7 Easy Ways to Get More From Writers

whipsmart.pngWhat’s the single best way to make sure you get what
you want out of the writers you’ll hire?

I’ll give you not just one but seven easy ways to guarantee a quality result, in today’s issue.

And by the way, don’t skip this if you’re the writer instead of the client… because this list could make your job infinitely easier too, simply by showing you what to ask for from anybody who hires you.

But before we jump in…

What to Know Even Before You Pick Up The Phone

First and foremost, one of the BIG reasons some businesses don’t get what they want from copywriters… is because they’re not exactly sure what it is they hope to get, right from the start.

Sure I do, you say.

I want sales.

Isn’t that pretty simple?

Yes. But be careful.

Why?

Because you can boost sales in a number of ways. Some ways are true to your product, some are not.

And a sale that’s followed by a slew of cancellations or refunds is no sale at all.

What’s more, there’s often another subconscious motivator that gets in the way of even the best marketer’s intentions.

And that is, of course, your ego.

How so? If your ego is inflated by selling more of a quality product your customers want, that’s good.

But too often, that’s now how it plays out.

Take, for instance, the jillions blown by “brand” advertisers on things like Superbowl ads.

Are those funny but pointless spots really about selling more product? Or are they more likely self-congratulatory spots set out to appeal to an advertisers sense of importance?

Ads like those let advertisers feel great about themselves, their businesses, and their brand.

They are the echelon of “hip,” the pinnacle of product entries in a pulchritude contest, the bountiful beauty in which those advertisers will bask like buffalo in a basin of… okay, I’m running out of ‘b’ words… but the point is, so-called advertising often does very little to get sales, despite all intentions to the contrary.

Ego that forces a message that offers no substance or promise to your target market is, in a word, a waste.

And finally, you need to be aware that even if you ARE sensibly focused on boosting your bottom line, there are different KINDS of sales you’ll want to make. And different strategies that precede those sales.

For instance, if you’re out to sell a high volume of a low-priced item… to a whole new set of names… that demands one kind of copy. If you’re looking to convert current customers for more sales, that’s something else (almost) entirely.

If you want to raise the price on something you’ve sold before, that’s something else. And if you’re looking to sell something high-end to previously low-end buyers, that’s something different yet again.

“Soft offer” pitches work uniquely… as do time-limited pricing offers… product launches… and even those pitches that create a whole new product category altogether.

Then… you’ve got the pitches that need to combine one or more of the marketing strategies above. And we haven’t even talked about your cost restrictions, list selections, and the rest.

You see what I’m getting at.

Bottom line, and this is important for you to soak up before I take you anywhere else: The MAIN thing you can do to better guarantee you’ll get what you want from the copywriters you hire is to figure out exactly WHAT it is you want to happen, first.

The better you know your strategy in advance, the better you can prep the copywriter before you bring him or her into the equation.

That understood, what comes next?

Now we get into the meat…

Seven Ways To Make Your Writer Write Better

In my experience, on both sides of the copy contract, here are seven easy ways to get more from your writers.

And again, writers, you read these too. Because it can’t hurt to know how good clients think, can it?

Here we go…

1) CHERRY-PICK YOUR WRITER

Let’s face it. Each copywriter, especially a good one, has his niche.

Some work with one kind of product well. Some with others. Some are great at telling stories. Others can work wonders with a track record.

If you’ve been in business any amount of time, you’ll start to know which writers have which talents. And you’ll match them carefully to your products.

Copywriters, there’s a lesson here for us too: Know your strengths and capitalize on them.

Make sure you accept the projects that fit with your talents. Unless you’re up to the challenge, avoid the projects that don’t.

2) HEAP ON THE RESEARCH

The better informed the copywriter, the better — usually — the copy he’ll crank out.

So if you’ve got the material, flaunt it.

You might resent, as I’ve seen some marketers do, the idea of doing footwork for someone you’ve hired to do just that.

But the fact is, even great copywriters will work even better if you arm with material to start the job.

Copywriters, there’s a lesson here too, albeit an obvious one: Writer’s block, fluff-laden copy, empty leads and offers and headlines… they all go away when you throw relevant specificity into your sales pieces.

Insist on asking for as much background material as you can get your hands on, at the very start of the assignment.

3) TALK IT OUT, AT LEAST TWICE

Talk to your copywriter at least twice — in detail — about what you’re hoping for in the first draft.

Talk once at the very start of the assignment and then ask to talk again, just to make sure the writer is on the right track.

And this, with enough lead time to make any changes before he or she turns in the first draft.

Copywriters: Realize that, as much as it’s essential to work alone and to protect undeveloped ideas, it’s also astounding what clarity you can get from a simple half-hour phone call.

If you wait for it to happen, it’s a distraction when it comes. But if you pursue the conversation, you might actually help the marketer clarify in his own mind exactly what he’s looking for.

4) PROVIDE A POINT MAN

I can tell you from personal experience, there’s nothing worse — when you’re working on selling someone’s sales copy — to have to hunt down someone, anyone, who will answer your emails to help you gather the things you need to complete the task.

