What came out of that meeting were dozens of the best story ideas…but also a blockbuster control package for our newsletter Tax Hotline.

What Parris figured out was that the concept of a “secret meeting of the country’s top tax experts spilling the beans on things they would not normally talk about in public” was a differentiator that would make Tax Hotline the most attractive publication of its kind at the time.

A secret meeting in a coal mine. 🙂

The secret meeting became the premise of a new control, a control that was impossible to beat for over a decade.

2. I’m not a doctor but I play one in direct mail

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008, one of the first calls I made (after finishing up with the doctor and then alerting some family and friends) was to Parris.

I knew I had a lot of research ahead of me in terms of choosing the right treatment and doctors…but I also knew that one of my ace copywriters had read more and written more about this particular cancer than most doctors I would talk to…especially in the alternative treatment area.

I knew that with one phone call to Parris, I would benefit from the fact that he was a copywriter who never wrote anything about any topic before he researched everything on that topic.

I was right. And he charged me a lot less than a doctor’s visit.

3. I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV

Arthur Johnson was our partner in some of the most successful infomercials during the mid-2000’s for our books The World’s Greatest Treasury of Health Secrets and Bottom Line’s Ultimate Healing—as both a writer and on-air talent.

Arthur not only co-wrote the scripts but he appeared on screen in an interview format with legendary newsman Hugh Downs.

And what did we call Arthur in the show?

“Medical Writer and Editor.”

And that couldn’t have been more accurate.

He was on the show because of his command of the material and his relationship as a reporter of the life-saving information the doctors who appeared on the show were sharing.

We couldn’t have found anyone at the time who was more passionate and knowledgeable.

Who better than an ace copywriter for this job?

Arthur had read the books cover to cover and had pulled out what he thought were the most important treatments and research consumers needed to know right now.

He put the time and effort in and it showed in his writing, editing…and his on-screen performance.

Those infomercials weren’t just marginally successful…they were groundbreaking.

And going from direct mail to TV with these health books, back to direct mail with the TV offer, then online with the new offer, and back to TV with additional shows, this “franchise”created revenues north of $200 million for Boardroom.

I guess it pays to read, research and study to become the best writer and editor.

I remember Hugh Downs asking Arthur on the set during one of the shoots (off camera):

“Where did you study medicine?”

He could have answered, “Everywhere there is cutting edge information to write about.”

I know he didn’t answer “in medical school.”

4) Don’t leave your best material on the cutting room floor

Always allow your copywriters to probe your editors, your gurus, your experts to make sure there is not more “stuff” in those incredible brains that could create some of the most exciting and breakthrough articles or concepts…which will lead to more compelling promotion copy…and yes, more sales of your product or service.

When Parris thought the material in one of our health newsletters was boring and had little in the way of cutting-edge information, he probed the doctor-guru of that newsletter encouraging him to share with him everything he avoided writing about because he feared the editors might have found some of the most engaging information too controversial.

From that probing, new assignments were given to the editors to get the proper backup for the most exciting content that had previously been off limits.

The best studies and findings that could then be backed up properly became the core of a new blockbuster control package.

I’m not recommending ever being irresponsible and making up stuff that’s not true; but don’t give up easily when there is an opportunity to share what has never been shared before…and all it might take is a little more research.

A reaction of “I didn’t know that” beats “so what?” from our audiences every time.

This reminds me of the classic Henry Kissinger story which I call, “Is this the best you can do?” (my version of it):

A speech writer for Kissinger went off to write a speech for him…brought in his first draft…and Kissinger sent it back to him to improve it.

Assume for the purpose of this version of the story this happened 8 times.

Finally, the writer brought him the 9th version and said, “This is the best I can do…I can’t do any better…”

To which Kissinger replied:

“OK, now I will read it.”

An A List copywriter usually won’t consider showing any of the first “8 versions” to a client until they have gone “full canary” with their research.

I don’t know about you, but that’s who I want as my marketing partner…and dinner guest.



P.S. While taking inventory of products in my warehouse, I found four (4) full sets of the Titans of Direct Response videos, swipe files, and interviews from the landmark 2014 event.

It’s a huge box o’stuff …and I would like to sell them out at a discount…and include  the digital version as well.

The original cost was $3,000 ($2,000 for the full physical package and $1,000 for “Titans of Direct Response Digital”).

However I’m selling these final four copies today, complete with the digital version, at $1,500 total…until the four are sold.

This is a dream package for any marketer or copywriter.

Take a look at all you will receive here.

If you are interested in purchasing one of the remaining 4 copies (along with access to the digital version),  email me with a subject line of “TODR” and I will let you know how to purchase this one-of-a-kind package.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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