Direct response guru Brian Kurtz joins The Copywriter Club Podcast to talk copy. But interviewing Brian isn’t like interviewing most people. He’s a bit like a jazz musician who takes your question and riffs on it—sharing all kinds of great stories and advice in the process. You just let him go. In this episode, Kira and Rob asked Brian about his article, The Next Million Dollar Copywriter, in addition to questions about mastermind groups and what baseball can teach us about copywriting (listen to the end of this admittedly long interview for his fantastic answer). This is one of our favorites and once you listen, you’ll understand why. Special bonus: Brian broke our record for the most people and stuff mentioned in a single episode. Check them all out.
Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
How to Write a Good Advertisement by Victor Schwab
Kim Krause Schwalm
Titans of Direct Response
The Advertising Solution
The next million dollar copywriter
John Carlton’s course
You may not know it when you see it
Dan Sullivan’s Strategic Coach
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
Rob: The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Kira: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters and other experts, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Rob and I do every week at The Copywriter Club Podcast.
Rob: You’re invited to join the club for episode 22, as we chat with marketing titan and direct response expert, Brian Kurtz, about working with A-list copywriters like Gary Bencivenga and Gene Schwartz, what the next million dollar copywriter will be doing, what copywriters need to know today about lists and direct mail, and what baseball can teach us about marketing.
Kira: Hey, Brian. Hey, Rob. How are you?
Rob: Kira, Brian, we’re thrilled to have you.
Brian: I like those fascinations, you know? Gene Schwarz and Mel Martin and a host of other copywriters would be proud of your teaser bullets.
Rob: It might not be quite the level of something Parris would write but we sure try.
Brian: At Boardroom, we call those fascinations and it’s something that … and you mention Parris Lampropoulos, who’s one of my close friends and a copywriter who we made millions together at Boardroom and he has copy cubs that he works with and I believe he still … One of the first things he does, he makes them read Victor Schwab’s book and makes them copy the first three chapters of Breakthrough Advertising by Gene Schwartz, hand write copy. One of the things Parris does, I think for the first big chunk of time that he trains his copywriters is teaching them how to write bullets, teaching them how to write fascinations.
Brian: Don’t worry about the body copy. Don’t worry about the narrative. Don’t worry about the storytelling. Get the copy, get the bullets down. Gary Bencivenga called his newsletter Bencivenga Bullets.
It’s sort of like getting the technique down in a way so that you start really thinking like your prospect, what’s going to get under their skin, what are the things that are just the most powerful items in the thing that you’re writing about. As far as linking them together, that’s sort of the second phase. Mel Martin, who was Boardroom’s secret weapon copywriter for many years, who didn’t write for anybody else, he was the master of fascinations. Mel used to basically grudgingly write the transition copy in between big lists of fascinations. Anyway, you got me going there because you’re all about bullets there.
Rob: Yeah, it’s good. Well, if we ever have Parris on, we’re going have to do some serious work on our bullets, I think, and make sure that he’s impressed. Brian, we’ve already jumped into some really good stuff but let’s back up and talk a little bit about your story. You’ve got this incredibly great story. You worked with Boardroom and I have to admit, I can still remember as a 12, 13 year old kid, getting the mail packages for Bottom Line Personal and some of the other publications and reading them as a 12 year old, being totally enthralled by these packages. Tell us a little bit about your experience, where you came from, how you got your start in the industry and what you’re doing up till today.
Brian: Yeah, first of all, I’m really scared that you were reading direct mail when you were 12.
Rob: Yeah, I was that kid. I was that kid.
Brian: Yeah, that might be …
Kira: That explains a lot.
Brian: Yeah, different discussion for a different day maybe lying on a couch. I don’t know but …
Brian: No, but I’m very impressed that you would do that. You know, it’s not a rags to riches story. It’s not a hero’s journey. Sometimes I have to apologize for never going personally bankrupt and never almost committing suicide and never going through the trials and tribulations of a lot people who I deal with now, who are some of my best friends, who’ve gone through a much tougher journey of whether it’s personal bankruptcy, whether it’s rags to riches, whether it’s starting from nothing. I was not born with a silver spoon by any means but I got kind of lucky. I got into a company like Boardroom at a very young age where I was really working on the list side.
I was an employee. I was hired to do in-house list management back in 1981, when I started at Boardroom. Most companies in direct mail, if they had a really good list, they would give it to what we call an outside list manager, to represent their list in the marketplace, to get as much usage on it as possible. I guess anybody in online marketing doesn’t even know what I’m talking about when I say list manager, list broker, whatever, but that’s okay. But they do understand affiliate marketing. Hey, you have a list and people are going to use it. Right?
In online people use your list under your direction, with your copy, with your endorsement. In direct mail, when I grew up, in the olden days, we would rent our list to just about everybody without endorsements. I mean, you could do endorsements and anybody who thinks affiliate marketing was invented by an Internet marketer is nuts. Affiliate marketing took place in the 1960s, when Reader’s Digest was selling insurance or whatever they were selling.
The point is that we have these lists that were incredibly powerful. Boardroom did sell newsletter subscriptions and books to an affluent audience who bought a lot of other stuff through direct mail, therefore the lists that I had for rental to the outside marketplace were used by everybody, from Money Magazine to political fundraisers, to Sharper Image and catalogers, to other magazines, other newsletters, other book publishers. It was a fun job.
What was fun about more than anything else is I learned all about audience. I learned all about what it means to get somebody to respond to something even if I wasn’t writing copy, nor was I even doing the marketing yet at Boardroom. I was really just marketing these lists. Understanding how these lists were assembled by the kinds of direct mail that we did to put those names onto our lists was an education for a lifetime. As I’ve gone through these 36 years since starting, the one the thing that I’ve noted many times is that when people say that the success of the direct marketing campaign is 40% list, 40% offer, and 20% creative, which again doesn’t mean creative is half as important.
