The Common Link Between A Copywriter And A Mafia Boss

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Wed, 2007-11-21 13:17.
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One of the “forum rats”, as we affectionately refer to each other, posted the question that is on the mind of most business owners’ when they first encounter the concept of “learning” to write their own copy.

Essentially, that question is this: “Really, why should I bother to learn the skills of writing copy at all?

When you look around at the mega-wealthy, they OWN things and manage from the top.

Like a crime boss. They want someone hit, they send out Guido.

Hard to imagine Donald Trump chewing a pencil, coming up with a dozen new headlines.

So… why bother to learn copy, if your dreams are big? Wouldn’t that time be better spent playing Monopoly-style biz boss, amassing property and holdings and moving and shaking?

And just hire the best writers to do your copywriting work?”

And here is my answer:

You ask a very good question. It’s so good, in fact, that it mimics exactly how I’ve been postioning my copywriting course lately in seminars.

My general message is this: Sure, you can (and probably will, in some cases) end up hiring writers to do the bulk of the writing for you as you grow your biz.

However, just as a crime boss hires hit men to do the dirty work… chances are, the boss still knows HOW to do the hit himself… and probably spent mucho time in his “rise to power” days actually doing just that. (Very Shakespearean, these modern crime lords.)

Same with biz.

ALL the top multi-millionaire marketers I know — from Jay Abraham to Dan Kennedy, from Eben Pagan to Frank Kern, from Rich Schefren to Mike Filsaime — know how to write killer copy.

And, for the most part, they still handle the important jobs themselves. Even though they may hire out the less-than-critical projects. (Eben — who will gross tens of millions this year — recently spent weeks sequestered, alone, in his home office pounding out copy for his recent launch. Wrote every word himself.)

The reason for this is fundamental: If you don’t know how to write good copy, how will you be able to JUDGE whether whoever you hire has done a good job?

If you are clueless, you’ll be at the mercy of your freelancers. You won’t understand what’s needed, you won’t know if the copy submitted is any good, you won’t be able to set real deadlines… you’re just a babe in the woods, vulnerable and potential lunch for every predator who catches your scent. (And even good, ethical writers will take advantage of you, because it’s so easy. Never forget that the writer/client relationship is inherently hostile – each person wants the best deal for themselves, and wants to do as little work/pay as little money for the process as possible. It’s the nature of the world.)

Just like a crime boss who has no idea how hits happen. The freelance killers he hires (if they know he’s clueless) will jack him around, take forever, botch the job, etc. It’s the stuff that built the Sopranos lore. Remember: Tony did his own hits, when he wanted it done right. (Like offing his cousin.)

There is NO other skill in biz more important than writing copy.

Period.

Show me a CEO who doesn’t understand advertising (which is built around the copy), and I’ll show you a screw-up about to tank the stock. He may get the recognition, but he’s utterly dependent on whoever he has doing the actual marketing… and his entire existence rests on the competence/incompetence of that hired dude behind the scenes.

Shudders all around. Sleepless nights. Ulcers and early death.

But hey — he didn’t “waste” any valuable time learning how to write copy.

Same with politics. The guys who rock as politicians write most or all of their own speeches. The hacks hire it out, oblivious of how embarrassing and exposed they become when their ghost writers put the wrong words in their mouths. (Plus, they get that “deer in the headlights” look whenever they face the press without a script.)

You ever see an actor on his own in an interview? Fielding tough, unexpected questions, they reveal that they are not even close to being as witty, or charming, or smart as the characters they play.

The power of writing has never been proven more important than the way network and cable television has nearly shut down entirely due to the current writer’s strike. Leno, Letterman, Stewart, Colbert, et al, are funny dudes… but they rely on writers to provide the bulk of their show’s wit. (Slight twist here: All those guys COULD write their own stuff, if they had the time, though. They are all seething bastards when it comes to judging the quality of their hired writers, because they know what they want. Thus, they produce high-end shows that rock. But pay attention: During free-form interviews, they are on their own, and they’re “writing” their own witty, funny stuff AS THEY TALK. This, too, is writing copy, even though there’s no typing involved. When you understand HOW to write what you need, you eventually get good enough to write it in your head as you talk. You become a living, breathing copy-producing monster.)

No copy, no action. It really is that simple.

Operation MoneySuck demands that you spend your precious (and very limited) time honing your most important chops. And yes, amassing the outside fortifications of larger and more efficient businesses is important… but they will crumble without the foundational support of killer copy. (All the largest mailers in the world — Rodale, Phillips, Agora — were started by people who understood and wrote copy. Some have stumbled along the way, whenever non-writers gained control and lost sight of basic salesmanship. Great lesson there.)

Copy is salesmanship-in-print. Selling is what you do. The largest and most efficient business is just an empty shell if it cannot sell what it produces.

Learn the craft.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton
www.carltoncoaching.com

P.S. One last point: The idea that you can just hire the “best” writers to do your copy has a big hole in it.

Why?

Because, the “A List” of top writers is only around two-dozen names long. And they are all pretty much booked through eternity. No amount of moolah can get them to write for you, until you start offering partner-sized equity in your biz.

The “B List” of writers are also booked solid, most of the time. If you intend to pay for your most important copy, you may as well hook up an umbilical cord from the writer to your bank account… because you’re gonna pay a LOT (even if you can’t find an “A List” writer to do your job).

Worse — there’s a mob of untested, unproven, and weak-skilled freelancers out there masquerading as grizzled professionals… charging huge bucks to write lame-ass copy.

So you can’t tell from their fees how good they are.

You can shell out gold for peanuts… unless you know how to judge good copy.

The only way to do that: Learn the craft.

Don’t make me come down there…

 

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