This essay was written by my Titans of Direct Response client, 35-year direct marketing industry insider, and “friend for life” — Brian Kurtz. To get more essays like this, sign up for his list at www.BrianKurtz.me.
I’m sharing it with his permission and his blessing… As you’re about to discover, it was just too good/important/relevant not to…
If you thought the full subject line above could have been: “The next million dollar copywriter…could be YOU,” it’s not…because the world is changing in this area…and quickly.
In fact, I will maintain that the next “million dollar copywriters” will be working under a completely new paradigm…one that I believe all copywriters AND marketers need to be aware of…and that is the subject of today’s post.
What I have to say is going to be controversial…so be it…
As someone who has dedicated himself to being the best serial direct marketer I can be, I’ve been selfishly committed to never leaving the most important part of my marketing to amateurs.
My wife and kids might think I am a cheapskate…but you won’t find one “A list” copywriter who has ever worked with me thinking that.
Regular readers of my posts know that I believe you have to pay to play; and all boats rise if you are never willing to compromise on your creative.
You must never be looking for cheap talent…only great talent…and if the talent is truly great (based on results), you must share the wealth with that great talent, your creative partners.
Hmmmm. Maybe one of my copywriter buddies will take me in when my family kicks me out…
Copywriting may be the most important topic we can tackle as direct marketers…and I want the copywriters AND marketers to hear what I’ve got to say…and as always, I welcome your comments and feedback.
Simply put, if you are a copywriter, I believe that the path to earning 7 figures is very different than it was in the past.
And if you are a marketer looking for copywriters (as everyone is…I get at least two or three calls or e-mails a week from folks asking me to “recommend a good copywriter”)…it’s just not that easy to find the best creative talent.
It’s getting harder to make the old model work. Each day we become more adept online. We are now getting the results to our marketing programs in a matter of minutes.
But for great results, everyone needs to get paid.
The idea that a copywriter is a “gun for hire” and available to all clients is being replaced in some places by copywriters who are much more focused on only a few clients (maybe even just one) and moving from “hired gun” to “keeper of all the ammunition and weapons.”
As someone who has spent millions of dollars for copywriting–something I wear like a badge of honor–I think I have a unique perspective on the trends I see…and how we can all take full advantage of the incredible writing talent in our marketing community today.
So this is not about a shortage of talent but rather the allocation of that talent…and how we are moving from an “open dating” model to a “Match.com” model…and to take the metaphor to its logical conclusion, moving from flings to marriage.
And it’s marriages between world class copywriters and perfectly suited marketers.
My good friend and copywriter coach extraordinaire, Kevin Rogers, said it best:
“Copywriters are not just writers anymore, they are marketing experts with copy as their specialty. A full view of the landscape is the essential.”
Dan Kennedy has also spoken about this for years–the notion that “writing copy for food” is ultimately a losing proposition financially; and I will add that becoming a consultant/copywriter is how you can leverage your talent best, create the most impact AND make the most money.
Taking Kevin’s observation and Dan’s rule of thumb together, it is becoming clearer that writing for just one killer client and immersing yourself in everything about that business may be the fastest (and surest) path to the million dollar payday.
This is in stark contrast to trying to be a generalist (or even an expert) in too broad a category, or in too varied a client base, with everyone supposedly working with self-proclaimed superstars.
In addition, some of the smartest marketers on the planet today emphasize “research over writing” with their copywriters…and having them in-house, full time, focused on “The One Thing” (great book by the way!) is leading to much better results than looking for the next hot writer for a project.
Big royalties in direct mail for “number of pieces of mailed” are few and far between…not because direct mail is dead but because direct mail volume doesn’t support this model anymore.
Direct mail created many million dollar copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz; but since there are very few writers like Bencivenga and Rutz floating around, and huge volume direct mail is a thing of the past, even this direct mail believer knows, in the words of one of my clients:
“Direct mail, while not a thing of the past, is not going to make you a million bucks. But Internet advising will.”
Kennedy would probably add that while it is certainly about the advising, success has less to do with the medium and more to do with the “craft.”
I will add that it’s about all three: Advising and not just writing, the craft regardless of medium, and maybe most of all, the focus.
Big royalties for offline and online copywriters still exist for an elite group.
