Bullet 27

The 3 Greatest
Copywriting Lessons
I Ever Learned

Dear Marketing Top Gun:In the last Bullet I shot at you, I promised to bring you my favorite tips on how to multiply your productivity. Well, I now stand before you to utter four words spoken (or at least thought) by every copywriter who has ever lived … “I need more time!”

Characteristically, I plunged into this topic of how to leverage your productivity and have been busily researching the best minds in the world on this subject, including renowned experts in psychology, creativity, goal setting, time management, and even personal happiness (as that has a lot to do with how well you use your time).

What treasures I am finding!—remarkable secrets for boosting your productivity to an astonishing degree. Top Gun, I promise that all these tips will be yours in due time, no charge, of course, as is true of all theseBullets. I assure you that they will change your life and veritably explode your productivity, as you’ll see.

In the meantime, however, it’s been a while since I’ve shot a Bulletyour way, so today I’ve decided to share with you my answers to several questions I was asked by another copywriter.

Truth be told, I receive an extraordinary amount of feedback from readers, usually after I send out a new Bullet. I try to read each of these inquiries, but I don’t have time to respond to all.

So starting today and every now and then, I will answer a representative sampling of FAQs in a special Q&A issue of the Bullets.Here then are some questions I was asked by a copywriter who interviewed me not long ago. I’ve never before made these Q&As public, and I hope you find them instructive …

Question: You have achieved great success in copywriting. What unique quality in your writing was most responsible?

Answer: The short, self-serving, yet accurate answer is results. Once you get a reputation as a direct marketing copywriter who can consistently win split-run tests against other top writers, your phone rings and doesn’t stop. That’s what happened for me. In this business, as with the gladiators of Rome, winners are rewarded with survival and fresh opponents.

But I didn’t become a consistent winner until after I was in the business for more than ten years.

When I got my first job as a copywriter more than 40 years ago, I didn’t have a clown’s clue how to generate higher response consistently.

I’m a slow but persistent learner, and it took me about ten years of learning from such masters as John Caples, David Ogilvy, Dan Rosenthal, and a few others I was blessed to work with.

Question: What did you learn?

Answer: I had to learn three main lessons, the same three lessons anyone who aspires to successful direct response copywriting must learn.

First, I had to learn that effective copywriting is salesmanship in print, not clever wordsmithing. Some writers never learn this, but I was lucky to have a few ogres for copy chiefs early on.

My first one, at Prentice-Hall Publishing, made sure after my first transgression that I never again showed him a pun or joke in a headline, or anything that I felt was so impressively clever of me. He hated “clever” and assured me, in no uncertain terms, that I am not the star of the ad. The prospect and the product are.

He told me that no one cares to see my verbal tap dance or ooh! andah! at my linguistic fireworks. Copywriters who seek applause, as I did at first, have cost advertisers more money than the national debt. The more self-effacing and invisible your selling skill, the more effective you are. Copywriters who show off their skills are as ineffective as fishermen who reveal the hook.

Question: OK, what was the second big lesson you had to learn?

Answer: The second thing I had to learn is that writing is not spontaneous creative combustion.

When I began, I’d stare at the blank sheet of paper in my typewriter for days, not having any idea what to write, waiting for the muses to alight on my shoulder and whisper something—anything!—in my ear.

I thought I must be suffering from writer’s block or must have sinned against the muses, because they were giving me the silent treatment. So I enrolled in an evening course in New York City on “Overcoming Writer’s Block”—along with a motley collection other hapless writers from various fields: aspiring novelists, copywriters, songwriters, and playwrights.

In our first class, to our dismay, our instructor cheerfully informed us that he was the most constipated among us, didn’t have a clue of how to cure this problem, and was actually hoping that we could help him, as he had a psychology book to write, not to mention several articles, so how about we all “meet once a week and share!

At each class we “shared” and whined about writer’s block, but no one had a solution. I soon dropped out and in time had to discover on my own that “writer’s block” is just a symptom of a rather easily cured malady—”LRS,” or Lazy Research Syndrome.

It took me a while to realize that the best copywriters are the most tenacious researchers. Like miners, they dig, drill, dynamite, and chip until they have carloads of valuable ore. John Caples advised me once to gather seven times more interesting information than I could possibly use.

I learned that good copywriters get to know so much about the product and the prospect and his or her wants, fears, assumptions, and lingo that the copy soon wants to burst forth as if a dam is breaking. I learned that research is the infallible cure for writer’s block.

Question: And your third major lesson?

Answer: Finally, I had to learn how to leverage the power of my mind. This is where you get the largest payoff in advertising or any other field.

For starters, I had to realize that great marketing and copywriting require thinking—the ability to keep turning things over in your mind, in a relaxed way, probing, searching for better options until it all comes together.

Writing is thinking on paper. To do it well, you must be able to think things over before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

That sounds simple, but most people, just as I did at first, will go to any length, surrender to any excuse, run off on any suddenly urgent errand, and seize any flimsy opportunity to escape having to think.

