following is a reprint of the introduction to my Interview with AWAI's (American
Writers and Artists Institute's publication Monthly copywriting Genius (www.monthlycopywritinggenius.com).
Genius: Issue #64
The Hidden Secret to Producing Great Copy
the Craft of Communication
Dear Copywriting Genius,
month we had the pleasure of talking with a 27-year veteran of copywriting. Hes
worked with well-known advertising agencies such as Young & Rubicam, and popular
companies such as Times Mirror Group.
In this issue, he shares with you
how he produces winning controls. Plus, youll also find out why he says
the deep secret to copywriting is mastering the craft of communication.
tell you more in a minute, but for now, let me introduce you to this months
copywriting genius, Leon Altman.
From English Teacher to Copywriter Extraordinary
Leon became a copywriter, he was an adjunct lecturer in English at Queens College
of the City University of New York. Basically, that means he was teaching freshman
composition and supervising the Colleges writing workshop, which assisted
students after classes.
But Leon knew it was temporary. You see, his real
goal was to become a copywriter. Leon explains, I did a systematic review
of my talents and abilities and what jobs suited me. Copywriting seemed to be
it, so I took a look at what was available.
Since his teaching job
was only a few days a week, Leon had time to try his hand at copywriting. A friend
of his was acquainted with the promotion director of Times Mirror Book Club. So
Leon put together a few samples and sent it off to the director.
samples wound up landing him several assignments writing direct mail for their
book clubs, including Nature Book Club, Outdoor Life, History and a few others.
Leon also did something quite clever that ultimately was responsible for him getting
a job with Wunderman Ricotta Klin, the largest direct market agency at the time
(and also part of Young and Rubicam).
Leon wrote a long article that was
featured in the Sunday New York Times. The article, along with his assignments
for Times Mirror, got him his first official copywriting position.
Crazy Creative Idea That Actually Worked
One of Leons more successful
campaigns and one he remembers well was a project he did for the
San Francisco Federal Savings Bank. The package was for a bank membership, which
included an increase in savings rates and other bonus features. It was meant to
convey a sense of belonging to an exclusive club.
Leon proposed the mailing
come from a well-known newspaper columnist. Leon explains, The idea was
to infuse a boring bank membership with newspaper columnist panache and excitement.
I proposed we have a long column in the same style the columnist used. His style
was known as 3-dot journalism. He would offer a tidbit of gossip, followed by
three dots, then another tidbit, and so on. So for the promotion, I tried to think
up juicy things that people could do with the club membership and the money they
got from the rate increase. Each item was separated by the three dots.
also tells us that, while he really liked the idea, he thought it was a long shot
the company would approve it. But he was wrong. The company liked it. Not only
that, newspaper columnist liked it too. And to top it all off, the campaign produced
Of course, over his 27 year, Leon has had a few campaigns
that didnt produce stellar results. For example, Leon recalls a piece he
thought would do really well. But it only did slightly better than average. Leon
re-did the package and used a more forceful, controversial approach that did much
Leon says, The results showed me that it takes more than
a good idea to get the best response. You have to find the idea that hits the
audience in a more emotional, visceral way.
A Methodology That Works
how does Leon produce these winning packages? What is his methodology? He shared
his method with us.
First, he spends time researching the subject matter.
Leon says, I do a lot of research on the web competitors, articles,
reports, and forums, Amazon.com. I want to know characteristics of the list. If
Im promoting a newsletter I want to see as many previous newsletters as
I can. I ask to speak to company executives and others who might be helpful, whether
it is an editor or a marketing director.
Once he is familiar with
the topic, he starts thinking of ideas and concepts for the promotion. He does
this before he even looks at prior controls. Why? Leon says, Im not
influenced by what people did before me.
After hes developed
his first round of ideas, then he analyzes past controls and assesses why the
control worked and why others did not.
Leon gets himself familiar with the
target audience by trying to isolate what their main problems and pains are
and how the product solves that.
Leon says, Its important to
understand what their main problem is, what they really want. Not only the rational
problem and benefits they are seeking, but also the underlying emotions. Is it
fear, or anxiety, do they feel they are missing out on something? Are they confused
about an issue? Are they seeking simplicity? Get all the rational and emotional
benefits. I try to refine the emotion at the heart of the matter.
Leon has a grasp on the target audiences underlying emotions, then he moves
on to developing the theme or idea for the promotion. Leon makes sure the theme
is based on the target market and the unique selling proposition of the product.
says, Working on themes and ideas is one of my favorite parts of the work,
so I really get into it. I try many different angles, each aimed at illustrating
the unique selling proposition.
About His Current Control
current control for Growth Stock Wire did 89% better then the last control and
444% better than the original control
Good numbers for sure.
shared with us the reasons he thinks the package worked so well.
Highlighting the incredible growth rate of one of the companies in the headline
not just drew people in, but set up the possibility of a big investment opportunity.
Creating a framework of organic urgency. What I mean by that is,
I stated that much of the furious growth in China is being stimulated by the rush
to prepare for the Olympics.
It was all part of a central underlying
image I tried to convey: China feverishly building and growing.
theres another important element in this package that Leon believes helped
produced such strong results.
Leon explains, I havent seen enough
talk about tone and voice in copywriting articles and books. And I think it is
critical. Ill tell you something interesting on the topic of tone and voice.
A number of years ago, I was also writing a bunch of annual reports. It was well-paying
work that kept coming my way. But I noticed that as I was adopting the kind of
corporate tone and language that fit that venue, I was losing, or feared that
I might lose, the conversational tone I liked for my marketing projects. So at
a certain point, I turned down all annual report work and stuck to marketing.
Leon shares so many more insights with us on how to produce winning
controls. Thats why I encourage you to read the interview in detail. And
then of course, make sure you read through his control for Growth Stock Wire.
Editor, Copywriting Genius
Heres one more highlight of what Leon shared with us about perfecting your
copywriting skills: Leon says, This is a trade, a craft. And I think you
learn best by working with someone who knows the craft. This could be working
at an agency, or apprenticing to a successful copywriter, or a hands-on writing
course, where youre getting specific assignments, which are critiqued by
professionals. Writing, getting critiqued, then rewriting. This is how your skill
grows. Studying and really analyzing controls in different industries is also