I had the privilege of spending the last week with three of the greatest copywriters of all time: Jay Abraham, Clayton Makepeace and Mark Ford.
And without a lot of prompting from me, when each of them spoke at my Titans Mastermind meeting about creative resources and specifically about the topic of how we hire copywriters today it was so interesting how consistent they were in their thinking.
All three have experience from both sides of the desk…writing copy for clients and hiring copywriters to move their businesses forward.
And all three agreed that more than ever, copywriters who go a mile deep rather than a mile wide will have the biggest futures.
That’s a mile deep in the subject areas they specialize in and a mile deep with one (or a few) clients rather than trying to write for everyone.
I am pasting in my post from exactly one year ago today for those of you who might have missed it…since based on these discussions of the last week, I know that it is even more relevant than ever
I’ve updated it a little too based on this last week hanging out with three of my heroes.
Let me know your thoughts.
If you thought the full subject line of this post could have been: “The next million dollar copywriter…could be YOU,” it’s not.
The world is changing in this area…and quickly. And both copywriters and marketers need to pay attention.
In fact, I will maintain that the next “million dollar copywriters” will be working under a completely new paradigm…one that I believe all copywriters AND marketers need to be aware of…and that is the subject of today’s post.
As someone who has dedicated himself to being the best serial direct marketer I can be, I’ve been selfishly committed to never leaving the most important part of my marketing to amateurs.
My wife and kids might think I am a cheapskate…but you won’t find one “A list” copywriter who has ever worked with me thinking that.
Regular readers of my posts know that I believe you have to pay to play; and all boats rise if you are never willing to compromise on your creative.
You must never be looking for cheap talent…only great talent…and if the talent is truly great (based on results), you must share the wealth with that great talent, your creative partners.
Hmmmm. Maybe one of my copywriter buddies will take me in when my family kicks me out…
Copywriting may be the most important topic we can tackle as direct marketers…and I want the copywriters AND marketers to hear what I’ve got to say…and as always, I welcome your comments and feedback.
Simply put, if you are a copywriter, I believe that the path to earning 7 figures is very different than it was in the past.
And if you are a marketer looking for copywriters (as everyone is…I get at least two or three calls or e-mails a week from folks asking me to “recommend a good copywriter”)…it’s just not that easy to find the best creative talent.
It’s getting harder to make the old model work. Each day we become more adept online. We are now getting the results to our marketing programs in a matter of minutes.
But for great results, everyone needs to get paid.
The idea that a copywriter is a “gun for hire” and available to all clients is being replaced in some places by copywriters who are much more focused on only a few clients (maybe even just one) and moving from “hired gun” to “keeper of all the ammunition and weapons.”
As someone who has spent millions of dollars for copywriting–something I wear like a badge of honor–I think I have a unique perspective on the trends I see…and how we can all take full advantage of the incredible writing talent in our marketing community today.
So this is not about a shortage of talent but rather the allocation of that talent…and how we are moving from an “open dating” model to a “Match.com” model…and to take the metaphor to its logical conclusion, moving from flings to marriage.
And it’s marriages between world class copywriters and perfectly suited marketers.
My good friend and copywriter coach extraordinaire, Kevin Rogers, said it best:
“Copywriters are not just writers anymore, they are marketing experts with copy as their specialty. A full view of the landscape is the essential.”
Dan Kennedy has also spoken about this for years–the notion that “writing copy for food” is ultimately a losing proposition financially; and I will add that becoming a consultant/copywriter is how you can leverage your talent best, create the most impact AND make the most money.
Taking Kevin’s observation and Dan’s rule of thumb together, it is becoming clearer that writing for just one killer client and immersing yourself in everything about that business may be the fastest (and surest) path to the million dollar payday.
Two of the greatest copywriters ever, Clayton Makepeace and Mark Ford, were way ahead of the curve on this.
And they continue to be trendsetters by creating in-house copy teams, trained to be as good as they are, at a huge expense of time and money, but always looking towards the future.
From the writer’s perspective, this is in stark contrast to trying to be a generalist (or even an expert) in too broad a category, or in too varied a client base, with everyone supposedly working with self-proclaimed superstars.
In addition, people like Clayton and Mark emphasize to the writers they are training themselves, “research over writing”…and having them in-house, full time, focused on one thing is leading to much better results than looking for the next hot writer for a project.
Big royalties in direct mail for “number of pieces of mailed” are few and far between…not because direct mail is dead but because direct mail volume doesn’t support this model anymore.
Direct mail created many million dollar copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz; but since there are very few writers like Bencivenga and Rutz floating around, and huge volume direct mail is a thing of the past, even this direct mail believer knows, in the words of one of my clients:
“Direct mail, while not a thing of the past, is not going to make you a million bucks. But Internet advising will.”
So part of this new paradigm for the next million dollar copywriter is about:
1) Advising and not just writing
2) The craft regardless of medium
3) Your intense focus.
Big royalties for offline and online copywriters still exist for an elite group.
But the dexterity with which the best online marketers can test out of a control into a new control (in minutes!) will eliminate many less-than-superstar writers from making the big bucks.
At least that has been my observation over the last decade, watching the migration of offline to online.
Back to those weekly calls or e-mails where folks in my various marketing circles tell me they need a great copywriter.
It’s just not that simple anymore.
You can’t just find a solid copywriter in some directory, hand them the history on a product, and expect anything close to a miracle.
