October 27, 2014

I had the privilege last week to speak to over 400 direct response copywriters at the American Writers and Artists Inc. (AWAI) conference in Florida.

There were many beginners plus some experienced writers…and the topic I was asked to speak about was:

“What it takes to write for the Big Dogs”

I wasn’t all that comfortable with this topic…it makes me sound like an elitist (i.e. I know Boardroom has been a “Big Dog” in direct marketing but I am always open to hiring new writers who earn their way in the door).

However, in the end, I was glad I did this presentation because I learned so much preparing it…and I hope sharing some of the highlights with you this week will be useful and instructional.

In the presentation, I identified seven attributes that every great Boardroom copywriter possessed…and these are copywriters who have been responsible for the mailing of well over a billion pieces of direct mail.

It then occurred to me that these seven attributes were also part of the makeup of the best marketers I’ve worked with over the years…both inside Boardroom and outside of Boardroom.

In either case, copywriter or marketer, it was about more than just talent…

I learned in a journalism class in high school, “showing” rather than “telling” is always more powerful…and the best copywriters and marketers “show” when they live and own their copy and product/service.

Below are the seven attributes. I am interested in hearing from you if you agree that these are as important as I think they are:

  1. Show you are hungry: This is similar to one of my favorite concepts which I have shared with you before—the notion of “outworking everyone”—and while it’s not only working more hours, it is also showing your dedication to your occupation, whether it’s copywriting or marketing. I’m a believer in Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of “10,000 hours” to become a true expert in anything…and I am also a believer in “not reading your press clippings” so that when you experience success, the first thing you do after a (very) short celebration is “beat the control.”
  2. Show insatiable curiosity: Readers of this weekly e-mail have heard me on this one before too…nothing replaces curiosity when it comes to being a great copywriter or marketer. Gene Schwartz showed this with “the power of reading”; Arthur Johnson showed this with “the power of specialization”; Parris Lampropoulos showed this with “the power of immersion.” If you would like to read what I wrote about these three great copywriters previously and why I thought their curiosity was a key to their greatness, click on their names here.
  3. Show your smarts: Who do you hang out with and why? How do you stay accountable (and not just responsible) to your craft? The communities you align with to become excellent at anything may be the most important career decision you will ever make…and there is not one copywriter or marketer I know who “goes it alone.” Being an apprentice to mentors who can show you the way and then surrounding yourself with peers with equal or more talent than yourself is the key.
  4. Show your passion: If you start with writing and/or working with a purpose rather than for money, you are on the right track. If you have to call it “work,” why not create magic in something you are passionate about if at all possible? My post Direct Marketers Saving Lives talked about this at length. I know that I want to hire copywriters and hang out with marketers who talk about “10X” in terms of impact way before they talk about money…
  5. Show your understanding of direct marketing principles: When I spoke about this to the copywriters, the feedback I got was that it all seemed so “intimidating”– talking about concepts like “RFM” and “lifetime value of a customer.” However, I reminded them that I’m the nicest guy in direct marketing and I was just trying to give them an unfair advantage over other copywriters competing for the same assignment.  And of course every marketer who reads, studies and absorbs the eternal truths of direct marketing and can apply them to any medium in any situation is also creating an unfair advantage for themselves as well.
  6. Show your humility: After last week’s post about protecting your time which then protects your confidence, I got my first true “hater” to my e-mail…or at least a hater who didn’t simply unsubscribe and go away quietly. This person told me:  “Your self-obsessed stories are getting old.” So be it. I know I use the word “I” way too much in this weekly e-mail but my stories are my stories…the lessons I’ve learned seem to be worth sharing…and those of you who know me and how much I despise arrogance and hubris will hopefully stay with me on these weekly journeys.  I know I strive for humility plus I love humanity…and as a writer OR marketer, I believe this is a good place to originate…and I can safely say that it has served me well. Confidence in your message and how you choose to teach it is not arrogance if expressed properly and conveyed powerfully…I think I know the difference when I see it…although everyone is entitled to their opinion. I talked about the lesson in grace and humility I learned from Gary Bencivenga and Greg Renker after “The Titans of Direct Response,” one of the most powerful things that happened to me as a result of the event.
  7. Show your work: Having a portfolio is always important…but I purposely put thislast for the copywriters so they could see that there were many other attributes they should strive for well before having a prospective client simply assess their “talent.” Clearly the more you write (as a copywriter) or the more you test (as a marketer), the more lessons you will learn on the field of play—and the larger your “portfolio” will be.  But hunger, curiosity, smarts, passion, direct marketing knowledge and humility all come first…

I will eventually post the video of my full presentation from AWAI on www.briankurtz.me. In the meantime, please send me any thoughts you have on this topic.

Until next week,


P.S. I will be speaking at the GKIC Info Summit in St. Louis—doing two sessions—and I will be there November 5th through the 9th. If you plan to be there, please be sure to track me down to say hi.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

  1. Thank you Brian…

    Your insights are direct and refreshing. I was at the AWAI bootcamp “Virtually” and really enjoyed your presentation. I am a firm believer in show…do not tell.

    I always loved Thomas Edison’s mantra…”Genius is 1% inspiration & 99% perspiration”. He was passionate about his work…something we can all learn a lesson from.

    Keep it rolling…

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