After 34 years helping to build Boardroom Inc. (working with some of the best copywriters who have ever lived)–and now four years into my “new career” of paying forward all I have learned–I am as convinced as ever that being a great copywriter is not just reserved for those who have it listed at the top of their resumes or C.V.
While the copywriters I have had the privilege to call business partners, friends and mentors—folks like Gene Schwartz, Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz and Mel Martin—they, like so many others, clearly have super powers most of us can only dream to have one day.
But for the rest of us to simply throw our arms up and to say, “I am not a copywriter” or “I wish I knew how to write,” is just not acceptable anymore.
I’ve written multiple times over the past four years about my career as a “copywriter wannabe”–and it wasn’t until I got called out on such a lame statement by many of you that I got off my butt and realized that I didn’t need to go to the “copywriting store” to create great copy…and that I could go shopping in my head much more than I ever imagined.
More on getting called out in a minute.
I had clues years ago how off base I was but didn’t recognize them at the time; but every day I see the truth more clearly.
As I teach and coach marketers and entrepreneurs who either treat copywriting as if it is a “commodity” OR they treat it as some magical super power, only reserved for an elite group, we need some additional clarity in both camps.
For those of you who treat it as a commodity, my fear is that you will get what you pay for if you hire on the outside…that is, not having someone write about your life’s passion in whatever niche you work in, with depth and heart, is a missed opportunity (and can even be the downfall of your entire business). I wrote about this at length in “Success leaves clues.”
And for those of you who have put copywriters on a pedestal and you think you can never stand on it with them, you are exactly where I was before I realized this:
In addition to researching and reading everything about the subjects they write about, the best copywriters get their best ideas from the minds of their clients when they interview them.
The copywriters absolutely have supreme talent we need to tap into no matter what; however the knowledge and talent gap between the best copywriters in the world and you (in your area of expertise) is not as wide as you think.
Frankly, if I had to choose the key ingredients in the makeup of the best copywriters I have ever met and worked with, it’s their ability to “research deeply and extract fully.”
My good friend and copywriting giant, David Deutsch, makes a keen distinction between “copywriting” and “copythinking” (and I will now lobby for “copythinking” to become a real word).
David always challenged me with this distinction when I was his client and now I see him challenging the members of Titans Mastermind of which he is a member himself.
It is important to understand that not all of us are people who write as part of our livelihood yet we all can do a lot more thinking, introspection and research before anyone puts pen to paper.
And if you hire outside copywriters, fire the ones quickly who don’t want to have multiple “copythinking sessions” with you or your team or your experts before they begin.
It’s what all the great copywriters do.
And why shouldn’t we all do the same before we write anything, copywriter or not?
Looking back, I have spent way too much time lamenting that if I could have figured out how to write killer promotions like Gary Bencivenga or Gene Schwartz, life would have been a lot easier.
Thinking about being one of those guys seemed pretty cool (but unreachable).
And it’s not just because it could lead to making a boatload of money.
The impact that “A list copywriters” can make in the world by moving millions of people to action is both inspiring and fascinating to me…always was and always will be.
And being able to write like those guys seemed very far away from my skill set.
Maybe I had “copywriter envy” and that is what led to calling myself a “wannabe.”
But I was in the wrong discussion in my head.
When I thought about it some more, I realized it wasn’t envy since I am eternally grateful for the relationships I’ve had with the most impactful writers in direct response throughout my career and how much I have learned from them.
They were (and are) all generous mentors. There was (and is) no envy. It’s something else.
And that brings me to the subscriber who “called me out” a few years ago after one of my outbursts about my lack of copywriting prowess:
“This has been bugging me, Brian. And it’s probably bugging a few others on this list who are quietly wondering the same thing every time I read your e-mails and you say you are not a copywriter.”
He went on:
“Your weekly blog is full of DR copy style arguments and writing patterns so I assume you must have studied copywriting at some point and maybe you just prefer to call yourself a copywriter wannabe for, well…marketing reasons? Am I way off here? What’s the deal?”
My initial concern was that this reader was angry with me (along with many others)…thinking I had other motives by saying “I am not a copywriter”…and that my primary motivation was to eventually turn my list into an affiliate cash machine by manipulating my readers using all sorts of “Ninja tricks” (hate that term) with my writing.
Trust me…I’m not that good.
That didn’t happen nor is it ever happening…although many in my online family buy books and other educational materials I create and publish.
Selling educational programs are a natural extension of my writing…that’s my story and I am sticking to it.
