In the 189th episode of The Copywriter Club Podcast, Kira and Rob talk with A-lister Carline Anglade Cole on how supporting her firefighter husband led to a career as a copywriter, what she learned from her mentor Clayton Makepeace, how she connects with her prospects and more. Here’s a bit of what we covered…
• her ballsy approach to scoring a 2-hour interview for a marketing position
• how she learned the craft of copywriting without courses or books
• how doing a great job on a promotion got her fired (and 6 months of severance)
• the WWCD question that helped her write a promotion that got a 5% response
• what she’s done to go deeper with copy than most copywriters
• her life as a 50 year old white man
• what she learned from working with Clayton Makepeace
• her approach to testing a lot emotions so the market comes to her
• how her income went up every time Clayton criticized her writing
• what it takes to write kick-butt copy that resonates with her audience
• the “mom test” she uses to make sure she believes in the product
• how she reworks her copy to make sure it’s as strong as possible
• her kids—three of four of whom have worked as copywriters
This episode should not be missed. To hear it, click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript. Or add it to your podcast player now.
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The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:Clayton Makepeace
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Rob: If you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their success and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work, that’s what Kira and I do every week, at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for episode 189, as we chat with A list health copywriter, Carline Anglade-Cole, about working with and learning from her mentor, Clayton Makepeace. Her life as a 50 year-old white man, hiring her kids to write copy for her, connecting emotionally with the buyers she writes for and what it takes to write kick butt copy. Welcome, Carline.
Rob: Hey, Carline.
Carline: Hey guys, how are you?
Rob: We’re doing good.
Carline: I liked the intro, Kira.
Kira: That was all Rob, Rob wrote that one.
Carline: Oh, Rob, very nice, very nice.
Kira: So we’re excited to have you back. We tried to record this, I don’t know, was it a year ago, more than a year ago now and I had major tech issues and so we didn’t know if this interview was ever going to happen, and I’m so glad that it will. So thanks, Carline for coming back.
Carline: Thanks for inviting me.
Kira: And let’s kick it off with your story. How did you end up as a copywriter?
Carline: Definitely, it was not a life plan. I had no idea what copywriting was. I had gone to school and got my degree in communications and journalism, so I always knew I wanted to be in the writing field somehow, but didn’t quite know how. I just sort of stumbled across the whole copywriting thing when I got a job working at Phillips Publishing. At the time, I had a two and a half year-old and a one-year-old and I was just looking for a job that would complement my husband’s schedule. He was a firefighter and he worked shift work. So we had these kids and we wanted to be home with our kids ourselves. So I had to find some kind of a job that would allow me to have a flexibility of being off when he had to work. And then the days were shifts, so it would change.
And I happened to stumble across an ad in the paper for a customer service job for a direct response company, called Phillips Publishing. The biggest draw to me with that ad, was just that flexible schedule. So I called and I interviewed and I got the job, working at customer service and that’s how I got into the whole direct response business. I had no idea how it worked, but here I was now answering phone calls and talking to customers and then I’m seeing these renewal letters going and I’m hearing about different aspects of direct mail. And I’m like, “Wow, this is interesting, but again, totally new to me.” And as I was working there, the company was very entrepreneurial, I mean, if you had an idea, didn’t matter where you worked, if you had an idea, you could submit an idea.
And then if it was a good one, they’d give you credit for it and help make it happen. So I loved that environment and Tom Phillips and Bob King were the two guys there that were running the show. And just did an excellent job, so it was a great opportunity to learn from the ground floor. And I worked in customer service there, I was there and then I end up switching over to the accounting department. Again, flexible schedule was the key. And I got probably an extra two bucks an hour, moving over to accounting. And I have a way of talking myself into jobs, because I have no accounting background whatsoever. But I got a job in the accounting department and we had to reconcile the bank statements.
So I did that for about a year and a half and while working in the accounting department, was when I started seeing paperwork coming through for a new division that was going to be starting up, within Phillips Publishing. At the time it was only a financial newsletter, but now they’re about to launch the health market. And I was like, “Now, this sounds interesting.” So I’m seeing that they’re really trying to grow this and then now we’re seeing that they’re looking for people with marketing background and all kinds of skills that they’re looking for, for that division and I had none of those skills. But it sounded interesting and I wanted to try it. Well, one of the jobs I had in the accounting department was, every Friday I had to stay as late as necessary to distribute what was called the green sheet.
Every day we’d get the green sheet, it would have the daily sales for the company. But on Friday, it would give us the total for the week and other information in there. So, that was a very coveted piece of information that the powers that be, Bob King, and Tom Phillips and other CBPs in the company were waiting for that green sheet. And I was the one that had to put the last numbers in it and then I had to go around and hand deliver it to the key people in the company. Well, Bob King was hiring, he was in charge of this health division and I had applied. I had tried to get a job the traditional way of applying, but nobody was getting back to me. So I decided I was taking matters into my own hands, and so it was a Friday and I decided, okay, this is it.
So I go to Bob, I go in his office. And usually Bob has his head down and just kind of puts his hand up and he goes, “Hi, Carline, thank you.” And then that’s it. Like, “Hey, Bob, here you go, bye.” But this time, he had his head down and I walked in and I held the green sheet about maybe six or eight inches from his grasp. So, that he had to look up to realize he couldn’t get it. And here I am holding it and as he’s leaning to get it, I’m pulling it back further. And he’s like, “Okay, what’s going on?” I’m like, “Hey, I’ve been trying to get an interview for a job in this department, but nobody’s getting back to me. So I need an interview. I need you to give me a job, and do something here.”
And he says, “So you’re pretty much holding this ransom for me?” I’m like, “You know what, call it what you want to. I need an interview; I need an interview.” And this for like a marketing assistant position. And so I’m sitting there going, he’s looking like, if you knew Bob King, deadpan, very serious person, very wonderful person. But never gives off any emotion initially. So I’m standing there, I’m not budging and he’s not getting that green sheet, until he gets me an interview. And so he’s like, “Are you serious?” I’m like, “Yeah, I want to interview for the marketing position.” And so next thing I know, he pulls out his calendar. He says, “Okay, let’s do this.” And he actually gives me an interview date.
