July 2

Bob Bly Reveals: Key Techniques to Transform Your Copywriting and Marketing Skills


In this call, David and Bob Bly discuss the details of copywriting and marketing. Bob shares important tips on how to make compelling offers and position yourself well in marketing. They discuss how copywriting has changed, highlighting the need to keep learning and adapting. The conversation covers both the thinking behind writing and practical tips, offering useful advice for both beginners and experienced writers who want to improve their skills and connect better with their audience.

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Bob’s and David’s Million Dollar Marketing Tips:

  • Create a Clear Offer: Ensure your copy includes a clear and irresistible offer with high perceived value. This can significantly enhance your conversion rates.
  • Test Different Payment Plans: Instead of a single payment, offer multiple payment options (e.g., quarterly payments) to make it easier for customers to purchase.
  • Enhance Your Product with Bonuses: Add bonuses or extra features to your product to make it more attractive and increase perceived value.
  • Focus on Direct Response Math: Understand and apply the mathematics of direct response marketing to ensure your campaigns are financially viable.
  • Create Compelling Content: Publish articles, blog posts, and other content to establish yourself as an expert in your niche. This can attract more clients and sales.
  • Leverage Free Resources for Credibility: Offer free resources like white papers, guides, or e-books to build credibility and attract a larger audience.
  • Use Video Marketing: Create and upload videos to platforms like YouTube to reach a broader audience. Ensure these videos provide valuable information and include calls-to-action.
  • Empathize with Your Audience: Understand your audience’s primary concerns and emotions. Tailor your copy to address these effectively, creating a stronger connection.
  • Segment and Personalize Communication: Use personalized communication strategies to address the specific needs and interests of different segments of your audience.
  • Stay Educated and Updated: Continuously read, learn, and stay updated on industry trends. Use this knowledge to innovate and improve your marketing strategies.

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Here is the transcript of the audio:

David:            This is David Deutsch and I’m here with my good friend, Bob Bly. For those of you who don’t know who Bob Bly is, I would just like to say where have you been? Bob is about as famous as you can get as a copywriter.

He’s written over 70 books, including what many consider the Bible of the copywriting field, The Copywriter’s Handbook. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter.”

He’s featured in seminars all over the country. He’s got a thriving internet business selling dozens and dozens of his own info products.

He turns out copy at an unbelievable rate. He’s been doing that for three decades for big publishers like Agora and Boardroom, for Fortune 500 companies, for entrepreneurs, and he’s been teaching others how to do it for almost as long.

I heard that many of you were aspiring copywriters or copywriters. I think there’s nobody better to set you on the right track than Bob. If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to write your own copy, or you are writing your own copy, Bob is definitely someone that you want to hear from.

Bob Bly, welcome!

Bob:               Thank you, David. I’m looking forward to this.

David:            One thing I thought was really interesting when I was boning up on you, that I’ve known you for years and didn’t know, was that the U.S. Army actually paid you to teach them how to write copy.

Bob:               Yes, I was called into Colorado. The facility we were near, we actually didn’t teach the seminar there, but the facility of theirs that we were near –

did you ever see that movie War Games where they’re inside the mountain?

David:            Yes.

Bob:               That’s real. It’s actually inside a mountain and is built to be nuclear-proof. The whole facility is on a giant shock absorber so if it’s nuked the city that is inside the mountain will go up and down and hopefully not crack open.

It’s all put together artificially and they told me there are two guys there whose job is to do nothing else but go around and tighten the bolts, and they work 40 hours a week each just tightening the bolts.

David:            That’s amazing. I know that’s one of the things that you love about writing, that it’s so interesting, that you find out so many things, that you get to experience things like going to that mountain and finding out about guys tightening bolts in a nuclear-proof place like that.

Bob:               Yeah, I think you’d feel the same way. I started out as a staff writer in the corporate world and found that I was more interested in learning things and writing about them because there was more variety.When I worked at Westinghouse I had to write a brochure on a certain product called the TPS-43 radar and I got to interview the engineers that worked on it and it was fascinating.

But then I moved on to my next assignment, which was to write an ad on command and control systems. But that guy that I interviewed, he would spend the next 25 years just designing the tailpipe of the TPS-43.

To me that was too narrow. I wanted more variety, and copywriting, or writing in general, gives you a lot of variety.

The best thing about it is you’re always learning new things, and the worst thing about it is that you always have to learn new things. You never know it all.

David:            There’s always that temptation to just work for one industry, and then you do that for too long and you start thinking, “Oh, I need to do something else. I’m going to go crazy.”

Bob:               For some people it can work. For me that’s too much like having a job.

David:            You know, I’ve always thought that’s one of the secrets to your productivity is that you do what you find interesting.

Bob:               That is one of the secrets. It’s actually one of the driving forces in my life. It’s phrased in a negative way, but one of the most important things to me is I want to avoid boredom at all costs. I hate doing things that bore me, and I’m betting a lot of people listening to this, and I’m betting you are probably the same way.

David:            Oh yeah, that’s a big thing for me.

I think that the idea of doing what you find interesting being important to your productivity is important. I think it’s also important to know what you like doing, what you enjoy doing, and then try to find ways of doing that. That is inherently what makes you productive.

Bob:               Yeah, I mean the argument is always must you love what you do or can you just pick something and do it for the money? I’ve heard arguments both ways, but for me I could never be successful doing something that I disliked because I would be forcing myself to do it.

