Is copywriting the most humbling of professions?

January 20th, 2017 by Bob Bly

It mystifies me how it has come to pass that so many copywriters
have huge egos.

After all, copywriting is one of the most humbling professions I
can think of.

My colleague BC explains it this way:

“So many times I have put together a campaign, launched it, and
sat back and said ‘work, damn it, WORK’ — and it did not. Very
humbling.

“And by the same token, I launched what I thought was watered
down drivel — and saw it pull like gangbusters.”

Any copywriter who says every campaign is a winner and claims he
has never had any losers is either a liar, or putting out very
little work, or not swinging for the fences to beat strong
controls.

Once, I mentioned to a big-name client that I thought their top
go-to copywriter, a famous freelancer, was great.

She snorted derisively and said, “He has more losers for us than
I can count.”

Another big-name client confided in me that a legendary
copywriter they used wrote 7 promotions in a row that bombed for
them.

Once, my client PN called me and said, “You want a laugh?”

On my recommendation, PN had called Mr. X, a famous copywriter,
because PN’s company had way too much work for me to handle
alone.

“I asked the guy what percentage of his promotions were winners,”
PN told me. “You know what he said? 100%! Ha! I sure hung up the
phone fast!”

Another famous copywriter wrote a package for a new client that
was so brilliant and creative, the client began recommending the
writer to all his cronies.

Then weeks passed, until one day, the famous copywriter got a
phone call from the client who said abruptly: “Remember that
package you did for me? Total bomb. Didn’t work.”

The copywriter was stunned … and the referrals all dried up.

By the way, all of the copywriters I am talking about here are
actually tops in the field.

The point is that even the best copywriters don’t write winners
every time.

Like Mr. X, any copywriter who says every single one of his
promotions is a home run is a liar.

And given that even the best copywriters write packages that
bomb, it is a mystery to me why so many copywriters out there
have huge egos.

If anything, being a copywriter is a humbling profession.

One day you can be king of the world, and the next week eating
humble pie.

And that’s the way it is, despite all the bragging you read by
copywriters on Facebook and elsewhere to the contrary.

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Do you sweat too much of the small stuff?

January 18th, 2017 by Bob Bly

On January 7, 2017, a gunman opened fire in the Fort Lauderdale,
Florida airport killing 5 people in the baggage area.

What makes this personal for me is that my mother and her
boyfriend were standing in that same baggage claim in the same
airport one week earlier.

Many people, and I am one of them, complain too much over minor
things.

For instance, I lose my cool when the traffic going into NYC is
at a standstill or my Internet service goes down for 20 minutes.

Yet if my mother had left for Florida a week later, she might be
dead today.

Global terrorism has made it clear that whoever said “don’t sweat
the small stuff” had it right.

The week before my mom went to Florida, I was in an automobile
accident that totaled my car — on Christmas Eve.

Fortunately, I was not seriously hurt — not a scratch on me,
though I had some bruises.

Was I upset that my car, which I loved, was destroyed?

No, because after all, it’s just a car.

I have no doubt that some other people had car accidents that
same evening — and were seriously injured or even killed. Game
over.

So complaining over the demise of a 2008 Prius seems to me rather
silly.

Not being a natural Pollyanna, I feel funny saying this, but it’s
true: any day you wake up healthy, with food to eat and roof over
your head, in a house with working heat, is a good day.

I close with this Scottish proverb quoted by David Ogilvy: “Be
happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.”

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The gold mine hidden in your files

January 16th, 2017 by Bob Bly

There is hidden gold in content you have already written.

For most writers, that content sits idle in file cabinets and on
hard drives — wasting away and not earning them a dime.

Except, in the explosive information marketing industry, content
owners can now generate thousands of dollars of additional
profits from content they already have!

For instance, over the years, I developed many documents used in
my freelance writing business — model letters, client agreements,
checklists, press releases, invoices, and so on.

One day, I said to myself, “Why not sell all these documents,
which I already have and are proven to work, to other copywriters
and aspiring copywriters as an e-book?”

It took me only 2 hours to assemble these documents, all sitting
on my hard drive as Word files, into an e-book manuscript.

I gave the manuscript to a graphic artist to design a cover and
the interior pages, and turn it into an e-book with the title
“The Copywriter’s Toolkit,” which he did for $200.

Result? To date, we have sold 2,317 copies generating $117,663 in
gross revenues — all from content I had already written.

And you wonder why so many people just love online info
marketing!