I’m like, “Oh my God.” So I said, “Thank you.” And I got out of there as quick as possible. Then I got a phone call from his secretary to set up the actual meeting. And I will tell you, that was probably the most intense interview I have ever had in my entire life, I mean, my career. And I’ve had many interviews for other positions, much higher than that. But for a marketing assistant position, that Bob King interviewed me for, it was over two hours long, yeah. I love to sew and I was making my clothes, two reasons, I love to sew, second is, I couldn’t afford to buy the stuff that I liked. So I had made this really pretty green suit, with a navy blue trim too, it was kind of like a Chanel look suit. Oh a fitted skirt, a pencil skirt, it was really cute.
So I say that because I was sitting in that interview with Bob King and by the end of that interview, I had ruined the suit with the sweat that had been pouring down from my back. I mean, I stained all the back of my suit. I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” But he just asked such intense questions and was really just trying to get to know who I was and wanted to just kind of make sure there’s a connection. [inaudible] I’m like, “You do this type of intensive interview for a marketing assistant, are you serious?” And he says, “Oh no, I’m not hiring you as a marketing assistant.” He says, “I’m looking well beyond that.”
He says, “I’m looking for people who are going to be my directors, my group publishers, my VPs.” And I thought that was a very powerful lesson and I remember that when I interview people, is you don’t interview the person for that position because if you’re a growing, entrepreneurial company, you want people who are going to be able to grow with the company too. And so anyway, he asked me some questions, at some point I figured, I’m not getting this job because I don’t know these answers and it was just kind of ridiculous, like two hours I’d been there. So I didn’t think I had the job, so at that point I had nothing to lose, so I was just answering whatever I wanted to say, I didn’t care. Just letting him see my attitude about stuff.
Like he asked me one question was, “If you had a Sunday morning to yourself, what would you do? Would you go shopping?” He gave me choices, “Would you go shopping, would you play a sport, or would you read a book?” And I just looked at him, I said, “First of all, you stumped me with the whole concept of having a Sunday morning open. I got two kids, are you kidding me. What is that?” And so he was like straight faced, you just laughed, Rob, chuckle, chuckle, nothing. He was looking at me like I’m expecting an answer and I’m like I’m going to try and choke my way through it and he’s just nothing, nothing at all. So I’m like, “Are you serious, you want me to answer that?” And he said, “Yes.”
I said, “All right, well maybe I will lay in bed and read a book for a little bit and then maybe call my friends and go shopping and then call some other ones and go play a sport.” So I was answering those kind of questions because like I said, that point I just thought, “Well this is not happening. I’m not getting this job.” But then he explained to me why he asked those questions, they were all marketing questions that I did not understand at the time. For that one particularly, he said, “It didn’t matter what your answer was.” He said, “Because with marketing, you have to know, you go shopping, that marketing. You’re buying, what’s making you buy stuff. If you’re playing a sport, that’s a team sport. Marketing’s a business with team members in there, how do you do that? Reading definitely enhances what you’re bringing into the mix. What are you reading? What have you learned from that, that you can bring into your job?”
So there was never a wrong answer, but I was just so impressed with all that, after the fact, not during the interview. So I walked out of there really thinking I didn’t have the job and it was on Friday I had that interview. And then Monday morning, I got a call from Marshall Hamilton, who was going to be the group publisher of the whole division and he said, “I don’t know what you said to Bob King, but he said hire her.” So he says, “I’m offering you the job.” And that was my introduction to marketing, and now I became not the marketing assistant, but I got an immediate promotion to assistant marketing manager.
From there, it was learning lists, learning direct mail, I knew nothing about this. I’m just learning on the job, but I’m seeing there’s people called copywriters, who are getting paid all this ridiculous amount of money and they’re living in these cool places that I hadn’t, like wow you can do this? You can work from home and you can make this kind of money? You can write? I like to write. So that was my introduction to copywriting and I had the privilege of being able to meet the best copywriter at the time, was Clayton Makepeace. He was hired to write the health promotions, and I was in the health department. So I got to meet him in person, I got to talk to him on the phone, and we became friends and so I would ask him, I’d say, “Hey, can I send you some copy I’m writing on something?”
And he was like, “Sure, send it to me,” look at it and then I decided, you know what? I’m going to do something even better, I’m going to see what Clayton has written and I’m going to just follow what he’s done when I write my stuff. My stuff is like two, four page special renewal letters, but he’s writing long stuff. So I’m like, what is he doing here? So I started studying what he was turning in and then kind of going, “Man, I like this, I could do this.” And then I was friends enough with him, that I would call and say, “Can I ask a question about this or whatever?” And he was just so gracious enough to do that and that became almost a 27 year friendship that we had, from working back in Phillips days. So that was it.
And so it just got to the point where I started writing more, I liked what I was doing. Now I have four children, instead of two and wanted to just have flexible schedule. I was being pulled too many ways. I wasn’t home as much as I wanted to be. And my job was pulling me too much, so my husband and I talked it over and said, “Hey, I think I can try to do something on my own.” Just I do like short letters or whatever, let’s pay off as many bills as we can, so the pressure’s off and let’s try it. My husband has been telling me to do it for years before, I was always scared. But decided that January 1st, 1999 was going to be it. So I went to Bob King and then in October, told him that I was going to leave because I just wanted to have more flexibility with my schedule.
At the time I was working on a cruise for them, doing marketing, first ever. I was always volunteering my hand to say, “I’ll try it, I’ll try it. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’ll try it.” So we decided upon a cruise seminar, I said, “I’ll do it.” So I figured out how to do it and so I was in the middle of it, I’m telling him I’m going to leave. And he said to me, “Please don’t leave now. If you can finish off this cruise, what I’ll do is, if you come back and it comes off wonderful, everybody’s happy with it, it’s great. I will fire you.” And I’m like, “What? If I do a great job, you’re going to fire me?”
He says, “Yeah.” He says, “I’ll fire you because if you quit, then you get two week’s severance, that’s it.” He said, “If I fire you, then you’re going to have about six months of income,” because of the fact that I had worked with the company for 12 years. So I’m like, “Okay, the goal is to get fired, okay, I can do this.” So did a great job with the cruise for everyone. Came back A ratings from all of the people there, several people attended. And then I came back and Bob says, “Okay, how about I fire you effective December 31st?” And I’m like, “That works for me.” So I got fired officially and I started my business January 1st. But at least I had about six months of income to help me kind of transition into that.