It is something I really believe because if you have, and this is for the copywriters listening, you could have the best copy you’ve ever written in your life and if it goes to the wrong audience with the wrong offer, you’re going to get zero response. Whereas, if you write mediocre copy, and of course no one who’s listening to this will be writing mediocre copy any time in their lifetime, but if you happen to write some mediocre copy but it happens to go to a perfectly targeted list with a killer offer that’s irresistible, you will make money. A lot of Internet marketers found that out very quickly.
The inexpensive nature of email for example, gave them the opportunity to slap anything up there because they had great lists. If they were working with an affiliate who was completely in tune with what they were doing, they were destined to make money in spite of themselves, despite not really paying much attention to the copy and thinking that a flashing red arrow with a box was like world class copy but you didn’t need it.
All of that said, I spent my first 10 years becoming a list expert. Of course, my new mantra is not the 40-40-20 rule, my new mantra is, I call it now when 46.6% is a majority. Of course, then I’d flash a screen of Donald Trump getting 46.6% of the vote, without getting political here, I’m not going to get political. I’m not even going to tell you who I voted for. What I will tell you is I used the 46.6% as sort of a way to show that for me the pie chart, is 46.6% list, 33.4% offer, 20% creative. I just use that as sort of a fun way to illustrate that the list is the most important thing.
Anyway, I came out of the list management business and after about 10 years I became a partner in the business overall at Boardroom. I became the marketing directory, eventually became more of a partner in the business with Marty Edelston, who was the founder. That’s the part of my journey is not the startup, kitchen table, bootstrap, whatever. When I coach kitchen table, bootstrap entrepreneurs, I only want them once they have something established because I don’t think I’m the best guy to coach them on how to start from scratch. Although, I can give them a lot of good advice about how to start from scratch, but my better superpower would be to go from why my mastermind groups have been so successful, to go from a half a million to five million, which is a big jump for people, even to go from 200,000 to a million. Those are the kinds of people I’m coaching.
Then I also have people in my groups today that are 20, 30, 40, 50 million dollar direct response companies. That’s the fast forward to where I am now. What I did then at Boardroom was become an expert in everything in direct marketing that I could. Coming out of the list area and for your audience to know and well, I guess, I got chosen to do this interview with you, is that we did work with all the best copywriters. We always felt that it was a mistake to not spend money on copy and creative, even though it might be 20% of that pie, when you have world class creative, when you already know you’re going to world class list selection and segmentation, which I was an expert at, and I knew how to create offers by working closely with my copywriters, I was putting all three of those things together at the highest level and that’s why Boardroom was known to be a world class direct marketer. It wasn’t any one thing, it was those three things together.
Leaning copywriting, I always call myself a copywriter wannabe, because I never would be able even today to write a full blown package. Although, with shorter copy options available via email and blogging and that kind of thing, I have been able to strut my stuff a little bit, in terms of writing, and I love writing. It’s not like I don’t like to write. I was English major in college, I really do love to write, but I’m not … I learn at the feet of Gary Bencivenga and Jim Rutz and Gene Schwartz and Parris Lampropoulos and David Deutsch, who are two of my closest friends now, Clayton Makepeace and Jim Punkre, and I’m going to leave somebody out. All the new writers that are coming in and some great female copywriters like way back Judy Weiss and Joan Throckmorton and today Kim Krause and Carline Cole. Bill Jamie was another writer who I’m writing in my blog about this week.
It was just an amazing opportunity that was laid out in front of me and again, this is the part where I didn’t have to walk 12 miles uphill to work everyday barefoot. I did have the opportunity to have all of these world class copywriters and world class consultants. I worked with Dick Benson who was the number one expert in direct mail and Gordon Grossman who built the Reader’s Digest, they were consultants of mine. I knew everybody in the list business so I had mentors who taught me the list business at the deepest level. I was able to put all of those things together.
Then after 34 years of doing that, I made a decision that I thought that it was time to go out and teach everything that I have learned. The mission for the second half of my career, my next 34 years, was once I left Boardroom, and I left on a pretty high note, I did an event in 2014 called The Titans of Direct Response, where I brought together … and Marty Edelston who was the founder of Boardroom and my ultimate mentor and almost like a second dad, he had passed away in October of 2013. That was also another reason why I think it was time to leave the company to the family and to move out on my own.
Before I left in 2014, I did this big event, it was a tribute event to Marty. I brought together the most amazing speakers. I had Den Kennedy, I had Gary Bencivenga, I had my best copywriters, David Deutsch, Parris Lampropoulos, Eric Betuel, Arthur Johnson. I had Ken McCarthy, one of the pioneers of the Internet. I had Perry Marshall, I had Jay Abraham, I had Joe Sugarman, Greg Renker, Fred Catona, just an amazing array of direct marketers and copywriters and kind of went out on a high note. Then I said I’m going to go out and become a teacher and a mentor to others. That’s when I formed two mastermind groups when I left Boardroom in early 2015. I’ve been out on my own for two years. I have two mastermind groups. I’ve written a book with Craig Simpson called The Advertising Solution, which everybody who’s listening to this call should get a copy of.
Rob: It’s a great book.
Brian: It’s like 12 bucks on Amazon. You can’t go wrong, I don’t make a penny. It’s basically profiles of six of the greatest marketers, advertising men of all time. Two of them are known to be copywriters that your audience may know, Gene Schwartz and Gary Halbert, but the other four they should know too, John Caples, David Ogilvy, Claude Hopkins, and Robert Collier. Anyway, having the book and having the two mastermind groups, I do some consulting. I hate saying I’m a consultant because when you say you’re a consultant it sounds like you’re just unemployed. I’m really having a blast having this mission of being the bridge that connects the eternal truths of direct marketing that I grew up with, connects it as a bridge, to everything that I think is state-of-the-art today, and frankly, I’m one of the few people from my generation in direct mail who made a smooth transition into the online world and wants to learn from both.