There’s that old saying if you do for work what you would do for fun anyway, it’s not work. For me work is reading and writing basically, and fun is reading and writing.

David:            Right. One thing I forgot to mention in your introduction is that you have written over 70 books.

Bob:               One of the things I love as a writer, and a lot of writers I find are like this, most copywriters I find are bibliophiles. They really like books, and I’m one of them. So in addition to doing work for my clients and putting out my own information products, I really enjoy writing books for John Wiley and Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill and traditional publishers.

David:            These are not self-published books you’re talking about.

Bob:               No, these are all through traditional publishers. I’ve got 71 or 72 published and I have 3 or 4 under contract now, so by a year or so from now or two years or so it should be up around 75. That’s something I like to do.

David:            Right. Is it something that’s helped you, do you feel, in your career?

Bob:               It actually has, because one of the early books I wrote was my book on copywriting, The Copywriter’s Handbook. That helped promote me as a copywriter.

What happened is the publisher sent it out to a short list of people that they said they could possibly get a blurb from, and just for the heck of it I listed back then David Ogilvy. To our amazement he actually read it and gave us a blurb and sent us a nice letter.

I used that quote early in my career to sort of accelerate it. I was really endorsed by David Ogilvy and that helped me get into a lot of doors that I couldn’t have gotten into at the time on my qualifications, because I was fairly new to copywriting.

David:            That’s great. I sent David Ogilvy my book and he wrote back and accused me of lifting something from him without attribution.

Bob:               Did he really?

David:            Yeah.

Bob:               Well, you did it later and I think he was getting crabbier in his old age.

David:            He was very crabby.

Bob:               Yeah. When he was younger he was much easier.

David:            Yeah, you lucked out. I had actually worked for David Ogilvy, so that apparently didn’t have much pull.

Bob:               When you worked for him did you actually deal with him a lot or no?

David:            Not a lot. He was kind of the grand old man and kind of came in from France and inspired us and all that.

Bob:               It still must have been thrilling.

David:            Oh, it was. I mean his presence was always felt there, and it still is today really at the agency.

So 70 books. You keep writing for clients, and it’s full-time. It’s not like you write a couple hours a day.

Bob:               Yeah, because the secret is really simple. I’m probably not the hardest- working copywriter in the world, but I’m diligent at it. I said to someone in an interview earlier today, he said, “What do you do in the day?”

I said, “It’s very simple. I drive to work in the morning. My office is about 15 minutes from the house. I climb the steps here. I’m on the third floor of an office building.

At 7:00 I unlock the door, turn on the lights and the PC, and start typing. At 7:00 at night or so, 12 hours later, I turn off the PC, turn off the lights, and go home. And that’s about it.”

So being here alone and not having other people here, there’s no other business on the third floor, it’s very quiet up here, I get a lot done.

David:            Right. I think that’s really key, finding the environment that you work best in.

Bob:               I have several friends who are work-at-home moms and they balance copywriting with taking care of kids, and that’s much more difficult. It’s amazing to me how much they get done, but I have the luxury here of not having to do that.

David:            You also schedule your time I remember in a structured way. You work on this for an hour. You’re going to do this.

Bob:               I really do. I don’t do it long-range, but I’ll sort of sketch out through the day. I’ll make a little list based on my deadlines and schedule the various projects I want to work on that day.

I’ll say, “Hey, I’ll work on doing the research for this package I’m writing for two hours. I’ll interview the guy from 11 to noon. I’ll then switch to this ad I have to write from 1 to 2, or maybe 2 to 3, then from 3 to 4 I’ll edit an e- book that one of my writers has written for me for my online publishing company, then I’ll work on my own book from 5 to 6.”

It’s not real rigid, but I do actually schedule the time. I schedule them in one-hour increments. Gene Schwartz was said to do 33 minutes or something like that, but I schedule them in one-hour increments.

David:            I think that’s so critical with copywriting because it’s so easy for writing – that Parkinson’s law or whatever – to expand to fit the time that you have to do it.

Bob:               And I also think if you make a list it keeps you on track. Often if you don’t do that, what you’ll spend your time doing, whether it’s writing or editing or reading, you’ll do the things that are nice to do and fun to do, rather than the things that you have to do.

If you have clients, you have to do the things that you have to do.

David:            I want to talk about copywriting itself for a little while in terms of what’s the best way that someone starting tomorrow can increase the results of their copy? What are the most important things that you feel that people should know about copywriting?

Bob:               It’s tough to answer in a way because the people on the call, as we heard a few minutes ago, range from the highly experienced to the novice. I’d give different advice to a novice versus someone who is very experienced.But if I had to generalize to a wide audience, I’d say one thing that I see missing in copy today is a clear offer. I have a lot of companies that approach me about writing copy. They’ll say, “Well, we want to use our website to get more business.”

They’ll have an objective. “We want to get people to fill out a form on the website to ask for a price quotation.”

I’ll say, “What’s the offer?” They kind of look blank about that. Today you have to have a specific offer, one that has the characteristics of an irresistible offer.

I don’t know if you want me to go into that, but I have my own checklist of what makes a good offer.

One of them, for example, is that it has a high perceived value. In other words, you either don’t know what it should cost or you think it should cost a lot. It has a high perceived value in relationship to its actual cost to deliver. That’s one of the things I look for.