But even before then, I told Clayton I was going to be leaving, and he said, “Well, I can’t tell you what to do.” I told him I was thinking about leaving and he said, “I can’t tell you what to do, but when you leave, please give me a call.” He said, “I can’t recommend you leave my best client, but when you do, give me a call.” And I said, “Okay.” So January 1st, I called him and said, “Okay, I’m officially on my own. He says, “Okay, let’s get to work.” And I started working under Clayton, with some projects, more marketing projects, but I got a chance to work really close with him on the financial side of things for a couple of years. So he really helped me transition into getting on my own and writing copy.
And then I decided, I like health, I don’t want to do financial. I like health and I did that and I started working under him. He would take on jobs, turn it over to me, I would write it, give it back to him. He would turn it in. So I was his ghostwriter for several years. I couldn’t get the credit for the packages, that didn’t matter, I was getting paid. And then after a few years of doing that, I said, “You know what? I got to be able to have my own name. People have to know I’m doing this.” And he’s like, “I totally understand.” And then I kind of went off on my own, took a pay cut because I couldn’t get the amount of money that he was demanding. But I started doing that and then building my own name from there and now the rest is history. All I’m doing is copywriting.
Rob: It’s an amazing story. And I’ve heard you share parts of it before. We’ve spent some time together in the past, but you mentioned all of the things that you did with Clayton, as you were learning how to be a copywriter, were there other resources or other things that you were doing in order to get those basic skills? Or was it really just learning from Clayton and what he did?
Carline: It was on the job experience. It was learning from Clayton, it was anything that came in the mail, reading copy, critiquing copy. Now, by the time I left Phillips, I was a marketing director. So I was not only working with Clayton, but I was working with other copywriters too, Jim Punkre, Gary Bencivenga, their copy was coming for me to look at too, to read. So I got to see other copywriters and their styles of writing and very different styles, but still very successful for a company. So I just started saying, you know what? This is textbook, this promotion is my textbook, let me read this. What are they doing? Look at that, he starts off telling this, he starts off doing this way.
Look how he does this and so I would just imitate what they did because AWI didn’t exist at the time, like it does now, where they can teach copywriters these skills. And I didn’t know anybody else before, who was going to any kind of copywriting schools, because they didn’t exist. It was figure it out as you go along. I’m a very quick learner, and I liked what I was seeing. So I wanted to learn how to do it and do it better. But no, it was just, results would tell you anything. I had an experience when I was Phillips, somehow my boss didn’t assign a copywriter to a renewal letter. So all of a sudden it was time to have this renewal letter written and he realized he didn’t have a writer for it. And I’m like, “I’ll do it.” And so he’s like… He kind of just said okay because he was desperate, he had nobody else.
I said, “I’ll do it.” I had to write a letter promoting a new book on vitamins. And so all I did was, I said, “Okay, what would Clayton do? What would Clayton do? What would Clayton do?” And I’m looking around and seeing and I’m like, “Okay, Clayton just talks to a person. I’m going to talk to a person. I’m talking to my mom.” So I wrote it, kind of in my head going, “What would Clayton do here? What would he do here? What would he do?” And I wrote the letter that way and then they tested it, it got the highest percent response of a special renewal mailer. It got over 5% response. Highest at the time was about 4%. So then we were in a meeting, a marketing meeting and Bob King is there and he’s looking at the numbers. And he’s like, “Oh, who was the copywriter who wrote this one?”
He saw the 5% response and my boss, Marshall said, “Oh, we didn’t have a copywriter, Carline did it.” That moment, that’s my high moment, when I’m like, “Oh, well maybe that means Carline is a copywriter.” I said it to myself. That was when I said, “Oh, I’m a copywriter.” Because they’re asking, “Who’s the copywriter?” And they’re saying, “We don’t have a copywriter, Carline did it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, that means Carline is a copywriter.” So, that was like a nice empowering moment for me. But it was all through trial and error. It was, get out there, write it, see what happens, test this headline, that didn’t work. Try another headline, try another lead.
We were just kind of figuring it out. So I didn’t have a plan of how to become a better copywriter, it was just get the work done. Now when I work for Clayton, the great thing was, I would write my copy and then he would copy chief it. And I would go back and see what did he do? Why did he take this out? Why did he put this in? Why did he change it like that? And those were the kind of real powerful lessons that I learned from him. He’s like, “No, you’re giving away too much here.” He said, “Come on, I got to tease a little more, tease a little more here,” or whatever direction he would give me. And I would go, “Okay, okay, I got it, I got it.” I’d go back and try it again, and go back and try it, until I got it right.
Kira: Carline, we’ve heard you speak at Titans Masterclass with Brian Kurtz and it was really clear in your presentation that you go above and beyond with your research and to your customers. And you understand your audience in such a deep level and you even pull in friends and family to really talk about the health issues that you’re researching and understand what’s happening. I’m just wondering, did you pull that from your early days in customer service? And what did learn from those early days at Phillips, in the customer service department, that has influenced you as a copywriter and helped you maybe go deeper than copywriters?
Carline: Well I would say, out of all the jobs that I’ve had and in the direct response industry, that job in customer service was probably the most important job. And it was at the perfect time in my career because again, I knew nothing, so I was a blank slate. And now I’m talking to customers all day long and I’m listening to the customers, what they’re saying, how they’re saying it. I really, really understood the importance of listening to the customer, giving them what they want. And not just in customer service, but that became part of how I was writing and I remember it. So it’s funny because they always say that we are 40 plus year-old company.
And I’m going, but the people I’m talking to, are like 70 years old. With the writing that comes in, when they send things in, that’s old writing. I know what old writing is, that’s my grandmother’s writing. So I got to understand that to some degree marketing may want to think that they are targeting X, but people who are calling in, are your real customers. And so I learned very quickly to listen to my customers. So, when I would start a project with a client, I used to say, “Hey, give me a list of 50 or so of your customers. I want to call them up and talk with them on the phone.”