Give your copywriter a gift up front — a handshake and introduction to a trusted person on the inside who will take calls and emails and attend to them promptly, as if completing the sales copy actually meant something to the organization doing the hiring.

And copywriters, don’t leave the scene of a first meeting without the name of this person.

Any client who can’t provide one, avoid working with more than once. They don’t take their marketing seriously.

5) LEARN HOW TO GIVE FEEDBACK

Patton’s quote at the start of today’s issue notwithstanding, sometimes you’re going to need a lot more in the way of first-draft feedback than, “doesn’t quite work” or “needs more” scribbled in the margins.

When I review copy, I famously almost double the original document length with my suggestions and comments. Nothing gets left to interpretation. Tell them more rather than less.

When something works, tell them that — absolutely. And when it doesn’t, tell them that too.

But tell them why.

If the writer is worth his salt, he’ll have a much better idea of how to make things right.

Copywriters, you need to push for this kind of feedback too. You’re not out to bait for praise or battle critiques. The whole process of review is to delve deeper into what your client wants — needs — from you to get the job done.

6) COME CLEAN ON DEADLINES

It might feel like courtesy to give your creative team lots of breathing room.

But, really, you’re much better off coming clean about your deadlines right up front.

Tell them what you need and when.

Some especially busy copywriters might have to turn you down. But if the time is available to work within those parameters, the pros will appreciate your clarity and efficiency.

Copywriters, this of course applies to us too.

Half of us are in this business because we like the freedom of setting our own schedules.

But to make that work, you have to… well… set them. That means making sure you know up front what’s being asked of you.

Insist on establishing this early in the game.

7) CUT THE FAIREST DEAL

The best businessmen I know don’t mess around trying to gain an upper hand. Nor do they give away the store.

They focus instead on the middle ground, making sure both sides benefit when a strategy pans out.

Between client and copywriter, that often means a royalty on sales. The better a piece performs, the more you both make.

Sure, some of the best copywriters do flat-fee only. But those fees are high… along with the quality of the copy they’ve earned a reputation for producing.

Copywriters, heed this: You’ll generally do your best work if your biggest payoff is performance-based.

Client or copywriter, I hope all that came in handy!

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How Other Writers Get “In the Mood”

typewriterTennessee Williams wrote from sunrise until noon, had lunch (washed down with lots of bourbon), and then edited all afternoon. Meanwhile, novelist Walker Percy did his writing in bed.

Toni Morrison does hers sitting on the sofa, in longhand, and while wearing a robe. E.B. White worked in a sparse wooden cabin by a lake.  Stephen King and Susan Sontag surround themselves with clutter.

What’s the parallel between writers? No matter how different their writing routines, each of these writers — and thousands of others who actually produce — had just that: a routine.

A little over 2300 years ago, Aristotle called it the “soul of genius.” He wrote extensively about “habits of virtue.”  And if you’re serious about what you do — no matter what it is — you’ll go out and get yourself some of those virtuous habits, too. And don’t think that aiding and abetting those virtues with a few of the regular kinds of habits is such a bad idea.

For instance, if you need a favorite writing hat or a lucky pen, go ahead and get one.  Even better, if you’ve got a place you like to write, stick to it. Go there at the same time every day.  And write. Here’s something more: Make sure you stop writing at the same time every day too. The routine is actually better for your productivity than allowing yourself to rely on working overtime.

That said, here’s another lesson we can borrow from other writing realms: set a goal.

For example, author Evelyn Waugh sat down to write every day and refused to get up until he’d cranked out at least 2,000 words (roughly five typed pages). And Hemingway didn’t call it a good day’s work until he had worn down seven number-two pencils.

Then there’s Anthony Trollope — who pumped out 47 novels while working in the post office — wrote exactly seven pages every day except Sunday, 49 pages a week. Never more, never less. How? Trollope started writing every morning at 5:30 am.  And stopped at the same time, just a few hours later, to go to his regular job as a postmaster. He did this without fail for 33 years — and became one of the most prolific writers in literary history.

The message: Setting a regular writing goal can work wonders.

So… how many hours should you, a copywriter, aim to write per day?

That answer might surprise you too. I’m going to suggest… four.

Simply because writing — actual writing — is fatiguing work. If you’re doing it right, you should be wiped after a four hour stint. But hang on. Because before you head off to happy hour at lunchtime, remember that there’s plenty more you can and will need to do — including more research, meetings, and yep… sure… even answering email.

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The Details That Close Sales

magnifyMies van der Rohe, a twentieth-century architect, once said that God hides in the details. And says writer Anne Lamott, “There is ecstasy in paying attention.”

What is it that they know that we don’t? Not much, actually.

Since, after all, any good copywriter also knows that when you really… really… want to make for a powerful sales pitch, digging into the small details can be your most powerful technique. 

Here’s an example. Which of the following descriptions sounds better to you?

