Jimmy Curley here.
Glad you made it. I’ll jump right in.
The reason this blog exists is to dispense shocking bits of wisdom and insights for copywriters and marketers…
…so when a newbie copywriter emailed me a question, I decided to turn it into a Street Marketing Lesson plan.
The question was: “What does it take to be a professional copywriter?”
I’ll take my best shot at this using my own “in the trenches” marketing and copywriting experience (hence the name “Street Marketing)…
…and if you’re a pro copywriter reading this you are obligated to chime in with comments too. I’m serious. Don’t you dare leave here without contributing.
So let’s kick it off with the Street Marketing Lesson I call… “So you wanna be a rock star?”
First, let’s be clear about something: Writing really isn’t really a job.
Nope. As everyone knows, unlike plumbers, secretaries, doctors, field hands and other poor saps who have to actually work for a living…
… writers live like a rock stars…
…boozing it up all night… dreaming up killer copy licks from the middle of an orgy… rolling out of bed at noon with a beer, a bong, and a blast of cocaine.
Yeah baby… it’s a crazy freak-show dream.
This exactly describes how my life is playing out.
And suddenly we zoom through a virtual tunnel and tumble back into reality.
Listen: As a professional writer you’ve got to actually sit down and… well… WRITE.
It’s part of the gig.
You’ve got to put in the work. Hard work.
It’s like what an astonished Bono from U2 said about Roy Orbison while they collaborated on an album together.
Apparently Orbison needed no “special inspiration” like so many other musicians (who end up face down dead in their own vomit). Nope, according to Bono, Orbison showed up at the studio early in the morning with nothing more than a case of Coca-Cola and a carton of cigarettes…
…and then went to work.
Worked all day long.
Worked like a piker digging ditches. Like a mason laying bricks in the hot sun.
Worked because he loved it.
THAT is a pro.
The reason for the astonishment is simple: Like writers, most wanna-be rock stars and musicians want all the fab rock-star benefits without having to break a sweat. There’s not many willing to put in the serious hard work and sacrifice.
Which leads me into my next Street Marketing Lesson: “You’re in the mood for WHAT?”
As a pro, you’ve got to write, no matter HOW you’re feeling.
What’s that? You got a little headache? Feeling a little down? Not quite in the mood?
Well, as George Kastanza screamed at Jerry Sienfeld when Jerry said he wasn’t “in the mood” to spill details of his hot juicy date…
…”well then you GET in the mood!”
That’s what pros do. They write when they’re up, down, nursing the flu, fighting with their spouse, whatever.
And believe me – whatever the late great Hunter S. Thompson may have convinced you – alcohol, cocaine, and weed will NOT “get you in the mood” or make you a better writer.
It may make you THINK you’re a better writer… but later on, when you emerge from the fog, and read what you wrote, you’ll realize that it was all a delusion.
Thompson was a great writer in spite of his drug and alcohol issues, not because of them, (although it was often the topic of some of his best work).
Reminds me of a bass player friend of mine who said his entire band took a dose of LSD just before show time. Said they played their hearts out. It was their BEST performance ever because they had poured so much heart and soul into the music that night.
A couple days later he ran into a groupie – a girl who had attended EVERY single gig — and he was floored when she asked, “What was wrong with you guys on Friday? The music was so off. It was the only time I ever left in the middle of one of your shows…”
The point is that you can’t wait around until you’re in the exact “mood” or mindset you need to be or you will NEVER get the job done on time.
Which leads quite nicely into my third Street Marketing Lesson of the day: “You need it WHEN?”
It’s about meeting deadlines.
First, let me tell you about my own harsh lessons on dealing with deadlines.
Back in the 1980s, on my very first day as Art Director for an ad agency, I sat comfortably sipping my coffee while gazing out over the San Francisco Bay.
Oh the satisfaction of it all.
“Art Director”, I whispered to myself looking at my new business cards. “Hello. Nice to meet you… Jimmy Curley, Art Director.”
Oh yes, I was quite pleased with myself.
And then it happened. The first shot of a vicious, bubble-bursting, “one-two” punch.
The office traffic coordinator rushed into my art department with a stack of advertising insertion orders.
“You the new production guy?”
