Direct Response Copywriter on a Part of Writing Copy That's Rarely Discussed

As a direct response copywriter, how are you going to learn to write direct response copy?

You can read all the books about writing copy.

You can buy and study some manuals. The Clayton Makepeace manual is superb, if you can find it.

You can mentor under more experienced copywriters. You can get paid as an apprentice or you can pay for training. I recommend the former.

You can watch videos to learn to write copy. I have some here.

You can work for an agency or marketing department and learn from the other copywriters.

You can attend a copywriting training seminar just about every week of the year. There’s even one in Poland coming up. I could go. The whole trip would cost me a mere $5,000.

All good (except Poland).

I have used all of the above to learn to write copy and to improve my direct response copywriting skills.

But there’s one thing that’s seriously missing in all this training. LIFE.

I was at an event a few years ago and met an extremely accomplished yet totally non-famous copywriter. He actually mentored under Gary Bencivenga. How many copywriters can say that? Not many. How I wish …

We started talking in the area outside the large ballroom. What’s that area called, by the way? I have no idea. Mezzanine? Room with ugly carpet?

Anyway, the copywriter told me a couple of things that were especially interesting.

First, he sold encyclopedias door-to-door as a teenager IN ORDER TO SUPPORT HIS FAMILY. No pressure there.

Second, he would often just sit in a coffee shop, look at the people, and imagine what they’re going through.

I lived in London as a teenager. I didn’t have a car and so I rode the tube all the time. I would sometimes look around the carriage and start to imagine who I was looking at and what their lives were like.

I would make up names and every part of their life.

Right now, as I write, I’m in a coffee shop. I'm looking around.

There’s a big man sitting in the corner. He’s about 45 but looks older and needs to lose around 70 pounds. I imagine he manages the water system for the local government but he loves Chess and is playing a game with someone in Borneo on his laptop.

Next there’s a bald guy, fit and trim, looking at his tablet. How old is he? He’s around 40. I imagine he’s about to inherit around $250 million from his great uncle, who owns a chunk of a Fortune 500 company. To this point in his life, he’s been struggling to make ends meet as an electrician. Now he’s thinking about where he’s going to travel and the house(s) he’s going to build.

There’s a family of five at the next table with three children aged 10, 8, and 8 months. They’re hammering some donuts. What’s the father thinking about? I imagine he works for a big company in the accounting department. He works hard for his family but he just got by-passed for a promotion because they gave the job he wanted to a person with an MBA. He's happy when he's with his family but now he's wondering about his career.

In the next corner, there’s a young woman on her laptop. She’s on Facebook (wild guess, I know) and thinking about a trip to Australia and New Zealand. She’s also chatting with some friends who might make the trip. Or maybe she’s a medical student starting to figure out what she’s going to specialize in.

And what about the five employees working behind the counter?

I don’t know their names. I don’t really know anything about them, other than their place of employment. Why are they here? It’s hard work with strange hours. Almost all the punters are pleasant, I’m sure, but what about that 1% who are jerks? I'd tell the person who is ordering their coffee while on their cellphone to go to the back of the queue.

Are the baristas here for the pay? The health insurance? The tuition reimbursement program? The stock options? The free shift beverages?

I can only imagine.

I will NEVER be correct when I imagine what people are going through and what they’re thinking. How can I ever get this right? It’s an exercise.

But I know, with total certainty, all these people have the following …

Dreams, goals, and aspirations. Feelings. Skepticism. Days of confusion and days of clarity. The ability to love.

I would add A LOT OF TATTOOS but that’s probably going a bit far.

There are lots of copywriting courses and events making a lot of crazy promises … like … be a world-class copywriter in 6 months.

It’s not hugely difficult to learn the craft of direct response copywriting. The techniques and so on. Headlines … bullets … writing a guarantee. That’s not impossible for a decent writer.

But here’s the difference between the copywriter who generates $50,000 from a promotion and the one who generates $500,000 … THEY UNDERSTAND PEOPLE.

Claude Hopkins touched on this in his book My Life in Advertising. He said that young graduates from expensive universities rarely make good copywriters. But it’s the hustling, street-smart person who writes direct response copy that converts.

That was in the 1920s but it’s the same today.

I’m fortunate in that I was very well-educated but I was never part of the “ivory tower” club.

I’ve been writing copy for over 30 years now but I’ve had a wide variety of jobs before I wrote copy and concurrent with copywriting. Here are just a few …

Application screener in HR department. Quality control specialist in an ice cream factory in West London. Filing clerk. Publishing salesperson. Magazine publisher. Ski instructor. Waiter. PR hack. Reporter. Soccer coach. Published author.

The result?

I understand people and what motivates them.

People who are brand new to direct response copywriting? They don’t have this. They can write some clever branding ads but they can’t write direct response copy that generates results because they just don’t fully understand people like I do … like that copywriter I mentioned earlier.

There’s no training course for this part of being a direct response copywriter. It’s something that happens over time but it’s a skill, if that’s what it’s called, that can be fostered.

For example, use that exercise above.

