An ode to bulldog copywriters…

ImpostorBack in the early ’80s, when I was still an impostor copywriter, with more fire in my belly than skill in my pen (and no portfolio), I followed the great “King of Copy,” Gary Halbert.

Gary was not only my personal copy God, but I even got to go out to dinner with him once.

Mr. Halbert, sir… please tell me how you make millions selling “how to” reports in the Popular Mechanics classifieds?

Gary proceeded to tell me how “simple” it was and months later when I tried it with a business partner, I didn’t sell a thing. Lost my investment, actually, which was painful for me at the time.

I would have walked away then but as I later discovered, my partner was a retired IRS guy. He insisted that I report the loss to the IRS, even though the paperwork was more time-consuming than it was worth.

“But we made no money!”, I protested.

“You have to, the IRS wants to know everything,” he replied.

Like a dog on a leg, I couldn’t shake him off. And so my first tiny entrepreneurial effort lost money and got me annoyingly close to the IRS.

A bulldog copywriter

Gary was what I call a bulldog copywriter. A bulldog copywriter is a copywriter who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

What I mean by that is that if you’re writing copy designed to get a lead or a sale, then not only will you give it everything you’ve got, but if necessary, you’ll give it even more.

Now sometimes a client will hand you a creative brief that’s loaded with fantastic information — real meaty demographics and psychographics about the target market… a robust list of features and benefits… all the potential objections laid out… samples of what worked before… and what didn’t. Everything you need to make a home run.

But most of the time you’re lucky if you get a creative brief at all and forget detailed persona information or Mailing List Datacards.

Instead, most copywriters get a sketchy idea of who the target market is. These are from a few of my own past jobs:

• For a high interest credit card offer: “Targets are males/females in their 20s, 30s and 40s with low credit scores.”

• For a natural health publisher: “Age 50+, both sexes who have an ailment or want to prevent illness and defer aging.”

• For a software product: “IT decision-makers at enterprise level companies.”

Sheesh! Not much to go on, right? Especially when results depend on how well the copywriter connects with the target audience.

How to get your hands dirty

From Gary I learned that to really succeed as a copywriter, you must know your target market intimately… their hopes, their fears, their dreams and insecurities. Now that’s no revelation. Most copywriters know this.

But it’s like hearing something in a book… and then later on, hearing the same thing from someone who matters. Listening to Gary, I “got it” that my job is not always confined to the Mac keypad.

To wit: If you are not nor ever have been part of the target market you’re preparing to speak to… if you don’t have enough solid demographic and psychographic information to write an on-target campaign… then you can use what little demo/psycho information your client gives you and run with it. You’ll get paid. The results will be predictable. And you might get called back.

Or you can get your hands dirty by becoming a detective.

Find out what you don’t know about your target audience. Get some names off the mailing list and call them.

Let them know you’re a copywriter doing research. They’re usually flattered and more than willing to be interviewed (keep it SHORT… maximum 10 minutes). These days online surveys and social media are fast and easy ways to gather info and test assumptions.

You could even meet someone from your target market in person and show them what you’re doing. I did that and it made millions for my client.

The one thing that makes you a copywriter

Lots of people can write well. And lots of people are smart marketers. Those who learn direct marketing vastly improve their potential for results.

But in the entire world there is no one like the copywriter.

Because only the copywriter takes the time to truly understand… to truly empathize… with the people at the other end of the sale.

And the best copywriters — the bulldogs — do whatever it takes to get there.

Have you ever taken an extra step to get information to boost the results of your copy? I’d love to know what you did. Tell me about it in the comment box below.

© 2016 Chris Marlow, All Rights Reserved

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About Chris Marlow

The original copywriter's coach, Chris Marlow has worked with copywriters since 2003. Her acclaimed Marlow Marketing Method™ Client Acquisition Course has produced hundreds of successful copywriters. Chris' S.S. Treasure Hunt membership site not only houses this course but four more on the subjects of Copywriting, Advanced Copywriting, Productivity, and Closing Clients. The S.S. Treasure Hunt also contains the world's only statistical pricing database for about 100 copywriting jobs. Chris has put together this resource to give copywriters everything they need to succeed — and nothing they don't. Chris is committed to helping copywriters focus on what's important, saving them from the time- and money-wasting Bright Shiny Object Syndrome so prevalent on the Internet.

6 Responses to An ode to bulldog copywriters…

  1. Judy Kettenhofen August 21, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Absolutely. All the time. I think it’s the funnest part of the job.

    And once I have the market targeted, much easier to find amazing hooks and write the copy.

    • Chris August 21, 2014 at 9:20 am #

      So true… when you do what you’re supposed to do, it makes your writing So much easier! Plus I love the anticipation of seeing how the response turns out, esp. when you have a benchmark to compare it to.

  2. Kathleen Cleary August 21, 2014 at 7:13 am #

    Great post, Chris!
    Never met Gary but have admired his ‘Halbertisms’ for a long time. Walking in the shoes of a target market most definitely makes a copywriter’s job much easier. We are fortunate today to have so many different tools to help us dig deep in understanding the target market we may not be part of.

    • Chris August 21, 2014 at 7:48 am #

      Thanks Kathleen! Yes, times are different now than they used to be. Thanks to the easy access to information and support, copywriters can make leaps and bounds in their careers in a matter of years and not decades, as was the norm in the past!

  3. Tony Policci August 20, 2014 at 6:12 am #

    So Chris, (who I am dying to meet) I am indeed here early in the AM. Apparently the first one to the party. I love what you have said here.

    In 1998 I was working with Gary Halbert on a project. My little brother had hired him to consult with us on a continuity project we were launching to our target market. I foolishly proposed to Gary the approach that I felt was important to sell the product.

    I didn’t really know back then that my approach was not even remotely important to our target audience.

    Gary looked at me, and in a behavior that was quite uncommon, he calmly asked me a life changing question.

    “Tony, if you were going to open a hamburger stand, what is the most important thing you need to succeed?”

    I forget what I replied…but I won’t forget his response.

    “No! The most important thing to have, is a starving crowd. Hunger causes pain if you have a starving crowd you have no problem selling your hamburgers even if they taste like cardboard.”

    I’ve never forgotten that…and I’ve seen it and heard it as a “Halbertism” countless times since.

    The only way to make sure our copy addresses the reader’s pain is to know and understand them…to really understand. Unless you are the market you’re writing to, you have to do the research to understand their existing pain.

    Often. I’ve gotten so close to my market, I cry, or cuss as I write a sales letter because the pain gets so real. Ugh!

    • Chris August 20, 2014 at 6:54 am #

      Ha ha Tony! What a great story! He really was a marketing genius… and such a character. Congrats on getting THAT close to your target market in your copy. You’re the “real” deal!

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