If you really, REALLY want to accelerate your climb up the copywriting ladder and ramp up the power of your copy…
…turn in first drafts that consistently wow your clients and smooth the path towards headache-free approval (and immediate re-bookings)…
…and reap the rewards of being able to command higher fees and rake in fat royalties and bonuses that take your earnings to a whole new level…
You need to find someone who’s willing to rip the “band-aid” off your copy.
That means you need to seek out someone who’s willing to give you honest (and at times brutally honest) feedback.
Back when I was a marketer running the Healthy Directions supplement business while working at Phillips Publishing, I had a team of marketers working for me. And one of the many hats they (and I) wore was writing copy.
The terror of the red ink pen
As the director of marketing, I was the one to review the supplement copy they wrote for catalog copy, mailings, and inserts. This was long before Google Docs, folks, or even “Track Changes”. (Man, that makes me sound old…)
I’d get their printouts of their copy drafts, wield my red-ink pen, and the suffering would begin.
It wasn’t that I took joy in their dejected looks of self-defeat as I handed them their gruesome marked-up drafts bloodied with crits…
I knew I was doing them a favor — and how the copy needed to be for it to work. And we were able to grow that business from zero to $23 million in sales (the equivalent of $40 million in today’s dollars) in just 3 years.
(Side note: many of these employees went on to have great marketing or copywriting careers and remain friends to this day.)
But while I was at Phillips Publishing, I also learned that — as a young manager in my early 30s — I needed to be open and receptive to feedback.
On a few occasions while I was there, the entire management team went through Jerry Bell Leadership Training — which provided 360-degree feedback before it got trendy.
This involved having people who reported to you, people you worked with, and people you reported to fill out detailed anonymous questionnaires about your strength and weaknesses (and annoying idiosyncrasies).
Then there was an all-day session with Jerry Bell (who hailed from UNC at Chapel Hill) to learn about the attributes of good leaders.
And then — finally — everyone got their personal feedback results handed to them in a large, sealed, white envelope.
Before we could tear open the envelope and read its contents, Dr. Bell had each of us take out a blank piece of paper and write on it in big letters:
I LOVE FEEDBACK!
This feedback, which for me and many of my colleagues was often hard to hear, was painful yet transformative. It changed the way I related to my team, it affected how I mentor copywriters today, and even impacted how I parented my two children.
The same is true of all those years when I was an up-and-coming marketer who also wrote copy. I endured the “terror of the red ink pen”, getting back pages of copy I’d sweated over filled with so much red ink, you could barely see the type.
But I still would seek out feedback, painful as it might be, whenever I could. Once I stepped out on my own and started freelancing 20+ years ago, I took advantage of EVERY chance I had to get someone to review my copy.
There weren’t hordes of people back then offering up training or coaching. It was rare indeed to be able to get an in-demand copywriter to give you the time of day.
On a few occasions, conferences I signed up to attend offered a free private copy critique with a top copywriter. I took full advantage!
Sometimes more experienced copywriters who I met at conferences would offer to look at my copy. I took them up on it! (And I always sent them a nice “thank you” gift in return.)
One time I attended a conference for newsletter marketers. Prior to the conference, I read about an opportunity to submit a promo to be critiqued by a panel of expert copywriters on stage.
I figured this would be a good opportunity to get some exposure. So I submitted my brand-new Personal Finance newsletter control promo… which had just beat Jim Rutz’s control.
I thought it would make me look good! But I was wrong…
The three “expert” copywriters (I won’t name names, but you’d recognize some of them) began picking apart headlines and subheads and talking about what they’d do differently.
I was sitting there, just taking it in, but inside my head I was like, “You freak-in’ idiots! It’s working great! IT BEAT JIM RUTZ, for crying out loud!!!”
I went back and read the call for copy submissions later the conference organizers had sent out, and saw it asked for promos people wanted HELP with. I thought it was more of a “let’s look at what’s working” kind of thing. So my bad!
In any case, I adopted ZERO of their recommendations, and that promo went on to be a control for three more years… and beat Jim Rutz a second time when the newsletter re-launched with a new editorial team!
So be careful WHO you get feedback from. The same is true with your clients.
You want to be open to getting their input. After all, they’re closer to their product and market than you are. Some of my biggest wins have been promos that were the result of a close, collaborative relationship with the client.
But don’t be an “order taker” and automatically implement changes you feel weaken your copy, without pushing back. Don’t be a jerk, but DO explain why you did what you did (in a non-defensive way).
Calmly explain any issues you see with what they’re proposing, and what you think will work best instead to address their issues.
Sometimes, an ego-driven client who thinks they’re a great copywriter (they’re one of the biggest “red flags” to watch out for) won’t budge. In that case, it’s best to just give them what they want and move on.
If you’re a copywriter or business owner who writes your own copy, and you don’t have someone else reading every new piece of copy you write, you’re at a serious disadvantage.
While this is especially true if you’re in the beginning stages of your career, it’s extremely helpful even if you’ve already written several successful promos. Even now I sometimes hire a “copy therapist” friend to read promos I write or chief.
It was also extremely helpful to me years ago on those occasions when I’ve worked with a copy chief hired by the client, or when the clients themselves were pretty smart about copy.
That’s because I would actually get useful and valuable feedback on my copy, and getting that input — and most important, being OPEN to it — made a real difference in the success of my promos.
Why you must “kill your darlings”
I know it’s not always fun. After all, you LOVE your copy, right? You hang onto parts of it that are your “darlings”, even though they interrupt the flow or go off on tangents or confuse your reader.
(I’ve been doing the same thing with my first screenplay I’m working on.)
But getting that feedback is essential to ensuring your copy is as strong as possible.
So find yourself a copy “buddy” or mentor, or simply ask someone who’s a good copywriter to read your draft of copy (offer to pay them, and if they refuse payment send them a nice Thank You gift).
Or ask your client to review your draft with you. Instead of being defensive or “fighting” for every word of your copy, ask them to explain what they didn’t like.
Then put on your body armor of thick skin. You may need it.
Make this your mantra: “I LOVE FEEDBACK!”
Yours for smarter marketing,
P.S. I got the “band-aid” ripped off my sh*tty first draft of the first act of my screenplay last night… and I loved every minute. I learned SO much and I can’t wait to jump in and start reworking things once I get back my edited draft.
With learning screenwriting — and copywriting — I’ve found there’s nothing like getting actual feedback on your writing to make it improve exponentially. You can read all the books and study all the controls you want, but actually putting the pedal to the metal and getting live “crits” is priceless.
If you’re interested in getting regular copy feedback, mindset coaching, and client-closing and management advice from me on a one-on-one basis, I’ve got a new mentoring program in the works.
You can get on the wait list here to be among the first to hear about it. Obviously spots will be highly-limited. So when the doors open you’ll want to jump on it right away.
There’s some great conversations going on based on these mindset lessons I’ve been sharing. So join in and drop a “like” or comment… and share my posts if you’re so moved!
And don’t forget to send your fellow copywriters and marketers over to www.copyinsiders.com so they can become Copy Insiders, too!