Those First 50 Words

Would you spend an entire week on your opening for an ad or other marketing or sales piece?

According to Brian Clark of copyblogger, it was a normal practice for Eugene Schwartz, a copywriting legend and author of Breakthrough Advertising.

“Master copywriter Eugene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece,” writes Clark, “the headline and the opening paragraph.”

I know it might sound crazy. And I admit I’m not able to devote that amount of time to my current projects. Workload and deadlines don’t allow it. But I do remember spending long hours writing headline after headline after headline when I worked on high-visibility advertising campaigns while on staff at a B2B agency. I might spend several days refining a concept, searching for the perfect headline, and writing body copy for a new campaign.

No matter the communications project and time constraints, it’s a good reminder to concentrate your effort on those first 50 words. Because if you lose the audience at the outset, it doesn’t matter what comes after, or how much polish you applied to the rest of the piece. They’re already gone.

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I’m on the Big List of B2B Marketing Blogs

I hope this doesn’t come across as false humility, but I was surprised to learn that I made the 2009 Big List of B2B Marketing and Sales Blogs. The list was developed by Proteus B2B Marketing, a top B2B agency according to BtoB Magazine.

So I’m giving myself a fist bump. I did not expect it.

I started this blog a little more than a year ago with a few humble goals. I would blog as a way to share with the marketing and communications community—some of whom already knew me through my e-newsletter (sign up at right) and LinkedIn, and others who might find me through organic search or inbound links. I would attempt to post a few times a week. I would allow the blog to grow organically.

I had already learned from my ARMCHAIR GOLF BLOG that blogs can grow into something and lead to new connections and opportunities. There are many things one can do to grow a blog. The problem, for most, is time and focus. I decided early on that I would do well just to add regular posts to this blog.

I’m glad that some have noticed my efforts. And I’m thankful to all who have stopped by.

(Image: The Urban Mermaid/Flickr)

Think Visually

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(Click to enlarge image)

Even if you’re a writer or copywriter, thinking visually can be just the thing to generate a fresh idea or creative concept. I know this may seem obvious, but for some writers (myself included) words have usually been the way to solve a communications challenge.

And that’s OK. As writers, words are our creative playground.

There’s a saying I’ve heard that goes something like, “He has to talk to know what he’s thinking.” A similar thing can be said about wordsmiths: “He has to write to know what he’s thinking.” That’s been me much of my career.

For example, when developing concepts for B2B advertising and marketing projects, I’ve often just scribbled raw headlines, taglines and such in stream-of-consciousness fashion. Sometimes for hours at a time. I can usually come up with something. Add a complementary visual or image to a smart headline or slogan and it becomes a snappy ad or perhaps a campaign.

But there’s another way. It’s the way graphic designers and art directors think. Visually.

As the years have gone by, I’ve improved in this area. I’m not great, just better. Sometime I’ll suspend the writing and just think visually. This week, for instance, I came up with the above image idea for a direct-mail piece about a fax-to-email service. The creative director liked it, and after the art director rendered it, I worked on a headline.

I’ve also at times suggested that those talented art people come up with the concepts or a visual direction, and then I’ll write the headlines and copy. This approach can work quite well.

William Safire and the Art of Persuasion

New York Times columnist William Safire died on Sunday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. I knew of him but was not very well informed about his long career as a communications pro.

That might seem like an odd term for Safire, who is most recently remembered as a conservative columnist and defender of intelligent usage of the English language. But I learned a lot more about Safire in the few minutes it took to read one of the many articles published in recent days. He was, indeed, a pro who practiced the art of persuasion in a variety of settings throughout a long career, including journalism, advertising, public relations and politics.

Surprisingly, Safire was a college dropout (Syracuse University) who entered journalism and worked in all media, including TV in its early days. I didn’t realize Safire had a career in public relations, and was working in the field when Richard Nixon asked him to join Nixon’s 1960 campaign for president, which Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy.

Continue reading “William Safire and the Art of Persuasion”

Write to One Person

Writing persuasive copy is a challenging task, even for a pro. There are a lot of tips to consider, but today I want to mention one simple idea that will make every piece of your copy and each of your marketing communications (or other communications) marginally if not significantly better:

Write to one person.

Even though the size of your audience might range from dozens to thousands, think of just one person in your mind’s eye, someone who fits the key characteristics of your audience.

I gave this advice to a non-pro not long ago. The young woman had the daunting task of writing an appeal letter to raise her own financial support for a new ministry. A recent college grad, she is an extremely bright person and talented writer, but the prospect of writing a letter asking for money shook her up.

Let me give you one bit of advice, I said, a small secret. Write to one person. Immediately, her face looked a little more relaxed, and she thanked me.

I was reminded of this strategy today when I saw a post at copyblogger, Five Ways to Bulletproof Your Copy.

The five ways? Depending on the circumstances, Sean Platt notes that he writes to his (1) mother, (2) father, (3) sister, (4) wife and (5) his friend Marco.

By doing so, he’s writing to just one person. The result is more personal, compelling copy that can influence and motivate the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people who will read it.