A chap called Will wrote to me a few days ago, saying:
“I was hoping you could answer a couple of questions.
In copywriting, what qualities put you above the rest?
In other words, why did you succeed where others failed?
What made the difference?
Thank you so much Drayton 🙂
Well, success is a matter of opinion, but I guess if people are still paying me when I should be tucked up in bed in an old folks’ home, I’ve done OK.
So if like me you have modest talent, but want to make a good living for 60-odd years, this was my reply to Will:
Your question is very flattering. I am not “above the rest”, but I am pretty consistent.
I have done quite well for a few reasons.
1. I study. Before I even became a copywriter – before I even knew what the word “copywriter” meant – I went to the library one evening and read all the books on advertising (there were only two or three). I still study. The minute you stop learning, the minute you think you know it all, you’re onto a loser.
2. I don’t just study copywriting. Only one of those books was about copy. Unless you understand the context of what you are doing – why it is important – you cannot really succeed at the highest level. Therefore I have always studied history, business, investment, economics – just about anything that catches my eye.
3. I don’t just study copywriters, and certainly not just today’s copywriters. I was hugely influenced by the people who laid the foundations of modern advertising. John E Powers, Claude Hopkins, Maxwell Sackheim, John Caples, Rosser Reeves and so on. “Those who ignore the lessons of history are compelled to repeat them”.
4. I can get interested in anything. Narrow interests kill ideas. I never stop reading, and I read almost anything. NOT just business books. Classics. Trashy stuff. Anything. Only if you feed your brain can you feed your imagination; and you never know where an idea will come from – Tolstoy or Hello magazine.
5. I do not specialise. I try to write in any medium to persuade anyone in any country, rich or poor, clever or stupid to do anything, regardless of price or commitment. A German lady friend once told me “I think you could persuade anyone to do anything.” Not true – she was flattering me – but it made me happy.
6. I am fascinated by people and what they do. Unless you understand people you cannot persuade.
7. I am childish and curious. The minute you lose the sense of wonder, you start to die mentally and emotionally.
8. I hate to fail, which means I probably try harder than many people.
9. I love words and love to play with them. I hate clichés and jargon. And I edit anything important several times. We must respect and cherish our tools.
10. I usually ask my partners if what I have written is any good. Today by 9 a.m. here in England I had already asked two people about three things I am working on.
11. I do not suffer fools gladly – and that includes me. I am infuriated by the second rate. “If you reach for the stars you may not get one, but won’t come up with a handful of mud either” – Leo Burnett
12. I keep trying. Verdi wrote one of his greatest operas when over 85. I still have hopes.
AFTER I WROTE THIS … I remembered one thing that may be as important as all the rest.
I am highly emotional. Well, impossible, some say. But people make decisions on emotional, not rational grounds.
I think persuasion is about the transference of emotion. If you don’t care, you can’t make others care. And if they don’t care, they won’t act.
So now I have a question for you …
Would you like us to help you with copy for your business – a sales letter, email, web copy, etc?
If you would, just send Gerald (firstname.lastname@example.org) an email with a subject of ‘Success please’.