Lessons from 15 direct response giants

Mar 19, 2021

Issue #123—March 19, 2021
Yesterday’s Clayton Makepeace tribute event was epic…I hope you were there to hear it.

(If you weren’t, or weren’t able to stay for all of it, I hear that Carline Anglade-Cole…who put on this amazing tribute event…will be making the recordings available in the future).

In today’s issue, I’m going to give you a quick recap of the lessons each of the 15 speakers shared (I furiously jotted down notes throughout!)

(At the last minute, the number of presenters dropped from 17 to 16 when Carline’s daughter Milan was in a car accident right before the event. Fortunately, it wasn’t serious…but since she was getting treated with painkillers she wasn’t in the best shape to make a presentation.)

We’ll see how far we get…I may need to continue this follow-up series through the weekend. Gary Bencivenga packed SO much into his 7-minute presentation, it could fill an entire issue. And the brilliant answers he provided to questions during the After Party Q&A could likely fill yet another.

I’ll also share my entire presentation with you…but that will need its own email as well.

So let’s get rolling! We’ve got a lot of “gold” to cover, baby…

Let’s start in order of the presenters. I’ll share a quick recap of the key message or lesson they shared:

Bob Bly: If you don’t know who Bob Bly is, you’ve been living under a rock. He’s probably one of the most prolific veterans of direct response copywriting, and has also written a slew of helpful books on running your freelance business.

He shared these 2 favorite copy tactics he learned from Clayton…

#1: Use a credibility “pre-head” before the main headline of your promo. A pre-head is a mini-headline, usually less than 7 or 8 words, that appears at the very top of the front cover or first page right above the headline.

Now, I’ve heard mixed-things about pre-heads (i.e., visually people skip over them to go right to the headline), but Clayton would always use them to establish credibility right out of the gate in an attention-getting way. This makes the prospect much more likely to accept and believe whatever claim is offered up in the main headline.

#2: Use a “table of contents” in your promo to sell readership. Bob said he had never thought of putting in a table of contents on the inside front cover of a magalog or tabloid. But Clayton explained that he liked using them to sell the prospect on reading the promo with enticing copy and bullets. While you may not use a “table of contents” in an online sales page or VSL, you do still need to sell your prospect on readership early on, so it’s a valuable lesson to keep in mind.

Denise Ford: Denise is one of the folks who head up AWAI and worked closely with Clayton for many years on the training programs he offered. She’s also the sister of Mark Ford. Denise shared a beautiful tribute to Clayton, and shared a valuable insight she learned from him…

“It isn’t just the work–it’s our relationship to it and to others.”

That’s a great thing to keep in mind as a copywriter or marketer.

The passion you bring to the table for what you do, and the care you put into nurturing your relationships with clients, copywriters, designers, and others you work with far transcend the work itself…and will bring you many rewards beyond that project fee. Think and act for the long run, not just in the “now”.

Denise also shared a very moving quote from a poem she said reminded her of Clayton (I believe she said it was one he had told her he liked as well). It’s by Mary Oliver…called “When Death Comes”.

Here’s the quote Denise shared…

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real.”

Man…that one got me. Just about everyone teared up a bit at that point.

I was the third speaker (I had a tough act to follow), and I shared among other things the 5-step features/benefits exercise that I learned from Clayton. I’ve used it for my own promos and taught it to my mentees. I’ve also talked about it in some of my past issues. I’ll share my entire presentation in an upcoming email!

Let’s move on to the 4th speaker, a name you’ll likely recognize…

Parris Lampropoulus: There were many nuggets of copywriting “gold” Parris shared, but I loved how he talked about when he was early in his freelance career, he had the chance to get Clayton to review his copy.

Like others whose copy had undergone the “Clayton treatment”, it was filled with red ink (or track changes), with countless edits…and this was on multiple occasions.

Each time, Parris would carefully go through each edit or change…comparing his original draft to the one that had been edited and worked over by Clayton. He would ask himself, “why did Clayton make that change?” so he would understand it.

And–most importantly–if Parris didn’t understand why, he would ask Clayton. And Clayton loved explaining why…he was always the “teacher”.

Clayton’s wife Wendy–who spoke at the very end–said that Clayton used to complain about his “cubs” being afraid of him and not asking questions. He felt that there NEVER is a dumb question…and he was there to help them get better.

Obviously, by asking lots of questions when he didn’t understand something, Parris gained a great deal of knowledge that soon after helped propel his career skyward.

