Advice from the Greatest Living Copywriter ... (not me!)
Ask many direct marketers the question “who is the top copywriter?” and you’ll get a lot of different answers.
But the top living copywriter is Gary Bencivenga. I won’t give his full bio in this email ... you can discover more about his work elsewhere at your leisure, but his work generated tens of millions for Boardroom, a company that made a point to hire the world’s top copywriters. Bencivenga was the top Boardroom copywriter based on insight from Brian Kurtz, who used to run the marketing at Boardroom. Bencivenga no longer writes copy for clients; he runs an olive oil business and writes copy for his business.
A client bought me the videos of the copywriting seminar Bencivenga ran when he officially semi-retired in 2007. I took a lot from those videos and the accompanying book but I’m going to focus on something Bencivenga said that resonates with me every day.
DON’T TAKE ON MARKETING CHALLENGES.
What exactly did Bencivenga mean? My interpretation: be selective when it comes to clients and the products and services they sell. So … if a client knocks on my door and they want to sell sunlamps in the Sahara or they have some crazy idea that only makes sense to the inventor, I might have to decline. It’s hard to write copy for a product nobody really needs or wants.
But what happens when a potential client is presenting you with a marketing challenge AND they have a large check waiting for you?
Early in my career, I accepted the challenge and the check! I wrote the copy to the best of my ability and sent the copy to the client. The client wanted copy so I gave the client copy.
Here’s a general rule of thumb. The more experienced you become, and the stronger and deeper your results, the more selective you can be. Who did Gary Bencivenga write for early in his career? I don’t have that list of clients and products but I’m certain there were some “marketing challenges” in the mix.
As Bencivenga broke records and established controls, he became more selective and wrote for companies with big lists, superb products, and the ability to pay high fees plus a healthy royalty.
Writing direct response copy is always a challenge. The reader is skeptical … you have to overcome objections … competition is fierce … budgets are tight … scammers are sadly prevalent in our space. There’s pressure to produce results for clients. Branding copywriters have it easy because there’s no accountability. Direct response copywriters must motivate the reader to buy and that's ALWAYS a challenge.
So when Bencivenga says, “don’t take on marketing challenges” he’s not talking about writing copy … that’s always hard … but his advice is “avoid bad clients” … or at least that’s how I take it.
A different type of marketing challenge is a client who is a bully and/or constantly unreasonable and rude. I won’t take on that type of challenge.
One component of great copy: it attracts the clients and customers you want and repels the clients you don’t want. The copy on my website is a conversation with the clients I know are a good fit for me. I make it clear I’m not the cheapest option and I will NOT work with scammers, spammers, and other miscreants.
And guess what? The over 600 potential clients who have contacted me in the past 4 years directly from my website have been solid leads who understand the value of direct response copy.
When I created my database of potential clients, I was careful to avoid including companies I thought would be a hassle to work with … or clients with products nobody would really want. The database includes strong direct marketing companies who value copywriters.
I just finished my first ski season as (very) part-time ski instructor.
Rookie ski instructors have to take on “instructional challenges.” Most of my students during my first year teaching were “rejects” from group lessons; these students were holding up the progress of the group. Other instructors would say, “Scott … do you see those two people over there who are upside down? They’re yours for the rest of the day … and by the way … they don’t speak a word of English.”
I happily took on the challenge. Another student, a big man, fell over constantly for two hours until he was “re-assigned” to yours truly. He didn’t fall over again that day. Again … I happily accepted the challenge of keeping this 275 pound man from smashing into the snow.
Ski instructors who have been teaching for 25 years get the top clients and get to ski the most enjoyable terrain. But it’s still a challenge for the instructor to help the student.
If you’re just starting out, there’s nothing wrong with taking on clients who present marketing challenges … provided there’s a healthy fee. I would not take on scammers just because they have a budget. This will usually end in tears … but when you have a list of results and a great portfolio, you can take Gary Bencivenga’s wonderful advice and avoid marketing challenges. You'll get to that point.
Scott Martin Direct Response Copywriter