The beauty is, and I always say this in a lot of interviews, I guess I’m most fortunate and most grateful that because of my history and my heritage, I have this golden ticket into rooms where I have no business being. When I say that, being in a room of the best online marketers, with Jeff Walker for example, and product launch formula people who know how to launch product online in the millions, better than anything I ever could’ve researched on my own or learned on my own because I can read Jeff’s book but I never would’ve learned it. Being in other mastermind groups, I’m in six of them myself, and I try to go to as many events as I can to be around people …
I’m often the oldest person in the room and I wear it like a badge of honor. My friends say, “Stop making jokes that you’re old.” I always use Marty Edelston’s quote, my mentor, he used to say he loved getting old because he got so smart. There is wisdom in being around for a long time. It’s the difference of having one year experience for 36 years or 36 years of cumulative experience. I like to think that I have 36 years of cumulative experience so that everything I learn today on this call with you by whatever we discuss or whatever I’ll learn today when I do a workshop for the people in Jeff Walker’s launch club, when I do things like that, I learn by teaching. I am cumulatively still always … I’m always adding on to what I know and I’m always a student. You know? I think I will be a student till the day I die and I wear that like a badge of honor as well.
It’s not so much just trying to be humble, and I try to be, but it’s also a matter of knowing what you know, knowing what you don’t know and then figuring out what you can bring to the party. That’s why mastermind groups are so powerful because it’s what I can bring to the party and people are grateful to have my knowledge and then I suck them dry, in the nicest way possible. That’s kind of my life in a nutshell. You just got 36 years in a nutshell.
Rob: Interview over. You covered everything, I think.
Brian: I did. I did.
Kira: We could just end this right now.
Brian: Just drop the mic, right?
Kira: Okay. There’s a lot to unpack there, especially the six masterminds. First, you mentioned helping your mastermind participants go from 200,000 to a million and you wrote an article about the next million dollar copywriter, which of course, catches our attention. Before we dig into that article and what it takes to become the next million dollar copywriter, I’d like to hear about the catalyst for writing that article. Why did you write it?
Brian: Yeah, so it really came from the fact that I saw big changes in the direct response marketing environment as we move from offline to online. In direct mail, you’d write a package and you got the control and you got the winner. Then even if the client was going to try to beat you with another copywriter, time was not on their side, because you would write a package in direct mail … In the case of Boardroom, we didn’t know whether we had a winner for like 12 weeks because we had a bill me offer. You had to wait for not just the front end response but then the payout. Even if you were just doing a front end response direct mail, where you got the cash in immediately, you still have to wait four to six waits to see if it was really a winner or not.
Then once you had a winner you wanted to roll out with it. Why would I want to no roll out with this new control before I spent another $30,000 on a new copywriter? You almost were guaranteed, if you got the control and you were getting royalties on your winner, you were almost guaranteed a nice chunk of money for a some period of time. In fact, I made deals with some copywriters that I wanted that you had to wait months to get an assignment because they were just so in demand, the Rutzes and the Bencivengas, and those people. I made agreements with them that if they got the control, I wouldn’t find another copywriter to go beat them for like six months or a year, as long as they kept improving their package. They were guaranteed royalties for six months or a year.
It was a very lucrative business if you were at the top of the game. Even in those days if you weren’t at the top of the game, you still were going from client to client, trying to get a control, being a hired gun and even then it was hard to be a million dollar copywriter. The Bencivengas and the Rutzes of the world, could get a million dollars from one client because they were writing for the best clients who mailed the most amount of names who were paying them royalties. What changed was the Internet in a lot of ways. It was a lot of other things too but the Internet, all of sudden, instead of waiting six weeks for response rates, you were waiting six hours.
If you’re getting response results in six hours, I’m exaggerating but not really, and then you get a winner, you can beat that control like in real time almost immediately. How is a copywriter going to keep a control and keep getting royalties or keep getting a percentage of the sales? Then I started having some clients who started realizing that hiring internal copy teams was the way to go instead of going after hired guns because there just weren’t a lot of Bencivengas and Rutzes in the world. It’s been a gradual transition but … The key is actually true whether you’re a copywriter or a marketer, you meet everybody who’s doing online marketing today, it’s one of the same rules of thumb, and it’s the power of specialization. It’s the power of niche.
Being a copywriter in a niche and being a specialist is way better than trying to be a generalist. Maybe at some point you’ll become a generalist because you’re going to become that next Gary Bencivenga or Jim Rutz. In fact, I think I wrote in my article, I said, “If you are the next Jim Rutz, here’s my phone number. Please call me.” Right? But it ain’t happening that quickly. If you own a niche as opposed to trying to own the world right away, that’s the key.
The copywriters now, in fact, I had one just the other day, I’m getting examples of this every single day. I had someone who’s on my list, read my blog, gave me some really sweet feedback, and I get really nice, I get a few haters, but I get mostly nice people. The haters are fun, they’re like, “Who the hell wants to hear about your story anymore, Brian? Shut up.” I tell them, look, I can only teach through story. Robert Cialdini told me no one can argue with my stories.
This woman writes to me and she says to me, “I’m really trying to be the next great copywriter and my niche is I’m fascinated …” I guess she eats a lot of raw food and she may be probably a vegan. She starts talking about the kinds of things she wants to do. I’m like, “Boy, you’re like the exception, not the rule.” Most people will tell me they want to be a specialist copywriter and the first thing they do is tell me, “I want to write for health.” Well, health ain’t a niche, you know? Even naturopathic health is not a health.
Writing for things regarding blood sugar and diabetes is a niche. Writing about men’s impotency and prostate issues is a niche. I’m not saying you can’t do other things in the health area but what why don’t you own something based on your passion, I don’t know why you have a passion for prostate, as someone who had … I’m a prostate cancer survivor. I know people who want to have a passion for that subject area.