David:            I think that’s really key. So many of us spend time working at the copy, when in reality the problem or the opportunity may be in manipulating the offer.

Bob:               That’s one of the big things.

David:            There’s so much potential in the offer that we forget that. We concentrate on the headline, we concentrate on the body copy and rephrasing this or doing this and making the bullets nicer.

If you would add a bonus or if you would price it a little differently, or if you would somehow package it together a little differently or with something else, it could just have an exponential effect.

Bob:               And as you know, a lot of copywriters, even some with more experience, just accept the offer the client tells them and they don’t really think about it.

The client will say, “Well, I want you to sell this trading service and it’s

$1,000,” and they’re not flexible about the price.

You say, “Ok, you want $1,000. What about four quarterly payments of

$250? What about X dollars a month?”

They never thought of that and they don’t like the idea because they think they just want to get their $1,000 up front, but I say to them, “Is your objective to maximize your revenue or is your objective just to get $1,000 right up front?”

Of course, they want to maximize their revenue and all those things make a difference, as we know. Sometimes offer tests give you surprising results. You find that the offer that seems odd or wouldn’t work in fact makes a much bigger difference than you would ever get in the copy.The other thing I see lacking in a lot of marketers today and copywriters is they don’t know the math of direct response. A client will come to them asking them to promote a product at a price point where it would be impossible for it to work if you just ran through the break-even calculation.

The writer or marketer doesn’t do that because they don’t know what that calculation is. I see that all the time.

I don’t know if you get this, but individuals will call me and say, “I’m self- publishing a paperback book and I want a direct mail package to sell it.”

I say, “You want a direct mail package to sell a single book through the mail? How much is the book?”

“Well, it’s a paperback. It’s $15.”

“And what does it cost you to print them?”

“I’m using print-on-demand. It’s $8 a copy.” And they think they’re going to make money at this.

I say to them, “Even if you were only paying $1 a copy and you were selling the book for $40, that’s not a business. What else are you going to sell them after they buy the book?”

I ask them about the back-end. They don’t even know what I’m talking about. They think I’m crazy. They think self-publishing a paperback and selling it is a business. As you and I know, it’s not.

Denny Hatch said this in a recent column. He said, “With all the emphasis on the whiz-bang stuff – social networking and YouTube and viral videos – the basics of direct marketing [especially to me the direct marketing mathematics] seem to have been lost and people just seem unaware of them to an amazing degree.”

David:            I think that’s really true. I think that’s true not just with the beginning copywriter, but more advanced copywriters. I think it’s true of entrepreneurs. As you said, the entrepreneur in your story is trying to do something that he doesn’t know the math for.

If you want to work with more sophisticated clients, you better talk their language.

Bob:               Yeah, you have to know it either way. If they don’t know it, you have to do it for them. I think that’s an ethical obligation, because I know that client who wants to sell the $15 book that he has an $8 profit margin on through direct mail, he’ll call you and I and be told he can’t do it, and then he’ll call somebody else who will say, “Oh sure, I’ll write that package.”

It’s actually unethical in my mind to take his money because it will never work, so you have to know the math. You have to know what the response rates are. You have to know basics.

If you’re working in a certain field, what prices work in front end? If you’re not experienced you don’t know that, so as you say it’s much more than just words.

David:            How do they find out more about that? As a beginning copywriter or whoever wants to find out more?

Bob:               I think fortunately today, and see if you agree with this, it’s much easier to find out today than it was many years ago. I think it’s always been relatively doable. Direct marketing is a field where practitioners like to share information, maybe because they’re all writers to begin with.

They love giving seminars and writing books, and there have always been good books available on this topic – Bob Stone’s book, Ed Nash’s book, Ogilvy’s, John Caples’ – so there’s always been stuff there and now the amount of information in direct marketing, internet marketing, copywriting, and freelancing has absolutely exploded. There’s so many more programs available today.

Their problem almost today is the opposite. It’s information overload. How do you know what’s worth it? How do you know what’s not? Who should I listen to?

I had a guy recently email me. He said, “Bob, I’m afraid to get started as a copywriter because there’s so much out there. I haven’t read a fraction of it. I’m afraid if I start writing copy now I’ll be missing something.”

He had like what I call analysis paralysis. Some people actually over- study. Certainly the information is out there and there’s no excuse not to know it.

Of course, then there’s the old-fashioned way, which we would tell people, “If you want to be in a certain field, if you want to do financial newsletters you order a product from Agora, you order one from Phillips, you order one from KCI, you order one from Weiss, you order their front-end product, and you’re going to see in the mail everything that people are doing today and you can rapidly, if you’re a quick study, look at what’s mailed and you can figure out all the price points and the methodologies for selling them and the offers that work.

David:            That’s true. Once you start getting that information from clients, you can put that in a spreadsheet and keep track of it yourself and fool around with it.

Bob:               For example, everybody knows that you’re supposed to keep a swipe file. The problem with a swipe file, I always found, was that theoretically you should look at it a lot, but it would grow to be so big it would be overwhelming.

I still kept the swipe file, but what I also started doing is taking Cliff notes of my own swipe files. I would divide the mailings into certain categories of headlines, certain categories of formats, and so therefore if I was to do let’s say a financial package I might have a list in the front of the first swipe file, a summary list.

