Archive for December, 2017

The awful truth about today’s gurus

December 15th, 2017 by Bob Bly

When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s…

…a “guru” was someone who wore a robe, had long hair, lived on a
commune, and was followed by people who wanted to hear his
message of peace, love, and being one with the universe.

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, a guru was someone like Tom Peters who
wrote best-selling business books and earned $30,000 an hour
speaking on the corporate lecture circuit.

Today a guru seems to be someone who curses like a sailor … goes
to any extreme to seem edgy and cool … has an ego the size of a
humpback whale … and wants to extract thousands of dollars from
you …

… by getting your credit card number so they can sell you an
outrageously expensive course, “training,” or mastermind group
membership — teaching how to make a million dollars a week in
info marketing, copywriting, coaching, consulting, small
business, or maybe option trading.

So — am I the only one tiring of this new generation of brash,
loud, conceited, egomaniacal gurus?

I asked a few of my Facebook friends, and apparently, I am not:

“I’ve been tired of it for a long time,” writes DP. “That’s why
I’m no longer buying these courses that teach nothing so you keep
coming back.

“I’m doing my own study and research. Much of what I need has
been found in cheap Kindle books. But much I also found just
searching google and reading blog posts of these supposed gurus.

“You see, they all believe in re-purposing content. So, if
they’re selling an expensive course, then this same information
is [more than likely available] somewhere else, much more

SH writes, “I have been somewhat amused to meet several
self-styled marketing gurus who seemed to have close to zero
disposable income.” (In Texas they call that having “big hat, no

“It’s scandalous,” proclaims SR. “I feel so sorry for the people
who get ensnared in the empty promises. Plus is it my imagination
or is the ‘guru din’ just getting louder and louder? My theory is
the really successful people are quiet about it.”

“I suspect 90% of us are disgusted with such dishonesty,” says
SN. “I think it makes everyone suspicious and unwilling to buy
even from the honest teachers.

“It causes confusion as we try to discern who we can trust. It
causes hesitation and no improvement for the student, his
business, or the customer whom he wants to reach. That sort of
dishonesty hurts everyone.”

Next, EG chimes in: “I hate the word guru because of how it’s
been used and abused over the past few years. It also makes it
hard for the good guys, because in the eyes of many, all teachers
and coaches are lumped together into this scammy business

“Making it worse, many of these gurus have never actually done
what they are offering to teach you how to do,” notes HC.

And as DB notes, “It’s easy to call yourself a guru and rake in
tons of money while giving peanuts in return.”

That being said, becoming a ***legitimate*** guru — a
recognized industry expert who in fact DOES have real experience,
credentials, and in-depth subject knowledge — can be the
fast-track to greater success as a consultant, coach, speaker,
copywriter, info marketer, or business owner.


Category: General | No Comments »

Should you “audition” for copywriting work?

December 12th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, I wrote an essay on why I am firmly against writing
on spec.

My subscriber KR, an experienced and successful freelance
copywriter, responded:

“Bob, regarding spec work: Yes, if someone asked me to write
something on spec, I would run away.

“But sometimes if I’m pitching a very profitable-looking project,
and I see that I can add a lot of value, I’ll tell them that I’ll
write a few paragraphs to give them a feel for what they’ll get.

“In other words, I VOLUNTEER to spec a little bit — and I can
honestly say, I don’t remember anybody ever turning me down after
they get a look at what I can do for them.

“It only takes me a couple of minutes to do a little writing, and
it pays off. I think the key is that I am confidently suggesting it; not
proving myself to a doubting Thomas.

“Of course, I would not recommend this to novices, but it works
for me.”

Well, as much as I like and respect KR, I am totally opposed to
what he suggests here — which is essentially “auditioning” for a
copywriting project by doing some spec writing — for 3 reasons.

>> First, there is a rule in selling that says, “Never be the
dancing monkey.”

The dancing monkey is desperate.

He needs or wants the work.

So to get it, he will do or say whatever the prospect asks him to
do or say.

The problem is, some prospects lose respect for dancing monkeys;
they feel the monkey is perhaps a tad TOO eager — and therefore
turn away and do not hire him.

>> Second, despite KR’s insistence that “it only takes a couple
of minutes,” my experience is that almost NOTHING takes “only a
couple of minutes.”

Let me ask you: How often have you estimated a certain number of
hours to do a project … and then, well into that allotted time and not
nearly done, realize you have once again badly underestimated how
long it will really take?

We usually underestimate the numbers of hours a given task will
take and only rarely overestimate the time required.

Also, let’s say KR delivers his spec work in a flash.

That’s also a problem, because many people believe that it is
axiomatic that the quality of a piece of writing is directly
proportional to the amount of time it took to write … even though
that is often NOT the case.

Therefore, if you deliver your little spec audition pronto, the
prospect will either think it can’t be any good, because you did
it so fast.