I’d pick maybe 10 or 15 of those and call and talk with them and listen to who they are and really understand, because I wasn’t my market. I’m just barely in my 30s and so I’m not the market, but I need to be able to know who my market is. So I spent a lot of time talking to customers, when I was writing copy, depending on what I was working on. I would put together my own focus group. If I’m writing a package on menopause, I’d invite my friends who are going through menopause or have just gone through menopause. Say, “Listen, come over to the house for dinner. I’m going to have about 10 of you guys over. Dinner’s on me, we’ll just talk.”
And I would tell them, I’m working on this project, I just want to hear what’s going on. And they knew that and they would be very open and they would share their experiences with me. And I just listened, I listened and then I wrote down what they said and it was amazing how their quotes would show up writing my copy because I’m like, “Why do I have to make these words up? They’re saying it themselves, how they feel about these things.” So I started to learn to just find out who my market is. I’m working on a prostate project, I don’t know what it’s like. I’m not a guy who’s like get up in the middle of night constantly to pee. Now I could be the wife of that guy, talk about it that way, but I don’t know what he’s going through.
So I call my friends, my guy friends over, I’m like, “Listen, I need some help here. What can you share with me about this?” And so they were very wonderful to have a source to be able to tap into when I need it. But I did that until I became my market. I’m like, “I don’t know have to know what it’s like to be a 50 plus year-old, I am a 50 plus year-old.” So I know what it’s like to have this and that or whatever. So that kind of helped me transition until I actually could experience the things that I’m writing about, for my customers and my clients.
Rob: I love hearing you talk about that because I’ve heard you joke about living the life of a 50 year-old white man, even though that’s so far from your own lived experience. But that you’re able to step into those shoes because of the research that you do and the time that you spend really trying to understand your market.
Carline: Yeah well I mean, I joke about it and I think I even said at, it was at a Titans class, the meeting, where I said, “Look, I’m going to write a book and it’s going to be called My Life As A 50 Plus Year-Old White Male because that has been the mantra from day one, when I remember being meetings. When I was working a list, I would try to rent younger lists and I’m told, no. We are a 50 plus year-old white male market. That’s who you want to go after. Don’t go too young.” And I’m like, “Really?” And then I challenged that one time when I was in a meeting with, it was a boardroom meeting and we did our first magalog, or one of the first ones. Maybe the very first or maybe second or third one we’d done and we were kind of critiquing it.
I’m looking at this four-color piece and I’m looking at all the people in here, and I’m like, “Okay, we got a color piece here, but I see no people of color.” And then I’m told, “Oh because our market is 50 plus year-old white males.” And I said, “Well, tell that to my father-in-law because he’s definitely not that. But he buys your products.” So I’m like, “That’s not true, it’s not completely true. The market may have started that way because the health industry really spawned from the financial market place, when we were trying to grow our health industry, we could only go to financial names to get those people initially because there weren’t any health names.”
So yes, we were going after the 50 plus year-old white male, financial buyers, but as time moved on, it definitely included women and definitely included other people of color. But predominately, that’s what I was always being told. No, we’re a 50 plus year-old white male, that’s who our target market is. If you write to that market, then you’re going to have a better chance of success, than trying to write outside of that market. So that was just ingrained in my brain, I had to fight it a lot of times, but that is who, I am writing to predominately white market, I know that.
I think it’s more like 60 to 70 year-olds now, not just 50, is my core. But I also know we’re pulling in a lot of 40 year-olds, who are having problems much earlier than the previous generation had because of poor diet and lifestyle. So I’ve thought that, but in my heart, I do know that is a very core of the industry. That if you write to that group, you can have a good success with it. So I’m actually working on a book and that’s the running title right now.
Rob: I can’t wait to buy that book. I’m looking for it on Amazon. So while we’re still talking about kind of early in your career, I just want to mention Clayton one more time. He recently passed away and just wondering if you would mind sharing just one or two of your biggest lessons that you learned from working with him and having him as your mentor.
Carline: Oh wow, yes. Just one or two, you don’t want 35 or 50?
Rob: Well, we could go 35 if you want. I’m not sure how much time you’ve got, but…
Carline: No, probably the biggest lesson I learned from Clayton and it was just very intuitively with him, he would tell me to write like you talk, just write. You may be writing, but you’re having a conversation with your reader. So forget the big words, don’t try to be impressive with stuff, just write like you talk. And he said, so the way he writes is going to be different, because he talks differently than I do and that fine because you don’t have to imitate me, but just write like you talk because you’re going to find your natural voice there. And I really appreciate that because he was not saying imitate my voice, he was saying, this will help you find your own voice.
And I think it definitely did because I know how I talk, I listen to myself talk and I try to pace my writing like I talk. So short sentences, interruptive thoughts, all that’s fine because that’s how I talk. And I found when I do that, I have developed my own voice with that. But I was using Clayton as definitely my template, until I could be able to find out who I was and that was a very powerful lesson. One funny story, that I was working on a male potency product and so I wrote the copy and everything else. And I asked him if he would be willing to crit it for me, he would just take a look at it and give me some crits on it. So he’s reading, he said, “Sure.”
So I sent it to him and then he gets it back to me. His biggest crit is, “You write like a F-ing girl.” And I went back, I’m like, “I am a girl.” He said, “Yeah, but your market isn’t. So stop it.” He said, “So you need to get out of your head and get into the male head, to figure out what are you talking about.” He says, “Guys don’t say this stuff.” He’s like, “You’re writing like a girl, stop.” So that was it, so after he said, “Go fart, go burp, go adjust your package and go back to the computer and write that copy like a guy.”
Rob: I like that, that’s good advice.
Carline: Yeah, that was the only critique. He’s like, “If you stop writing like a girl and write like a guy, then you’re going to be okay with this.” And I did, and the package ended up beating the control, end up beating a guy, a male copywriter, who had the control. So, that was a really great experience that I had. And then the other thing I would say that Clayton was really good at I definitely imitated that, was don’t assume you know your market. The market is always shifting at some angles or whatnot and you can’t necessarily know where your market is at the time. So the way to kind of find out where they are, is by multiple tests.