But the dexterity with which the best online marketers can test out of a control into a new control (in minutes!) will eliminate many less-than-superstar writers from making the big bucks.
At least that has been my observation over the last decade, watching the migration of offline to online.
Back to those weekly calls or e-mails where folks in my various marketing circles tell me they need a great copywriter.
It’s just not that simple anymore.
You can’t just find a solid copywriter in some directory, hand them the history on a product, and expect anything close to a miracle.
It’s more specialized than ever…and any writer who does not dominate a niche (despite stating they can “write for anything”) is a writer who I would steer clear of in today’s super-competitive environment.
My post “Show…Don’t Tell” explored the characteristics I’ve observed in every great copywriter I’ve worked with (or wanted to work with) over my 35 years.
Copywriting is just not a commodity. Period.
Many online marketers will argue that it really isn’t that expensive to test an unproven writer in their niche because online media is relatively cheap.
But the best in class online marketers understand that the opportunity cost is huge, when they waste time on trying to work with mediocre copy from mediocre writers.
They can test it cheaply but they have sunk time and effort into a test that has no chance of winning…so why not spend that time on training and development?
That’s what I see as the new paradigm
I believe it’s something totally contradictory to what we all believe is the “copywriter’s dream”:
To collect royalties while sitting on a veranda in the south of France…writing when they want to…for any client in any category.
And then all they need to do is to get a couple of controls that remain controls for a year or more and they are all set.
This scenario has now gone from dream to fantasy.
A close friend and world class copywriter recently said to me:
“If I don’t change something, I’m gonna stay stuck in this copywriter gig, making $15k/promo, working my ass off, sweating blood and spending MONTHS working on each promo…then left wondering how long my control will last until they hire somebody to beat me.”
In the old world of direct mail where major tests against a new control could take 6 months to create, if you wrote a blockbuster for a huge mailer, you were almost guaranteed big royalties because the calendar was on your side; that’s just not the case anymore.
Some of the best online copywriters I know today have lamented to me, like my friend above, “I just can’t do this anymore.”
Too much tweaking, reiterating, revising, editing being done on the fly puts you on the defensive as a work for hire copywriter the minute you get the control.
Controls you used to be able to defend for months (even years) are now getting beaten in hours.
That’s no way to create passive income and save for retirement is it?
Should the most talented copywriters now become full time in one company with total immersion?
I certainly want to put that out there as a possibility…and when I look at the characteristics I outlined in “Show…Don’t Tell” it is interesting that working in one category or with one client will make you an expert a lot faster in one thing than trying to be an expert in many things.
Can the one (or few) clients make you wealthier too?
Yes…if they have an abundant mindset about paying to play like I mentioned earlier.
And those clients also need to be in synch with what the great Gary Halbert told us many moons ago (which I preach regularly):
“Any problem in the world can be solved with the right sales letter.”
If you get this one right, it’s a game changer.
However…if you want to keep things as they are, feel free to keep e-mailing me asking me if I know of a good copywriter (if you are a marketer); and feel free to keep e-mailing asking me if I know of “good clients/marketers” who pay hefty royalties (if you are copywriter).
But my thesis is that I think this may be a losing proposition going forward.
The better question for marketers to be asking me:
“What talented copywriter/creative talent is out there who might have a keen interest in taking a deep dive into my world and my company…possibly leading to an exclusive (or almost exclusive) relationship?”
The better question for copywriters to be asking me:
“I am obsessed with ____________ and when I write about ____________ I do my best work. Do you have suggestions on who I could talk to about a copywriting career rather than a copywriting assignment in __________?”
I could be all wrong about this…of course I would love your thoughts on it (based on your experiences on either side, marketer or copywriter)…
I know I have tons of brilliant folks on this list in both camps so I would love to hear from you.
But if I am right…or even partially right…I am excited about a new kind of “matchmaking,” one that turns the client-copywriter paradigm on its ear.
Of course if you are the next Jim Rutz, feel free to ignore everything I just said since you probably can still make a million bucks as a hired gun.
And I want to meet you immediately!
But for everyone else, let’s start a new conversation.
Let me know what you think.
So, whaddya think?
I tend to agree with Brian. This world, it is a changin’. For better or worse. For those who resist change, the future could be tough. For those who embrace it, this could be a breakthrough moment.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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