Every day I open my email inbox to find the usual messages from my contacts – and a few from entities I’ve never heard of and certainly didn’t authorize to send me anything. But once in a while there is a message that is at once insightful and compelling that I just have to read in its entirety. I must say it doesn’t surprise me that most of these interesting and eye-opening messages are usually from the same source, the Copywriter’s Roundtable (CR).
John Forde, owner of Copywriter’s Roundtable is the consummate copywriting professional whom I’ve come to rely on for such enlightening articles as ‘Better Than Money’, ‘How to Reinvent Yourself (Or Die Not Trying)’, and ‘Defensive Selling Secrets: Seven Ways to Sell Without Selling’, all very informative and provides some insight into the world of copywriting. I’ve shared some of John’s work – with his expressed blessings – from time to time and I’m delighted to bring you another CR gem. So relax and enjoy!
From the COPYWRITER’S ROUNDTABLE
Marketing vs. Advertising: Just Whose Job Is It, Anyway?
“When we write copy,” a reader once asked me, “is it the product creator’s job to give all the supporting proof… or does the copywriter have to search for that on his own?” Specifically, this reader — let’s call him Bob –was asking about writing for the financial market.
As you might know, I write a lot for that market too. And I can tell you — as I told Bob — that’s definitely a product area that demands copy that’s just jam-packed with strong proof. But it’s a question you could ask about any direct response copywriting gig: Who’s supposed to provide the bulk of the backup data and research, the marketer or the copywriter?
Before I answer that, it might help to back up and clear up the terms. And for that, I’m going to turn to something our old friend Sean D’Souza (of www.psychotactics.com) once sent me… “People often confuse marketing for advertising. Marketing is all the hard work you do before you communicate. All the tactics, the positioning, the branding and determining your target audience.
“Advertising is simply getting that message out to the public in the most efficient, memorable way possible. A thorough use of both marketing and advertising, can take your product or service to places it has never been before.
That said, what is the real responsibility of a copywriter? Is it to reinvent your product? Is it to tell you who your target audience should be or re-design your logo? Or is the copywriter just there to take the clay you give him, plop it on the potter’s wheel, and craft it into something alluring for all the target audience to see?
And how about the marketer? How much of the job should they have done before they call the copywriter into the room? How good should they be themselves at evaluating copy or even writing it? How much should they know about what’s working out there in the markets and what isn’t?
While we’re asking, lets throw in there a question about the responsibilities of the designers and copyeditors and print shops? How soon should they step in? How much say should they have? Bob only asked me about the research for writing the copy. But you can see it’s a whole can of worms. So much has to happen to make a promotional campaign go off without a hitch. So much has to happen to even write a headline that’s a hit:
- The audience has to be well chosen
- The product has to offer what they want
- The promise has to lead to that offer
- The offer has to beat customer expectations
- The proof has to make that promise credible
- The copywriter has to “fit” the job
- The internal team has to be able to deliver
- If there are premium reports, who writes them?
- The design has to be fast and fitting
- The legal and copyedit reviews have to happen
- The mailing has to be arranged
- The results have to be tracked and tallied
- And after test results, it starts all over again
What did I tell Bob? “As for whose responsibility it is to find the proof,” I wrote, “it’s everybody’s.” The good product owner, the good marketing manager, the good editor (in the publishing world)… all need to be involved in finding proofs and strong messages.
In a really great business, you’ve even got your customer service and mailroom crew on the case. A good testimonial comes in, it goes right to the file where that stuff gets collected. An article clipping… an important book on a related subject… a new product idea… these kinds of things can and should come from anywhere inside the organization.
The reasoning? See, lots of things are invented and perfected in blinding bursts of light and discovery. But lots more get perfected the way rivers build majestic canyons, steadily and imperceptibly over time. To make that possible, one person could do everything. Many people could each do very specific things. But in practical terms, what usually happens is that everyone is capable of — or at least very aware of the value in — many different responsibilities.
For instance, I write copy for financial newsletters. In our setup, we’ve got editors with strong financial backgrounds. And really, it’s best if they pick the stocks. It’s best if they do the research proving those are good picks. And it’s best if we let them figure out how to write those ideas up in a persuasive way.
But I’ve written financial copy for the last 15 years. I’ve taken an interest in some of the trends. And every now and then, I come across an investing idea that I wish our editors would write about. So I suggest it to them. Are they offended? No, not usually. Am I naïve in my suggestions? Yeah, sometimes. Sure. But sometimes it opens up a whole new opportunity, both for issues and for future sales copy.
Likewise, the editors have seen us re-spin their issue ideas into sales copy so often, they’ve started to think like copywriters too. And sometimes, they come up with the best sales ideas. Do I find that threatening? Exactly the opposite. When an editor starts talking, I start recording. The same could be true in any business, where you get a chance to talk with the founder or owner or any of the other insiders who know and care deeply about the products, the customers, or both.
Another example… We’ve got marketers we work with whom I count on for picking great lists of target customers to mail our promotions to. We’ve got people who decide which “bonus” reports to update. And people who update them. We’ve got print-buyers for the print promos… and SEO people who work with our content on the web…. we’ve got designers and fact-checkers… we’ve got a legal department that scans the copy for stuff that might get us in trouble.
So many people make a promo happen in a large organization. Yet, while we’ve each got our main responsibilities, none are shy about passing around ideas or going the extra mile for something that “ordinarily” doesn’t fit the job description. In a small company, you’ve usually got a handful of people wearing many hats. And there you’re even more likely to find a lot of people doing things and developing ideas that can only make your promo-writing efforts stronger.
Even if they don’t realize it themselves! What’s more, some of the things you do might help them streamline their own efforts. In ways that might surprise both of you. For instance, I regularly snip and send in editorial ideas and work with the editorial writers I know. And every now and then, I’ll even do a little of my own design on charts and even whole promos.
The flow goes the other way too! For example, some of “my” best copy gets lifted — with permission — straight from the editorial products I sell. And some of it makes it back into the editorial schedule, as ideas for premiums or future issue headlines. And always, great suggestions on how to re-purpose testimonials have come from customer service and copyeditors. We’ve even gotten good offer ideas from the legal team. And so on.
Yes, the main job of a copywriter IS to craft a message so it’s attractive to the target audience. And it’s NOT usually your job to reinvent the product, teach marketers how to track results, teach designers the fundamentals of direct response design, or all those other things that can still get shoved in our direction.
Yes, the key driver of any direct-response business is quality copy. And lots of it. But the more you know about those other non-copywriting components that support the promotional process, the better. Naturally you don’t want to get into a situation where you try to do everything. But knowing how to do more than just writing the copy you’re hired to write never hurts. In the long run, it might even make job easier.
John is also very down to earth, despite his copywriting excellence and great talent. In that vein he has offered you – he refers to you as my readers – $78 worth of free gifts when you sign up to his Copywriter’s Rountable. You have my blessings in doing so. Good luck!