May 27, 2016

In my recent post, “The next million dollar copywriter,” I lamented that not a week goes by when someone asks me:

“Do you know a good copywriter?”

Of course the answer is “yes”…I actually know hundreds…and I’m proud to say that I had the privilege to work with some of the best ever.

However, just knowing great copywriters based on what they tell you about all of their triumphs is not enough.

So I was talking to a good friend (and an excellent marketer to boot) this week who was looking for HIS “next million dollar copywriter.”

That conversation inspired me to update and re-send a post this week that I originally sent a version of in late 2014.

The thesis is this:

There are universal traits that make the great ones great…and rarely does anyone ask me what a good copywriter looks like.

This friend asked me that precise question…and I answered by sharing what I am sharing with you today.

Unlike pornography where “you know it when you see it,” the same cannot be said about world class copywriters.

You have to know the questions to ask and what to look for…and over my 35 years in direct response marketing, I’ve identified seven (7) characteristics that have been present in EVERY great writer I have ever worked with.

I spoke a couple of years ago at AWAI’s Boot camp…where all the experienced and newbie copywriters congregate every year…and they asked me to speak on the topic:

“What does it take 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 was also always open to hiring new writers who earn their way in the door).

Another interesting thing I learned after preparing this list:

These seven attributes were also part of the makeup of the best marketers I’ve worked with over the years too.

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 it’s apparent that they live (and own) their copy and/or product/service.

Here are the seven attributes.

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 “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

And I also believe 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 any of their names…

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.

One of the greats, David Deutsch, is a perfect example of this: When I met him he was kind of an apprentice to the one and only Jim Rutz; and now he has become one of the top coaches for up-and-coming copywriters–and a colleague of other writers who are his equals so they can continuously compare notes…and copy.

He never stops improving.

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. We should 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.

(Yes, I am seeding my new book! If you haven’t read the foreword already, grab it here).

6. Show your humility: I despise arrogance and hubris…which I hope you will call me on through these blogs if you feel it coming from me (which some of you have)…I use “I” way too much in a lot in these posts, I know…but I also try to keep my ego in check.

Whether you see it all the time or not, I strive for humility and 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 when I stay true to this.

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.

I wrote about that in detail here.

7. Show your work: Having a portfolio is always important…but I purposely put this last for the copywriters so they could see that there were many other attributes they should strive for well before showing all of their previous winners.

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 before the package of your samples.



P.S. I know I owe you another one of my biggest failures…and that’s coming soon…just getting my courage up to share it with you!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

  1. BK,

    I loved your interviews with Kevin Rogers and Ray Edwards… Really looking forward to the book and killer bonuses!
    While getting this book, I was compelled to get Craig’s other book The Direct Mail Solution, and I look forward to direct response with a stamp… not just an email!


    To your continued success,
    Eric Bakey
    Washington, DC

  2. Hi, Brian.

    Loved your comment about writing to the wrong list on Kevin’s podcast. It wasn’t long after I got serious about working as a copywriter before I realized I needed to know more about marketing if I was going give my clients great service. Downloaded a free online copy of Scientific Advertising last night and plan to buy your book this week. Looking forward to the swipe files.

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