Or, he will believe that your price for his project is too high,
because after all, look how little time it took for you to write
the first part of it, right?

>> Third, when you dash off a quick spec writing sample as your
“audition,” you are not doing the extensive groundwork and
research required to write great copy.

For me, that research usually accounts for 25% to 40% of the
total labor involved in a copywriting project.

And that research is all done before I write word one of the

So to write and submit headlines and leads before doing my due
diligence is shortchanging the client and delivering copy to him that
is not half as good as it could be — which in turn makes you look
half as good as you are.

Also, offering to write a free sample on spec says to the client
that you are not busy, and you need the job.

And clients prefer hiring vendors who seem in-demand and
successful, and not so desperate or needy that they work on spec.

After all, if you already have a full dance card, why would you
give away what you sell?

That being said, KR insists that spec auditions work for him.

And since I know him to be an honest man, it therefore must work
for him.

But it would never work for me.

I doubt it would work for most people.

And if anything, it has the potential to unsell you more than
sell you, for the 3 reasons just given.

So I adamantly advise against auditioning for a copywriting
client with even a short spec submission — despite KR’s advice to
the contrary.


Category: Writing | 2 Comments »

9 reasons not to do spec work — ever

December 8th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Recently, my friends at AWAI asked me to participate in a small
panel discussion about writing copy on spec.

Spec work means no money up front, no obligation on the part of
the client to use or even read your copy, and no obligation to
pay you a cent.

Because I am militantly anti-spec work, and not just for
copywriters, I had to prepare for the discussion with a quick
outline of my anti-spec arguments — and here they are:

#1–No skin in the game.

The potential client who asks you to work on spec has no “skin in
the game.”

Without a financial commitment, he can abandon the project at any
time — no skin off his nose.

If he does so, you, by comparison, have just wasted your valuable

#2–No respect.

If a prospect thinks you are worth your salt, is serious, and can
afford you, she will hire you.

Asking you to work on spec means she isn’t convinced you can do
the job or are worth the fee you want to charge.

Who would want to work for such a client?


Because spec assignments are so ephemeral and iffy, many editors
and marketing managers will hire you on a whim, some without even
having a real assignment or, if they have one, with no intent on
giving it to you.

#4–Vanishing royalties.

One form of spec work is, “We will pay you nothing now, but if
your copy works, we’ll pay you a royalty or percentage of sales.”

Yes, but if the client decides not to go ahead and run the promotion, my
royalty will be zero.


Asking someone to do spec work is in essence asking them to

Can you imagine asking your local pizza place to make and deliver
a pizza to you, without charging you, with the promise that if you
like it, they will become your regular pizza restaurant?

#6–Not vetted.

Not all, but the vast majority of companies that ask freelancers
to work on spec are small ad agencies or business — little
operators you never heard of and know nothing about. Meaning they
are not vetted.

Why would you trust such a stranger, already making a
questionable request, to be good for the money?

#7–Promises, promises.

A common enticement is, “If this spec project works out, we’ll
have a ton of work to give you.”

Why would you want to work for a client who starts with you by
saying they have so little confidence in you they will only hire
you without pay or commitment?

#8–“We’re testing several writers and the winner gets hired and
some money.”

If I wanted to enter a contest, I’d enter a beauty contest —
though obviously, I’d lose.

I’m not here to enter contests. I’m here to work with clients who
hire me with a contract, an agreed-upon fee, and a retainer for
half up front.

#9–It’s no way to run a business.

This short video makes a compelling case for why it is neither
appropriate to ask vendors to supply service or goods on spec,
nor a good idea for vendors to provide services and goods on

Exceptions? Yes. But relatively few.


Category: General | 4 Comments »

Turn failure into success

December 5th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Vince Lombardi famously said, “It’s not whether you get knocked
down; it’s whether you get back up.”

Rocky Balboa elaborated on this idea a bit more eloquently here:

As I look back on my decades as a writer, I can tell you I got
knocked down plenty of times … and had many bad things happen
that made me feel I was a failure.

Just 3 quick examples (and I could give you many more):

#1–Failed newspaper career.

Even though I majored in engineering, I wrote every day for the
college daily newspaper, and got it into my head that I might
like to be a newspaper reporter.

I sent out many resumes. The only interview I had, which a friend
from the college paper who had graduated ahead of me helped me
get, was with the Buffalo bureau of the Associated Press.

I went, had the interview, and took 3 tests — writing,
intelligence, and spelling.

And they didn’t hire me.

#2–Failed short story writer.

When I was a teenager, I submitted a short story to Galaxy
science fiction magazine — and they bought it. I was ecstatic!

But then the magazine folded. My story was never published, and
the promised check never came.

After that, I continued to submit my short stories to the science
fiction and literary magazines, and could have papered my bedroom
with all the rejections. And made no more sales.

#3–Failed science writer.

My junior year at the University of Rochester I wrote an article
on the school’s laser fusion research laboratory:

The lab’s communications and PR director liked it so much he
offered me a summer job as a science writer under him.

