So… Um… How about them Ducks? Dang. Gotta give a ton of credit to Ohio State though. They played to win. And win they did. Since I now live in the land of the Big 10, I can be happy that a Big 10 team won. And… Proved the value of this new playoff system. Last year, #4 wouldn’t have played for the title. This year, they upset #1 and #2 to come out on top. That’s why I love college football though… 🙂
Okay, on to our main topic!
For today’s Copy Tuesday article, I’m going to answer a question that came up from one of my coaching clients.
It’s about the “big idea” in copy…
Specifically, how to use big ideas that you uncover out in the market… Specifically to pitch to and land new clients.
Now, you’ve probably heard this before. But one of the best ways to make yourself an in-demand copywriter is to be a constant source of ideas. Big ideas. Winning ideas.
A winning idea is a winning promotion. Clients know it. And so the copywriter known for bringing winning ideas to the table will always be in demand.
Once you’re established, you’ll primarily be generating these ideas for your past and present clients.
But when you’re getting started out and building your reputation, a sold big idea can be the secret to get noticed by a potential client, and get your foot in the door.
I still remember my first financial project. It was a spec.
(YES, I recommend spec work to break into a new niche — particularly the competitive ones that hire direct response copywriters, like finance and health!)
I’d seen that this publisher was looking to hire a financial copywriter to write long-form promos for them. So I did a little digging.
I studied their website. Past promotions. Editorial. Everything I could get my hands on.
And I found a little gem of an idea in one of their articles. One of their experts had laid out a case for silver’s price to as much as triple from where it was at. This was mid-2010, when silver was last hanging out just below $20, and right before it shot up to $50.
And so I went to the client with my spec: “The Case for $60 Silver.”
Maybe not THAT big of an idea, but it was compelling to the right audience.
It was an idea I’d found in their work, that I thought could make an interesting angle for a promo. I wrote the lead, in line with their spec challenge. And I turned it in.
The writing was good — not great. But the idea instantly resonated. It resonated with the marketers — because they knew it resonated with their editorial. And if it resonated with the editorial, it had a good chance at turning many of their free readers into buyers.
And so they gave me a shot.
It was a base hit, maybe. Not a home run — I won’t claim that. But as soon as that project was done, the client hired me to write three more promos. Then, a retainer deal. And together, we made a bunch of money over the next 18 months.
All because I’d identified that one idea.
Now, this isn’t so much about how to generate ideas, but how to use them to get into the door. I want to stay on course…
What if a client isn’t offering spec work? How do you pitch your idea then?
In the case the client isn’t offering a spec, things get a little trickier.
Because there’s not an open channel to offering up your idea. They haven’t put out the invite. So you have to find a different way to get it in front of them.
And because they’re not saying they’re specifically open to new ideas, there are additional layers of challenge to it.
Let’s say you’re working in the financial space. Let’s say you have a handful of ideas you’ve found by watching the financial news, reading various sites, or whatever…
Now you want to start pitching these ideas to financial publishers, with the hope of getting gigs as a result…
How do you do it?
(SIDE NOTE: If you don’t write for financial newsletters, just think about how you can apply this for whatever industry you write for. Don’t start to think, “But my niche is different!” Because it’s not. Not that much. The fundamentals behind this apply in any niche you could write copy for.)
First and foremost, know who you’re going after…
This is very important. If you go around willy-nilly, sharing your ideas with anyone and everyone, you’re not likely to get many hits. If any. And you’re going to start to look like a doofus for pitching irrelevant ideas.
You’re a direct marketer, right? You know that you need to target your prospect with laser-precision if you want to generate maximum profits. Same thing applies here.
So, let’s say you’ve found a story on an interesting new technology. You want to write about it, as a way to pitch a financial newsletter. Well, tech stocks are really their own thing. So you’re not going to pitch your idea for a new technology story to a dividend investing letter, for example. You want to find tech newsletters to pitch your tech story.
Similarly, if you uncover an idea about some new kind of income investing, you’re not going to pitch that for the tech newsletter. You’re going to pitch it as an idea for dividend and income newsletters.
Simply by doing a little bit of homework up front, making sure your idea aligns with the main topics the potential client writes about, you’re significantly increasing your chances of success.
Second, have many ideas…
Okay, so let’s say you’ve found at least one good publication you’d like to write for.
Do you give them your one big idea, and that’s that?
Not on your life!
There’s an old lesson from direct response that applies here. Response is greater when you give options. YES or NO will get you more NO responses than A, B, or C (with the NO being only an unstated option).
So, if you have one idea, maybe you can find a second, even a third. You probably decrease your chances beyond three. But two or three ideas give them options to choose from — and increases the likelihood they’ll see one they like but aren’t working on right now. It will also show that you’re an idea-generator, and not a one-trick pony.