In this particular case she tells me that she is into raw food. I’m like, “Man, you know, this is great.” I was able to connect her right away with someone who I knew just bought a company that was a raw food and nutrition site. I didn’t even care that she’s not that experienced a copywriter. Could she start writing some content pages for my friend? She had gone through some training, she wasn’t like a total newbie. She had done John Carlton’s course. She told me she read my book so of course, she immediately … Flattery will get you everywhere. I said, “Oh, you must be really smart then.” Seriously, I was really able to recommend her because of the niche, not because of the fact that she was this incredibly experienced copywriter but she knew enough about copywriting to be dangerous. She’s got to go continue her education for sure.
I have another friend in one of my mastermind groups who is an expert in … He was a coach for dentists, which is a good niche, dentists better than all kinds of medical service businesses. I’d rather be in one niche. That’s why I’d rather be just for chiropractors, just for dentists, just for ENTs, whatever, because they all need help with marketing and if you can own one of those, it’s a really better way to start. This guy was like a coach for dentists and how to help them market and then he found a niche within a niche.
He found a niche that was basically, he went after dentists who had practices. He saw there were so many dentists who were trying to figure out how to cash out their practice, how to sell their practice, when they’re in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. How do you sell a practice, how do you get out, and then what do you do with the money after you sell the practice? He was also an expert in real estate. He actually has a niche that’s basically dentists who sell their practices and how to invest in real estate. I’m like, I get goosebumps when I say …
Rob, you were reading direct mail when you were 12, I get goosebumps and get excited about people who have just figured out how to own their niche. Again, long winded explanation of how I got to why I think the new model for copywriting is probably anti what was always taught, which was, you want to be a freelance copywriter, you want to be on your own, you want to just get a vacation home in Nice, south of France, and put your feet up and just collect royalties, well, I’m not saying those days are over but they’re close to being over. Maybe you can work from France remotely, work with one client in one niche, write all their copy, get a percentage of all the business, then find other writers to work under you in that niche and get a piece of all of that, I think that’s a faster way to a million dollars than being a hired gun. That’s how I got to where I got to.
That doesn’t mean that it’s one or the either but I think it’s narrow to wide is always like … It’s funny, I have one presentation I do and on the screen I just have the word passion. I have a picture of a funnel, a real funnel that you use to put gas in your car. I have the funnel upside down so the narrow piece is at the top and the wide piece is at the bottom. That’s how I define passion, narrow to wide. It’s very interesting because you prefaced the question about copywriters but then you also said that I can take people who have a half a million dollar business in my mastermind or a $200,000 business in my mastermind who want to have a million, two million, three million dollar business and this is exactly the kind of coaching that I’ll give them.
We’ll start figuring out where is their passion, where is their curiosity? Where could they hire a … If they’re not a copywriter, how could they hire a copywriter that they could be interviewed by that copywriter in everything they knew? Like do a brain dump and everything in that niche and have somebody who could write about it. What a great partnership that could be in this new model. Did I explain that?
Kira: Yeah, the only part that I just … The last part about if you’re the copywriter then you hire a copywriter to interview you to write about it, what do you mean by that?
Brian: Oh, no, no, no. If you’re the marketer. If you’re the marketer, who’s not a copywriter, one of the things you need to do is you need to understand how to hire a copywriter. It’s what’s interesting is that I did this presentation, I have a blog post about it too, I think the blog post is called You May Not Know It When You See It. I have these seven characteristics that I identify that were prevalent in every great copywriter I ever worked with. Right? I think it’s hunger, it’s passion, it’s curiosity, it’s knowledge of direct marketing, I have seven things. Every one of them from Bencivenga to Rutz to Lampropoulos to Deutsch to Makepeace, they all have all seven of these and even some of the ones who aren’t as great have six out of seven or five out of seven. Right?
The interesting thing is that when I look at those seven characteristics, they’re the same characteristics that every great marketer should have. So if the great copywriter needs to have these seven characteristics and the marketer needs to have these seven characteristics, the marketer doesn’t have to be the copywriter but recognizing what those characteristics are, are important.
That interview piece … I went off a tangent there so let me just give you deep dive on that quickly, and I’ll use an example, when Gene Schwartz, one of the copywriters who ever lived, wrote the original launch package for Boardroom Reports, I think this story is in my book, for my company Boardrooms, Marty Edelston had founded Boardroom in 1972, Gene Schwartz wrote the first package for it. He’s going to read 300 business magazines in 30 minutes and get the guts of each.
Gene told me the story, he said, “I sat down with Marty, who was not a copywriter, who was the entrepreneur who was the marketer and I interviewed him for hours. I got to tell you,” this is Gene talking now, “You think I’m the greatest copywriter who ever lived? Think again. I just interviewed the guy with the passion, with the curiosity, with the mission, the vision of what he wanted to do in the world and because I know how to put the words together, I knew where the desire was in the marketplace because Marty was letting me know and I just took everything he said, transcribed it, and then I wrote my copy based on that.” In fact, I think he maintains that the words, Marty saying, “I want business people to be able to read 300 business magazines in 30 minutes,” came from Marty’s mouth, not from Gene’s pen.
You hear these stories all the time now about people who write books by talking them. Whether it be they’re interviewed and that’s how the transcript is then the editor takes the transcript and writes the book for them. That’s like a model now to write new books. I think this has been going on for a long time with the best copywriters who are partners with their clients. Any copywriter who doesn’t … Actually I don’t have this in the one of the seven skills, but it’s part of the passion, it’s part of the curiosity, that every copywriter should really be a good interviewer. They have to be able to ask good questions, it’s part of the curiosity. They have to be able to ask good questions. They have to be well-read.
