In 1988, I participated in a workshop for professional copywriters presented by veteran Milt Pierce. He would read my completed assignments out to the class each week, praising my skills and encouraging me to keep up the good work. I credit Milt with being the impetus behind my pursuit of copywriting as a full-time career.
Milt was also responsible for introducing me to my mentor. Enthusiastic about my ability, he suggested I meet with another veteran in the field of direct marketing copywritiing – the inspirational Eugene Schwartz. If you’ve been in direct marketing for any length of time, you know Gene was the brains behind many a successful direct mail promotion for the likes of Rodale Press, Boardroom Books and his own company, Instant Improvement. I was blessed to have worked with and learned from him.
While going through my archives, I came across a transcript of an interview with Gene where he highlighted the “rules of great copywriting.” Though it dates back to 1993, his rules are timeless. Here is a summary of 8 of them:
1. Be the best listener you ever met. Talk little, listen much.
2. Work extremely intensely, in spurts. (NOTE: Gene’s “spurts” were usually 33 minutes & 33 seconds. He used a timer.)
3. Never “create” – know the product to the core and combine the details in new ways. “Creation means make something out of nothing…So, let’s throw creation out and let’s talk about connectivity. What you are trying to do is connect things together.”
4. Write to the chimpanzee brain, simply, directly.
5. Channel demand – never sell.
6. Think about what your product “does”, not “is” – and demonstrate it.
7. Make gratification instantaneous. “…nothing feels better than being proved right.”
8. Failing often, and testing big differences, shows you are trying hard enough. “A very good copywriter is going to fail. If the guy doesn’t fail, he’s no good. he’s got to fail. It hurts. But it’s the only way to get the home run the next time.”
I miss Gene, but am fortunate to say he was my mentor. I read and re-read his book Breakthrough Advertising, look over my archives and review all the highlighted points and, inevitably find new points to highlight. He taught me, not only about copywriting, but about business and relationships. He was a great man with a great mind.
Do you (or did you) have a mentor? What pearls of wisdom do you carry with you from him/her today?