March 14, 2021

A year ago we lost one of the greatest copywriters of all time…but not completely…because he left us so much…before he left us. 

While he may no longer be able to write a new magalog, create a groundbreaking VSL or develop a kick ass email series that would knock anyone’s socks off (i.e. getting people to order barefoot), there is an archive of his copy and educational materials to last a few more lifetimes. 

Clayton Makepeace didn’t leave us just random “swipes” either: He was world class in executing copy but also world class in teaching others to execute just like him. 

And then there’s his bigger than life personality which anyone who has ever met him will never forget. 

It was always a party when you were hangin’ with Clayton…work or play…it didn’t matter because his work was his play. 

You know how there are some people, even if you have never met them in person, still seem to end up being your friend, mentor or coach from afar? 

It’s because of what they stand for throughout their lifetime—specifically what they did, how they did it and how they taught what they did. 

That is Clayton Makepeace in a nutshell. 

Many people tell me today that Gene Schwartz is their mentor (despite Gene having passed away before many of them were born)…and the same is true for Clayton. 

Clayton’s legacy is cemented in all of us because he will be remembered forever. 

Remembered as much for his body of work, his courses, his teaching as for the comforting, supportive (and often extroverted) ways he expressed himself. 

In the spirit of the movie Coco, he will never die because he will always be remembered…and hopefully this post will allow many younger marketers (well, younger than me) to remember his contributions for a long time to come.   

The Buddhist proverb goes:

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” 

With Clayton we can rewrite that proverb:

“When the marketer/copywriter is ready the world-class copywriter/teacher will appear…probably on a Harley.” 

Clayton was an “easy rider” who made copywriting look like easy writing. 

If you didn’t know anything about Clayton until today, believe me when I tell you that he is more influential on your career than you are aware of, whether you are a copywriter or a marketer and whether you work offline or online (or both). 

If you didn’t know him, or work with him directly (but have followed his work), and you can somehow chalk him up as an influential teacher or coach, you know how fortunate you are. 

If you knew Clayton, worked with him, or simply observed him, I know you loved him as I did. 

We were the very fortunate ones.   

He was my friend, mentor, coach and collaborator on so many projects over the past 25+ years. 

I was one of those students (i.e. marketers) that was ready when the teacher (i.e. world class copywriter) appeared. 

And we had so much fun in the process. 

Either way this post will be worth reading (and I say that with ultimate humility and reverence); and the P.S. will be worth taking action on where I tell you about a one-time (free) tribute event to honor Clayton, which will be presented by his most prized students in their own words. 

I want everyone in my online family to be influenced by Clayton whether you’ve ever met him or not.

Coming to this event is the best way I can do that. More on that in the P.S. 

If you did or didn’t have the opportunity to know him, work with him or observe him, let me give you a little more taste of the man. 

He was a larger than life personality, always cheering you on and supporting you with wisdom and encouragement; and the priceless stories and humor were like the premiums (i.e. bonuses) from one of his direct mail masterpieces. 

Here’s a picture from the American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) Boot Camp a few years ago–some badasses in this photo (not including me)—can you name them all? 

Clayton is the second from the left… 

Clayton not only wrote some of the greatest promotions ever, offline and online (over four decades), but he is a “professor” in the craft we call “copywriting.”

He wasn’t Tony Robbins on stage—far from it—no dancing and prancing for Clayton. He was the anti-Robbins speaker…always seated at a desk or a podium on the stage, dishing out one priceless nugget after another, always professorial, always serving his audience in the best way he knew how.

Dancing and prancing can be overrated.

It’s also important to mention that he was no slouch in direct response marketing either.

He is what I call a “doubler” because he studied marketing as much as he studied copywriting.