They have to know where the marketplace is because if they’re not going to be able to ask those good questions … Jay Abraham was one of my mentors, Jay was a good copywriter in his day as well, he uses the Socratic method in terms of how he questions people. I was interviewing him recently … he was going to interview me, then I was trying to interview him and I had no chance. I called the interview riffing with Socrates because he was like just pulling the Socratic method on me time and time again. That’s how the best information gets out in the world and then you have a world class copywriter who can take that and turn it into poetry. You know, you’re cooking on all cylinders there.
Rob: Brian, again, I’ve got like 10 questions to ask about what you were talking about in addition to niching. I know you’ve talked about some of the things that next million dollar copywriter has got to have. You talk about being more than just a writer but also doing advising. You talk about focusing on the craft. I think you’ve just talked a little bit about the focus, the intensity of focus, can you unpack that pretty quickly? Why are those three things so critical to being a great copywriter?
Brian: Give me the three again.
Rob: Advising, not just writing, I think is one that you mentioned in the million dollar. The craft, working on the craft, regardless of the medium that you’re working in and intense focus, which like I said, I think we just covered that.
Brian: On the advising piece, I’ll quote my good friend Dan Kennedy, he’s not the only one that talks about this but I he talks about it as eloquently as anybody, which is, you know, I think he has cartoon that he used in one of his speeches when he goes to speak to copywriters. It’s a guy holding a sign and it says, “Will write copy for food.” Basically, to be just a copywriter is crazy. To be a hired gun to just write the copy and not be … That’s why the infiltration of the great copywriters into one company is becoming more prevalent because now you can dive deep into that company and everything about it.
Not just the subject matter but for example, I’ll use a perfect example, I always talk about how copywriters should understand the backend of every business that they’re writing acquisition packages for. They should understand, what happens on the customer service side? What are the biggest complaints for existing customers? How does the product get fulfilled? What does the package look like when the customer gets it?
If you start advising on things like, “By the way, I wrote this package for you and there were so many returns and your package looks like crap. You can’t even get these people to open the thing,” if it’s a physical product. Or if it’s a digital product, “They can’t access it, the navigation sucks, and you’re blaming me for the returns? I think the content’s good because I wouldn’t have been able to write copy if the content wasn’t good.” Now you could start advising on how that thing should look. If you’re not going to advise on it, you’re certainly going to have a partner who’s a designer. Any great copywriter I’ve ever met either has a design partner or a group of designers that they work with and they start working together as partners.
I mean, Bill Jayme was one of the greatest copywriters who ever lived, he says that his career took off when he partnered with Heikki Ratalahti and they were able to work together and bring copy and design together. That’s one aspect of advising but there’s so many others. One of my seven things is to learn direct marketing. Understand as a copywriter, if you don’t know what RFM is, recency frequency monetary, if you don’t know what lifetime value is, if you don’t understand list segmentation, if you don’t understand the basics of direct marketing, then get some books and read. That’s why I did my book, so that at least I can have this book that’s got all these checklists. So everybody could get some direct marketing knowledge and specifically some copywriters.
Which is so interesting because the six guys that I profiled in my book were all considered copywriters. They all wrote copy. Ogilvy, Caples, Hopkins, Collier, Halbert and Schwartz all wrote copy. If you look at all of their writings and I have quotes from all of them, in different presentations that I do, they all talked about the marketplace is more important. Gary Halbert, the godfather of copywriting, what’s his most famous quote, one of his most famous quotes? It’s about a hungry market, it’s not about a brilliant hamburger. The starving crowd, right? That’s what Gary Halbert talked about. Here’s the guy who’s one of the greatest copywriters who ever lived and he’s talking about the market and the list and how you …
He used to talk about list brokers in some speeches. How he found a great list broker so he could see all of the lists that his client was using so that he could understand the marketplace. Look at Gene Schwartz, you have quotes from Gene Schwartz. He’d have a field day on the Internet because he’d be able to do his research a lot faster. When he was doing direct mail only, Gene Schwartz always talked about copywriters don’t create desire. Copywriters don’t create demand. The demand is in the marketplace already. If you’re not understanding all of that, as a copywriter, and you can’t get under the skin of your client in a good way and advise them of things beyond what this copy should look like and then offers. Understand offers. Study every single competitor who’s ever worked in the category you’re working in.
Then I guess now we’re going to move to craft. That’s the craft. I don’t know any … I know one great copywriter, A+ copywriter, who made us millions of dollars at Boardroom, Eric Betuel. Eric Betuel was on my panel at Titans as one of the copywriters who probably was responsible for 250 million pieces of direct mail over 20 years for me. He doesn’t keep a swipe file, which floored me. Almost every great copywriter keeps a swipe file of great ads from the past and now of course, great emails, great video sales letters. They have swipe files up the wazoo that they refer to, they go to. I do all the time when I’m writing my blog. I’m always looking at past direct mail for ideas, for inspiration, for subject line variations, for all those things.
If you’re not going to be a student of the craft, shame on you. If you’re writing copy today and you call yourself a copywriter, I would say that in anything though, you have to be like a student to the nth degree. I know somebody recently was telling me that, a much younger guy than me, and I was really impressed because he was talking about being a great direct mail expert. I’m like, “Whoa. I got to meet this guy.” You know? I’ve been doing direct mail since 1981 and I don’t even think that I’m the expert of all experts either. This guy is probably in his 40s, maybe early 40s, and he loves direct mail and he’s doing direct mail.
We got into a conversation. I really like him. I said, “Yeah, you know, I assume you’ve read Dick Benson’s book.” He said, “Who’s Dick Benson?” I’m like, “Whoa.” Now I’m not saying you don’t want to … It’s not fair to say, “If you haven’t read such and such, you’re an idiot.” That’s not where I’m going with that but if you’re a student of the craft and you haven’t read probably the most important book, probably the most knowledgeable person about direct mail that’s ever lived, something’s off there. That didn’t take away from how good this guy was but that’s what I mean by the craft. Once you know that, you’re going to be that much better.