Everyone wants to just cut and paste, not think!

But every situation is unique, and especially when the product or the marketplace is different from what has gone before, cut-and-paste won’t hack it.

To discover what will work, and then be able to write clearly and persuasively about it, you must be able to think clearly. And to think clearly, you first have to be able to relax so that all the monkey chatter inside your head quiets down and you can have an ongoing dialogue with yourself—a series of pleasant, quiet conversations about what makes sense for this market at this time with this product.

After you’ve had an ongoing conversation with yourself, sleep on it and then, each morning, let your subconscious speak its mind. This is why writing soon after arising is so productive and why you should always sleep with a notepad and pen on your night table. Keep a flashlight nearby, too, if you sleep with someone, so you won’t wake the person up if you get an idea in middle of the night.

All this goes to my third lesson, the importance of harnessing your mind’s great power. Another way is to regularly and vividly imagine yourself to be a great copywriter, to see and feel this as your identity even though you may not be there yet.

See yourself in the theater of your own mind winning new assignments, writing successful ads, collecting big bucks, feeling the joy of financial independence, winning the respect of clients and colleagues, starting to build an industry-wide reputation, etc. Envision the glory and independence that you want, the life of an in-demand copy star. First in mind, then in fact.

Doing this will inspire you to live out your vision. For one thing, it will inspire you to always keep learning. There are so many things a copywriter can learn in order to be more effective, and I cover lots of them in these Bullets. But in a single second—right now!—you can take a giant leap toward greater success by merely committing yourself to ongoing learning. View the abundant knowledge you lack not as a threat but as an infinite supply of new abundance for yourself—rocket fuel for your rise in our profession.

Socrates said it best: “The key to living is always learning how to live.” Applying this to copywriting, we can say, “The key to copywriting is always learning how to be a better copywriter.”

I consider it a wasted day if I haven’t learned something new. And I’ve found that the three most rewarding sources of copywriting success are the three foundation lessons I’ve just covered.

To sum up, they are (1) your knowledge of good salesmanship …
(2) your thoroughness and tenacity as a researcher … and (3) your desire to harness the great power of your mind—to turn ideas over in your head in a relaxed way; to noodle out and play with a range of solutions instead of just one; and, most important of all, to vividly see yourself as the star you were born to be, to envision and feel yourself living a big life, not a small one, a life filled with achievement, the respect of your industry, the security and freedom of financial independence … all the rewards that copywriting, one of the world’s most lucrative professions, can and will bestow upon you if you are willing to keep drinking thirstily from these three inexhaustible founts of knowledge.


* * *

Here are a few of the questions I’ll address in upcoming Bullets:


  • What is the first thing you do when you sit down to write a headline?
  • Do you have a checklist for writing strong headlines?
  • Can you recommend a formula for writing headlines?
  • What is the best headline you’ve ever written and why?
  • Could you write a headline that would make even Donald Trump stop in his tracks?
  • Can you give an example of “rule breaking” where the results were so successful, they surprised you?
  • If you were to hire a copywriter to write an ad for you, whom would you choose (besides yourself?) and why?
  • What are the best books ever written on advertising?
  • How can aspiring copywriters land their first assignments?
  • What are the best ways for established copywriters to get new business?

Do you have other questions you’d like me to answer? Write me at Gary@BencivengaBullets.com … and though I can’t answer each one personally, I will address those of greatest interest.

And speaking of being in touch …


* * *

A Housekeeping Note

Pauline and I will be traveling on a Mediterranean cruise for the next month and will be out of touch.

So while I began this Bullet with a sentence spoken by every copywriter who ever lived (“I need more time!”) … I’m now going to end with eight words never before written by any copywriter since the dawn of creation: Please don’t order my product any time soon.

I’m referring to my “Reveal-Everything-at-Once” DVD course (“Gary Bencivenga’s 7 Master Secrets of Wealth Creation for Marketers and Copywriters”).

You see, Pauline and I lovingly handle every little aspect of this product, including personally sending it out and warmly welcoming each new customer as my officially deputized Top Gun.

So if you have been thinking of ordering this, please just drop me an email at Gary@BencivengaBullets.com and I’ll let you know when it’s again available, as soon as we’re ready to open our doors again.

Or if you’d simply like to receive information about this course—no obligation, naturally—please drop me an email as well and I’ll email the info on our return. As of now, our website is closed. Gone fishin’… (or more accurately, Gone cruisin’).

That’s it for now, my friend, so until we’re back…

Sincere wishes for a good life
and (always!) higher response,


P.S. If you know any copywriters or marketers who would enjoy this Bullet, just send them an email with this link:http://marketingbullets.com/

P.P.S. Your e-mail address will never be shared. And if you ever wish to unsubscribe, just let me know and I will vanish from your life like a shadow in the night.

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