Parris shared a few other great lessons he learned from Clayton…

#1: If you’ve written a really intriguing bullet–AND the info or pay-off behind it is just as good, then consider revealing it and making it an entire sidebar. You can even weave it into a headline or subhead. Parris said applying this one tactic helped pay his bills for 15 years, as he used it for many a Boardroom promo as well as countless other royalty-paying controls.

#2: Take boring facts and dimensionalize them in a way that bring in the prospect. Parris talked about how Clayton was a master of “dimensionalization”. He gave a great example of how most copywriters would simply cite a statistic like the following:

More than 133,000 people die every day from properly-prescribed drugs.

But Clayton took that same statistic and wrote it this way instead:

If 3 jumbo jets crashed every day, you’d never step on a plane. But that’s how many people die each day from properly-prescribed drugs.

See how much more personal Clayton’s approach is…how much more it grabs you and makes you pay attention? He took that statistic and hunted around for something that was its equivalent, and then used that to make it more relatable.

Let’s move on to the next speaker, who is one of Parris’ copy “cubs” and a great copywriter in her own right…

Pauline Longdon: I first met Pauline back in 2014 when she and her partner Rae Brent flew themselves all the way from Australia to Brian Kurtz’s Titans of Direct Response event in Stamford, Connecticut.

They had to borrow the money to come, but Pauline saw it as an investment to take advantage of the chance to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event.

And it was life-changing for her, in terms of the many valuable connections she made and copywriting insights she gained. Not much later, she made another trip to the U.S., and got to know Clayton.

So one of Pauline’s own lessons that she shared is sometimes you have to take that step and invest in yourself if you want to achieve your goals.

She later talked during the Q&A about how so many of us get in our own way and think something’s not for us or tell ourselves “no” in other ways.

Many times this is due to “imposter syndrome”. Pauline explained a valuable lesson Clayton taught her that helped her overcome it with her copy. The lesson was this:

“Don’t compare your first draft of copy to my 16th or 17th draft in a published magalog.”

By the time you see the FINAL copy in an online sales page or direct mail magalog, you can bet it’s been through at least 16 or 17 rounds of drafts and edits. In many of my promos, we’re still making copy changes in the 3rd or 4th round of design.

So if you take your “shitty first draft” and then look at a final sales promo and say, “look how bad mine is…there’s no way I can do this”, you’re simply not making anywhere near a valid comparison.

Pauline’s message: DON’T intimidate yourself…believe you CAN do it!

And I’d like to end right here. I don’t want to overwhelm you. This is an issue you should go back and re-read at least a few times…and maybe even print out and use as a reference.

The next speaker after Pauline (who can now say as one of her claims to fame, “I spoke at an event in-between Parris Lampropoulus and Gary Bencivenga” and probably never need to market herself again after that) was, in fact, the great Gary…

I promise to follow-up with a separate email to share the 10 copywriting maxims Gary presented, along with his sage advice on negotiating royalties and more.

Plus I’ll share my complete presentation in an upcoming email…along with a recap of the rest of the speakers, including Caleb O’Dowd, Marcella Allison, David Deutsch, and many others. So stay tuned!

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. I’m going to be doing live copy critiques within a small group workshop at the upcoming TCC (n)IRL event…all those initials stand for “The Copywriter Club (not) In Real Life”. It’s one of my favorite events each year and it’s one you’re NOT going to want to miss!

Not only will you get to hear from fantastic speakers like Carline Anglade-Cole, Joana Wiebe, Todd Brown, Joel Klettke, and many others, you’ll get the chance to meet and mingle with other copywriters and potential clients…and get to step safely out of your Covid “bubble”. And since it’s virtual, no travel costs or hassles, either!

Go VIP at the special reduced price now (while there are still spots available) and you’ll also get your own hot seat with Rob Marsh and Kira Hug, private coffee/”bevvie” breaks with select speakers, recordings and transcripts of each presentation, exclusive implementation and bonus sessions, a super-cool “swag” bag, and more.

The ridiculously low “early bird” pricing ends this Monday, March 22nd. So check out all the details at this link and make your decision soon. Hope to see you there!

P.P.S. Here’s a screenshot I took early on during yesterday’s event during one of its lighter moments…can’t wait for the recordings to come out! What a privilege it was to be a part of this and to have known Clayton…and what an amazing group!