I created sort of a Cliff notes or index of my own swipe files. That was very helpful.

David:            That’s a great idea, because you’re right. Swipe

files can be so big as to be impractical, and to have that information just kind of summarized like that.

Bob:               Some of the educators in the direct marketing field provided that in their books. I think it’s in Breakthrough Advertising that Eugene Schwartz has at least one chapter which is headline category after category. He names the category and he gives two or three headlines.

One category he had was something like “Use a number to get attention.” It was his famous headline, “170,000 Roses From a Single Bush.” Remember that one?

So he had all the headlines, but he just organized them into categories. That’s the most helpful thing you can have.

David:            This is something that fascinates me, because sometimes I think the difference between writers is not so much what they know but what their mindset is when they sit down to write, how focused they are, what they’re focused on.

I wanted to ask you, when you sit down to write what are you thinking about? Are you envisioning a prospect? Are you envisioning success? What’s going on?

Bob:               Obviously we all take all of the factors into account, but for me the primary focus on a surface level is always on the prospect. Who is this person?

There’s two levels: the superficial and the deeper level. The superficial level, which is very important, is who is the prospect. The question I always ask is “What is the biggest problem these people have today that this product can help them solve?”

Like Bill Bonner would say, “What’s keeping them up at night?”

Don Hauptman sometimes says, “What do they worry about? What’s giving them an ulcer? What’s their big concern?”

Then deeper than that is a technique that I want to credit to Clayton Makepeace because he verbalizes it very well. He says, “You want to tap into their resident dominant emotion. What are they feeling about that problem and your type of product right now?”

So with the stock market thing again, what happened in the market this week with the Fed, with the Dow, and what happened to them this year? Are they feeling scared? Are they feeling skeptical? Are they feeling weary? What’s their emotion? That’s his starting point.

Mine is sort of starting with the problem, but easing into it through that emotional level.

Bob:               You have to understand the psychology. You have to understand the methods, and then third the formats available and the tools available and the concepts like break-even etc.

Then you have to know how to put the words together, but that’s probably as you say not the main of it.

I just recently had a very interesting experience. I read word for word over 40 Bill Jamey packages because I had the assignment to do so from Boardroom because they’re coming out with a collection of Bill Jamey mailings.

He said his thing was he empathized with the reader. He would become a character. If he was writing for Bon Appétit or Gourmet magazine he would become this person who cares about wine and food, even if he didn’t really in real life, although I think he did.

If he was writing about antiques he could become mentally that person who goes into the country on weekends and drives and putters around and looks around the antique shops.

He just was able to assume the mindset of the person he was writing to and speak to them in their own language about the things that turned them on, that they were passionate about.

That’s sort of what we’re talking about and that’s what he was great at. You read his packages and you also realize he was just really a good writer. It’s smooth, it’s conversational, it’s snappy, it just flows, but that’s secondary. There are a lot of people who write conversational copy at his level that write mailings that don’t work at all.

David:            That’s true, to be able to do that and be effective. I think the big insight there that you conveyed too is he’s not good at writing copy like that because he knows how to put words together to make them sound conversational.

He’s good at that because he’s in the mindset of the person he’s writing to and he becomes that. Then he doesn’t have to worry about putting the words together. He just kind of talks on paper.

Bob:               In interviews with him he said, “My biggest skill is empathy. I become the person I’m writing to. Because I become them, I know exactly how they talk, I know exactly what interests them, I know exactly how to speak in their language.”

David:            You mentioned something about format when you were rattling something off, and that struck me because in reading up on you a little bit in preparation for this there was a mailing that you did for Physicians Desk Reference, which is the…

Bob:               The snap pack mailing.

David:            Yeah, and I thought it was so fascinating. That’s what doctors use to prescribe from.

Bob:               Right. M.D.’s get it for free, but they sell hundreds of thousands of copies to other people who want it who are not M.D.s, like psychologists and so on.

David:            I thought it was interesting that you tripled the results of the control, not because of being a better writer, not because you wrote better, but by something else, if you want to tell us about that.

Bob:               We did it with an idea. We were sitting in a meeting and saying, “How could we improve this mailing?” We had tried all sorts of formats and all sorts of copy.

I just said in the meeting, “Isn’t it true that everyone we mail to has owned this book at some point or thinks they have?”

The product manager said, “You know, you’re actually right. We have records that prove that of our list well over half have a purchase in our database, that they bought it from us through one of these previous mailings, but our informal or qualitative feel of market research tells us that everyone has owned one at some point. They bought it used at Barnes & Noble or their mother had one, so everybody is familiar with it.”

So what we did is we sent out a mailing that showed a picture of the book and on the outer panel of the snap pack it had a big circle with a slash, which means no, like no turn.

We put that over the book and we said, “Warning: Your PDR is dreadfully out of date.” Then we listed in bullets all the changes that had been made in the PDR – 3,000 new listings and 4,200 drug updates.

We said that if you have one and you use it to make any kind of medical decision, you’re risking danger or even death. It was very effective.

We also put in there, the gimmick of that, we put in the snap pack a little sticker that was a warning label that said, “Warning: Don’t use this PDR. It’s out of date.”

Then in our copy we said, “Take this sticker and put it on your old PDR until your new one arrives so no one makes the dreadful error of actually making any medical decisions based on its data.”