Writing several different cover tests, so that maybe the market is scared right now, so do a fear based test, maybe the market is excited, so do an energy based test. Maybe the market just doesn’t know, so do question based test. Maybe the market is sarcastic, so bring up that aspect of a test. So just sort of test all different kind of emotions with your package and see where the market is, and it will come to you. They’ll tell you where they are and so I love that and I really emphasize that with all my clients today is, I’m going to give you six, eight, 10 cover tests with every package I give you and I’m okay with that. I’m not charging you extra, but I’m giving you these tests because they are testing different aspects of the market.
And if you’re smart, you’re going to test these covers, so you can see where your market is. Instead of saying, “Oh, no, no, I think this one’s going to work.” And decide to put all your money in that one cover test, I said, don’t ever do that because we’re going to be wrong just as much, if not more, than we are right. So Clayton always taught me, you need to make sure you test different aspects of your package to give yourself the best chance of getting a success. And so those were the kind of a couple of times. But I thought about every time Clayton made me cry about something he said, my income went up. I thought about that, because he would say something to me like, “You write like a girl.” He’s yelling at me, he’s not being nice by the way, he’s yelling at me. And at the end he’ll say, “But you know I love you, right?”
He would yell like, “You write like a F-ing girl, what are you doing?” I’m like, “What are you talking about? I am a girl.” And I got tears coming out, but then I just wipe those tears and I went and fixed what he said and then boom, I got a control. Or he’ll come back and he’d say, “This is lame copy. Fix it, what are you doing?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about?” Or he’ll say, “I need something strong right here. You lost me right here, get it back.” And I’m like… gets on my nerves. So I go back and I do the research and I put it in. He goes, “There you go, that’s it.” And then it works. So like I said, every time he makes me try, a ka-ching happens.
Kira: Just to dig a little bit more into the idea behind testing emotions, I think that’s something that we haven’t talked as much about on this podcast and it’s something, especially for newer copywriters, they aren’t doing that and they may not even follow what you’re talking about. Can you just describe that process in a little bit more detail and how copywriters who haven’t done it before, can start testing these different emotions in their own copy too?
Carline: Sure, well I’ll give you an exam. I’m working right now on a sleep package, all right? And so it’s a new product that’s coming out, brand new for the market and so I’m going to look at that sleep package and I’m going to look at different ways to get into it. So I’m going to put a list of things down, okay, get a question headline out there, find a headline that could be a good question headline, that I can probably use for that package. Find kind of maybe comical, I’ll use humor, I love to use humor. You got to be careful with it, but it can definitely work. So I will use humor if I need to. So I have a note to myself, give me a humor headline. I’ll have a maybe an announcing headline, announcing… Maybe I’ll do something that’s more antithesis of what the package is about.
Maybe I’ll go more of a, if the package is going to be a great sleep aid, maybe I may call it Sleep Miracle on one cover, I may call it Sleep Hoax on the other cover test. So it’s like you just play around with different ideas that you would be able to kind of create a cover with it. Maybe it’s competitor, maybe I’ll bring up something that competitor has and just kind of slam it. Maybe I’ll do something that’s just a very basic desire. What do people who can’t sleep want? They want sweet dreams, they want to sleep like a log, maybe bring that up as a headline. So all of these are different types of emotions, that I’m going to try to bring up in my package and try to make the cover tests look very different.
So one may be even scientific approach. Researchers at University of so and so, so and so, reveal the remarkable sleep formula that’s… That could be one aspect. So I’ll sit there and I’ll write down, okay, scientific approach and contrarian approach. Very benefit oriented approach, question approach, comical approach, I’ll put all those down and then I’ll say, “Okay, let’s create a cover that supports all those.” Next thing you know, you got seven, eight different cover tests, all about the same product. And that is great because you give those to your client and maybe he or she can test all seven or eight at the same time, but at least they’ve got them, that they can say, “Okay, we’ll test three or four right now, and go back to the other ones later.”
It won’t come back to you six months later saying, “Hey, Carline, we need to new cover tests on the sleep one.” I’m like, “I have no idea what I wrote about.” And now I’ve got to get back into this package, but while I’m in the package, cover ideas can pop up like crazy. So I give them all to the client, say, “Here’s some ideas for you to keep using.” So test whatever you want to test at a time and keep going at it, let me know how they’re doing.” So now I’ll get the first round of results and say, “Oh this contrarian approach really worked.”
So I say, “Okay, great to know. So maybe in the next round I’ll do more contrarian ideas to see if I can kind of fine tune it.” So that’s kind of how the process is, like playing a little game, we’re just creating different types of headline, just one to 10, write down every type of headlines and then come up with a cover test, that would support that headline. And from those 10, you may find five or six really good ones that you can then use to turn into your client.
And remember, if you turn in a package with one cover test, you have now put all your eggs in one basket. That cover test is going to work or it’s not. But if you give the client three or four different cover tests and the client test it. Well now, you got one of those, you have a chance here, we got four chances of having that package work for you. And so I go with the odds, I want the more chances possible to make that package work and the cover’s going to be the determining factor what’s going to make it work.
Rob: Yeah and I imagine the same lessons are directly applicable to email and testing subject lines and online sales pages, testing different headlines, ads that drive traffic to those pages. So a really good idea.
Carline: Yeah, the media may change, but the terminology is really the same. Headline, whether I’m talking a direct mail piece, headline versus subject line. I’m talking email or your landing page copy headline. I mean, it’s still the same elements, they get tweaked around depending on what medium you’re using to market with. But the concept I have learned, is always the same. You’ve got to have a strong headline, you need a strong lead, you got have a strong promise, you got to have proof elements that support what you’re saying. You need a kick butt offer, you need to kill them with a close. And no matter what you’re doing, you do those things, those elements, you’re going to have a success with it.
Rob: Yeah, so you just mentioned the kick butt close. I’ve been on your list for a while and I’ve watched you talk about kick butt copy and some of the stuff that you teach and share with your list. Tell us what it takes to write kick butt copy, stuff that really resonates.
