August 5, 2014

I was on the phone earlier this week with copywriting legend John Carlton and we were ranting about all sorts of things…and 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 career direct marketers are still especially good at…

I’m not quoting him word-for-word but I’m close.

That’s not to say that technology won’t continue to move at the speed of light…but no one can argue (with me anyway) that great creative and copy still rules; and those who spend more time storytelling and less time figuring out the next big “Ninja technique” (hate that term–topic for another day), will be the winners for the long haul.

Great copy and creative approaches create businesses; Ninja techniques create revenue events.

As far as today’s topic goes, the subject line refers to the expression “the canary in the coal mine”…and for those of you who aren’t familiar with its meaning, I quote from Wiktionary:

“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 think my thesis is that we should sacrifice our copywriters for the sake of saving the lives of real human beings…yes, 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 “heed warnings” of what is happening in the marketplace…and what will make people move to action.

So we can stop the metaphor here…no one needs to die (canary OR copywriter)…but I want to talk about some examples of why I think the top copywriters are the folks to watch if you want to know the best route through your “marketing tunnel.”

As you may know, at the Titans event I am hosting in September, the four top Boardroom copywriters, responsible for over 600 million pieces of successful direct mail since 1995–Eric Betuel, David Deutsch, Arthur Johnson and Parris Lampropoulos–are featured speakers on the same panel which I will moderate.

I affectionately call them my “Mount Rushmore” of Boardroom copywriters and they are heroes to me.

They consistently write winning promotions and I know Boardroom would never have lasted for over 40 years without their talent and persistence…along with the writers who came before them.

By the way, I’ve got a “pre-1995 Mount Rushmore of Boardroom copywriters” who I will highlight in future posts.

We always had the good sense to hire the best and we were never cheapskates in this area of marketing.

There’s lesson one for today…

One thing our best writers were able to do for us is perfect what I call the “Bloodhound” concept…that is, our founder Marty Edelston was not the expert in any one area we wrote about…but he was the most inquisitive man on the planet…always looking out for the “little guy”…and the way these four writers (and others before them) were able to write in his voice and create a true “watchdog for average Americans” was amazing to behold.

And Marty wasn’t the only bloodhound for information in this partnership…the copywriters were equally aggressive in how they approached “inside information” and helping consumers get the edge whenever possible.

The Bloodhound Publisher only hired Bloodhound Copywriters.

And even if you are not like Marty, you should hire like Marty…

One more thing: Those copywriters didn’t simply push an “easy button” to write like this…

They read, researched, studied…and then read some more. And researched some more. And studied some more. And I bet when they got up to take a shower they shampooed, rinsed and repeated a few times too…:-)

Three interesting lessons I learned from one of our famous faces on “Boardroom’s Mount Rushmore,” Parris Lampropoulos (although I have examples from all four of the geniuses who will be teaching at Titans in September):

1) The best creative platform might be the reality right in front of you: A  Boardroom trademark is how we bring 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 fly when they get together in a moderated discussion…and those sparks always turn into the best story ideas.

Marty once brought together all of our tax experts in one meeting…and he was smart enough to not only invite our editors but also one of our copywriters.

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 what would make Tax Hotline the most attractive publication of its kind at the time.

2) I’m not a doctor but I play one in direct mail: I don’t mean to be cute here…however, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008, one of the first calls I made (after family and some 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 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 about anything before he researched everything.

Another example of this:

Arthur Johnson, also a Titan who is speaking in September, was our partner in one 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.”

Arthur not only co-wrote the scripts (did I tell you he is a “Mount Rushmore copywriter?”) 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 the doctors we were featuring…and we couldn’t have found anyone at the time who was more passionate and knowledgeable.


Because he read the books cover to cover and had pulled out what he thought were the most important things consumers needed to know. He put the time and effort in and it showed in his writing, editing…and his on screen performance.

These infomercials weren’t just marginally successful…they were groundbreaking. And going from TV to direct mail to online and back to TV, this “franchise” probably created revenues north of $200 million.

I guess it pays to readcarefully and then to be a good writer and editor…

I remember Hugh Downs asking Arthur on the set during one of the shoots (off camera) “where he studied medicine”…

I guess he could have answered, “everywhere there is cutting edge information to write about”…

3) Don’t leave your best material on the cutting room floor: And this applies to content or promotion…and they are both intimately linked to each other.

Please pay close attention to this one: 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.

I’m not recommending to ever be irresponsible and push the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope…but it reminds me of the classic Henry Kissinger story (or 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.

This happened 7 or 8 times.

Finally, the writer brought 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.”

You get the point.

To be an A+ copywriter you wouldn’t even consider showing any of the first 8 versions to a client…and you would only bring them the most complete version, after you have played Bloodhound and immersed yourself in everything you needed to know to write world class copy.

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

Until next week,


P.S. If you have already registered for Titans of Direct Response, I can’t wait to see you in September. We will have a blast.

And if you are registered and have not secured your hotel room at our special rate of $139 per night, do that right now by clicking here.

Time is running out to get that special rate…and I need you well rested to hear the likes of Arthur and Parris speak…as well as all of the otherTitans.

P.P.S. And if you haven’t already registered, why not?

You will be kicking yourself for not being here in September.

And I’ve recently secured three more free giveaways not mentioned in the list of giveaways on the site…a classic direct response book, a brand new bestselling classic about online marketing (but also it’s about copywriting and entrepreneurship), and a subscription to the most valuable resource for anyone in marketing, online or offline.

Oh–and a fourth giveaway but not a surprise to anyone who knows me–a hug! 🙂

And if that doesn’t entice you further, please listen to this interview I did with copywriter Roy Furr on lessons I’ve learned from each of the Titans who are speaking. Just go to:

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

  1. I am glad no copywriters were harmed in the writing of this article. I have always had a ferocious curiosity. I find copywriting is the perfect way for me to now channel the information I gather ,into a format I can share with others. Thank you for your inspiring article.

  2. Loved the “bloodhound” description.

    When I research a piece and I think I’ve found enough, covered enough research material, etc… I know I’m generally about halfway to what I actually need to find to complete a piece.

    There’s more to it of course.

    This is an excellent article Brian.

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