“Production guy?” I recoiled in horror. “Hello. Nice to meet you. Jimmy Curley, Art Dire…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hello Mr. Art Director. Better get your people together. We need layouts to fax over to these clients today.”
She plopped down 17 different insertion orders for 17 different clients. SEVENTEEN.
And they were big fat clients too.
Lockheed… World Savings… Bechtel… Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories… Morton Thiokol… Bank of the West… FMC… McDonnell Douglas…
… and a host of other weighty clients… any of whom could’ve casually activated an atomic military laser beam from their office, bounced it off a low-orbit satellite, and had me evaporated right where I sat.
And the insertion orders were for big fat ads.
Full pages in the Wall Street Journal. New York Times. Boston Globe. Chicago Tribune. Two-page spreads in the biggest industry publications. It went on and on.
Geez… I was responsible for all this? Me?
And quite suddenly I shrank to a very small and insignificant speck…
…and tasted a weird metallic sensation in my mouth. Like I was being exposed to a lethal dose of x-rays.
I dug deep and pulled myself together… but then, just as I prepared to call together my team of typesetters, camera people, and paste-up artists (we had no computers back then)…
… a hard boiled account executive stormed in to deliver the second blow of that one-two punch.
She grabbed an insertion order from the bottom of the stack and thrust it at me.
“Here… you take care of this one first. You hear me?”
I foolishly tried my technique.
“Hello. Nice to meet you. Jimmy Cur…”
“Listen asshole”, she said pointing her razor sharp finger in my face.
“In case you don’t know, the agency pays for these insertions upfront and then bills the client later. So we’re on the line for all this money. And this one here is MY client. I get commission on this. You better get this layout done now, and it better be good, and creative, and the client better love it, or by god your first day will be your last day.”
I was stunned.
She called me an “asshole” on our first meeting…
…before she even knew my name…
…before I knew HER name…
…and there were 7 other customer service reps and account executives just like her lined up outside my art room preparing to level me with the same kind of “welcome-aboard” pep talk.
I toughened up quickly… and managed to excel at that agency for six long years. And I NEVER missed a deadline… although that weird metallic taste never left my mouth.
Here’s what I’m getting at: I had to learn, just like ANY pro has to learn, how to prioritize the task at hand to “get the job done”.
At the agency, each ad had a clear process — layout, copy, client approval, typesetting, paste-up, camera work, final client approval, final PMT…
…and into the courier package for shipping to the publication.
There was no “skipping” any of these steps. I simply had to adjust how much time I could spend on any one step… which was determined by the deadline.
It’s just like YOUR copywriting and marketing.
If you’re writing an ad for a new client, you gotta first know the steps. For a direct response ad, the steps are this:
Research… copy dump… organize… edit… re-edit… and re-edit.
Yes, you can add in some more “re-edits” if there’s time, but other than that, THAT is the process.
You can’t simply ignore one of the steps to save time. No, you have to look at how much time you got, then distribute it something like this:
Research, 50%. Copy Dump, 10%. Organizing, 10%. Editing, 10%. Reediting, 10%. More reediting, 10%.
So if, for example, I have two days to write an ad, (I would insist on more), I don’t choose to eliminate “research” to make up some time. No, it just means I have to limit my research to one intensive day. I can’t burn up ANY time researching on the second day because each of the other steps will require a few hours apiece.
Which brings me to you folks who are writing your OWN ads for your own products.
If you don’t have a clear deadline, (because after all, YOU are running the show), then get into the habit of creating “drop dead” deadlines. One that you’ve got to stick to. One that you can’t get out of.
How? Well, as an example I have a business partner who orders (and pays for) magazine space for products not yet completed with an ad not yet written.
That sure gets the time-bomb is ticking. Quite suddenly everyone’s scrambling to get the work completed or be caught in the fiery blast.
It’s like something I learned from the book “Following Through”, (by Pete Greider and Steve Levinson) written specifically to help people complete important tasks.
If you’re having trouble getting up at 6am, (you know… because you’re exhausted from the all-night orgy), then you should set your alarm for 6am and another alarm clock in the baby’s room for 6:05. THAT will get you out of bed.