Carline: For me, one thing I definitely know for me helps is that I believe in what I’m writing. I don’t work or write for people who I think have crappy products. And I know it’s hard, you’re starting off, you don’t have as much of a leeway and I didn’t neither. I mean, when I first started off, people who were giving me opportunities to write packages were mostly male potency products. And I broke into the male potency, but they didn’t want to give it to me at first, because I was girl. And then when I did it and I got control, now people wanted me to write potency products and I’m like… You know what I mean? Okay, I’ll do it, but… I’m like getting up in the morning to go, “Oh, I’m so excited about writing about potency.”
But I understand that and I wrote about gardening and I wrote about just different types of books. Whenever I could get a job. I understand when you’re starting off, that you got to pay your dues, so you’re going to write copy that you’re going to do, and you’re going to do the best job possible for it. Now I can choose to be a lot more selective and I am, with what I’m writing on. So I do, when I’m writing about something, I really believe that this is a good product, that should be on the market. So that it would benefit people and I always say, I don’t want to write copy that’s so good for a crappy product and then my mom buys it.
And I would be so mad that my mom bought a crappy product that I wrote the copy for because the copy was so good. But that’s kind of my internal gauge right there. So I mean and I do work with very good clients, so that’s not a problem. But if you’re starting off, you got to find something in the prod that you believe in, that has a great selling point, that you can just showcase. So finding a story is critical to write a kick butt package because you got to find something that you can grab onto, to really kind of help nail the sale. So I love finding products that have a story. If they don’t have a story, I’ll try to find a story that could tie in with the product because I think storytelling is so powerful. We’re ingrained to hear stories, we believe stories.
I mean, remember with kids, before bedtime, what do you say? Pull out the book, and you go once upon a time and a story’s about to come. So we’re just so pre-wired to understand stories, and you can could make so many powerful lessons very crystal clear by telling a simple story. So I really emphasize trying to find what is the story? Had my client, right before we started talking, he’s like, “Carline, we’ve got these four products, what do you want to work on next?” And I’m like, “Dude, my answer is always the same, which one has the best story?” It doesn’t matter what the product is, who’s got the best story that I could kind of get into?
So it was kind of funny you mentioned that. But that to me, is like, “Okay, what’s the story? What is it?” And then after that, my big question is always, so what? You want to really be sarcastic in your mindset. Like why would somebody want this product? Who cares? It’s just like another one, isn’t it? I mean, just really go for the jugular and try to destroy the product as much as you possibly can, to find out why it’s so great. And usually I’m having my meetings with my clients, and we’re having our kick off meeting, and that’s really where my so what attitude comes in. I’m like, “Why is it so great? Why do I want to do this? Why do I want to spend a month of my life writing about this? Or why do I want to bother people with more stuff to read?”
So just sort of let the client tell you why the product is so great. If they don’t know why it’s so great, that’s a red flag right there. Maybe it’s not and you shouldn’t do it. But for the most part my clients will just say, “Hey, this is good because…” And they start giving me really great stuff, that I’m just writing down what they’re saying at that time, letting them convince me why this product is so good because my job will then be to convince the market the product is good. So I’m letting them tell me why it is and they’re going to read the information they’ve given me, they might find other things they didn’t mention or just different ideas may come up from there. But all that is in the research stage of just trying to convince yourself, that man, this is some really good stuff.
And then I start talking about it, before I start writing, I start telling my family, “Hey, you guys, I heard about this pill that does X, Y, Z. Or have you heard anything about that? Would you like something like that?” And just kind of start talking it in my head with people, my family and my friends. And just kind of get take from them and hearing what they’re saying about it. All that is just building up, is just fodder I’m creating in my brain for when I’m starting to write. What is so great about this? And the sleep product for example, I had a couple of relatives who have a terrible time sleeping. I don’t, I hit the pillow and I am gone. I mean, I have no issues with sleep.
So I was hesitant to take the product on because I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t have this problem.” But then I said, “I know a lot of people who do.” So I just started talking to them and saying, “Well, what’s the deal? Are you having a hard time falling asleep or are you having a hard time staying asleep or are you waking up in the middle of night? Or what’s…” And I’m hearing their stories and there are different ones and I’m going, “Oh okay.” And then I’m going back to the research and I’m like, “Well, this product can do it for this one. This one can be for that.”
I start matching up the stories I’m hearing with the benefits of the products are. And so I’m doing all this until at some point, I get my aha moment. That’s like, “Oh, here’s something interesting.” As I’m getting that, I just start writing, I just open up a file and I’m just dumping ideas into that file, nothing concrete, just like oh okay. As I’m researching, I’m reading and oh, that’s new, I didn’t know that. I don’t know that, well gee, if I don’t know that, I bet you my market doesn’t know either.
So I maybe just jot down some notes, maybe create a little side bar here, or maybe say, this could be a headline or this would be a great premium idea, especially report to offer as a premium or this could be a good side bar. This could be a good sub head. So I’m just jotting things down and putting little notes next to them as I’m going through and then as this process continues to go until I’m actually in the process of writing the package. At that point, it’s really, I may have about 50 or 60 pages of just information. I just dump in this file and so I think about who did the Sistine Chapel? Who did the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo?
Rob: Yeah, Michelangelo.
Carline: Michelangelo, right. I think there was a quote I read by him and it was saying how do you take a piece of marble and turn into such a great piece of art? And he says, oh, the art is there, I just chip away at the stuff I don’t need. And I always loved that and I’m like, yes because now I’ve got all this really good research and maybe I’ve got some testimonials and I’ve heard great stories. All that is just dumped in my file, my Word doc and I’m like, well my package is in here somewhere, I just got to now chisel away at the stuff I don’t need. So then I start working that way, I started going, oh, you know what? This is good, I’m going to pull this over on this side. I’m going to put this over here in a side bar. I like that, let me rewrite this a little bit, maybe that would be my lead or let me just take this like, oh no, these are more bullets.
I mean, it’s all there, so I just have to now, I’m just kind of chiseling away at the package, until something starts to form that’s looking like a direct mail piece. And I’m just doing that, chiseling away until I’ve got my letter and I get the elements in place, and now I start doing hard edits. Going through, going, okay, this sounds good, where is the proof? So I’ll put a note, I need proof here, or I need to research about something here or yeah, this doesn’t sound too credible, I’m taking it out, this sounds lame or, oh, I could really use a great testimonial here.