I made the mistake of thinking that I can’t be a copywriter in the traditional sense since my writing is not about selling…it’s first and foremost about relationship building.
So maybe that’s why I became a “reluctant copywriter?”
It’s still hard to compare myself with anyone who writes copy that moves people to action…but thanks to you, I have come to the conclusion that what I do is copywriting…I do move people to action…and what all of you do with every email, card, note, sales letter you write is copywriting too.
Since so many of you write to me regularly, I see it first hand in those emails.
I can tell that you have read and studied the best copy from the world’s best copywriters over your careers which has clearly taught you a thing or two.
And from what I can tell, most of you feel pretty awesome when you are able to sell something after building a deeper relationship with your respective tribes; and unlike me, you have gotten over yourselves much faster than I was able to…but thank you so much for making me see the light on this.
Now it just keeps getting reinforced more and more every day.
Where I ended up after I got “exposed” by you (and this is what I shared with you at the time):
“If I was given an assignment today to write a promotion soup to nuts, in any medium, I would fall flat on my face. Guaranteed.”
However, there is no embarrassment in not being considered a world class copywriter while still eagerly sharing ourselves and telling our stories to an enthusiastic audience.
The fact that you or I may not be able to write a 12 page promotion, a 20 minute video sales letter or a half hour infomercial script doesn’t mean we can’t be competent writers, communicators, storytellers, and speakers.
And the tip that keeps coming up time and again during Titans Mastermind and Titans Master Class meetings, with so many copywriters and others who see themselves as anything BUT copywriters in the room, is that anyone can “speak” a 12 page promotion, a 20 minute video sales letter or a half hour infomercial script by simply getting interviewed about your passion by one of these magical writers.
When the finished product is as much your words as theirs–but written with a special pen by someone with a special talent–who is the real copywriter in this relationship?
I can safely say it is not one person.
I often talk about the example of when I painfully tried to write the original promotion for the landmark event, “Titans of Direct Response” in 2014, an event I had been dreaming about doing forever and thinking that no one else besides me could write about it.
At the event itself, when talking from the stage about the promotion that was responsible for getting the attendees into their seats (we had 350 people who paid from $3,500 to $5,000 each), I embarrassingly told the audience that after 10 hours of writing the promotion for the event, only creating a measly 6 pages of copy in those 10 hours, I realized I was in over my head.
How it got done was taking my best thinking (i.e. those 6 pages) to an outside copywriter.
My heart and soul was still in the final copy despite all the improvements the copywriter made for me.
I wasn’t a failed copywriter simply because I asked for help.
Nor did the copywriter have all the vision.
But the copywriter had the poetry to move people to action. (Thank you Roy Furr!)
And if any of you think you can’t write effectively about something you care about deeply, I encourage you to think again.
Many of you know the story of the original promotion written by Gene Schwartz that launched Boardroom Reports, the brainchild of my mentor Marty Edelston.
When everyone hailed Gene for a blockbuster launch package, he was quick to say that the “copy” was what was in Marty’s head for decades, Boardroom being his lifelong passion project…and all Gene did was get the words out of him and “added a little of his own flair.”
If you are like me, I bet some of the most compelling copy in your in box every day does NOT come from a seasoned copywriter but rather from passionate entrepreneurs who know how to write and communicate about their mission better than anyone in the world.
My good friend Jeff Walker, who inspired me to send my blog out every Sunday at 6:00 a.m. U.S. eastern time, does video for his posts (at the same time)…but if you can’t “read” his passionate copy as he speaks to you from your in box every Sunday (right next to my posts in your in box if you subscribe to both of us!), you aren’t paying attention.
He and I have talked about our own evolution into the “copywriters” we are today—maybe not in the image of someone like Gene Schwartz—but powerful writers and communicators just the same.
Copywriting is a learnable skill…some who do it a high level are just super human like in any other field…but everyone can take their writing to new levels all the time, especially when writing inside of their passion.
Deep “copythinking” becomes expert copywriting.
And while passionate entrepreneurs might not be able to write a promotion for someone else, we are the master of our own niche.
Some still need some help like I did; while others are doing just fine on their own, thank you.
I have many friends who are gurus to their audiences and after writing for years on the topics that are part of their heart and soul, they are absolutely their own best copywriter–and hiring a freelancer for them would be a waste of time and money.
My advice to all of you is to look within as you think about copy platforms to sell your products and services…and if it’s also connected to your life’s mission, you just may be the best copywriter you can hire.