Point is, you wanna create an emergency, set a “drop dead” deadline with some kind of “brick wall” that you’ll hit…
…something to make you sweat a little…
… and maybe trigger that metallic taste in your mouth.
For better writing and marketing…
P.S. Hey, it’s time for YOU to chime in.
Don’t be shy. If you’re a working pro writer I definitely want to hear your thoughts. Please don’t leave without a comment…
Hey… Jimmy Curley here.
Glad to see you’re back for more “Street Marketing” punishment.
I won’t beat around the bush… today’s lesson is something I call:
“How not to get your testicles caught in a drawer.”
(Alternative name: “How not to get your titty caught in a wringer.“)
Whoa… now slow down.
Before you leave in a huff, just hear me out.
It’s about dealing with the ONE thing that may be blocking your hottest copywriting and boldest marketing moves…
… unreasonable fear.
The idea hit me while I was watching a documentary on various kinds of human phobias. You know…. case studies of people terrified to ride in elevators… or frightened of spiders crawling inside their ears… or afraid of clowns with razor sharp teeth.
Absolutely fascinating stuff.
One disturbing case involved a middle-aged man scared shitless of getting his testicles pinched off in a doorway, a cabinet, or anything else that could slam shut.
His life had become a virtual prison. Couldn’t get near anything that had hinges or would open and close…
… so a car door, the refrigerator, or the silverware drawer were all off limits.
Another case, (and I’m going somewhere with this), was a woman who was obsessed with the idea that she had just run-over someone with her car…
… and so she circled the block over and over again looking for some poor sap smashed in the roadway.
Eventually she realized that she had NOT hit anyone at all…
… but then would “hear” another thud… freak out… and begin to circle the block all over again.
And so her cycle of searching for human road-kill continued.
But what was REALLY interesting (besides how that woman ever got her driver’s license), was that, in all other respects, these people seemed like normal folks.
They talked openly about their dilemma, seemed reasonable, intelligent, and logical…
… and then wham-o, a door would slam shut and he’d jump back guarding his nuggets…
…or she’d scream out that she’d just mowed-down some poor bastard in the street.
Wow… this really got my attention. Mainly because, in part, I realized that we ALL suffer from some kind of unreasonable fears. (I know I’ve NEVER liked evil clowns with razor sharp teeth).
And here’s the good part… where I connect this all up with you and your copywriting and marketing efforts.
You see, I’m convinced that the biggest “block” to fabulous copy is plain and simple FEAR. Unreasonable fear at that.
Let’s break it down.
You have a “big idea”… or want to say something that’s really gonna connect… get attention… maybe even make someone’s nose bleed…
… and then pow, the voices of self-doubt, fear start to creep in.
“I can’t say something like that!”… “the client will freak if I show her this,”… “what will my dad think”.
It’s all fear… the kinda thing that will actually PARALYZE your copywriting just like it trapped that lady within one city block of her home…
…and kept the man safely on his couch, away from the terrible scrotum-tearing jaws of his window shades.
Don’t be like that, especially when the solution is actually pretty simple.
So here it is: The big solution to “writer’s paralysis”.
Get over it and force yourself write down the “big idea” anyway, no matter how stupid or nutty it sounds, or how much it makes you sweat.
Consider it a kind of “rough sketch”.
Don’t worry about sentence structure or polished copy yet. Just allow yourself permission to “dump”, “vomit”, or say anything you want… with the understanding that you will later return for a ruthless edit.
Don’t hold back.
And for God’s sake, (this is important), don’t hit the “publish” button or let anyone read it yet, or you may find yourself the star attraction in some phobia documentary.
Give your copy a day or two to settle, even if you’re convinced that it’s genius-level stuff. Then go back and do one, two, three or more deep edits.
Remember that writing is a CRAFT.
Nobody is whipping off finished copy from the top of their head.
Which is why the “Hollywood” version of writing is such a joke.
We’ve all seen this in some movie or another. That determined writer who sits down and types out “Chapter One” on a blank sheet of paper and then madly pounds out page after finished page of copy…
… until, at last, he types out “The End”… tears the final sheet from the typewriter… lights up a smoke… and enjoys that soothing rich tobacco flavor while smugly patting a thick, perfectly stacked manuscript.