3 tips I give to writers and others who create intellectual
content that can help you sell your words and ideas over and over
again, quickly and affordably, online:

1–Keep everything you write, published and unpublished, with
clearly labeled files in easy-to-remember directories and
subdirectories. You have to know where your content is stored and
be able to retrieve it in electronic format quickly.

2–Same goes for speeches, seminars, workshops, lectures,
webinars, podcasts, and the like; make sure it is recorded and
you get a master of the mp3 or mp4 file.

3–Retain all rights to your written and spoken content. Negotiate
this with the producers and publishers if not offered
automatically.

One way to do this with written content: Type the words “first
rights only” in the upper left corner of every article you submit
to a magazine, newsletter, or web site. By doing so, you retain
the right to use it as you wish once it appears that publication.

Content creators who either give up the rights to their material
or do not save and store it properly for easy retrieval are
throwing away the potential fortune hidden in their “content
goldmines.” Remember, I made over $117K selling a bunch of
documents, forms, and letters I had already written — creating
nothing original for my Toolkit!

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Enthusiasm: the key to great writing

January 10th, 2017 by Bob Bly

One of the factors that can elevate your writing to the next
level of effectiveness and power is enthusiasm.

By that I mean enthusiasm both for the subject matter as well as
the particular piece you are writing, whether it’s an essay,
article, book, ad, blog post, or sales letter.

When you are enthusiastic about what you are writing, that
excitement and caring will shine through in your words.

But some writers tell me that mustering enthusiasm is a problem,
because they don’t think what they are writing is unique,
valuable, or important.

A sales trainer writing a book on selling so he could get more
speaking gigs said to me, “There are already so many books on
selling, I question why I am even bothering to produce one more.”

And I see his point.

A copywriter working on a promotion for a prostate supplement
told me, “There are so many products in this category, and they
all seem to have the same ingredients — plus, not having prostate
problems myself, I can’t say from personal experience that this
one actually works.”

Well, the great novelist John Steinbeck had a simple solution to
putting enthusiasm into your writing even in situations such as
these.

He said: “The writer must believe that what he is doing is the
most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this
illusion even when he knows it is not true.”

For instance, I am not a truck mechanic, so I am never going to
use the tools for fleet maintenance my client sells. I wouldn’t
even know how.

But DS, my client, loves what he sells. Tools and truck
maintenance are his passion. He communicates that love to me when
I interview him, and so I am able to muster what I call
“temporary enthusiasm.”

You see, you do not have to love everything you are writing
about. What you DO have to do is become excited and jazzed about
it during the weeks or months you are writing about it. I call
this “temporary enthusiasm.”

And that you can do. I do it all the time. You can too.

Now, there are two additional methods in addition to “temporary
enthusiasm” that can help you have a more positive attitude
toward your writing assignments.

The first is to gravitate toward clients whose products or
industries you absolutely love, or if not love, at least really
like or are interested in.

For instance, one of my copywriting clients is a major science
fiction publisher. I love SF (I am a published science fiction
writer), so doing their work is pure joy for me.

Another makes chemical agents for fire suppression. While I don’t
“love” fire suppression, I am a chemical engineer, and I DO love
writing about interesting technology — and theirs is indeed
fascinating.

The second technique for avoiding lack of enthusiasm in your
writing is to turn down projects in which you have zero interest
if not outright disdain for.

In 1982, the first year of my freelance copywriting career, when
things were lean, a mainstream book publisher asked me to write 5
direct mail packages, one each for a different book.

Thrilled to get the call, I asked him the subject matter.

When he replied that it was hunting, I was crestfallen, and —
painfully, because I needed the work, the portfolio samples, and
the money — I turned it down.

Why? Because I love animals, and knew I could not write with
enthusiasm or credibility about the joy of killing them —
something I would never do.

The client was actually offended, because he thought I was saying
hunting is wrong or evil.

(Quickest way in the world to start an argument: tell a hunter
you think hunting is wrong. He will immediately say: “You eat
meat, right?”)

I was not saying that hunting was immoral. If people want to
hunt, they have the legal right to do so. I just don’t understand
why they would do it … or how they could get pleasure out of it.

Some say, “Well, I like to be out in the woods and nature.” I
say, “So go out and enjoy nature — but don’t kill it.”

I simply don’t like the idea of hunting, and while I am not doing
anything to stop it, I certainly am not going to promote it,
either.

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Copywriting: the good, the bad, and the ugly

January 6th, 2017 by Bob Bly

Is freelance copywriting being oversold as a business
opportunity, with those who write about it looking through
rose-colored glasses?