David:            Oh, that’s great. That really gets you on such a visceral level.

Bob:               I say in lectures, “How many people actually did that? I’m going to guess that almost no one did it, but it demonstrates it and makes it real and tangible in a way that just ordinary copy could not.”

David:            I think that one of the interesting things about that too is you really got to the deeper benefit of that, even though it was kind of a negative in a way. You got to something deeper than “Here are five reasons why you really should have a copy of the Physicians Desk Reference.”

You went to “Here is why you are in big trouble if you don’t get this. It’s out of date and you could make a horrible mistake.”

Bob:               And that’s what you talked about. It’s not really words, it’s knowing how people behave and think.

If you have any experience in the directory marketing business, which a number of our listeners probably have and I’ve done a lot in that field, you know that people don’t buy the new directory every year.

If the directory is annual, most people don’t buy it every year. You know what happens. If you own a directory you get the mailing for the next one and say, “Oh, I just spent a lot of money on the old one. It’s close enough.”

The next year you get another mailing and say, “Well, it’s getting a little old but I’ve been marking it up with a pen and putting some post-it notes in it and it’s ok.”

So we knew that what we had to overcome was the temptation to say the old one is good enough. We had to say to them, “It’s not good enough. In fact, it’s really bad.”

David:            You know, I think it would be a great thing – and correct me if I’m wrong about this – but for writers to stop thinking of themselves as writers so much and think of themselves more as strategists, as marketers, as psychologists. So much of writing is not writing.

Bob:               What I like to do with a new client or potential client is have a short phone conversation where we have these kinds of discussions. Instead of talking about my copy, like if it’s a web thing I don’t say, “Oh, go here and look at these websites I designed.”

I say, “What’s your traffic? What’s your conversion rate?” You ask them marketing-oriented questions and you focus on results and metrics. That’s what interests people, not your glossy shiny samples.

David:            That’s very true. I think also it positions you differently. You go in there and you say, “Hi, I’m a copywriter. Need some copy? Oh great! You have an assignment? Oh, write this? All right. See you in a week.”

There’s a difference between that and “Tell me what your marketing goals are. Tell me what you’re trying to do and I will help you determine what it is that you need, and then I will go and write it.”

Bob:               It’s interesting, I’ll have people call me occasionally and say, “Can you look at my website and tell me what you think.”

I’ll say, “No, I can’t because how can I judge it without knowing your objectives and your goals? We have to talk first. For me to look at it, I don’t know your objectives, I don’t know your goals, I don’t know what your traffic is, your conversion rate, your click rate, I don’t know any of your metrics. For me to comment on it is idiotic.”

They like to hear that because you’re showing thought versus someone who’s just a designer or just a writer, who would say “Oh, your website doesn’t look good. Look at this website that I did. Isn’t that nicer? Your website doesn’t read well. Here’s some samples of my home pages that read much better.”

Bob:               One question I always ask a new client is, “What do you want my copy to do? How will you measure it? What’s the metric you’re going to measure?”

For a traditional direct mail thing we know the metrics. We know the response rates and the break-even and the sale. But for other things sometimes it’s not clear. I’ll narrow it down to

where the guy says, “Well, you know I have an insurance agency and we get five calls a week asking for quotes on life insurance now. I want to get 15 quotes a week.”

So now we have a way to measure.

David:            You know, Dan Kennedy has a thing where he says, “Don’t be the pharmacist that fills the prescription. Be the doctor that writes the prescription.”

Bob:               That’s very interesting. I never heard that. I think as usual he’s right on target.

David:            Who makes more money? The doctor who prescribes.

Bob:               Of course. What he’s really saying is the person who gives you the advice, not the person who fills the order.

I see that in web copy all the time. Small companies say, “Well, can you quote on writing this website?” They send me a website that’s already been designed either from a template or by their designer.

I say, “You’re going in the wrong order. How do you know that this website is going to work for you? First we need to step back. We don’t start with that. We start with what are you trying to do.

Who’s your audience, how are you driving the traffic, where is it coming from, etc? Then I’ll tell you what I think. Together we’ll decide what the website should do and how it should be structured, and then I can give you a price on doing it.”

David:            Right. I’m going to switch direction a little because I want to be sure to get this in because it’s one of the things that I think you’re particularly good at and you’ve done for yourself. That’s becoming a star within your specialty – whether you’re a writer, whether you’re an entrepreneur.

How does someone do that like you’ve done for yourself? You’re well known in the copywriting field as a star in that field.

Bob:               I didn’t do it deliberately. What happened is I just was always compelled to teach what I know, so after I had been in copywriting about four or five years – not a long time, maybe six years – I said, “I want to write a book on copywriting.”

I convinced one of my publishers to do it and that built my reputation very fast. That was the book that David Ogilvy gave his nice blurb to.

Then years later what I actually did is I wrote a book that’s out of print now, called How to Become a Recognized Expert in Your Field in 60 Days or Less.

I outlined a 10-point plan for how do you become a guru in a field, but the basic method is you disseminate information on your topic through different media, like TV appearances, radio interviews, today it would be podcasting, blogs – it’s basically establishing thought leadership through publication of free content.

So anyone can deliberately do this. If you look at a field like – who’s the famous lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, right? Is he the best lawyer in America? No, he’s the best at promoting himself. He writes the books. Every time there’s a case like OJ or Tawana Brawley, he’s the one that’s interviewed.

