Direct Response Copywriter on Writer's Block

For some reason that I don’t fully understand, I’ve never had writer’s block. In fact, I’m not really sure what it is. I suppose it happens when a writer stares at a blank page (physically or digitally) and has no idea what to write.

When it comes to direct response copywriting, I suppose I avoid writer’s block through the research phase and also by having a lot of templates. I also go through my personal swipe file. I’m actually not that big on swipe files. I have a lot of swipe and sometimes I dig into it. But I like to use what I’ve written and what I know has worked.

I start most projects with my headline templates. It’s a file that’s only 5 pages but it has all my headlines. This file gives me inspiration for a theme for the promotion. I almost always use a headline using the John Caples headline writing method.

Curiosity + Self -Interest = Compelling Appeal.

Gary Bencivenga also championed this headline approach. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

If you’re a direct response copywriter, or any type of writer, then I have this advice when it comes to writer’s block.

Develop some templates you can use to start a project … everything from headlines to bullets and guarantees.

Let the research guide the start of the project.

Look around at some swipe but don’t plagiarize. Look at other projects that have worked in the past.

Understand the importance of headlines and leads. These can be a great way to start a project.

See if you can find a story. Some direct response copywriters are really into stories. Some aren’t.

Start with an outline of the project.

Or simply just start writing.

I hope this helps to solve the writer’s block problem … if you have this.


I'm a direct response copywriter. When you need help with a project, contact me here.

Direct Response Copywriter on David Ogilvy

You can read a great deal about David Ogilvy, online and off. You can read a great deal by David Ogilvy. He was a prolific author. His best book, although it’s more of a manual, was his guide to selling Aga cookers.

My goal in this blog is to focus on Ogilvy’s contributions to direct marketing and what you can learn from Ogilvy when it comes to direct response copywriting.

You can easily look up his background and other information.

Strangely, perhaps, Ogilvy is best known for his branding work. But he was a direct marketer first and foremost. If you need proof, then watch one of the most inspirational videos you’ll ever see. It’s called “We sell or else” and it does two things. Click here to see it.

First, it beats up branding types and branding advertising. Second, it’s proof that direct marketing works.

In fact, whenever I get into it with a branding type, I point them toward this video. I win.

Ogilvy was an excellent writer but he was also an excellent salesman. He must have sold a lot of Aga cookers. So he know how to sell. Every direct response copywriter must know how to sell. He knew how to sell accounts.

Dig a little bit and you’ll discover that Ogilvy built his agency though direct mail. He took a correspondence course on copywriting. He then solicited new clients by mail. And it clearly worked.

He called direct marketing “his secret weapon” and it proved he could produce tangible results for his clients. There was always a direct marketing department in his agency. I wonder if that’s the case today.

Dig around the Internet and you’ll come across a series of bold, full-page ads that appeared in The Wall Street Journal. You can see one here.

Dense copy and lots of it. I’m sure it worked.

This was not a branding exercise. This was all about generating leads from qualified potential clients.

But I'm mistaken, of course. It WAS a branding exercise. Here’s the “secret” the branding types don’t want you to know. Companies routinely build their brands through direct marketing and with the help of a direct response copywriter.

Two of my most successful clients have achieved tremendous brand recognition without spending any money on branding and not even thinking about branding. Yes … you can have your cake and eat it too.

David Ogilvy must have understood this important fact. Remember, he considered direct marketing to be his “secret weapon.”

He also wanted his creative talent, especially his copywriters, to understand direct marketing. It’s strange to me that so many people in advertising laud David Ogilvy yet totally ignore direct marketing. A bit of a mystery.

Yes … it’s important to study everything David Ogilvy achieved and how he achieved his success. But focusing purely on his branding work totally misses the point.

David Ogilvy was one of the world’s top direct marketers.

Direct Response Copywriter on Veracity

Last week, I received a curious email through my website.

The question: “How does it feel to be a scammer?”

I don’t know the person who sent this and I didn’t reply. I’m not a scammer and I’m careful to avoid clients who are eager to scam people and generally engage in malfeasance. I can spot these reprobates and blacguards a mile away.

But I understand why people think that direct marketing is a scam. There are lots of scammers in direct marketing and lots of scammers who use direct marketing techniques to sell their products and services.

Every single one of my clients offers a guarantee. And they stand behind it. Nobody forces my readers to try the products I’m selling. I never write hype and I never lie about a product or service. There’s no ‘bait and switch’ and nothing stupid or hidden. My style is clear and straightforward and I don't write the type of "hyperventilating" guff that some copywriters, some of them well respected, think is mandatory. I write golf copy and there's a famous, or infamous, golf ad from several years ago. Something about a golfer with one arm hitting the ball a million miles. No. This direct response copywriter doesn't make absurd claims just to get someone's attention. I don't need to.