As I’m writing it, I can see where this could be so much stronger if I had X. And I’ll just put a not to myself, I need this, I need this, I need this because if I stop to go look for that thing right now, I would get totally distracted. And now I’ve lost a day. So I tell you, my personality type on the Myers-Briggs, is like ENFP and that would be the personality that says if you were praying to God as an ENFP, it would be, “Oh God, please help me focus, oh, look a bird.”
Kira: I am an INFP, so I feel you. I can relate to that.
Carline: You feel me, yeah. So that’s kind of like, so I cannot allow myself to do that. And I would say the same thing, like I could be working on an arthritis package and let’s say I’m working on arthritis. Going arthritis, well that’s joint pain and so then I’m writing about joint pain and I see gout, I’m like oh, gout, well that’s arthritis of the foot. Foot, oh, I need some new shoe. So I’m online buying shoes. So I try to stay what I’m doing, as part of the writing, I try to stay away from letting myself get too distracted. So I put notes to myself, need this here, need this here, need this here. And I just keep going through the process. And then the next round is okay, what do I need? Maybe if I need something, a specific quote, maybe I’ll call my researchers and say, “Hey, I need you to find me a quote on this. This is what I’m looking for.”
And then give it to a researcher to do it. They come back and give me what I need. So therefore, I’m not getting distracted from writing the package the way I need to do it. So then as I’m doing that, I mean, that’s where ideas come from, where there’s cover tests. You go, “Oh this is a really good idea, I think we should make this a cover.” And maybe make a new headline off this and so it just kind of evolves along the way. But you got to have the key elements in there to get a kick butt package, you got to have a strong headline, you got to have a strong lead, you got to have proof elements and different kinds. Credibility pieces, you want to get quotes from noted authorities.
You want to get testimonials from people who’ve used the products. You need to have those things in that package to make it like, oh man, this is really strong. And you got to have a really great offer that people will at least be crazy to say no to and all my clients, one thing they have in common is we always offer a 100% money back guarantee if you’re not happy with your results. Now some clients may say within 60 days, some may say within 90 days, some may say one year, some may say lifetime. And that’s up to the client and their company to decide the timeframe, but I won’t work with anybody who does not offer a 100% money back guarantee if the customer is not happy because that’s for two ways.
One, it lets me see that the client really believes in his product and is not a fly by night company, that’s going to just try to get the money and run. Two, protecting the customer’s interest too because hey, if they’ve tried it and they’re not happy with it, give them their money back. Give them their money back and move on, that’s my rule and I stick with that all the time. So those are things, so that’s kind of how to go about creating a kick butt sales letter or direct mail piece or even a magalog.
Kira: Yeah, there’s a lot in there and that’s a solid roadmap for us to use. I know we’re running out of time, but I want to hear about your experience working with your kids. And they’re kids, but they’re grown adults, so can you just share a couple of lessons learned from your experience working with your kids as they have become copywriters as well? I forget if it’s one of your daughters or if it’s a couple. But can you just share a little bit more about that?
Carline: Yeah, so well, when I started working from home, and I became a copywriter at the time, my kids were six, nine, 11 and 13. So those were the ages when I actually became a full-time copywriter. At that point, I started getting them involved just because I needed the extra work. My son was the one responsible emptying out my trash for me. Every day after school, he would come and take out the trash, he got paid for that, so that was his job. And my older girls, my two older ones, they wanted to try to get jobs to make money. And some of them, they’re working, wanted to get jobs working at the ice cream place or at the McDonald’s or whatever, they wanted to do those things.
And I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine.” So I tried to show them, I said, you could do that, but let’s do some math here. My oldest daughter was trying to make $250, she wanted to buy something, I don’t know. And I’m like, “Okay, so if you were working at the…” She worked for Jimmy Cone Ice Cream Place. I said, “You work at a Jimmy Cone and you’re making, I don’t know how much they make an hour, five, eight, six dollars an hour, whatever you’re making hourly. How long is it going to take you to earn that $225?” And so she would just do the math and then come back to me.
And then I said, okay, I said, “Now, let me show you this. This is called side bar.” And I showed her how the side bar worked. I said, “If you could write me a side bar, I’ll play you $200 for that.” And now, depending how long it takes you, you are looking at, I didn’t do the math, whatever I said… Whatever, if it’s taking you a month to earn that money, you can do that in a day or two days. So I just started showing them, “Hey, if you can learn this, you can make more money and you can control your time.” That’s what’s really important, controlling your time.
And so I had them writing side bars for me, paragraphs of things or I’d have them, when I would do cover tests, I would have the whole family, I’d put all the cover tests on the floor and I would have them all guess which one they thought was going to win. We had contests with it, I’m like, “Why you like that one?” He goes, “Oh, I don’t know, it just caught my eye.” I said, “Why did it catch your eye?” “I don’t know, I like that word.” Started getting them to see, look at what you’re doing, pay attention to what you’re seeing because that’s all really part of marketing. That’s all part of writing too. So did that with them and they’ve had different jobs with me. My oldest daughter, I had to fire her because she thought that she knew more than I did. So I fired her-
Rob: Sounds like my oldest child as well. Yeah, very similar.
Carline: Yes, like hey, how about you learn something first and then you teach me. I’m okay with learning, but you don’t know anything. So once you learn, then teach me. But she just got to the point, she was probably maybe 16 or 17 at that time. So I said, “Okay, we’re done because you’re getting on my nerves more than I can get any work done, so you’re fired.” My second daughter always said, “Mom, don’t tell people you fired me because you didn’t fire me, I quit.” I said, “Okay.” So she quit, but she did work with me for a while, doing things. All my kids filed for me. I would say to them, “Get me the control for this.” And they knew what that meant.
So just because they were in, just getting them involved in my job so they all understood what that meant. So my second daughter quit, I didn’t fire her, but she did leave. At that point, I said, “Okay, nobody’s working for me anymore. At this point you got to get your own businesses. You’re going to have to start on your own, no one’s working for me.” And I’ve kept that the truth, so my oldest daughter, Milan, the know it all, is a copywriter. She went to school, she wanted to major in public relations and I’m like, “Yeah, have fun with that one.”