However, the power of getting it proofed, honed, tightened (by someone else who is a seasoned copywriter or someone who also knows a lot about your niche) might still be in order. I’d recommend that as well. Even the top copywriters have “copy chiefs” looking at their stuff.
I’ve used this quote in previous speeches I’ve given:
“I’m not a salesman”
-From the last salesman who visited my office or called me on the phone
I’m sure you will agree that we are all salesmen and saleswomen in every aspect of our lives (i.e. not just in a business sense).
“Selling” my wife on the idea that spending countless hours calling balls and strikes behind the plate at little league and high school baseball games is a noble thing to do (and even makes me a better husband), is way tougher than selling subscriptions and books to millions of consumers.
I do, and have done, selling in both of those “categories.”
And I constantly sell you, my online family, on the merits of marketing discipline, the importance of “original sources” in direct marketing, how lists, offers and creative all work together…you know, the marketing propaganda I provide every Sunday morning. 🙂
Simply put, embrace the fact that we are all salesmen and saleswomen…and we are all copywriters as well.
Talking with Titan Ken McCarthy about this subject, we came to the conclusion that every negotiation, conversation or interaction starts and ends with building an argument…just like writing a sales letter.
That’s how the puzzle gets solved.
Another subscriber wrote to me many years ago (and we have become good friends since) telling me his inspiring journey of going from architect to direct response copywriter.
We exchanged some ideas on how his career in architecture prepared him beautifully to be a copywriter (with only a little sarcasm)…and frankly, we could have had the same conversation if he had been a dentist, a teacher, a lawyer…anything…as long as there was expertise and passion present.
We also agreed that inspiration and inflections can come from any direction; and it is imperative to provide value in everything we do.
Who better to write about that value (or at least speak about it, record it and get someone else to get your words on paper) than you?
Your friendly fellow copywriter,
P.S. I wanted to talk about this topic thisweek because it was one year ago when I spoke at an inaugural event that went deep on the ideas I shared today:
That copywriting is a unique skill and also one that everyone needs to be skilled in some aspects of, whether you are writing copy or not.
This event, called “The Copywriter Club in Real Life” (TCCIRL), hosted by two of the smartest Titans I know (Kira Hug and Rob Marsh), was so successful last year that the second annual is happening soon–and this is one event that I highly recommend you attend if you can get to New York City March 13-15.
See below for some special gifts I have for you if you decide to attend.
Last year I was one of the few speakers who did not have “copywriter” next to my name which enabled me to present from an angle similar to the post above; and the discussion that followed was amazing given the rock star copywriters and marketers who were in the room…and that room will be even more powerful this year.
Why would they even let me speak at such an event?
And why is this “copywriter wannabe” so passionate about supporting (and star gazing) at the next generation of copywriters and creative talent?
Here’s why I think they asked me–and also why I jumped at the opportunity. It’s from the acknowledgments section of my new book, Overdeliver:
“I want to thank copywriter trainers and coaches everywhere… [Kira Hug and Rob Marsh were specifically acknowledged at the top of my list]…and anyone else who takes on this noble mission—for all they do to train the next generation of A-list copywriters and for letting me into their respective worlds to teach and be part of that mission.”
I can’t just talk the talk about making sure marketers are armed with the best copywriters and creative resources going forward…I need to walk the walk any way I can and if I am allowed in the room or on a stage..
It’s also why I am imploring you to attend this event if you can.
Of course I receive no affiliate commission or any other financial gain…and in fact, I want to spend money and send you some awesome gifts if you decide to attend.
While TCCIRL is billed as an event for copywriters (and the speakers are mostly copywriters), I believe that this is a transcendent event where copywriters can hone their craft and marketers can realize (in no uncertain terms) that copywriting is anything but a commodity–and that they can partner with the best in the industry to create long term and lifelong business magic.
Here’s my ethical bribe to get you to attend…
If you register, I will personally send you two (2) gifts worth over $200:
1) A copy of the Gene Schwartz classic, The Brilliance Breakthrough: How To Talk And Write So That People Will Never Forget You (with an exclusive workbook)…a $195 collector’s item and an essential addition to your marketing and copywriting library…absolutely free.
2) An exclusive pre-publication galley copy of my new book Overdeliver (I’ll sign it if you like)…only around 30 copies will be printed before the actual book comes out…and you can have one of these free as well.
But you have to get to New York for “The Copywriter Club in Real Life”…so sign up now and email me with your mailing address once you register so I can send you The Brilliance Breakthrough and Overdeliver.