He is also one of those “A Listers” who is extraordinary in all 7 characteristics that are present in every top flight copywriter —and there are only a handful who excel in all 7:

  1. He was HUNGRY and knew how to “show” and not just “tell”…with the best words for the audience he was writing to at all times.
  2. He had INSATIABLE CURIOSITY, never settling for anything superficial in his research which showed up in his writing.
  3. He knew how to SEEK AND ACCESS FEEDBACK LOOPS for his copy and research…it didn’t matter that he was a master…he knew every piece of copy could always be improved upon. (See #6 below)
  4. He had supreme PASSION for whatever topic he was writing about…and he if he didn’t, he would get some (through total immersion in the topic)…or pass on the project.
  5. He understood DIRECT MARKETING PRINCIPLES and never simply “wrote for food”—he read Hopkins to Sugarman to Schwartz to Halbert to Ogilvy to Abraham to Cialdini to Kennedy…and every copywriter or marketer who had something meaningful to teach. I can’t remember a training or presentation he ever gave that didn’t come with a recommended reading list.
  6. He had HUMILITY and lived “confidence without arrogance”—which is rare–and the real test of being a master.
  7. And he has A BODY OF WORK that will stand the test of time.

He and I, over the years, hatched evil plans of all kinds which usually started with a creative idea from him…blossomed into a new promotion…and even new products.

This was never more evident than when he wrote our first “magalog control package” at Boardroom.

A magalog is a 20-32 page, self-mailer format, that 3 other top copywriters couldn’t find a way to get it to work for us–but it was a successful format already for many of our competitors.

This caused lots of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and more importantly, FOLP (Fear Of Lost Profits).

I remember going to visit my direct mail guru in 1993, Dick Benson, armed with our lackluster results with magalogs, and asking,

“What are we doing wrong? Should we give up on this format?”

Benson read me the riot act big time:

The magalog format is perfect for your products…it is long form, enabling you to tell a story and a sales message about an unknown brand properly and completely.

[Note: Boardroom’s books and newsletters were not household names]

It’s exactly what you need, Brian. You can’t give up.

Magalogs will eventually beat the pants off any envelope package, even one with a 12 to 16 page letter, if executed with precision.

You know my Rule of Thumb that states “self-mailers almost never work?”

That doesn’t apply to you!

And since you have so much valuable content in your books and newsletters, the magalog allows you to “give away some steak and not be all sizzle.”

[Note: See below for more on this]

Also, since you pride yourself as being the best list guy in the world, [Note: said to me by Benson with just a little sarcasm] it’s clear that you don’t have a problem with this dynamic new format…you have a problem with your choice of a copywriter.

Now that was a lesson worth listening to.

And the right copywriter to solve the magalog puzzle for us was Clayton Makepeace.

First mailed in mid-1994, his magalog for The Big Black Book (an encyclopedic, consumer tome) mailed over 16 million pieces over its mailing life…and launched us into dozens more magalogs with similar success, spanning almost  three decades.

Good thing we didn’t give up, huh?☺

Magalogs became our vehicle of choice for almost all of our book offers after this first blockbuster success…and we ventured into different magalog formats too.

The cover of that magalog is here:

As a “bonus,” click on the arrow on Marty Edelston’s face above and get a copy of the entire promotion.

It’s a swipe that many of you might have already in your archives– and I know you definitely have it if you attended the Titans of Direct Responseevent in 2014.

And whether you have it or not, I suggest you study it now.

I don’t want to influence your opinion (well maybe I do), that it is a masterpiece of copy and design.

I dare you to click on Marty’s face and disagree with me.

And based on the results, you can’t disagree with me. ☺

Notice the sizzle AND steak in the piece:

  • Fascination bullet points on the cover referencing pages inside the magalog (sizzle).
  • Then once you’re inside the maglog, a little steak (“pieces of the secrets” that are contained inside The Big Black Book…with page numbers directing you to the “full secrets”.
  • That’s the “can’t live without sizzle,” leading you to the main course of all steak which you can only get by buying the book.

If you like this approach, there is a lot more where this came from…past and present…from Clayton and many others.

I also believe this magalog for BBB is a precursor of a tenet of some of the best online marketers today.

That is, “Give away your best content up front because there is always ‘more best content’ where that came from.”

While you can’t give away the entire store in direct mail like you can online, I believe we did what we could do with Clayton’s promotion and others like it (under the restrictions of paying for paper and postage)–and this was clearly  the beginning of a new approach of content marketing in 1994 well before the Internet and email marketing really took hold.

Can’t you see the roots of everything we do today online from this long copy, fascination driven, magalog approach from the stone age of the 1990’s?

It’s where all of those babies of the new millenium came from.

