In Hollywood, the joke is: “Every waiter thinks he can act.” In advertising, the joke is: “Every copywriter thinks he can write direct response.”
But all you have to do is turn on the television or open your mailbox and you’ll see neither is true and/or very funny.
The fact is, writing direct mail and other direct response advertising is a highly refined specialty. And few can do it consistently well and produce the sort of results you want. So if you don’t have someone on staff, you need someone on call. Here’s how to find the right writer:
• Look for a professional. Do you go to a part-time doctor? Would you hire a moonlight lawyer? Of course not. So why hire anyone but a full-time, professional copywriter? You’ll increase your chances of getting the skill and attention your project deserves.
• Create a short list. Ask your friends, associates and clients about writers they’ve used. Ask creative directors at ad agencies, graphic designers, communication managers at local businesses and members of professional associations. Ask people whose opinion you trust and, most importantly, who have had measurable success with their own advertising efforts.
• Pick up the telephone and call. Many of the best copywriters won’t respond to classified ads or a cattle call for samples. They don’t have to because they’re so busy with serious, paying clients. Writers who do respond often are desperate for work and, therefore, of low caliber, which is no good for you.
A brief phone call is a more professional approach. Simply introduce yourself, share some information about your business, explain your situation and say what you need and when you need it.
• Listen carefully. Does the writer launch into a sales pitch? Talk endlessly about past projects? Immediately suggest formats, headlines or copy ideas? Put on the brakes, because these are sure signs of a huckster, hack or novice. Ideally, a writer will start asking you questions about testing procedures, results, sales goals and other relevant background. A good direct response copywriter is a consultant first and a writer second.
• Do your research. Ask about experience. Get specific fee ranges. Consider other clients the writer has worked with. If there’s an information kit or Web site, look it over. It’s also important to ask what services are available. Some writers deliver nothing but copy. Many also offer design. A select few actually run their own agencies or offer complete creative services in all media, including direct mail, print and broadcast. What you want is up to you.
• Get a budget. While fees vary significantly, talent doesn’t come cheap. Typical fees are $1,000 to $3,000 for a print ad, $500 to $2,000 for a letter and $5,000 to $15,000 for a complete direct mail package. Many copywriters throw in rough sketches and some advice at no extra charge, though design and in-depth consultation are always extra. If that sounds expensive, just remember that top-flight copywriters are to everyday writers what brain surgeons are to family doctors.
• Forget geography. If there’s a pro down the street, great. But you should put quality and results ahead of proximity. Besides, with phones, faxes and e-mail, what’s the difference? I’ve provided copy, counsel, and creative services for about 140 businesses in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and I’ve only met a dozen or so.
• Listen to your gut. It’s important to find someone you can work with comfortably. That means having a writing style, personality – even a sense of humor that you like. If you’re uncomfortable with someone, whatever the reason, move on. Your gut is right more often than you think!
Having a professional copywriter on call is a valuable asset. A pro can provide copy and counsel that will not only help sell products and services, but will also make your marketing projects – and your life – a lot easier. So take the time to find the right writer. It’s worth it.