Copywriting – Master These 5 Things

John Forde is a guy who knows what he’s talking about — someone who’s written some great copy in his time and is always in demand. That’s why new (and aspiring) copywriters often turn to him for advice. John started as an intern, making $15 a day. Now he lives and works in Paris, in an apartment with a balcony on the Left Bank. It’s a nice life. How did John do it? As in any field, with a little luck and a lot of hard work — along with five absolutely essential principals that you too can use to help guarantee your success as a copywriter. “It also helps if you’re a certain kind of person,” John says, “one that advertising legend David Ogilvy described as ‘curious’ and ‘exuberant.’ Ogilvy said that good advertising people are also ‘decent people to know … intellectually honest … natural charmers … good listeners … with well-furnished minds and an above-average sense of humor.'”

Flattering. (Assuming you fit the profile.) “But,” says John, “even if you don’t, you can learn — and master — the copywriting trade if you do the following five things”: ”

1. Read one piece of direct mail daily. Mike Masterson, copywriting guru and ‘father’ to dozens of incredibly successful businesses, recommends you read at least one full promo package a day. And direct mail, said David Ogilvy, is where great copywriters cut their teeth.”

2. Become a marketing sponge. You’d think I listen to French tapes on the way to work. Confession: I listen to marketing guru Zig Ziglar. I know. That sounds sick. But you’ve got to soak yourself in this stuff if you hope to make it second nature. “Get copies of Claude Hopkins’ ‘Scientific Advertising,’ David Ogilvy’s ‘On Advertising,’ and any of Bob Bly’s books (especially ‘The Copywriter’s Handbook’). Go to marketing conferences, too. ”

3. Feed your brain morning to night. Information is food for creative minds. Pack your cerebellum with deep ideas and fascinating facts. Read books most people are afraid of. Clip articles, ask questions, and take notes. Nothing less will do. ”

4. Write even when you can’t. ‘A writer,’ says an over-quoted quote, ‘writes.’ You can’t get good if you don’t get practice. Often. “What do you do if you can’t get started? Or if you don’t have anything to work on (which would be hard to believe)? Try this: Copy. Word for word. That is, type out or hand-write another promo. When you’re finished, go back and do it again. You won’t believe how quickly your writing improves.”

5. Do everything you can to get a mentor. What do Mozart, Aristotle, and GE’s Jack Welch all have in common? They all had mentors. You should have one too, if you can get one. In fact, this may be the most vital success secret on this five-part list. “‘But,’ you’re asking, ‘couldn’t I do just as well going it alone?’ Perhaps. Plenty of people do.

For instance, you can teach yourself the tricks … you can weather the mistakes … you can re-invent the wheel. But a good mentor could slash your development time AND accelerate the growth of your income. “But where do you find a mentor if you don’t have one already? “For one thing, you could find a top-notch copywriter and offer to work for nothing. (Not me — I’m all booked up.) “You could also contact the Direct Mail Association (DMA) and look for the names of members. Offer to write your first package on spec. Look for established companies that have been around for a while. Take a job on the inside, if you can get one.” That’s great advice.

And I agree with John on the importance of every one of these points. But if you want more intense attention — or just a few more ideas on how to get started — be sure to check with the folks at AWAI. Call Louis Hart at 561-278-5557 or write to him at and ask for more details.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]