Bill Shankly, one of the great Liverpool F.C. Managers, called football: “A simple game, made complicated by idiots.”
This probably applies to most professions that don’t need any formal education or training. It certainly applies to marketing.
Without a sturdy foundation of shared knowledge, it’s easy to go chasing bright, shiny objects…complicated tactics…new ‘gurus.’ It’s often a path to crappy work, poor results and unhappiness.
I had all my massive, ‘industry-shaking’ ideas back when I had little experience. Because Shankly’s right. And copywriting, too, is a simple game made complicated by idiots.
This blog hasn’t been up for long and, to be honest, I haven’t done a whole lot to promote it. For now, I’m just writing once a week, and seeing who appears. So far, most new subscribers seem to be interested in becoming copywriters themselves. The good news I can share is this:
You could probably become proficient at this with only one month of hard study.
Of course, joining the top 1% of A-list copywriters takes a LONG time. (Even after 7 years doing this, and working with the best, I would not be considered among them.)
But you could join the top 10% or 25% in a matter of weeks.
Because marketing/copywriting – like so many other professions – really is ridiculously simple, though few people want to accept it. Here’s the job in a nutshell:
- Understand the group of people your client’s product can help
- Tell them what you’ve got
- And tell them what it’ll do for them
4. Go make a drink.
The problem with marketing, really, is that it’s too simple. And if you seek creative satisfaction (as many in advertising do), you’re likely to be disappointed.
You may feel the need to ‘dress it up’ with complexity in order to justify yourself.
Eugene Schwartz – one of history’s greatest copywriters – once had a 4-hour meeting, interviewing his client. When he got home, he bashed out a million-dollar sales letter in a couple of hours. Then he filed it in his drawer for 2 weeks.
Schwartz knew that if he gave it to the client right away, he wouldn’t be able to send his invoice with a straight face. (I believe he charged around $50,000, back when the dollar had about 3 times its current value.) Better to leave it a while. Better to give the illusion of hard work and complexity.
That’s not to say copywriting – or any profession – is easy.
It is NOT easy. (Schwartz was just very experienced.)
However, as I keep saying, it IS simple. And if you’re willing to avoid making it complicated, you will have a much more enjoyable career. I suspect this applies to a lot of careers.
So whatever you do for a living, you can probably adapt my following advice…
When I began copywriting, I studied too much.
I read DOZENS of different books across the spectrum of marketing. It took me years to distill everything down to a simple, reliable method I could use again and again.
Were I to start afresh, I would begin with a core library; a select few books which ALWAYS hold true.
If you’re a budding copywriter, this is your core libaray:
- Tested Advertising Methods – by John Caples
- Scientific Advertising – by Claude Hopkins
- Any letters you can find by Gary Halbert. (Many are available online. Others, such as The Boron Letters are sold as collections on Amazon)
- Commonsense Direct Marketing by Drayton Bird
- How to Write a Good Advertisement by Vic Schwab
So I would start with only these few books. However, I would study them HARD. Read them once. Then read them again and take notes. Then read them once more. And be sure to revisit them at least once a year.
If copywriting had a formal, required apprenticeship program, these would be on the course reading materials. Make this 80% of your total reading. It’ll keep you grounded to this profession’s simplicity. It’ll keep you from being led astray by another ‘guru’ with a newfangled concept.
Next, I would study all the creative work collected together on Swiped.co
Specifically, study all the ads by Gary Halbert and Gary Bencivenga. In my opinion, these are the 2 best copywriters of all time. Copy their ads out by hand. This gets the rhythm and structure of outstanding copy embedded into your subconscious.
You have a firm foothold for what makes good copy. When you hear a new idea, you can give it a more accurate appraisal against your level foundation of knowledge.
Finally, have fun while you’re learning. And never stop learning. I still copy out an A-list copywriter’s ad at least once a week. Because that’s what this job is all about. Not awards. Not fame, nor becoming a ‘thought-leader.’ It’s about helping people do better.
Even though it’s simple, the number of high-quality copywriters are in desperately short supply. You should be proud that you’re joining them.