I have so many other memories of how Clayton pioneered his craft.

Here’s one that showed how detailed he could be with his methodology of writing, combined with his insatiable curiosity to go deep with research and his creativity:

I recall visiting Martin Weiss, a wonderful entrepreneur and publisher of financial newsletters, in the 1990’s–and lucky for me on that day Clayton (who was Martin’s top copywriter) was visiting as well.

Well I was visiting…Clayton was working.

He wanted to develop a new promotion for Martin.

Martin was the “guru” behind the newsletter…and since Martin had previously (and was planning on) testifying before Congress on financial issues of interest of the day, Clayton set the stage for that in Martin’s conference room.

With Martin on one end of a long table and Clayton at the other, Clayton asked questions of Martin that only he could answer (with incredible candor and competence) related to the newsletter that they were promoting (along with current events and related subjects).

Of course they recorded it, took some pictures of Martin “presenting before Congress” (i.e. Clayton playing a Senator in this scenario) and the result was a brand new control package, full of gems that Clayton plucked from Martin’s brain.

I thought this was a unique way to “get the full story” and it led to fresh, new and relevant content.

That was one of hundreds of tools Clayton had in his toolkit.

I could go on of course…but let’s leave additional tales of Makepeace to the speakers at the event you’re invited to in the P.S.

Hopefully this has given you a little glimpse into a copywriter for the ages…and I’m glad Clayton got the accolades and appreciation he deserved while he was alive.

But as I said earlier, he is still alive in so many ways.

Reminder: See the P.S. for an opportunity to register for a (free) tribute event on Thursday March 18th to honor Clayton’s life and legacy.

Every speaker, all of whom are legends themselves in marketing or copywriting (17 in all at last count) will share their experiences working (and playing) with Clayton.

We will pay (and play) it forward on March 18th…and beyond.



P.S. I hope I warmed you up with the post above to join the copywriting and direct marketing community in celebrating the life and legacy of a giant, Clayton Makepeace.

Clayton was not only one of the most talented (and effective) copywriters who has ever lived, he was also a legendary teacher, mentor and friend to thousands…to people all over the world…people he met and people he only touched with his work.

We lost him last year but his work lives on.

Please accept this invitation to a very special event. (It’s free but you must register).

I consider Clayton my teacher, mentor and good friend…I loved him…and I am excited (although it’s bittersweet) to share his genius with as many people who can benefit.

On Thursday March 18th, 2021, from 1:00-4:00 P.M. EDT, the copywriting and direct marketing community will be coming together to pay tribute to this one-of-a-kind talent who we lost too soon.

Attending and speaking will be a who’s who in copywriting and marketing, sharing lessons we learned from Clayton…and whether you’ve been exposed to Clayton’s teachings (or even if you don’t know who he is), everyone in my online family will benefit from this event.

Again, it’s absolutely free but you must pre-register.

Click here to claim your seat.

I can’t remember the last time A-list copywriters, designers and marketers from all over the world came together solely for the purpose of sharing and giving back to the copywriting community.

And it’s just what Clayton would want us to be doing.

It will be like the final Beatles concert…something else Clayton would appreciate due to his love of Paul McCartney and the Fab Four.

You may recall what John Lennon said at the end of that performance:

“I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”

Clayton passed his “audition” decades ago, just like The Beatles. ☺

And like that Beatles final concert, this is a unique “last chance” (for this month anyway!) to soak in Clayton’s genius along with many of his top gun students who point to Clayton for much of their success.

Here’s the current list of the speakers at the time of this writing:

Carline Anglade-Cole (Clayton’s top protégé…and our host)

Gary Bencivenga

Parris Lampropoulos

Cindy Butehorn

David Deutsch

Lori Haller

Bob Bly

Kim Krause-Schwalm

Richard Viguerie

Denise Ford

Kevin Rogers

Marcella Allison

Pauline Longdon

Caleb O’Dowd

Tiara Cole

Milan De Her

Don’t miss out.

I will be there too.

Register here.

P.P.S. Please help spread the word and invite as many people in your communities as possible.

Share this invitation (and registration link) with your email list, on social media, with personal friends who might have an interest…whoever you think would benefit from this momentous event.

Remember, advance registration required.

Register here and send this link around!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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