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.

Steve Slaunwhite’s 3 Tips for Writing Faster

Steve Slaunwhite is an accomplished copywriter, author and speaker. He is a B2B specialist who sends out a monthly email that always has solid nuggets about copywriting and related topics.

Following are three tips Steve recently shared about how to write faster. It’s simple but powerful advice for novices and veterans.

1. Schedule writing time.

“I find that putting writing into my daily schedule, like an appointment, works best for me,” Steve says. I agree. This is also a must for me. It includes ignoring all other distractions.

2. Plan what you’re going to say before you say it.

“Some writers create a detailed outline,” Steve says. “Others make a simple list of bullets. I prefer mind-mapping ….” My plan varies, depending on what I’m writing. Longer, more complex pieces might necessitate an outline. For short pieces, a list or informal notes and scribbles can do.

3. Ask the editor to leave the room.

Again, Steve scores a bull’s-eye. Nothing can kill the spirit of a writer like the fussy editor (that’s you, of course) who is dissatisfied with first efforts. It’s paralyzing. In fact, you might have to tell (instead of ask) the editor to leave the room. Walk him or her to the door, if necessary.

A Few Essential Tips for Reviewing Copy

Last night my 14-year-old daughter asked me to complete an evaluation form for her English class essay on Romeo and Juliet. I really had to think about what level of critique was appropriate for a ninth-grader and how to give constructive comments.

It’s always good to start with positive comments. Fortunately, there were plenty of positive things to say about my daughter’s essay. The exercise got me thinking about reviewing and approving copy. As the writer, I’m usually on the receiving end of comments.

Contained in my free report 66 Proven Tips for Writing Copy That Sells, following are four helpful tips for reviewing copy in a business setting:

1. Keep approval levels to a minimum.
2. Read copy from your audience’s viewpoint, not as an editor.
3. Provide specific comments.
4. Let the copywriter do the rewriting.

(Note: To add a fifth tip, as mentioned above, begin with some positive comments.)

Download the complete FREE report here:
66 Proven Tips for Writing Copy That Sells

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.

The 4 C’s of Killer Copywriting

There’s a post at copyblogger authored by Demian Farnworth on three essential elements of effective copy:

1. Clear
2. Concise
3. Compelling

I wholeheartedly agree with Demian, and often write about these elements in different ways. Not only do they simplify the task (because you’re not thinking about a million things), your copy is destined for success if it’s clear, concise and compelling.

I also like what Farnworth said about SEO copywriting:

Forget about it. Seriously.

If you focus on writing clear, concise and compelling copy, you will naturally write keyword-dense copy. You’ll naturally write for the search engines.

The 4th “C”

Farnworth only offered three C’s, so you might be wondering about the fourth. It’s my add-on, another absolutely essential element of effective copy:

4. Credible

Copy needs to ring true and be authentic. If it isn’t credible, the first three elements might be all for naught.

Creative Essay: Believe, Start

By Dick Paetzke

Many years back, I swapped my position as a senior account manager on the largest account in the Seattle office of McCann-Erickson, for that of a copywriter. I moved from a large and prestigious office with a Puget Sound view to an office one-third the size, with a view of the roof of the YWCA.

It wasn’t a whimsical decision and I hadn’t been demoted. In fact, I’d rescued our relationship with our biggest account by hijacking and writing an entire campaign for the client when our creative department failed to come up with anything but inappropriate and useless ideas.

When I sat down for the first time at a my much downsized and less imposing desk, I was struck by a terrifying idea: “Just because I have written acclaimed creative pieces once, what if I can’t to it again? What if I am a one-trick pony?”

Continue reading “Creative Essay: Believe, Start”