So she was doing it, but then she got married and then she had a baby and then all of a sudden she wanted to have her time, to control her time. And so she started getting more into copywriting and she goes, “Mom, I’ll work for you.” I’m like, “Oh no, you will not. You can start your own business. You can do it yourself though.” So she started her own business and she’s been doing it now for what? 12 years I think, 10, 11 years, something like that. So she’s a copywriter, she’s worked with other clients I’ve never worked with. And she’s very good, she’s very good as far as the marketing aspect too. She’s good at doing email campaigns and all that. I’m not that good at that.
I’m still good at the writing part, but she can do marketing and the writing, so that’s Milan. So she went off on her own. And Tiara, my traveler, all she wanted to do was… She wouldn’t even move out of the house, she just wanted to save up money so that she could travel. And she does do a lot of volunteer work. So a combination of she needs to be able to make money and then spend it, but going, living somewhere. She lived in Ireland for three months and didn’t have to work because she had made the money doing it. So she started writing and she’s very good at it and then I took her to AWI with me one year at a design program with Lori Heller and Rob Bay were putting it together and she took that course while she was there.
And she came back, she goes, “This is what I want to do. I want to be a designer.” And she was in her second year of college and she was like, “I want to do this.” So I said, “Okay, well, we’ll get you started doing that.” So she dropped out of college and went on and started doing design. And she was very good at it and now she’d doing copywriting and design, which is very rare because I’ve only known two other copywriters/designers, who could do the same thing. Who were just as good at copywriting, as they were at design. I am not. I am totally a writer, I am terrible, design, I know what I want to see. I don’t know how to make it happen.
So she’s able to do that. So I Milan right now, working on a project with me, on a book, on an e-book. And I have Tiara working with me right now on a budget for one of clients, on a blood thinning product. So they’re working as their own independent people, with their own companies. So I’m like, “I’m hiring them to work with me on projects, just like I’m one of their clients, like anybody else would be one of their clients.” Because I do get preferential treatment as their mother. I will use the mom card if I need to.
Rob: There you go, that’s important, to be able to pull that card, yeah, for sure.
Carline: Yes, absolutely. And then my third daughter, JL, who hates writing, hates everything I do. Now she’s my assistant for the past six months, she’s been working with me. Kind of helping me pull things together and so she’s not doing the writing part of it, but she’s more on the business part. Just kind of helping me to kind of keep my business going. Handling things I need to take care of. So she’s involved in there. My son never wanted to get into it, he’s like his daddy. He wanted to be a firefighter, he was like, “I cannot sit behind a desk and look at a computer all day.” That was like, nope. So I would have to say now, I used to have a 50% success rate, I have 50% of my kids are copywriters, but I’d say 75% are now working in the industry. So that’s my record with them.
Rob: That’s pretty good, that’s a pretty good record. So, Carline, as we chat, I feel like there’s a million more questions we could be asking you. We should probably do a second part of this podcast or even better, have you come and speak at our live event one of these years. But until then, if people want to find out more about you or get on your list, learn what you’re doing, where should they go?
Carline: Well, I have an easing, a free easing called Copy Star that is on my website, carlinecole.com, C-A-R-L-I-N-Ecole.com. It is free, every other week I send out copywriting tips and hints and just whatever I feel like. Go like, “Hey guys, this is working for me right now. You might want to try this.” Or we go back to some basics about how to write strong headlines, how to write strong bullets. So I have that, you can go on my website and sign up for that and you’ll be on the Copy Star list.
That’s fine, they did put me up on Facebook. Now, my daughter [inaudible] with me, she and my assistant, Cynthia, are like, “You got to get on Facebook.” So they’ve got me on a Facebook page, where we’re putting, again, more tips for copywriting on there. I do speak at AWI, at their annual meeting. Announced that’d be in October. And I know we talked about doing something with you guys. I just don’t go out, I mean, I just, I like my life. I have been socially distanced for years.
Rob: We’re going to bring TCCIRL to you. We’re going to have it at your home currently.
Kira: If that’s what it takes, we’ll do it.
Rob: If that’s what it takes, yeah.
Carline: Or at least have it in Atlanta.
Rob: There you go.
Carline: Because Atlanta’s only like less than an hour away from my house.
Kira: We can make that, we have a lot of copywriters in the club, who are in Atlanta. So we’ll make that happen in the next few years, definitely.
Carline: You know what? If that happens, that’s a better chance, that way I’ll come down for the day or whatever and then do it to help out. But I like the events, they’re great. Like Brian, I only did Brian’s event because of the fact that I wasn’t doing the AWI event that year because they switched it to October and I was already booked for October, I couldn’t do anything there. So I was like, “Okay.” Then Brian says, “Can you come to mine?”
I’m like, “Yeah, I can because I’m not doing anything this year.” And that a great event, I enjoyed it. I always enjoy myself doing these things. But I’m a working copywriter, it’s like my schedule is booked for the year. So when I’m done it’s like, oh yeah, I’m going to be gone for four days, that just means I’m going to be behind by four days, when I get back to work and I don’t like that as much. But I do love the fact that you guys are putting together the club. Kim Crouse-Eschew always talks highly about your events, she and Marcella, Alison. And they’ve attended several, I think, right?
Rob: Yeah, yeah.
Carline: Yeah, and they [crosstalk] you should go, it’s great. I’m like, I know, I know-
Kira: It’s fun, we have… All right, well, we’re going to make it happen, once we get to Atlanta. So, Carline, thank you so much again, for coming back to do this interview and sharing so much about your process and the way you approach copywriting. It’s really just a pleasure to have you here, thank you.
Rob: Yeah, it’s been fantastic, thank you.
Carline: Thank you, I’m glad, look it went out with no glitches, nothing, right?
Kira: Don’t say that yet.
You’ve been listening to The Copywriter Club Podcast with Kira Hug and Rob Marsh. Music for the show is a clip from Gravity by Whitest Boy Alive, available on iTunes. If you like what you’ve heard, you can help us spread the word by subscribing in iTunes and by leaving a review. For show notes, a full transcript and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.