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Brian Kurtz: 3 Lessons Learned From a Titan of Copywriting


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I was on the phone earlier this week with copywriting legend John Carlton and we were ranting about all sorts of topics.

(You know, like you do when you’re on the phone with John Carlton.)

He made the observation that the next “big thing” in marketing may not be in the areas of whiz-bang technology, but rather in the blocking and tackling techniques of adept career direct marketers.

That’s not to say that technology won’t continue to move at the speed of light. But certain methods just don’t change.

Great writing still rules. As they say here at Copyblogger, The writer runs this show. And those who spend more time storytelling and less time figuring out the next big “Ninja technique” will be the winners for the long haul.

Ninja techniques create revenue events. Great copy and creative approaches create businesses.

My observation (as well as Carlton’s) is that the best copywriters are always ahead of the curve.

And because of their insatiable curiosity and need to research everything at the deepest level before putting pen to paper (or pixel to screen), they are in the best position to “heed warnings” of what is happening in the marketplace and what will make people move to action.

Today, I thought I’d share three insights I’ve gleaned from working alongside master copywriter Parris Lampropoulos at Boardroom Inc.

Parris is part of what I privately call my “Mount Rushmore” of Boardroom copywriters, along with Eric Betuel, David Deutsch, and Arthur Johnson.

(They’ll all be featured speakers, by the way, at a live event in September we’re calling Titans of Direct Response. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.)

Lesson #1: The best creative platform might be right in front of you

A Boardroom trademark is bringing our experts together on a regular basis — whether at our famous “Boardroom Dinners” or just assembling experts from a particular discipline to meet, debate, and see what sparks fly when they get together in a moderated discussion.

Those sparks have a way of turning into terrific story ideas.

 Our founder Marty Edelston once brought all of our tax experts together in one meeting. He was smart enough to not only invite our editors, but also one of our copywriters.

The meeting produced dozens of superb story ideas and a blockbuster control package for our newsletter, Tax Hotline.

Parris found the hook in that meeting — a “secret meeting of the country’s top tax experts, spilling the beans on things they would not normally talk about in public.”

The copy Parris wrote made Tax Hotline the most attractive publication of its kind at the time.

Lesson #2: I’m not a doctor, but I play one in direct mail

I don’t mean to be cute here, but when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008, one of the first calls I made (after family and some friends) was to Parris.

I knew I had a lot of research ahead of me in terms of choosing the right treatment and doctors. But I also knew that one of my ace copywriters had read more about this particular cancer than most doctors I would talk to, especially in the alternative treatment area.

I knew that with one phone call to Parris, I would benefit from the fact that he was a copywriter who never wrote about anything before he researched everything.

You may have heard the Copyblogger folks talking about authority.

Authority is a concept embedded in copywriting — not only writing about a topic but making a sustained commitment to knowing it at the deepest level.

Lesson #3: Don’t leave your best material on the cutting room floor

The best copywriters know this: Always take the time to probe your editors, gurus, and experts to make sure there is not more material in those incredible brains that could create breakthrough articles or concepts.

The process will lead to more compelling promotion copy — and yes, more sales of your product or service.

I’m not recommending disrespecting people’s time, or pushing the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope, but this lesson reminds me of a classic Henry Kissinger story (or my version of it).

A speech writer for Kissinger went off to write a speech for him, brought in his first draft, and Kissinger sent it back to him to improve it.

This happened seven or eight times.

Finally, the writer brought the ninth version and said:

This is the best I can do … I can’t do any better…

To which Kissinger replied:

OK, now I will read it.

You get the point.

To be an A+ copywriter, don’t consider showing any of the first eight versions to a client.

Only present the most complete version, after you have squeezed every drop out of your topic experts, trimmed every ounce of fluff from the copy, and immersed yourself in everything you needed to know to write world-class copy.

I don’t know about you, but that’s who I want as my marketing partner.

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