If you do that you will establish yourself as an expert. It’s not the only way to become famous or get known, but it’s one of the ways.

If I was to look at who’s done this, Herschel Gordon Lewis, because he frequently speaks at the direct marketing events, he writes for several of the publications, he has a monthly column in Direct, and he’s written a couple dozen books on marketing and copywriting. So he’s become known for doing that.

David:            Can anyone do that? Can anyone write a book?

Bob:               I believe that anyone can take deliberate steps to make themselves a recognized expert in some niche.

The first thing you have to do is pick the niche. Some niches are already taken and some are too broad. Today if I was doing it I don’t know

that I would want to try to make myself known as the expert in copywriting. I might pick something narrower.

I might say, “I want to be known as the expert in search engine optimization copywriting,” because that’s a field that’s very hot. Although some people are known as experts in it, there’s not one single dominant expert yet.

I know someone who’s trying and I won’t mention his name, but a copywriter who’s trying to position himself as the leader in that now and he’s coming out with a book to do it, which he’s actually self-publishing but it’s beautifully done and you wouldn’t know it was self-published.

So yes, you can do it. I’ll give you an example. There’s a copywriter out there, a friend of mine, Michael Stelzner, who specializes in writing white papers. He’s a B2B copywriter and he writes white papers.

The way he became famous is that he created a white paper on how to write white papers. He called it The White Paper on White Papers. He just offered it for free and he’s had like tens of thousands of people download it all over the internet.

That one thing built his reputation. It’s not all he does. He has teleseminars like you’re doing now. He has a blog. He has a content-rich website that’s all about white papers, and he has now a book on it.

But he didn’t sell a book. He just did a 20-page pdf that he posted on the internet. So yes, anyone can do this starting today.

David:            So entrepreneurs or copywriters.

Bob:               Yeah, this is not just a copywriter’s thing. I recommend this to many entrepreneurs. If you’re someone who’s involved in safety and security, write a book on the topic. Give talks about safety or security at local business clubs. There’s many ways to do it.

David:            I would even combine those two things. If you’re a copywriter and you want to get clients, go to the client and say, “Let me show you how I can make you famous in your field,” and show them how to pick a niche that makes sense for them to promote themselves in in relation to their product.

Help them write a book. Help them write the articles. Help them write the promotions.

Bob:               When I get asked by smaller businesses or solopreneurs about how do they market themselves, I say, “There’s basically two things you can do. You can use direct marketing to generate leads and sales, but you can also use the credibility or visibility building techniques to position yourself as an expert in your field.”

At the end of the day, all else being equal, people want to buy from people they consider knowledgeable experts. They feel more secure doing that.

So if you position yourself as a knowledgeable expert, they will come to you instead of you having to go to them, which is a real advantage when selling a service.

Bob:               Today anyone can get on TV. You can create a video of yourself and put it on YouTube. The internet has democratized it so much.

I talked to a guy, I can’t mention his name, who sells self-help and self-improvement information in a particular field. He told me about his success. He’s very successful on the internet.

He has large sales. He has huge traffic.

I said, “How do you generate all this traffic?” He just makes videotapes in his home studio of him teaching certain techniques for relaxation and stress reduction that combines certain physical things you do, pressure points, and he puts them on YouTube.

I forget what he told me, but he gets like a zillion views a month. Of course at the beginning and end of his videos are his website URL, and that’s all he does. So the internet has made it easier than ever to get on TV. Getting on YouTube is often better than being on TV.

David:            Right, there’s often more exposure there.

Bob:               There’s more exposure. It’s viral. You remember the Mentos and the Diet Coke guy?

David:            Yeah, sure.

Bob:               He put that up there. I don’t think he ever was on TV. What did they have, like a million views of his video?

David:            He didn’t get on TV because CBS probably covered the YouTube video that everyone was watching and did a little segment on it.

Bob:               They probably did. CNN all the time is covering little video things, and half of them are on MySpace or YouTube or one of the other viral or social networking sites.

David:            That’s an interesting way to look at getting on TV.

Bob:               And there’s other things. Other people are becoming famous. Look at Matt Drudge. They’re becoming famous with blogs. That’s the most democratic form.

In the old days I’d say, “You’ve got to get published.”

They’d say, “I sent my article to the Wall Street Journal and they rejected it. I can’t do this.”

I’d say, “Well, publish it in an industry trade journal. It’s much easier.”

Now you just open your blog and you get hundreds of thousands of people reading it.

Brian Clark, the copywriter – I don’t know if he’s on this call today – he told me he had 30,000 or more people who sign for his blog through an RSS feed and that costs him nothing. So it’s easier to do this today than it was 5 or 10 years ago.

David:            It’s definitely easier to take advantage of publicity.

Bob:               This is the idea, and there’s a book on it by David Meerman Scott called The New Rules of PR and Marketing, where he talks about this idea of marketing with content. Again it’s disseminating content or information on your field to a select audience and that makes you known as a specialist and an expert.

He uses the term ‘thought leadership.’ I just say you become an instant guru.

David:            Hey, I’m going to skip around a little bit because I want to make sure I cover certain things.

One is how you come up with ideas. How do you come up with ideas for concepts, for headlines, for things to test?

Bob:               The shortcut answer is there is a book that I think people should read. I don’t know if you’ve read it. You must have heard of it. James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas.