I was thrilled beyond words. But then he called me shortly before
the beginning of the summer break with some bad news: the
funding got cut and he couldn’t hire me.

I was crushed.

***However, for all 3 of the above failures, all was not lost…***

Without having heard Lombardi’s advice or being told it by anyone
else, it turns out that I kind of did get back up from these
knockouts, albeit on a small scale.

#1–Writing for newspapers.

In the late 1970s, right out of college, I moved to Maryland and
went to work as a technical marketing writer for Westinghouse — a
job I loved so much I am still good friends with the guy who was
my boss there today.

I then called the editor of Baltimore’s then-alternative
newspaper, City Paper, and asked if I could meet with him.

He agreed. We talked. And I started freelancing for — my dream
come true — a real newspaper … and even got paid.

#2–Getting my short stories published.

My dry spell in short stories continued on and off over the
ensuing decades, though I wrote very few additional stories
during that time.

But out of the blue a couple of years ago, an editor at Quill
Driver, a California book publisher, read some of my stories
posted online.

“If you’ve got a dozen more, we’ll put out a collection in
paperback,” he said.

I did, and in 2016 they published my first fiction book, titled
“Freak Show of the Gods and Other Tales of the Bizarre.”

#3–Becoming a published science writer.

I did not give up on science writing, either.

I reviewed science books for a small magazine “Science Books and

Then had my first hardcover science book, “The Science in Science
Fiction,” published by Benbella in 2005.

Now I will have my second science book published by Quill Driver
later this year.

So what is my point in telling you all this?

Simply that Lombardi and Balboa are right.

Getting knocked down isn’t failure, only a setback.

It’s temporary failure unless you give up for good. Then it
becomes permanent.

Yoda said, “There is no try, there is only do or not do.”

Not to argue with a Jedi master, but I think he greatly
underestimates the value of trying.

As billionaire Mark Cuban once said: it’s okay to fail many
times, because you only have to succeed once to make it.

Or as the motivational speakers are fond of telling us: “There is
no failure, only feedback.”

Chumbawamba sang in Tubthumping: “I get knocked down, but I get
up again.”

I have. Plenty of times. But I am still alive and kicking.

“Never, never give up.” — Winston Churchill.


Category: Success | 5 Comments »

Have video and the web rendered copy obsolete?

December 1st, 2017 by Bob Bly

When I was just starting out in the corporate world in the late
70s, I gave one of my product managers the first draft of a
brochure I had written for his product, a complex radar system.

As he read it, he smiled: “You know, no one reads the copy

I smiled back: “In that case, why not just print the brochure
with just pictures?”

He was not amused.

And so within a year, I left for another job — this one with an
industrial manufacturer where the product managers thought good
copy was key in making the sale.

Yet, when the radar brochure was in fact published, it was of
course filled with many words describing the product, the
technology, and the features in great detail.

As for the idea that one picture is worth a thousand words,
that’s debatable.

But one thing we do know is that our visuals communicate more
clearly and effectively when they have captions.

The fact is that many pictures, though convincing, they are much
better understood by the readers when there is a caption to
explain what the person is looking at.

Also, no airport is going to invest a huge sum of money to buy a
radar upon which air traffic safety is absolutely dependent
without learning everything they can about it — and you can only
communicate that with lots and lots of words.

I stick by what I said to my radar product manager, and ask the
same question of the “no one reads” believers in marketing today.

Namely, if no one reads the copy, why do you agonize over every
word in the approval process?

In his book “The View from the Cheap Seats,” Neil Gaiman

“There were noises made a few years ago about the idea that we
were living in a post-literate world in which the ability to make
sense out of written words was somehow redundant.

“But these days, those noises are gone [and] words are more
important than they ever were.

“We navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto
the web, we need to follow, to comprehend what we’re reading.

“People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas.”

When I wrote copy for FDA-approved medical devices aimed at
doctors, my client said, “Doctors are busy and do not have time
to read.”

But a person who does not read cannot graduate medical school and
get an MD. And a doctor who does not read cannot keep up with the
many medical journals in his field.

So the idea that MDs do not read is patently absurd.

I have interviewed many medical doctors for copywriting projects
— and most were absolutely information junkies when it came to
learning about medicine.

In consumer direct marketing, we also hear “people do not read

What marketers do not realize is that the people who do not read
are not your prospects — not if you sell business-to-business,
publishing, or direct response offers.

Buyers read copy, and as a rule the more of your copy they read,
the more likely they are to buy.

These days, I write mostly for clients who are in direct response,
health, financial, high-tech, industrial, and business-to-business

In other words, clients for whom the words in the copy matter.

There are other clients who place minimal value on copy, and
focus instead on pictures, video, or other bright shiny objects.

They are not a good fit for me, and I assiduously avoid them.


Category: Writing | 2 Comments »