This is ridiculous.
Writing is much more like creating a painting.
You don’t start at one corner of a blank canvas and work your way across the surface, leaving a breathtaking finished painting in your wake.
No… it doesn’t work that way.
Even the greatest fine artists who ever lived — Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt — would start with numerous crude “idea” sketches…
… toss most of them out… make many corrections to the ones they liked… and then trace or transfer the final rough sketch onto a canvas (or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel)… brush in some sloppy light washes of color… and slowly “build it up” with more finished colors…
…until eventually the painting began to take on a finished quality.
But it starts with some big, bold, rough sketches.
NOTHING happens without it… and you can’t allow unreasonable fears to get in the way of the process. You can’t be afraid of getting your testicles caught in your desk drawer. Or your titty in the wringer.
Have fun with your ideas. You’re not wasting your time — this is an integral part of developing some killer final copy…
… crucial because sales and marketing is all about connecting the product with the emotions behind the purchase.
Use your words like a baseball bat to smash through the most skeptical arguments… a bridge that connects product features with the prospects deepest desires and fears… a sharpened arrow that pierces through callused layers and infuses life into a withered heart.
A glib song and dance won’t do. You gotta dig deep.
Trying to market diet pills? You better understand the secret suffering of overweight women who no longer want to be “invisible”.
Got a “make money quick” product? It’s essential to know about your prospect’s struggle to make his mark… and his desperate desire to have his wife and family proud of him.
A “how to meet women” product? Are you considering that a high percentage of these prospects will be guys looking for a good wife… and not just a quickie in the parking lot.
It’s like a TV commercial I saw for “Joe’s Bail Bond Service” (or whatever the name was). A dozen or so jailbirds in striped pajamas were dancing and singing in their cells. It was funny, but stupid and certainly missing the mark.
So guess what Joe’s competitor did?
He put together a commercial showing a worried young woman with a crying child in her arms walking into a scary police station packed with hardened unsmiling cops…
… then cut to a warm scene inside “Bob’s Bail Bond Service” (or whatever the name was) with a caring man handing that poor woman a cup of coffee, rubbing her smiling kid’s head, and “giving you the help and comfort you need in times of crisis”.
See? Whoever did Bob’s marketing did their homework.
They understood that is was mainly women bailing out their worthless husbands and boyfriends. And that having her man arrested and thrown into jail was not one bit funny to her. It was, in fact, a crisis.
Guys dancing and singing from behind bars was cute, but it wasn’t making the connection.
So don’t be afraid to stretch a little.
To do your homework, get that “big idea”, and then take the path less traveled.
Which somehow brings me back to the whole “testicles in the door” thing.
This really started to play on my mind.
I began noticing just how friggin’ dangerous the world is just below my waist line.
Scheez… started thinking that maybe this guy in the documentary wasn’t so nuts after all.
I mean, I’m standing at my bathroom sink in my underwear and lookie there… a damn nut-crackin’ drawer just below my waist… waiting to do some serious, serious damage.
Then later on that day I’m getting groceries out of the trunk of my car. I’m facing the open trunk, holding groceries bags in both arms…
… and then it happens…
… my wife slams the trunk shut.
Oh my God… I got my testicles pinched off.
I leap back in terror… and she stopped and looked at me with a wrinkled brow.
I was of course perfectly fine.
“Uh… yeah. I’m okay. It’s just that… well… you know… it seemed a little close.”
She just shook her head. “You saw that stupid documentary, didn’t you?”
Man, does that woman know me or what?
And so I got over it. Goddamn those unreasonable fears.
Next, I’m working on the razor-toothed clowns.
For better marketing…
P.S. Listen… if you have ANY writing experience then you have something to contribute. Don’t you DARE leave here without making a comment. Much appreciated.
Hey, Jimmy Curley here. Glad you could make it.
I set up this blog to provide you with some oh-so clever “Street Marketing” tips that’ll help you become a more skilled copywriter, direct marketer, and business person.
You may need this more than you think.
Because effective copy that can persuade and overcome objections means… well…
…it means MORE.
More sales, more opt-ins, more affiliates, more successful job interviews, more moola… more hot dates…
… more, more, more.