David:            Yes, absolutely.

Bob:               He gives a formula for how to come up with ideas and it’s worth reading. It will take you like 30 minutes to read the book. It’s just a reprint of a speech he gave.

One thing he advises that I think people need to do is this. His first two steps are collect general materials and collect specific materials.

So if you’re writing a package to promote a newsletter, you look at issues of the newsletter and the editor’s bio and you’d interview the editor and you’d look at his track record and you’d look at premiums. That’s the specific information.

It’s what Gene Schwartz said. You go to movies that take a box office of 100 million or more. You feel the pulse of the public.

The way to get ideas is to get lots of material in your head. Mostly, with rare exception – I do know a couple of exceptions – the most successful copywriters are readers, information junkies, and students.

They take online courses. They listen to teleseminars. They go on webinars. They hear podcasts. They go to the town library book sale and they buy 40 books and read half of them. They read newspapers. They read magazines.

At lunch every day I read the newspaper. If I get trade journals at the office I take them home and we sit on the couch, and while my wife is watching Dancing With The Stars I’m reading a trade journal.

You always are taking in information. That’s the best thing and the worst thing about it. The best thing is you constantly have to fill your mind with all this stuff, and that’s what generates ideas.

I find a lot of my ideas come from a mental swipe file. I’m trying to think of an example of how I did this recently. I know I do it all the time and it escapes me, but it just comes from the fact that you’ve seen so much and read so much that the solution comes to you really out of your store of knowledge.

Therefore, if you’re someone who doesn’t read a lot and doesn’t study and hasn’t looked at the great ads and read swipe files, then you have less of a storehouse and it’s more difficult for you to come up with ideas.

The old thing about creativity is that you’re not really creating anything new, you’re just making different combinations and connections. Without the source material you’re limited in how many combinations you can make.

David:            That’s a great point. I bet it’s helpful to you too that you work in so many different fields that you get a variety of different kinds of input.

Bob:               That actually is very helpful, because also I do what Jay Abraham teaches. Jay Abraham’s argument was that he was not a specialist, that he worked in 300-400 different industries.

He said, “Unlike a specialist who just does chiropractic marketing, because I’ve been in 300 industries I can take things from one industry and apply it to another.”

I just do that all the time and that’s a great way to come up with ideas. I’ll take a concept that would be old hat to any publisher, any newsletter publisher, and I’ll apply it to a company that’s a software company and do a variation of it on one of their headlines.

They’re just dazzled by it and it works like gangbusters because it’s fresh and no one else in the field is doing it.

Again, it’s just taking a concept from one field and moving it to another.

David:            So how does a writer do that? How does a marketer do that who may not have your advantage of having clients in all these different fields?

Do they read trade journals outside their field? Do they do research on how people are marketing in fields far away from their own?

Bob:               Well, the bottom line answer is that you have to read widely. There actually is a guy who’s a Ph.D. who I met and his specialty is innovation. He’s one of these academics who teaches corporations how to innovate.

He said, “They key to innovation” – I’ll never forget this – “is to study and read adjacent fields.”

He would say reading about Peruvian pottery is too far afield, but an adjacent field might be to read about options trading, read about precious metals, read about geology, read something that’s not exactly in your field, but related. That gives you the storehouse of knowledge you need to be effective.

So yes, the answer to your question is that you actually do want to read and study in many different fields. Your swipe files also. It’s a mistake to build your swipe files with samples from your little narrow field.

If you read a lot of magazines and newspapers, whenever you see something that you think is really strong, tear it out and put it in your swipe file.

David:            I love that – adjacent fields. What a great way to state that.

It occurs to me that there’s two ways to look at that. One is people who sell similar products to what you do, and the other is people who sell to similar markets as you do.

If you sell to people who are really rich, how are other people selling to people who are really rich?

Bob:               Exactly. Also what’s good about what you just said is that sometimes if you’re given an assignment let’s say to sell to people who are really rich and you’re not used to talking to those people, get a hold of some promotions that were written from Citibank or Chemical Bank for their Private Banking Division which is aimed at the rich. You can rapidly pick up the language.

Or get a Mont Blanc catalog. Think of what do rich people buy. Get your hand on some of their promotions or go on their websites and you’ll know almost right away the language of how to talk to them.

David:            We’ve been talking about swipe files and all that. Can you talk a little bit about how you use swipe files? There’s the whole thing of people who say, “Just stick a new headline on the ad” or “Just use it almost verbatim.” Other people are just inspired by it conceptually.

What’s the best way to use something to help you write copy more easily?

Bob:               I tend to look for what Michael Masterson calls ‘archetype headlines.’ He says there are certain headline formats that are just widely adaptable to many different products.

I’ll give you an exact example. I was looking at my swipe file and I found an old ad that I think Richard Armstrong wrote for the People’s Medical Society.

It said, “The 7 Early Warning Signs of High Blood Pressure,” as the headline, and the visual was numbers 1 through 7 with nothing after them, because the copy said there’s no cure.

So that number thing was in my head, then this guy approached me. He wanted me to write an ad for a piece of software that monitored mainframe computer networks.

I didn’t know what to do, so I said to him, “Why would you monitor a computer network?” Obviously to find problems. I said, “What are the problems?” and he gave me a very specific list.