Here’s something interesting. With all those jobs I’ve had and all the varied experiences, and especially all that selling, you might call me a hustler.

In fact, I was at a meeting of the mastermind group I was in and there was a famous copywriter there. He said, after hearing about my work, “oh … you’re a hustler.” I'm not sure precisely what he meant, derogatory or otherwise, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

I’m a hustler. So I understand how human beings work. It’s one reason I’m a successful direct response copywriter.


And by the way, I didn’t spend $5,000 to attend that seminar in Poland. Why? Two reasons. One … the copy was rubbish. Why should I attend a copywriting training seminar when the copy selling the event is F-grade twaddle? Two … the copy mentioned a speaker who speaks at just about every event I've seen advertised by saying “he rarely speaks so now is your chance.” Or something like that. Lies.

Plus think of the opportunity cost of $5,000 … that’s a lot of bananas.

Direct Response Copywriter on Why Long Copy Beats Short Copy

EVERYONE in direct marketing knows the following …


And …

Long copy, provided it’s thoroughly salient and written by a professional direct response copywriter, ALWAYS outperforms short copy. We base the above on decades of actual sales data. In the world of branding advertising, copywriters believe that a couple of photos with a few words of copy will create a flood of new customers. They’re wrong. We know that longer copy will always outperform short copy.

Let me explain why …

• When a prospect is reading copy and they’re genuinely interested in the product or service, they’re often looking for that one benefit or feature they really, really want. Long copy gives me the opportunity to include EVERYTHING … including that one sentence that will motivate the reader to buy. • For each promotion, I like to try to include 40 proof elements. Longer copy provides room for as many proof elements as possible. • When a prospect sees long copy, they subconsciously think, “there must be something to this.” But when they see short copy, they quickly move to the next product or service. • For each promotion, here’s how readership works.

o One third will glance at the copy and make a decision. o One third will look at the headline, the subheads, the photos, the captions, and some of the body copy … then buy. o One third will read every word three times … then buy.

• So … with long copy, you gain sales from all three types of reader. With short copy, you lose the 2/3rds of prospects who are looking for more information. • When someone is genuinely interested in the product or service, you cannot provide them with enough information. It’s especially true when the product or service is expensive. With short copy, the reader will soon leave your message and start to find information elsewhere. Who knows what they will find. There could be a lot of negative reviews on nefarious websites. But with long form copy, it’s much, much easier to control the message and keep the prospect from wandering off. • If you’re competing against another company and you have more information than your competitors, you’re ALWAYS going to win. • Long form copy gives you the ability to charge higher prices more often and get out of the “race to the bottom” price battle. It’s because long-form copy means you can justify the higher price for the superior product you’re offering. • You can overcome objections and this instantly means you will generate more revenue. • I can overcome skepticism in long-form copy. I can’t in short copy.

People who believe copy is too long forget two things.

• People still read … a lot … when they’re genuinely interested in something. • The only metric that really counts … revenue … shows that long-form copy generates more MONEY than short-form copy.

The most successful companies in direct response use long-form copy. It’s a huge part of their success.

Famous copywriter Gary Bencivenga sells a series of DVDs from his retirement seminar. The cost? $5,000. The length of the copy? 30,000 words. When Boardroom sold subscriptions to a newsletter for $39 a year, the copy was 36 pages long.

When I sell a golf training aid that costs around $50, I write at least 4,000 words of copy and the copy generates tens of thousands of dollars … out of thin air. The tactic that always worked the best was … long-form copy written by an experienced direct response copywriter.

How Long is Long Enough?

Famous copywriter Clayton Makepeace says, “the copy needs to be long enough to sell the product.”

In some cases, short copy can get the job done. But in most cases, long copy is going to smash short copy when it comes to actual money generated, short-term and long-term.

In a perfect world, you can test enough to the point where you can determine the perfect length to sell what you’re trying to sell. In almost all cases, the copy that will give you the most revenue will be longer.

When There Isn’t Much Space

There’s only so much I can write in a 2-page letter. There’s only so much I can write on a post card. There’s only so much I can write on a Facebook ad.

So there are plenty of times when I have to write short copy. The fundamentals of direct response copywriting apply. It’s actually more difficult to write short copy because I have to choose what to leave out. In longer copy on a web page, which has no length limit, I can include everything I believe is relevant … everything that will motivate the prospect to try your product or service.

I’ve had plenty of success with shorter copy but when I can write a ton, I’m always the happiest. Why? Because my client is on the road to being very wealthy.

Direct Response Copywriter on The Power of Clarity

Ask a bunch of direct marketers and direct response copywriters, “what’s the most important thing in direct marketing?” and you’ll get a lot of different answers.

The list. The offer. Proof. Testing. Headlines. Research

And so on …

All of the above must be there.

But here’s something you rarely hear. THE POWER OF CLARITY.

In the branding world, obtuse and obscure ads are still popular. I’m certain you can think of examples. These ads are clever and 'super-intelligent' and there’s no way to determine their success or otherwise. These ads often win prizes handed out by people who are interested in producing obtuse and obscure ads.