As far as the focus, yeah I have talked about that a bit. I think that goes back to niche. I think that to try to be all things to all people is dangerous. It’s sort of like somebody who tells me now, that they’re a media buyer in online and whatever you want to do they could help you, whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s search, whether it’s Google AdWords, whether it’s email marketing. I got to tell you, I’m running away from that person more times than not. I’m much more interested in the person that says, “I’ve taken the deep dive into Facebook. I know everything about Facebook advertising. You can’t find anybody who’s better on Facebook than me. Let’s do a Facebook plan for you.” Later on, that person, once they master that, then they’ll become the Google AdWords expert, which is what like Perry Marshall did. He became good at AdWords and then he became a Facebook expert.
He kind of did one at a time, from what I remember. I think the same is true for copywriters. It is about the niche. I also think that this idea that I don’t know about writer’s block, because again I’m a copywriter wannabe, but I know what writer’s block’s about just in terms of when I have to write stuff that I want to write, whether it’s emails or blogs or whatever. The way to avoid writer’s block is to just be surrounded all the time by stimuli, aka swipe files, books, geniuses, mastermind groups, whatever it takes to make sure that you realize that you didn’t invent everything. Probably everything that you think you invented was invented. Therefore, tap into it as much as possible and then take a deep dive. Go a mile deep, not a mile wide.
Kira: Brian, you mentioned masterminds and then earlier you said six masterminds, I believe, that you’re a part of six masterminds, which caught my attention because I just want to be in one mastermind at this point. Clearly, from this conversation, you have a hunger for learning and that is what will separate the great copywriters from the average copywriters. I’d like to hear about why you’re in six different masterminds and the strategy behind that, if there is a strategy behind that, and what we should look for in a mastermind. I know a lot of the copywriters in our club are seeking out these types of groups to accelerate their learning.
Brian: Yeah, great question. I think for copywriters, because they’re generally introverts, the bigger mastermind groups might not be as conducive to their learning style. I’m in big ones and small ones. I’m going to quickly tell you the six because they’re all very different. One of them is, I told you, is Jeff Walker’s group. Most people in that group use product launch formula, to launch products online. There I learned about something that I really am not an expert in. I adapt all my knowledge of copy and behavior to the technology of PLF, if you want to call it that, and the people in that group are all doing million dollar launches so some day, one day, I’m going to grow up big and strong and I’m going to do my own launch and I’m going to know how to do it. I’m going to do it the right way, with all the knowledge that I came in with and all the knowledge that I’ve learned from within that group.
I’m also in Joe Polish’s mastermind, which has 260 members. It’s called Genius Network. That one I go to because I want to just be exposed to all different people of all different areas. It’s not just marketing. It’s people in financial worlds. This just sort of goes into the whole about being curious, about what Gene Schwartz … Gene Schwartz’s favorite magazine was National Enquirer, believe it or not, even though he read medical journals and he read all this incredible stuff. You really need to know what’s happening in the world so Genius Network, Joe is a great marketer, a great friend, so we do a lot of talking there about marketing so I learn a lot there. It’s also a way for me to be with the best entrepreneurs on the planet. That’s why I’m in that group.
I’m a Strategic Coach with Dan Sullivan, which is not necessarily a mastermind but it is a high end group but that’s more to work on my own business. A lot of copywriters that I know have joined Strategic Coach because it’s quarterly meetings to kind of figure out how to grow your business. I’ve learned how to increase the value of my own mastermind groups that I do when I’m in Strategic Coach, figuring out how I’m going to be a better teacher, how I’m going to be a better mentor. I’m in Strategic Coach.
Now there’s a fourth one that I’m in, which is actually with a lot of people from the Dan Kennedy world, which is a wonderful group. These are all entrepreneurs and that’s the one where I really learned about niche and the importance of niche and see how people are dominating a niche. Everybody in that group, for the most part, is just dominating a niche, whether it’s lawyers, IT professionals, coaches, whatever. They’re just incredible.
Then I’ve got these other two mastermind groups which are actually the ones that are probably the ones that copywriters could probably start on their own. I would highly recommend doing both. One is a four person accountability group. I found three people in my life, one of which I’ve known for 30 years, the other two I’ve known probably for 10 or 15, and it’s four guys, all different businesses, but all very brotherly. We’re very, very close. It’s not like I just went to best friends who knew nothing about my business. It was three other people who knew everything about my business and I knew everything about their business but we were more intimate. We meet once a month. We each spend 20 minutes to a half hour talking about everything that’s going in our business and then go after one specific issues, challenge, problem. Then the other three guys will hold you accountable for what you’re going to do in the next month.
For the copywriter in that particular scenario, I think that’s where you can compare copy notes. You can exchange ideas on how to get new clients, exchange ideas about the newest client you have and the frustrations you have, all of that kind of stuff. You also could read copy to each other. You need people around you. I know that almost every copywriter I know always has a couple of people, that they run their copy by and all of that. You can formalize it a bit in one of these tight groups. If you’re not a senior copywriter, you’re more junior, getting a mentor and getting into being a copy cub in someone’s group, like a Clayton Makepeace, Parris Lampropoulos, David Deutsch, is also a good idea. That’s kind of a mastermind of sorts as well.
My sixth group actually started as a reading group. What we call it The Accelerated Learning Group, I call it The Oprah Reading Group. What I did there is I … it wasn’t my idea, it was one of the other guy’s ideas but I was invited, there are five of us, all entrepreneurs, very different industries, but all high achievers. What we do in that group is every month, we read a book. I think that the group started because one of the guys said to me, “How many books are sitting next to your computer or your bed that you wish you would be reading or get to?” Ask any entrepreneur, any lifelong learner and they’re going to answer yes to that question that there’s a huge pile of books that they’ll never get to.