Well, in some ways yes. But so is just about every business
opportunity and profession under the sun.

One of the problems with business opportunities in general
and freelance copywriting in particular is you always hear the
great success stories … but no one is forthcoming about the
bad stuff that happens.

Nothing in this life is all sunshine and flowers. Every job,
career, business opportunity, or small business has its pros and
cons.

Freelance copywriting is no exception. There are a lot of good
things. But also some bad things.

The good far outnumber the bad; if that were not the case, I
wouldn’t still be a freelance copywriter after nearly 4 decades
in the business.

But almost everyone tells you only about the good stuff. And only
a few willingly tell the total truth — the bad along with the good.

One famous copywriter recently wrote to me and said:

“I’ll tell you a story about the week between Christmas and New
Year’s that shows what life is like for a freelance copywriter
like myself!

“This happened years ago. I just finished a magalog for one of
the big financial publishers a few days before Christmas.

“They got back to me on the day before Christmas and said it
needed a massive rewrite. So I spent that whole week between
Christmas and New Year’s working 12-hour days trying to rewrite
the whole thing from scratch.

“Then on December 31st, they called me–before I’d even submitted
the revised copy–and said, ‘Look, we’ve decided this is so far
off base, we’d rather pay you the fee and kill it.’ The worst
part was knowing I could’ve spent that week relaxing!”

The fact is, almost anything you can do for a living in this
world has both pros and cons.

Freelance copywriting is no exception.

And that’s the way it is.

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Why I am an “Essentialist”

December 30th, 2016 by Bob Bly

In his best-selling book “Essentialism: The Disciplines Pursuit
of Less” (Crown Business), Greg McKeown preaches his philosophy
of Essentialism as the path to having a better and more rewarding
life.

After reading it, I am a born-again Essentialist!

The core idea of Essentialism is, in McKeown’s words:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world
than we have the time and resources to invest in.

“And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the
fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.

“Only when you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it
all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest
contribution towards the things that really matter.”

If you know people who pursue a primary goal, activity, or
mission with laser-like focus — whether it’s building a business,
mastering the violin, or accumulating wealth — they are almost
surely, with rare exceptions, Essentialists.

If you know people who volunteer for everything, have a calendar
filled with diverse activities, pursue a dozen hobbies and
interests, and volunteer for every committee in every worthwhile
organization under the sun — I can virtually assure you that they
are not Essentialists.

I only came across McKeown’s book a couple of months ago. But I
have been an Essentialist my entire adult life.

I focus, to the exclusion of almost everything else, on just the
few things that matter most to me — my business and my clients,
writing, and my family.

Yes, I would like to do more. But as McKeown correctly points
out, our time, attention, energy, and bandwidth are shockingly
finite.

So if you try to do everything, you accomplish — and get good at
— almost nothing.

“The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost
everything is worthless and a very few things are exceptionally
valuable,” McKeown writes.

“We can choose how to spend our energy and time. We can’t have or
do it all.”

He quotes John Maxwell: “You cannot overestimate the unimportance
of practically everything.”

Marcus Aurelius says it this way: “If thou wouldst know
contentment, let thy deeds be few.”

The way I put it is this: If you are someone who is “all over the
place,” you will never really get to the one place you want to
go.

The key to Essentialism is laser-like focus on one or two things.
Steve Martin said:

“I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. Ten of those years were
spent learning, four were spent refining, and four were spent in
wild success. The course was more plodding than heroic.”

I have always described myself as a plodder, too. If you write,
as I have, 12 hours a day, 5 days a week for more than 3 decades,
you can’t help but get better at it!

My Essentialism does not mean I make zero contribution to
worthy causes outside my small number of core activities.

But I do so in the most time-efficient manner — by donating money
rather than my time to these worthy causes.

By focusing just on my business, I make more money … which in
turn enables me to make bigger contributions to curing cancer,
feeding the hungry, and other things that are important but that
I do not have the bandwidth to participate in directly.

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Further adventures of the “digital marketing dullards”

December 27th, 2016 by Bob Bly

I recently told the story of how a community college
decimated its enrollment by dumping proven traditional marketing
channels in favor of some digital bright shiny objects.

Their mistake was not making the transition from traditional to
multi-channel marketing gradually and testing as they go.

Instead, they suddenly halted a marketing campaign that had been
working like gangbusters, fired their old agency, and hired a
new-media agency — with disastrous results.