“I live on a big street in the city.”

Or…

“I live on a leafy, sun-dappled boulevard in Paris?”

For me, both are true. Because they’re one and the same.

But doesn’t the second “option” sound better?

Here’s another example…

Some years ago, I gave a copy seminar in Poland. I knew nothing about the country, honestly,
except what I’d seen on the news about labor strikes in the 1980s… and what I’d read in history books about World War II.

I came away, however, as travelers often do after seeing a totally new place up close. In fact, some of those images still stick with me today. It was, in short, a really nice place.

Oh… wait… just saying it was “nice” isn’t enough?

Okay, here’s more: Outside of Krakow, we saw an underground cathedral built deep inside a salt mine and decorated with a dozen crystal chandeliers and life-size religious statues made entirely of salt.

In the Royal Palace, the walls were covered with etched leather. On Sunday, we fed walnuts to the peacocks that wander Warsaw’s park. We dined on spinach-filled perogi and drank warm honey wine.

Now… which description wakes up your imagination?

“Nice” or the ones that actually painted a picture. No, I’m not writing a travel brochure here, but I’m sure you get the point. Those details that make the images more alluring, are what some writers call “actualities.” And they can make all the difference when you’re trying to persuade somebody to do anything in print.

See, many new copywriters get in the bad habit of painting their word pictures in only broad strokes. And sometimes, that’s enough. For instance, when you’re breezing past a point that’s already clearly imprinted on your prospect’s mind… and that’s been illustrated ad infinitum elsewhere.

But other times, you’ve got a lot of selling power locked in the “actualities” or fine details of the images you’re presenting or the product you’re selling.

Dig out the right ones and trot them past your prospect, and you could just unlock the selling opportunity that otherwise might have passed you by.

Here’s another example…

A LEAD THAT’S WORKED FOR 17 YEARS

For at least the last 17 years, the newsletter INTERNATIONAL LIVING has mailed a sales package that begins:

“You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees…amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.

“The sky is clear blue. The sea is a deeper blue, sparkling with sunlight.

“A gentle breeze comes drifting in from the ocean, clean and refreshing, as your maid brings you breakfast in bed.

“For a moment, you think you have died and gone to heaven. But this paradise is real. And affordable. In fact, it costs only half as much to live this dream lifestyle…as it would to stay in your own home!”

What makes that work, in your mind?

The newsletter is about retiring overseas… it’s about travel to exotic, undiscovered places… it’s about a life transformation that begins when you take a step out into the world.

Could a letter selling the product possibly start in any other way? As it happens, in this case, they’ve never really beaten it… except with other letters that were just as focused on those fine and enticing kinds of travel details.

And even then, only for a short while.

Too much detail, of course, is just as much of a hindrance as too little. But just the right touch, like a dash of paint in just the right spot on a canvas… or a splash of the right spice in a stew… can make your copy incredibly powerful.

Here’s a rundown of what a really well chosen “actuality” can do…

IT CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE “REAL”: The right “actuality” can give a story a much greater presence, a feel of truth.

IT CAN MAKE YOUR MESSAGE UNIQUE: Getting specific is often the fastest way to make average copy rise above the mean. Why?

Because the details prevent the reader from lumping your message in with other ones that would otherwise sound so similar. Simple enough.

IT CAN EXPRESS MORE IN A SMALL SPACE: Again, good description doesn’t mean writing longer. In fact, it often means the opposite.

A good word-picture example can make a message clear faster than a drawn-out explanation of a point.

IT CAN TRANSPORT THE READER: Like a good movie or book, where the audience gets lost in the story, careful use of detail can draw a prospect into getting “lost” in (wrapped up in) the excitement of your sales message.

How much detail is TOO much?

You need just enough detail to stir emotions and put images inside the reader’s head.

Some other tips…

* Try delivering the detailed image first, then follow up with a promise… either to deliver on a good image or to help a prospect avoid a bad one, depending on what you’ve presented.

* Focus on sensory details (touch, sight, sound, taste, smell) and numbers. The former appeal most to emotions, the latter to logic.

* Use details to show transition or improvement: “Jeff Johansen used to take a city bus to the unemployment office. Now he drives an S-class Mercedes to the gym…”

* Describe an emotional reaction you want your prospect to feel. “Dear Friend, When I read the latest report from the FDA, I just about dropped my coffee mug. Let me show you what it said…”

You get the point. The goal of the actuality is simple. It is to allow the reader to see your writing as more than just word patterns on a white page.

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Was Steve Right?

Silly shorts aside, in the video below Steve Jobs bares what he sees as the soul of Apple’s famous “Think Different” campaign just after it was written.

I’ll let you watch to hear what he says is the “why” behind it, but the sum of it is… a great product is so much more than its parts and the great appeal to a prospect is so much more than what we can see on the side of the box.

Take a look and then ask yourself… how does what he say here fit with what I’m selling and how I’m trying to sell it? And should it fit that way? Bottom line: was Steve right? Opinions welcome:

 

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