A few days ago, a customer of mine, Quentin Pain (who’s tag line for his copywriting should be: “No Pain No Gain” LOL) asked me this interesting question:

“…what would you say is the most important rule you ever learned about direct marketing copywriting?”

I’ll show you the answer I gave him in a sec but first I want to say that his question has inspired me to launch a series of future blog posts on the subject. So, stay tuned for some great stuff.

When I got his email I had to think about that one because there are so many “important” rules to know and narrowing it down to one seemed to make the others somewhat less important.

When I had a catalog of copywriting and marketing books (pre-Amazon) people would call and ask me, “what one book would you recommend I get?” Now, that was also a hard one to answer because giving just one would seem to make the others less significant. Of course, I’d try by asking them a few questions about what they were trying to do, marketing wise. That would give me a starting point to suggest their best first book.

However, my REAL answer to that question — and I somehow would always squeeze it in — would be: “Get them all.”

Some people might think. “Sure, that’s because you were in the business of selling books.” But that isn’t the reason I’d tell them that. I’d tell them because all the top marketers and copywriters I knew HAD ALL OF THEM. THAT’S why I carried them in my catalog and recommended them.

So, back to the original question. As a copywriter or marketer, you need to know ALL of the “important” rules. Hence, the launch of this series of posts.

So, how did I answer his question? Here it is:

“There are so many important rules, like “come up with the best headline,” “test – headlines, prices, offers, funnels…” and lots more but the one I’d have to pick is not so glamorous. The rule is:

“it’s about selling, not writing.”

“That rule helps to focus your copywriting on learning good sales techniques and not so much on good writing techniques. That said, it doesn’t mean you should not pay attention to your writing techniques, just that the selling is higher priority.

“For example, if you wrote copy that everyone agreed was the best example of copywriting from a writing perspective, it doesn’t mean you’d sell a thing. Conversely, you can write copy that is a poor example of good writing and still have it generate tons of sales. Which would you rather have?

“I try to do both. It’s not impossible…or even hard. It just takes longer to learn how to do it.

“One word of caution: most people don’t understand sales. They often interpret it as “forcing the buyer to give you his money” or some such. That’s because they have not really studied good sales techniques which always have to do with delivering more value to the customer than the value of the money they gave to you.

“There you go. You got me to write a mini-article. Now I’ll have to include it in something…probably with more examples.”

I didn’t realize it at the time but as I’m writing this it occurs to me that I learned this from Albert Lasker who was telling a story about how he first learned what advertising was REALLY all about.

He learned it from John E. Kennedy who wrote Reason Why Advertising and Intensive Advertising. The story of how this came about is interesting, told best in a preface I wrote for Reason Why Advertising (BTW, I was responsible for bringing it out of obscurity and making it available to copywriters and marketers who never heard of it or couldn’t get it — way back in the early 90’s). Here’s my preface:

If ever there was one book that contained the “SECRETS” of successful advertising and, consequently, the secrets of success in business, this book is it.

It all started when a relatively unknown copywriter by the name of John E. Kennedy sent a note to A.L. Thomas, the head of the Lord & Thomas advertising agency. The note read:

“I am in the saloon downstairs. I can tell you what advertising is. I know you don’t know. It will mean much to me to have you know what it is and it will mean much to you. If you wish to know what advertising is, send the word ‘yes’ down by the bell boy.”

Signed–John E. Kennedy  

The note would have ended up in the trash if Albert Lasker had not been in the office. Unknown to Kennedy, Lasker had been searching for the answer to that question for 7 years.

Lasker was the rising star at Lord & Thomas, the third largest ad agency in the world. It was 1904 when, at the age of 24, he was made a partner and was paid $52,000. Yet, he did not know, to his satisfaction, what advertising was. Neither could he find anyone else who knew.

Lasker, starving for an answer, was quick to summon Kennedy to his office. In that historic meeting three words were whispered. Three words that changed the face of advertising forever.

Those words were “Salesmanship-in-Print.” The concept was so basic and so effective that no one has since been able to improve upon it.

After being exposed to this powerful concept, Lasker commissioned the brilliant Kennedy to write the set of principles into a series of lessons which were then used to train Lasker and the Lord & Thomas copywriters. Reason Why Advertising is the book that Kennedy wrote to document those lessons.

Soon, Lord & Thomas became the training center for the advertising world. Their copywriters were so good that other agencies began luring them away by offering them fantastic salaries. Thus they began the spreading of the magic of Salesmanship-in-Print to other agencies. Many of these copywriters also formed their own agencies – John Orr Young, co-founder of Young & Rubicam was one notable example.

The lessons in Reason Why Advertising were used to teach all the Lord & Thomas copywriters,

Were they successful? As David Ogilvy said:

“Albert Lasker made more money than anyone in the history of the advertising business”

(Ogilvy On Advertising, 1985). The movement came to be known as the Reason Why school of advertising.

Lord & Thomas, under Lasker’s direction and his utilization of Salesmanship-in-Print, defended its position as one of the top agencies in the world, despite fierce competition. It made a fortune for its clients and helped to establish such well-known brands as Quaker Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat, Palmolive, Van Camp, Oldsmobile, Pepsodent and others. And it quite literally created the orange juice market which put the California orange growers in business.

But the real proof is found today in the fact that those who use these principles are among the most successful business people in the world.

The world of business owes a debt of gratitude to John E. Kennedy. Perhaps Lasker said it best:

“the history of advertising could never be written without first place being given to John E. Kennedy, for every copywriter throughout the length and breadth of this land is today being guided by the principles he laid down.”

This book teaches those principles.

So I guess that my words,”it’s about selling, not writing” is just a more up to date version of John E. Kennedy’s “salesmanship in print.”

The point is: you need to know how to sell, if you ever expect to be a good copywriter, marketer, entrepreneur, speaker, author, Internet marketer, etc. And you need to know the correct sales techniques, not what passes for that in the folklore of selling.

Because of movies and the like staged for dramatic effect, like Glengarry Glen Ross, and real life circumstances where you might have run into desperate sales people trying to coerce a sale, it is too easy to get the wrong idea of what good and effective selling is all about. You need to erase the bad methods and replace them with what really works in the world of selling.

So, how do you do that?

You get experts to show you. Now, most of us don’t know the top sales experts in the world and even if we did, we’d be hard pressed to convince them to mentor us…at least for any reasonable fee.

But, there is an effective and low cost way to do almost the same thing, at least better than you’re likely to afford otherwise.

Here’s my method:

First I need three experts on the subject. By “experts” I mean people who have been overwhelmingly successful in their field, in this case, selling.

Here’s a video of me going through this method:

(YouTube video):

I hope you found that informative, insteresting and useful.

I’ve taken the liberty of listing a few of the books mentioned. If a few hundred of you click on a cover and buy the book, Amazon gives me a small commission. With all that money I may be able to buy a Starbucks coffee…maybe not. But if clicking on my affiliate links bothers you, just look it up on Google. I’ll drink homemade coffee…or maybe tea. LOL