But in direct marketing and direct response copywriting, we’re all about clarity … or we should be.

I routinely see direct marketing advertising where the benefits, features, and the offer are not totally clear. I work extremely hard on making sure my copy is totally clear.

The reader must INSTANTLY understand exactly what’s going on, and, most importantly, what’s in it for them when it comes to the product or service.

Look at my work for my clients and the work might seem overly simplistic. I keep the headline clean and clear. I organize the copy so the scanner “gets” what is happening right away. And in the body of the copy, I make totally certain the reader fully understands what he/she will get in return for their money and/or information.

I get this desire for clarity from the work of direct response copywriters Gary Bencivenga and Clayton Makepeace. Their copy is always crystal clear. You can easily find examples of their work online.

The next time you’re watching network TV, pay attention to the clever, obtuse, and obscure ads. You’ll see plenty of them. Then switch to QVC and you’ll see total clarity. At QVC, they measure their annual revenue in the BILLIONS.

Here’s a reason my copy resonates with potential customers and motivates them to try a product or service. CLARITY.

Before your ad goes live, ask yourself, “is everything totally clear?”


I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][2] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.

Direct Response Copywriter on Gary Bencivenga and What It Really Takes

I've been listening to an interview with Gary Bencivenga. Brian Kurtz calls Bencivenga the greatest living copywriter. I just spent two days with Brian and other direct marketers at a mastermind group run by Brian.

One of the guest speakers used to hire Gary Bencivenga. The speaker revealed the amount of just one of the royalty checks he signed for Bencivenga. I can't 'print' the exact amount here but it was jaw-dropping. A ton of money today. A ton of money 20 years ago. It's no wonder that Bencivenga had a house in The Hamptons among the titans of Wall Street.

I wonder what those Wall Street types thought about Bencivenga, especially when he said, "I'm a direct response copywriter." Did they give Bencivenga the "blank stare" I get 495 times out of 500? Or did they instantly know about the work and potential power of a copywriter like Gary Bencivenga? Maybe one day I'll find the answer.

But I digress.

The interview with Gary Bencivenga reveals the following.

He learned from the best of the best, including John Caples and David Ogilvy. He spent almost two decades around direct marketers who tested the actual results of his copy ... before heading out on his own. He initially struggled to find clients when he began his life as a freelancer. He stayed mostly quiet about his techniques and kept his secrets, secret. He was fiercely competitive, despite being very soft spoken and having a kind and welcoming disposition.

In essence, Gary Bencivenga spent at least 20 years working at being a direct response copywriter before getting out there and working for the big mailers and competing against the world's top copywriters.

I see a lot of copy today saying, "you can be a successful and practicing copywriter in just 6 months, even if you've been repairing motorcycles for the last 23 years."

Nothing against people who repair motorcycles, just so you know.

If you're considering a career in direct response copywriting, that's great. It's a fabulous career. But you have to understand you won't be a top copywriter in 6 months. You won't be a top copywriter in 6 years.

It helps if you've spent a chunk of your career in writing, publishing, sales, advertising, communications, or some type of related field. But anyone who says, "you'll be on top in 6 months" is not telling the truth.

You can get started and get some basic work in 6 months but to come anywhere near mastery takes many, many years and a ton of failure, hard work, reading, researching, and sales work. You can accelerate the process a little but it takes time.


I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or [contact me here][1] when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.

Direct Response Copywriter on What You Can Learn from a Bookstore

Who would have thought?

Film cameras using real film are becoming more popular. Vinyl records are making a comeback because the sound quality is better than digital. People are buying cassette tapes. Independent bookstores are thriving.

Even in this digital age, “old school” treats are alive and well. I was recently in New York City and visited one of the city’s literary institutions, Strand Bookstore. It has three (or four?) floors of new books, used books, gifts, records, and other stuff. It’s one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in Manhattan. I also like to visit my local independent bookstore here in Colorado.

So … what can a direct response copywriter learn from a bookstore? A lot but I want to focus for now on the most important lesson, which is looking at book titles.

There’s an irony here: book publishers are typically terrible at marketing books. But they are off-the-charts epic when it comes to titles. Go figure. I'm not talking about novels and similar books. I want you to focus on the non-fiction side.

Gary Bencivenga tells direct response copywriters to look closely at book titles for inspiration when it comes to headlines.

Let’s take a look at some currently popular titles.


The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Blast the Sugar Out!: Lower Blood Sugar, Lose Weight, Live Better

I Will Teach You to Be Rich

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age


You could easily spend at least an hour looking up book titles to get inspiration for headlines. All the headlines above are totally based on direct response copywriting headline templates. I bought one of those books based on the title. The actual book itself was terrible. But the title … sorry, headline … drew me in.

So next time you’re in a bookstore, or scanning a list of bestsellers, notice the title of the book.


I'm a direct response copywriter working for clients around the world. Enter your information to the right for my free series: Seven Steps to High Converting Copy. Or contact me here when you have a project you'd like to discuss. I'm also a Dan Kennedy certified copywriter for information products.