There’s no need to lie or obfuscate. The people who read the copy have a need for the product or service I’m writing about. The product or service helps the readers get where they want to get. Only amateurs and really bad copywriters rely on telling lies and/or absurd hyperbole.

Want scammers?

Fact is, you’ll find scamming and scammers in every industry. Yes, you’ll find them in direct marketing. But if you’re a direct response copywriter, you can avoid the scammers.

I understand why people are skeptical about direct marketing. Just look at your email. And there are several direct response copywriters who are happy to push well beyond the boundary. What’s worse is that several people in direct marketing put these copywriters on a pedestal. I find this to be inexcusable.

Now … I work hard to put the truth and the product or service in the best possible light. Why would I not? But that’s NOT lying and it’s not scamming.

And once again, I make it totally clear you’ll get your money back if you don’t like what you bought.

But if you want to see an example of scamming in direct response copywriting, look no further than copywriter groups on Facebook.

There are quite a few of them. I was in one for a few months and I just left. It’s a so-called “private” group with almost 20,000 people. Not exactly private.

Here’s the basic premise.

Join and you’ll get general advice about writing copy from other copywriters. Plus there are people who need copy who will post jobs.

Advice plus opportunities to meet people willing to pay copywriters for copy.

Sounds good, right? What could be wrong?

So … why did I leave?

The other day, I saw a post by someone who wanted a full-on AR series outlined for … FIFTY DOLLARS.

Writing that series would take about two days of work. I would charge a lot more than $50 for my time and expertise. So would you.

The moderator of the group said he had to delete over 50 “snarky” comments about the fee and the person who wanted the AR series.

Is that censorship? We could have a long debate about that. I’d tell you it is.

But here’s the point. The person who wants the AR series for $50 is a scammer. Or stupid. Or both.

And the person who organizes the “private” Facebook group is a scammer. He’s happy to organize, to help himself in some way, a group where really bad clients (and yes, they’re ALL really bad) can try to scam copywriters by offering really bad terms, really bad pay, and really bad products. Complaints? Don’t try to complain in that group … and all the similar groups.

And I’m a scammer?

But the organizer/moderator is only a scammer if you let him/her be.

If you’re relying on a Facebook group to find clients, then stop immediately.

And when it comes to finding clients, I’ve said it many times before.

The best way to find clients is to target who you want to work with/for and let them know you can help them … and prove it.

OK ... I fully admit to some venting here. There are so many great people in direct marketing and I hate it when a few genuinely awful people give direct marketing a bad name. Oh well ... I'll keep moving on, NOT being a scammer.

Direct Response Copywriter on The Big Idea

A couple of days ago, I had the opportunity to introduce a “big idea” into something that you’d probably think is totally unrelated to direct response copywriting.

I won’t go into the precise details here, because they’re not totally salient, but the person I was working with asked, “what’s a ‘big idea’?”

It’s an excellent question.

The big idea in copywriting is, essentially, a theme.

In branding advertising, examples are the famous Ogilvy ad …

The Man in The Hathaway Shirt.

Then there’s the now extinct ad … The Most Interesting Man in The World for Dos Equis beer.

It’s not a coincidence I’ve mentioned these ads. They’re really quite similar. Hmmmm.

In the world of the direct response copywriter, you’ll see a lot written about “the big idea.” I'm not a huge fan of the tactic. Why? Because the prospect isn’t interested in your big idea. They’re interested in themselves and how the product/service can help them get where they want to get.

When I’m writing direct response copy, I’m focused on communicating, with intense clarity, how a product or service will help the prospect. I’m not so interested in a big idea.

The big idea is the foundation of a branding ad campaign. Right now, you’ve seen these ads for Bud Light. They’re built around the idea of people from medieval times enjoying Bud Light. I’m not certain I get the concept but it’s an example of a big idea.

A lot of big-time direct response copywriters like the idea of the “big idea.”


It’s a way to get, and more importantly, keep, the attention of the prospect. It can also be a way to provide clarity and maintain focus.

So … instead of blabbing away with a lot of features and benefits, the big idea keeps everything together.

I use a big idea more than I think, without really ever thinking about a big idea.

Here’s an example. Click this link now.

A lot of golfers hit good shots on the practice range then fail to take them to the golf course. This applies even to the top golfers like Tiger Woods.

So I built a promotion around this theme. It’s the big idea.

If the big idea works for you in your advertising, and you can measure a jump in revenue through your testing, then use a big idea. But a big idea isn’t always vital.

People in the branding world LOVE big ideas. But they’re not measuring results. Things are very different in the world of direct marketing and the direct response copywriter. We’re measuring everything to the penny and if an ad with a big “big idea” is outpulling an ad without a big idea, then the big idea is big.

But I’ve written plenty of direct response ads that don’t have a big idea. These ads give the prospect plenty of reasons to try a product or service.

Remember … the prospect is more interested in THEMSELVES than your big idea, however brilliant it might be.