Here’s a way to guarantee you’ll at least read 12 a year by doing one a month. You get on the phone and what happens is you discuss the book and during the hour, you get into other stuff because you want to see how it applies to your business. What happened with that group, there were five of us, and we ended up all meeting after doing it for a year. We said, “We need to get together with our wives.” We all went to a retreat in Utah. We all went, spent a few days together, masterminding and then spending time with our wives. That became this sort of mastermind group from a reading group.
I did a blog post about this because I shared this specific idea with re-careering troops, military, through an organization called American Dream U that I do work for. I basically told these soldiers who are leaving the military, here’s a great way to start a mastermind group without spending 20 or 25 thousand dollars. All you got to do is find three or four like-minded people. They don’t even have to be vets, as far as I’m concerned, but people who are going to be thinking about the same issues you are, the same businesses you might be. Read a book a month. That’ll be useful for all of you. Then turn the last 15 minutes of the call into a little bit of masterminding. Two or three minutes on biggest challenge that I need help with or something like that.
That was a quick rundown of six mastermind groups, why I do them, what the … I think those last two are things that every copywriter can easily incorporate into their world and it’s a really easy inexpensive way to do it. As far as joining other groups, that you pay for … It is true that when you pay for the group, I think in some cases you will get more out of it. Sometimes when you’re not paying for it, you don’t seek the value the same way. I’m not like that, I can be in a group for free or in a group that I pay for and I go after the same value. For some people, I think paying for it is super important.
Rob: I think Kira and I both agree that masterminding is a huge advantage to growing a career. It’s part of why we put together the club, so we really appreciate that kind of advice.
Brian: Your club is exactly what I’m talking about in terms of getting people into some subgroups, into small copy groups, where they can compare notes, compare copy. Obviously, you can eventually turn your club into a live event once a year. There’s a lot of good stuff you can do.
Rob: Yeah. Brian, I want to ask, we’re almost out of time, I want to ask one more question because we teased it in the intro, and that is you’re a huge baseball fan. I know you ref little league baseball and I think you’ve even got a poster of a Yankee pitcher on your wall behind you as we speak. What lessons have you learned from baseball that are directly applicable to marketing and maybe more specifically what we do as copywriters?
Brian: Right. It’ll tie into something I mentioned before, so a couple of things. I’m a baseball umpire. I umpire high school baseball. I do little league at a very high level. My goal is to get to Williamsport, Pennsylvania for the Little League World Series. I’ve been to three Eastern regionals and hope to get to that World Series. I’ve been to another World Series but I want to get to the one in Williamsport. It’s so funny because it was a copywriter who asked me, “Why the hell would you want to umpire? To get yelled at?”
Rob: The abuse?
Brian: Here are a couple of the marketing lessons that I get, two big ones. One is, let’s go back to focus, whatever you do in your life, you got to find something that’s outside of the core thing that’s your passion. Let’s say my passion is direct marketing. I make the joke that my passion is literally baseball umpiring and I do direct marketing on the side. If my passion is direct marketing, how does umpiring fit into that? It’s about focus. It’s about focus.
Whether you do yoga, whether you run, whether you do something, while you’re doing that thing, you need to concentrate on that. I think that if you lose your concentration on that, you’re going to get injured. You’re going to do something, you’re going to get hurt. In the case of umpiring, if you lose your focus, you’re going to get yelled at profusely. People are going to be really nasty to you. The idea that I could be working all day at my office, at two in the afternoon, I go out and do a high school baseball game, and I’m calling 200-300 pitches behind the plate, and if I miss one I get yelled at. If I’m thinking about what’s happening at the office during those two or three hours, I’m in big trouble. It forces me to kind of clear out my head, to really focus on that.
Then I found that the days I umpire baseball games are the days I come back to my computer at night or the next day with a much clearer head and much more focus on what I’m doing. That’s one area. The other area that’s really interesting specifically to baseball umpiring, is the idea that in direct marketing, I always talk about customer service and fulfillment, the back end, I mentioned this before, are actually marketing functions. How you treat your customers after they buy, how you fill their orders after they buy, how you sell them other products after they buy the first one, is as important or more important than selling the first product. It’s easier to keep a customer than to get a new one, we all know that.
To me, when you’re in the fulfillment or customer service front lines of direct marketing, what’s the best that you get? No one’s walking around saying, “Wow, good customer service.” You know? No one’s looking at the renewal rates and saying, “That renewal rate is the result of having great … because that person on the phone served that customer beautifully.” The best thing that you get is nice going as opposed to the copywriter writing a front end acquisition package that gets a huge response rate and launches a new business, gets all the accolades. Well, the same is true between the fulfillment and customer service person as the umpire.
The best that I get at the end of a game is, “Nice game, ump.” There’s nobody that comes to that game to watch the umpire. If they notice me, it’s usually because I screwed up, same is true as fulfillment and customer service. It’s a really important role to put yourself in to not be the center of attention, to not be the focus of everybody else, and yet to do a perfect job. If you do perfect fulfillment and customer service, I guarantee you your business will be a lot healthier and I will guarantee you that a well-umpired baseball game will have a lot less chaos and a lot of happy parents and players after the game. That’s a huge analogy to direct marketing and why I think umpiring is so precious to me.
Then I’ll end with who’s behind me in my office because you teased that. The painting behind me right now at my office is of Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera is probably the best relief pitcher ever to pitch in the history of baseball. Those of you who are not baseball fans, Mariano Rivera’s position was not just relief pitcher, meaning he came in after the starting pitcher started the game, but he actually was called the closer. The closer in baseball is the guy that’s got to get the last three outs of the game. If you’re winning by less than three runs, someone’s got to come in and get three more outs to get the win. They’re the hardest three outs because the other team is trying to score a run, two or three runs, to tie the game or win the game and you have to win the game. Mariano Rivera is the best closer of all time.