Apparently, they’re not the only ones failing to be cautious when
transitioning from old-school print media to digital.

Subscriber DG writes:

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!

“For the past 25 years, we used old fashioned snail-mail
brochures to promote our engineering seminars.

“The recipient is invited to sign up online. In the early days,
we even used a live registration form. Online is even simpler.

“We tried purchased e-mail lists a couple of times, but the
response was abysmal. However, our own compiled lists — past
clients and others — do quite well.

“The results: over 12,000 students and probably over a million
mailing pieces. The extra revenues nicely enhanced the retirement
accounts.

“Now I am doing classes through a small training company. They
mail an old fashioned catalog several time a year, with on-line
registration for the response. Quite successful.”

“So direct response is NOT dead, at least in my world.”

Subscriber DK tells a similar cautionary tale:

“3 years ago I had a client who specialized in laser surgery to
clear toenail fungus. Not glamorous, but necessary.

“I got them a 2-month Outdoor paper Poster campaign … 10′ X 20′
signs … you might consider them billboards. Valued at over $100K,
we got a two month deal for $30K.

“Ads ran in Feb and March. In November that same year people were
flocking to the clinics saying they remembered the Outdoor
posters.

“The next spring, since our campaign worked so well, the client
dumped us and pumped $25,000 into online somewhere.

“And what did they get for their 25 grand? About 6 likes, no
sales, no phone calls, and no one visiting any of their six
health clinics. Nada.

“Haven’t seen a ripple of activity from them since.

“Digital/On-line/Social are nice add-ons in moderation when they
have been vetted and tested, but they are not a panacea for all
that ails struggling businesses.”

Takeaways:

1–Traditional print still works some of the time. Digital can
work some of the time. Sometimes they work well together.

2–Don’t throw out a campaign that is still working just because
you are bored with it, because if it is still working, your
prospects obviously AREN’T bored with it.

3–Test new channels, media, and tactics gradually and cautiously.
Stick your toe into the water first, before diving into the deep
end of the pool.

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7 rules of effective retail advertising

December 23rd, 2016 by Bob Bly

Several of you asked me recently for advertising tips for
retailing.

And since I don’t write retail copy, I turned to my pal Brian
Croner, who was kind enough to provide these “7 Rules of
Effective Retail Advertising.”

1–Hard sell out-pulls soft sell. An independently owned store
doesn’t have the ad budget of a big chain. So one ad needs to do
the job of 10 or 20. Your ad has to get more attention than your
larger competitors and has to create a sense of urgency and a
fear of loss.

2–Use bargain appeals. Whether your prices are better than your
competition isn’t relevant. Make your customers BELIEVE you have
great deals. This could be something as simple as “60% OFF
RETAIL!” (“Retail” can be any number.)

Or have some loss leaders available so you can make the claim
legally by saying; “Some items SOLD AT OR BELOW COST!” These
bargain appeals work!

3–Always have an event or sale. “I have skeptics ask me all the
time. ‘Won’t you lose credibility if you run a sale all the
time?,'” says Brian. “The answer is: no, you won’t.”

For instance, when someone is in need of a new mattress or piece
of furniture, they LOOK for SALES and EVENTS! Your advertising
has to appeal to the next group of prospects ready to buy your
products NOW.

4–Have a start date for your event; e.g., “STARTS FRIDAY at
10am!” Brian says he uses this hook in over 30 markets and it
works in all of them. It generates excitement and makes people
plan to go to the store.

5– Create a limited time frame for your event. “Almost all the
furniture stores we have worked with were going to close on Black
Friday,” says Brian.

“Our clients run 10 or 12-hour sales on Black Friday. The event
is hyped all week long through Thanksgiving Day on local media.
A recent store who just signed on with us did around $45,000 on
Black Friday in a town of only 13,000 occupants!”

6–Buy media wisely. You’re in the business of purchasing
customers — not space, not time, not “likes.”

And don’t believe for a minute that local radio, local
television, and your local newspaper are “obsolete”. These
mediums still have good circulation and loyal audiences.

If you want to add social media, go into it slowly and measure
the results carefully. Both Brian and I have watched multiple
businesses nosedive when they pulled away from what was working
with “traditional media” and invested most or all of their ad
budgets into new media.

7–Repeat your successes. When elements of an advertisement work,
you keep it, repeat it, and try to improve upon it. If your
“48-Hour Stock Reduction Sale” worked this year, it will most
likely work again next year.

Thanks, Brian!

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