You want more, don’t you?
Good. Then this’ll be a perfect resource for you, especially if you’re a direct marketer… selling product using sales copy, (and it’s ALL sales copy) in direct mail, video letters, autoresponders, broadcast emails…
…or simply looking to tap into more persuasive methods to get people to do what you want them to do.
Alright… so who am I to teach you about all this?
Well that’s a fair question… for which I have a ready answer.
For over two decades I’ve been lurking behind the scenes writing copy for some of the biggest direct marketers on the planet…
… including “big-shots” like Brian Tracy, Dan Sullivan, John Carlton, Rich Schefren, Doc O’Leary, Bob Pierce…
… and lots and lots of “little-shots” you probably have never heard of.
While my ads may have generated millions in sales, (and continue to do so), my friends John Carlton and Kevin Rogers have lovingly tagged me as the “best copywriter you’ve NEVER heard of”.
I kinda like the sound of that.
And frankly, I was completely happy to go on hiding anonymously behind my keyboard, writing killer ads and earning fat paychecks…
…until Carlton convinced me to “give a little back” and actually DO something to help other writers, marketers and business folks… just like he had helped me.
So here I am… giving back. John’s right (damn him)… it’s been long overdue.
Which all segues neatly into my first “Street Marketing” lesson I call…
“Who the hell are YOU?”
It’s designed to get you thinking about how you’re presenting your credentials and your background “story” (or that of your client) to targeted prospects.
First, let’s clear-up some of the smoke around this subject.
With direct response copywriting, you’re always playing a little guessing game, trying to anticipate the prospects’ natural questions and objectives that crop-up as they move through the copy.
When you’re selling face-to-face, it’s two-way communication. Prospects can actually raise questions and voice objections out-loud if need be (although if your presentation is tight, that shouldn’t be necessary).
However, written copy — and that includes video scripts and emails and such — is a one-way street. Which means you must have a clear idea of the prospect’s questions and objections beforehand… and then address them head-on in your copy.
So a sales letter typically kicks off with a big promise to a specific prospect… then jumps into some quick info on what you’ve got… and why that’s important to the prospect.
And guess what happens next?
You got it… the prospect grumbles skeptically “who the hell are YOU?”
And they ask this question:
- Not because they’re infatuated with you…
- Or because they’re deeply interested in your life story…
- Or because they have plenty of time on their hands.
Nope. Reality is that they’re busy people interested in THEMSELVES.
You have managed to get their attention, and now, quite suddenly, the defensive wall shoots up and they ask “who are you? Why should I listen to YOU?”
Your job is to get over that wall quickly… or have boiling oil poured on your head.
After analyzing hundreds, if not thousands of direct response letters and sales videos, this is the critical juncture where I see the wheels start to come off of so many sales pitches.
The two big mistakes are:
- Telling the prospect too much about yourself... or…
- Telling the prospect too little about yourself.
Now stay with me. This is important stuff. I’m giving you pearls here.
Let’s start with the first, telling the prospect too much. It’s really not about “too much copy” as it is about “too much unfocused copy”.
It’s critical to keep in mind that your prospect only wants to know enough to satisfy that “who the hell are you” question…
… as it pertains to what initially prompted his or her interest.
Yes, story IS important… but NOT if it drifts-off into some chatty, self-indulgent no-man’s land.
Here’s a quick example: Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a rumpled homeless dude shuffling along. You’re in a generous mood and so hand the guy a sawbuck (that’s a $10 bill).
He’s stunned. He looks at the bill then back to you… stares you square in the eye…
…and then thrusts the bill back into your hand.
“I don’t need this anymore,” he smiles (no teeth). “I just found out my small investment earned me over a hundred grand this morning. By the end of next week, it should be up to a half million.”
Whoa… what the…?
Let’s stop things right there for a second.
I ask you: Has this guy gained your attention? You bet he has.
But that doesn’t mean you’re about to pour your life savings into whatever “investment” he’s mumbling about… until you have some answers to a few burning questions.
The first one is, of course, who the hell is he? And here’s where the mind launches into overdrive:
- Is he a savvy stock broker out on a wicked month-long bender?…
- Did he sink his meager savings into some distressed real estate?…
- Is he some misunderstood genius who stumbled upon a money-making loophole secret that nobody else figured out yet?