Third, have an elevator pitch for each idea…
When it comes time to sit down and write copy (which is NOT YET)… You’re going to have to be able to condense the idea you have into a short introduction that hooks the reader. Work on that right now.
Find a way to present the idea in a clear, compelling fashion. Probably within about three sentences.
But don’t be mistaken. This doesn’t mean you only need to know enough to write three sentences about your idea. Au contraire!
You should probably have at least enough research done that you could write a full one-page explanation of your idea. In fact, you could start by doing so, for each idea. It doesn’t have to be copy. It can be an outline. The purpose of doing this at this point is just to make sure you’re intimately familiar with the idea.
In the case of writing about investing in a tech breakthrough, this would include information on the technology itself, why it’s interesting, why it’s going to be adopted quickly, market potential, and one or more investment opportunities to get into it. In short, you should know the investment case pretty well. You don’t have to be a Wall Street wizard to come up with this — some firsthand knowledge of the investment markets plus a good eye for research should be enough.
Once you have enough info either in your noggin on in your word processor to write an entire summary, then condense it into a couple sentences that capture the essence of why an investor (or the publisher) should get excited. You may even be able to fit it into a few words — e.g. “The Case for $60 Silver.”
Then and only then are you ready to reach out.
Fourth, find the right contact…
For each potential client, you want to find an ideal contact for the company. You can do this in a few ways.
One, you can look on LinkedIn — look for a “marketing manager” or something similar. Although titles can be deceiving, especially in smaller entrepreneurial companies.
You can also call. Yes, call. Call the company’s main phone line, and ask who at the company manages their copywriting team. Get their contact information so you can reach out directly to them.
Or, use your network. If you know folks who might have a connection into the company, ask. Be ready to explain what you’re going to talk with their contact about, if they ask. And recognize that if they make the intro, their reputation is on the line, too — so be understanding if they’re at least a little hesitant.
Fifth, reach out to them…
Tell them you have a few big ideas that you think would be a particularly good fit for XYZ publication. And that you’d like to send them along, or explain them on the phone. (Offer what you’re most comfortable with, but also recognize that they may want to talk with you.)
Keep it short, personal, and expecting a reply (hat tip to Dean Jackson on that)…
Dear Joe Schmoe,
I’m a freelance financial copywriter, and I stumbled onto a couple big ideas that I think would make particularly good promotions for your Tech Breakthroughs Today investment newsletter.
Can I send them your way and you take a peek?
This email is really easy for them to answer. And the easiest answer is YES.
Most will be happy to have you send the ideas over, particularly if you tell them specifically that they’ll be a fit for one of their SPECIFIC publications.
Very few will say NO.
Some will not answer.
For those who say NO, your best bet is to move on. You can ask for a specific reason if you’d like. But don’t get hung up on it.
For those who don’t answer within three to seven days, you can send a follow-up, as a reply to your previous email…
I sent the previous email (below) a few days back. Do you use freelance copywriters?
Another easy YES or NO question to get the conversation started…
YES invites you to offer the ideas again (don’t send them until they ask for them). NO and you have an answer — move on.
Sixth, send your ideas once they ask for them…
I don’t recommend sharing the ideas until they’ve specifically indicated interest. One, it keeps them a little closer to the vest. But two, you know that once they’ve agreed to give your ideas an audience, you’re more likely to get one — they have to do so for personal consistency.
Once they ask for the ideas, send the elevator pitches. Add a note above them to say that you don’t want to bog them down, so you’re only sending the summary. But if they’re interested, you can share more or discuss in further detail.
This tells them that you have more — even if you’re not showing it. And it makes it easy for them to scan each idea quickly and find the one they like best.
From there, follow the natural flow of the conversation. If you have good ideas, you’ll have interest from the publisher…
Seventh, don’t be afraid to offer up “stretch” ideas…
This is more of a general tip, not one that fits into the sequence of things.
Let’s say you’re looking to write a stock promo. You don’t know if the publisher has a report or recommendation to match the story. With some publishers, it’s a risk. They may only want to do promos for stocks in their portfolio now. Others love it — they’ll find a good recommendation to match the promo. Maybe it won’t go into the official portfolio, but will be the subject of a special report.
All the richest copywriters I know do this. They bring extra ideas to the table outside of the scope of the client’s current work. For stocks, it’s a stock story that nobody’s written about yet. For health, it’s an off the wall research report with shocking findings. The key is they’re bringing NEW things to the table that are unique to them, as copywriters. And this gives them a big leg up. Good publishers eat this up — they know what a difference it can make in response.
Okay, I think that’s pretty much it…
I’m already late going to press, so I better hit “send!”
Let me know though if this gets you in the door and gets you a gig — I’d love to share your story here.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
Editor, Breakthrough Marketing Secrets