Over the last three decades, my sales copy has helped sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of products and services for brand-name clients like Apple, HP, Quickbooks, Charles Schwab, and many lesser-known clients as well. In addition, my partners and I have built two multi-million dollar online businesses of our own.
Dear Direct Marketer,
During my first months on my first job as a direct response copywriter, I wrote a six-page direct mail letter that broke all previous sales records for my insurance company client, generating over $25 million in premiums.
That’s over $79.5 million in today’s dollars.
Not bad for an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist ex-hippie who just six weeks earlier had been making a (meager) living selling his handmade pottery at street fairs.
Or to put it another way, not bad for a college dropout who needed to drop back in and get on a real career track fast, before he turned 30.
(30 sounded really old to me at the time.)
But having no degree, I wondered if there were any real career tracks I could get started on with just my talent for writing.
So cut to the scene where I’m driving to the local library, on my way to research writing jobs.
Halfway there I notice an outdoor billboard, and WA-BAM! In an instant, a blinding flash of insight changes my life forever.
Someone had to write the words on that billboard!
Advertising. Now there’s a job nobody wants, right?
So a job like that should be pretty easy to get, right?
And not too hard to do, either. I mean there’s what, seven words on a billboard? A hundred words in a TV commercial?
So picture hippie me, pulled over to the curb, gaping slack-jawed at that sign, unable to believe my good fortune.
Sell out? Yes, please, sign me up.
Won’t those advertising people be happy to meet me — a guy who actually wants to write that stuff!
In other words, one minute I’m a hippie who judges advertising and the people who make it as a malevolent force that corrupts society…
…and the next minute I can’t wait to cross over to the Dark Side, where surely they’re going to welcome me with warm, wide-open arms.
And pay me.
Which, amazingly, is exactly what happened.
Because when I got to the library I found a book called Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples.
Which inspired me to create my very first direct mail package.
It had a handmade envelope with a neatly hand-lettered headline:
“Inside: Your Junior Copywriter Hiring Assistance Kit…”
…which consisted of a typed two-page letter, a little fold-over note that said “Read this only if you decide not to hire me,” and of course a stamped, self-addressed reply card.
The creative director at the one direct marketing agency I sent this package to loved it so much she called me right away…
…and two days later I was hired.
Which is how I wound up in a cubicle instead of a potter’s shed, seated at an IBM Selectric typewriter instead of a potter’s wheel, wearing the first suit I ever owned…
…as shocked as anyone to discover that I had a natural talent for driving response and revenue via direct marketing.
For years, the insurance company tried to beat that six-page letter I wrote for them. They did huge mailings – at least 2 million pieces every quarter – and ran at least six A/B tests every time.
But the sales letter I wrote for them kept winning. It kept beating six tests each quarter, 24 tests each year for years, ultimately generating god-knows-how-many millions in premiums.
And that was just the first in a decades-long string of happy surprises for client after client, because after hiring me to write their direct response advertising…
A personal finance software company grew from $8 million to $22 million in one year, and then to over $500 million in five years. (They’re now a $114 billion company.)
The industry leader in electronic business payments saw their website conversions double twice in two years, quadrupling their results. (They’re now a $13 billion company.)
A single mailing to Fortune 500 CFOs bypassed the gatekeepers, pulled a staggering 41% response, and led to 51 booked appointments (13% of mailing recipients) for a contract workforce management company.
A new entry in the accounting software category launched from zero to 80% market share in just 90 days, and grew to over $100 million in just three years.
An online skin care company grew annual sales from $5 million to $10 million in 24 months.
A healthy heart supplements manufacturer launched from zero to $1 million in 12 months, and then to annual sales of $5 million in 36 months.
A small Southern California bank racked up $20 million in deposits in one day from a single radio commercial.
A luggage manufacturer had to halt production on all their other products in order to keep up with skyrocketing sales of their innovative travel bag for golfers.
A DIY website builder discovered that their funnel emails had begun pulling double and triple their previous open and clickthrough rates...
And so on.
As to why these felicitous events continue to dog my footsteps, I’m still stumped. It’s not as if I grew up longing to become a direct response copywriter.
But I do seem to have a certain knack. It’s helped my partners and me build two successful online businesses, and it’s played a direct role in building at least two multi-billion dollar enterprises. (Keep reading…)