What’s the story here? Who the hell is this guy?
We need to know because, let’s face it, we secretly (or maybe not so secretly), hope to get in on the action. (Recall more, more, more.)
And here’s the big payoff. The place where I get to drive home my stunning point.
The guy’s personal story MUST be tied very tightly to the issue at hand.
Anything else – a rambling story about how his wife went to prison… or how his dog ran off with a worthless Collie… or his travels around the country on box cars – will simply not hold our attention, no matter HOW interesting.
He damn-well better start spilling his guts about the amazing but believable tale of how a toothless panhandler managed to scrape together a small amount of money and turn it into a fortune…
… or we’re outta there — walking away under the assumption that he’s either invented the stupid “rags to riches” story, or that he’s hammered out of his mind, or perhaps just plain nuts. Maybe all three.
It’s the same with YOUR story, (minus all the dental problems). Whatever mechanism you used to “hook” the prospect must be directly reflected in answering the oh-so critical “who are you” question.
Which brings to the second problem — telling too little.
Weirdly enough, I’ve found this to be a more common problem than “telling too much”.
Quick example: Some years back I reviewed a sales letter for an investment expert (I won’t tell you who), who wanted to mail an invitation for his new coaching program to an outside list.
I had a nice chat with him before looking over the letter, and he told me an impressive story about how he had built his company from the ground up, and then proceeded to help earn his clients a boatload of money through his hardwork and vast knowledge and in the field.
He now wanted to show others how to shortcut the investment minefield so THEY could have a shot at some serious money too… minus all the hassles.
Great story. Problem was, he never mentioned a word of it in the letter.
Instead, his copy read something like: “Here at XYZ Investment Corp…” (NOT the real name), “…we are proud to serve the investment community and are dedicated to assisting our clients achieve a better portfolio balance…”
Blah, blah, blah, blah.
My suggestion was simple. Throw away the letter. Start over.
Write one that opened with a big promise and his credentials. His REAL credentials. The ones that outside prospects actually wanted to hear about.
I suggested, for example, he could open with an invitation to coach a small group of hand-picked prospects on how to expertly navigate their way through the shark pool of xyz financing so that they could enter into an elite class of successful and powerful investors.
And who is he? Well, he’s the man who built XYZ financial company from scratch. Made a pile of money over the last 15 years and earned his clients a respectable $15.4 million last quarter alone.
While he may have learned his craft in the tough and rumble school of hard knocks… that kind of struggle would be unnecessary for the few lucky souls he’d choose to take under his wing, and to whom he’d reveal his most treasured secrets.
His response was, unfortunately, an all-too common one.
He grinned that constipated grin, wrung his hands and said that… well… it all sounded too much like bragging.
Hell, it was almost verbatim to what he’d just told me.
Okay… I’ll stop it right there. I’m really not interested in beating this guy up.
He’s a decent man. A respectable man.
But my point is that he needed to step up and boldly spell out why people should pay attention to him.
I see this a lot. Hard working folks who’ve toiled for years building and honing serious credentials… only to kick them to the curb because they’re afraid of what friends, family, or (amazingly) what competitors will think if they happen to mention them.
Geez… gotta get over that. You can’t expect fresh prospects to just know about you through osmosis.
And with all due respect, you are NOT creating sales copy for the enjoyment of friends, family or competitors.
Of course it goes without saying that you never (never) want to lie or make up credentials you haven’t earned. THAT is definitely a bad idea.
But if you’ve got the goods, and you can honestly say you’re uniquely qualified to deliver those goods, then by all means you should be openly bragging about it.
In the words of John Lennon:
“Who the hell you think you are?
“Well right you are.”
We’re all superstars at something.
For Pete’s sake don’t hide it under a basket…
… especially at that critical moment when people need to hear about it.
When it’s your time to shine.
For Better Direct Marketing…
P.S. Hey… do me a huge favor and POST A COMMENT HERE. I want to know your thoughts, seriously.
P.P.S. Oh… and if you care to choose a subject that interests you (from the list below), I’ll go ahead and write future posts about it.
See… YOU are in control.