The interesting thing about Mariano Rivera is that he did it with one pitch. Most pitchers have multiple pitches. They have a fastball, they have a curve ball, they have what they call a change-up, they have a slider, they have a knuckle-ball, they have all these different pitches. Mariano Rivera had one pitch, the same pitch every time. It was called a cut fastball. It was one of these pitches that looked like it was coming in straight and then dropped completely straight down and basically baffled hitters for his entire careers. I mean, when he was on, he was un-hittable.
The interesting thing about Mariano Rivera is that he taught that pitch to anybody who asked him. Maybe because he was confident enough to know that no one would do it as well as he did. I think better yet it was because he knew that if he taught it to other people, the bar gets raised if they get better and then he gets better. I think that’s the best way to live your life. I call it competition is coexistence. That by creating more fierce competitors, you get better, you get sharper, you raise the bar for yourself. While it may not be a direct lesson from baseball, it’s a direct lesson from Mariano Rivera, who’s a baseball player. Mariano Rivera pitched for the Yankees which is … and the other team in New york is called the Mets and I’m a Mets fan. All my Met fan friends can’t understand why Mariano Rivera is my favorite player and I just explained to you why, even though I’m not a Yankee fan.
Rob: Yeah, it’s such a great story. I think so much of what we’re trying to do with our club and probably what you’re doing in your mastermind group, the more we can share and help each other the better we all get. Across the board, I just think it’s a really great way to operate …
Brian: All boats rise, all boats rise. It sounds a little corny. I guess there are some things that you want to keep proprietary. I will tell you that my experience in my career has been time and time again, that the people that keep stuff to themselves because they think they’re smarter or because they think they discovered something that no one else has discovered, almost every situation I can think of … There’s a couple where they had first mover advantage and it was much more of a commodity kind of environment so they had to keep it secret, but almost every time that I’ve seen that happen, they got their just desserts in the end and they were not the leader at the end of the day.
The guy I know that thought he had some proprietary way to do a certain type of copy and media and he kept it to himself and all of a sudden his business started drying up. It wasn’t working as well. I said to him, “Have you been out there like sharing this?” He goes, “No, I have to keep it to myself.” I said, “I don’t know if that’s the best theory because other people know what you know, I’m telling you.”
Whenever you think you know what no one else knows, like everything I’ve said in this podcast, like all that stuff I just said about Mariano Rivera, I just told it through a story but everybody understands setting a higher bar, teaching your best stuff. I didn’t invent that. As soon as you start reading your own press clippings thinking that you invented it and no one else knows it, I don’t know. I tend to doubt that you’re that good. Don’t read your press clippings, share, share, that’s fair. Right? Be a good sharer. I think that gets you further in life. You may make some mistakes. I think I made some mistakes over the year in maybe sharing too much and whatever but I sleep better at night because of the way, as opposed to, “I’m going to keep it all to myself because I think I’m smarter than everybody else.”
Kira: I’m glad that you included that in this conversation just because that is the mindset behind our club and in our Facebook group. People are stepping up and sharing processes and really aspects of their business they could charge to share but I think it’s just something that helps all of us, so I’m glad that you shared that and I hope all of our copywriters listen to that.
Brian: There’ll be an opportunity, Kira, for them to eventually cash in on it. I will guarantee it.
Rob: Brian, this has been an awesome interview. I’ve still got 30 questions I want to ask. You’ve been already so generous of your time, we’re going to need to do an event maybe in New York and have you come and just speak to us. I mean, you know, just give you the day. In the mean time, if people are looking to connect with you, they can read your blog, where would they find you online?
Brian: If you want to spend $12 that I don’t get any of, okay, and get the most amazing value for $12 you ever got in your life, go to the site, thelegendsbook.com. You go to that site, you will see buttons to go buy my book, The Advertising Solution, wherever you want to buy it, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Books. You go buy the book in a new window, it opens up a new window. You come back to thelegendsbook.com, you forward your receipt, you go to the email address that’s on the site and you’re able to download all of these incredible resources like a swipe file from the six legends I profiled in my book, a PDF of scientific advertising, one of the greatest books ever written, videos of three of the greats, including David Ogilvy on the David Letterman Show, plus all these special reports that my co-author Craig Simpson put together.
You get all of that for free for buying a $12 book. To get those freebies, you have to opt in to my list. You opt into my list and then weekly you will get a blog, which you guys I think are on my list, I blog every week. I tell stories, some of it’ll be repetitive to some stuff I might’ve talked about on this interview but I come up with new stuff hopefully in the future and that you will not get bored, so I do a weekly blog every Sunday morning and you would opt into my list that way.
If you do not want to pay $12 by getting on my list through thelegendsbook.com, you can just go to BrianKurtz.me. I have a squeeze page there. I have another interview there. I think the interview’s something like how I build a nine million-name database without the Internet. I’m sure I tell some stories there that I told today. I have tons of free content at BrianKurtz.me and you will opt into my list that way and get my Sunday blog and you’ll save $12 and not get a fantastic book that you will use for a lifetime. I hope I did a good job selling my book.
Rob: If you didn’t, I’m going to jump in and say, the thing I love about The Advertising Solution book, is that it’s a great introduction into some writers that are actually kind of difficult to read, especially Robert Collier, even Claude Hopkins. Some of the writing is a little stilted. It was written in the ‘20s and ‘30s and the way that you and your co-author have put this together, it just makes it really accessible. If somebody’s sort of afraid to tackle those six authors, they should start with your book and it really is a really great synopsis of their biggest teachings, so I highly recommend it too.
Brian: Thank you for saying that because I think one of the goals when I edited the entire book was all about being a checklist. I think we accomplished that.
Rob: Well, thanks, Brian. We really appreciate having you on the show. This has been a fantastic opportunity to chat and like I said, I hope we get a chance to have you back some time in the future.
Brian: Oh, I’m looking forward to it. Thanks.
Kira: Thank you, Brian.
Rob: 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 in 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, and full transcript, and links to our free Facebook community, visit thecopywriterclub.com. We’ll see you next episode.