It’s more specialized than ever…and any writer who does not dominate a niche (despite stating they can “write for anything”) is a writer who I would steer clear of in today’s super-competitive environment.
My post “You may not know it when you see it,” explored the characteristics I’ve observed in every great copywriter I’ve worked with (or wanted to work with) over my 35 years.
Copywriting is just not a commodity. Period.
Many online marketers will argue that it really isn’t that expensive to test an unproven writer in their niche because online media is relatively cheap.
But the best in class online marketers understand that the opportunity cost is huge, when they waste time on trying to work with mediocre copy from mediocre writers.
They can test it cheaply but they have sunk time and effort into a test that has no chance of winning…so why not spend that time on training and development?
That’s what I see as the core to this new paradigm.
I believe it’s something totally contradictory to what we all believe is the “copywriter’s dream”:
To collect royalties while sitting on a veranda in the south of France…writing when they want to…for any client in any category.
And then all they need to do is to get a couple of controls that remain controls for a year or more and they are all set.
This scenario has now gone from dream to fantasy.
A close friend and world class copywriter recently said to me:
“If I don’t change something, I’m gonna stay stuck in this copywriter gig, making $15k/promo, working my ass off, sweating blood and spending MONTHS working on each promo…then left wondering how long my control will last until they hire somebody to beat me.“
In the old world of direct mail where major tests against a new control could take 6 months to create, if you wrote a blockbuster for a huge mailer, you were almost guaranteed big royalties because the calendar was on your side; that’s just not the case anymore.
Some of the best online copywriters I know today have lamented to me, like my friend above, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
Too much tweaking, reiterating, revising, editing being done on the fly puts you on the defensive as a work for hire copywriter the minute you get the control.
Controls you used to be able to defend for months (even years) are now getting beaten in hours.
That’s no way to create passive income and save for retirement is it?
Should the most talented copywriters now become full time in one company with total immersion?
I certainly want to put that out there as a possibility…and when I look at the characteristics I outlined in “You may not know it when you see it,” it is interesting that working in one category or with one client will make you an expert a lot faster in one thing than trying to be an expert in many things.
Can the one (or few) clients make you wealthier too?
Yes…if they have an abundant mindset about paying to play like I mentioned earlier.
And those clients also need to be in synch with what the great Gary Halbert told us many moons ago (which I preach regularly):
“Any problem in the world can be solved with the right sales letter”
If you get this one right, it’s a game changer.
And working with clients who get this are the ones you want to flock to.
However…if you want to keep things as they are, feel free to keep e-mailing me asking me if I know of a good copywriter (if you are a marketer); and feel free to keep e-mailing asking me if I know of “good clients/marketers” who pay hefty royalties (if you are copywriter).
But my thesis is that I think this may be a losing proposition going forward.
The better question for marketers to be asking me:
“What talented copywriter/creative talent is out there who might have a keen interest in taking a deep dive into my world and my company…possibly leading to an exclusive (or almost exclusive) relationship?”
The better question for copywriters to be asking me:
“I am obsessed with ____________ and when I write about ____________ I do my best work. Do you have suggestions on who I could talk to about a copywriting career rather than a copywriting assignment in __________?”
If I am right…or even partially right…I am excited about a new kind of “matchmaking,” one that turns the client-copywriter paradigm on its ear.
Of course if you are the next Jim Rutz, feel free to ignore everything I just said since you probably can still make a million bucks as a hired gun.
And I want to meet you immediately!
But for everyone else, let’s continue a new conversation.
P.S. If you missed my post last week about the new editions of Breakthrough Advertising and The Brilliance Breakthrough by Gene Schwartz that I will be re-printing, you can read that here…and please be sure to send me an email to get on the lists to be alerted when you will be able to buy copies of each.
I have a feeling that Gene would agree wholeheartedly with how we look at copywriting today…since he was an adviser, not just a writer; he was more of a student of the craft of copywriting than anyone who has ever lived; and he had more focus than anyone as well.
The post from last week will also give you more insights into how Gene thought about copywriting, marketing and human behavior which I hope you will also find useful.
Wow, so I’m not strange like that?
I have been involved in this kind of relationship with one company for three years. I am their marketing department even though I’m a freelance copywriter/ marketer.
I have been thinking I’m a pampered domesticated animal while other copywriters are roaming free and eating wild game.
I know I do much better work because of this immersion. i see the project mindset from agencies producing “work” in this indisutry and it really sucks!
Because I work only on their marketing – and because of the influences of Halbert, Collier, Ogilvy, Caples , Bencivenga, Kennedy, Schwartz, etc. – I can deliver what agencies cannot. I can test and evolve their messaging on and offline in various markets. I can create collateral and social media campaigns from one informed vantage point without having to fight outside influences. And I can do it all as a freelancer. It’s pretty nice.
Thanks for this encouraging post!
Wow! Brian, this really resonated with me! Thanks for this post. I started as a freelancer early last year before making the enormous leap out of politics and into online marketing…I’m a copywriter for one and I have to say that my experience has been pretty in line with what you’ve said. Having the freedom to focus on one company and one message is quite liberating; in contrast to when I had a handful of clients and each project felt like a massive undertaking just to understand their business model and audience.
Glad to have found your blog 🙂
I have been in “deep focus” mode for one company for the last two years. As an “independent” (dislike the term freelance), it gives me a sense of ownership. Although from a business perspective, it scares the hell out of me to have one client. Thanks for your post.
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