It turned out he could really only come up with five major problems. I said, “That fits in well with the numbers.” So I wrote a headline, and you don’t see ads like this in most computer publications.

It said, “How Can You Stop The 5 Biggest Problems That Wreck Productivity and Performance in Your Mainframe Networks?”

And it worked very very well.

David:            Wow, that’s a great example of that. And that’s called ‘archetypal?’

Bob:               Yeah, Michael calls it ‘archetypal.’

I saw another one. I think it was a James DiGeorgia one. He did a piece on a single stock package. It said something like the usual, and you hear this all the time, “This little tiny unknown R&D company’s stock is going to

go from $1.50 to $18 in six months.” But he added the phase, he put “…as crazy as that sounds.”

It just added credibility because it addressed that thought you have in your head of “That’s crazy. That’s not true,” so he acknowledged that. Now I use that for a lot of headlines where I’m making an outrageous claim that I’m going to explain in a minute but I don’t want them to run away because they just think I’m BS’ing them.

So I’ll say, “How to do XXX….as crazy as that sounds.”

David:            That’s great. It’s just a little piece of something.

Bob:               A little piece of something. Another example is you know Lars from Rentrop Publishing. I think you’ve met him. He did a seminar or workshop that either I was teaching or someone else and it was something like for a newsletter on employee retention.

It said something like, “The biggest problem we identified was hiring and retaining good employees.” So he just wrote “Hiring and Retaining Good Employees – Once Difficult, Now Easy.”

You see that used all over now. It’s become an archetypal headline and it works for anything. I used it for an IT client. “Managing Data Back-Ups and Large Unix Data Centers – Once Difficult, Now Easy,” and it works.

Bob:               This is actually a big point and we will get criticized for this because people who work on Madison Avenue will say, “David and

Bob, you hacks. That’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re supposed to re- invent the wheel and be creative.”

I’ve told these people, I’ve had debates with them in seminars, I say, “No, why would you do that? I always want to take something that I know works and just put a spin on it, a twist, and make it work for my product.”

I’m much more likely to get a winner than to try something that’s not proven and that’s totally from left field. There are people out there who fundamentally disagree with that, but I agree with you. Don’t feel pressure to be totally inventive. Recycle and re-use what is known to work. It works for a reason.

David:            Well, we’re just never going to win a Clio, Bob.

Bob:               We’re never going to win a Clio or whatever they are.

David:            The Oscar of the ad world. We’re just going to have to settle for making our clients rich.

Bob:               Yes. It’s interesting, there’s a guy out there who wrote a horrible review of The Copywriter’s Handbook on his copywriting blog. He said, “It’s ridiculous to read this book and listen to a thing Bob Bly has ever said. For example, for starters he has never won a Clio or other major ad award.”

David:            Oh my gosh.

Bob:               That was his criticism of me.

David:            I want to ask you this. We’ve got about five minutes left and there’s two more things we need to do.

One is what advice do you have for people getting started? Whether that’s a writer, an entrepreneur, and maybe it’s not just getting started but getting started on a project, doing something, getting it off the ground.

There’s so many people out there who are trying to get things off the ground.

Bob:               Are you talking about getting a copywriting project started?

David:            No, more like getting a copywriting career started.

Bob:               Let’s talk about a copywriting career, because there I can give you a very specific piece of advice. When I started many years ago, almost three decades ago, there were fewer copywriters so there was less competition.

Now because there are more copywriters, I think it’s not enough to say, “I’m going to be a copywriter.” I tell everyone, “You really want to find a niche and make that niche your own.”

I heard some of the names that are listening to this. I know there’s people on this call, a couple who specialize in health care and medical writing.

That’s a great niche. Our friend, Carline Anglade-Cole, specializes in nutritional supplements.

Fine some niche, even better one that is underserved, and own it and make it your own.

I met a guy who was very successful and he was so narrowly niched. He didn’t just write IT stuff, he wrote stuff about computer storage and networking. That’s all he did.

So who are you going to come to if you’re EMC? Choosing between me and him, you’re going to go to him because he’s that much of a specialist.

Position yourself as a specialist. That would be my #1 piece of advice for someone starting out today.

The other piece of advice is this. People who are getting started in copywriting always ask me, “What should I study? Should I take marketing? Should I take copywriting? Should I get a degree in Communications?”

I say, “That’s the last thing you should study. If I were studying today, aside from the fundamentals of psychology and so forth, I would decide what niche interests me and I would get specialized expertise in that.”

If I were starting today I would get a degree in geology, because I write about a lot of resource-based promotions, energy stuff, so I’d get a degree in geology. Or I might get a degree in metallurgy if I want to specialize in writing about precious metals investing.

David:            And you could do that forever, there’s so many ways to go.

Bob:               You could do that forever, so I would get that specialized piece of knowledge. If I was going to write for pharmaceuticals and medical device companies I might get a degree in biology or biochemistry, not in copywriting.

David:            That’s great advice.

Bob:               I enjoyed it, and again I hope we can do this again some day soon.

David:            Thank you all for being on the call.

Bob, I wanted to tell you there’s 699 people that were on the call.

Bob:               That’s incredible, but that also warns you that other people out there are dedicated to learning this, so you’re smart to be here because everyone who attends these things has an advantage that those who don’t attend it don’t.

David:            So thank you all, thank you Bob, and I look forward to you all joining me again on the next call next week.

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