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AWAI's (American Writers and Artists Institute) Monthly Copywriting Genius, an online publication about top direct response copywriters featured me in a recent issue. It included an interview and an analysis of one of my direct response projects. The interview went over some of the techniques and approaches I use to achieve breakthrough success for my clients. Monthly Copywriting Genius is a subscription publication. Below is an excerpt of the interview....

MCG: Is there one project that stands out as your favorite?

Leon: Yes, it was for San Francisco Federal Savings – I think they’ve since been acquired or merged. The package was a promotion for some kind of bank membership club. I forget exactly what you got with membership, but it included a nice increase in CD rates plus various bonuses. It was meant to convey a sense of exclusiveness for San Franciscans.

At the time, there was an iconic newspaper columnist in San Francisco named Herb Caen. His column was an

interesting mix: part local gossip of the San Francisco area – who was seen at various nightclubs, etc. – and part celebration of the SF Bay area, and how wonderful it was to live there. Since the bank’s Club membership was supposed to convey a sense of insider status in the San Francisco Bay area, I thought nothing said that better than Herb Caen.

So one of the concepts I proposed was to have the mailing come from Herb Caen.

The idea was to imbue a boring bank membership with some of Herb Caen’s panache and excitement. Instead of a brochure I proposed we have a long column in Herb Caen’s format, and I would write the column in his style. His style was known as 3 dot journalism. He would offer a tidbit of gossip, followed by three dots, then another tidbit, and so on.

So for the promotion I tried to think up juicy things that people could do with the club membership and the money they got from the rate increase. Each item was separated by the three dots.

While I really liked the idea, I thought it was one of those longshot concepts. Either the client or Herb Caen would nix it. Well it turned out they all liked it. Caen just wanted final approval.

It was a lot of fun to write, turning CD rates and other banking items into tidbits of gossip. And Caen approved it without any changes.

It turned out to be one of those wonderful trifectas, where the client loves it, you love it, and the results are gangbuster. And for a moment, you think all’s right with the world.

MCG: Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of your methodology. What’s the first thing you do when you get an assignment?

Leon: The first thing is to research the subject matter. I do a lot of research on the web – competitors, articles, reports, forums, Amazon.com. I want to know characteristics of the list. If I’m promoting a newsletter I want to see as many previous newsletters as I can. I ask to speak to company executives and others who might be helpful, whether it is an editor or a marketing director.

Once I get a grasp of the subject, I start thinking of a first round of ideas and concepts. I tend to do this before looking at old controls. By doing this, I’m not influenced by what people did before me. Then, after I have a first round of ideas, I analyze previous controls and other promotions, and try to assess why the control worked and why others didn’t.

MCG: Do you think there is a difference between online prospects and direct mail prospects?

Leon: It depends. If it’s a promotion mailed to a certain list vs. a promotion emailed to a similar list, the messaging and the writing can also be quite similar.

But if, let’s say, it’s a promotion mailed to a list vs. a landing page people come to from a pay per click ad, then there is a bigger difference. The person who arrives at the landing page has actively searched using specific keywords for a topic or problem. When they click on the ad they want to see a pretty specific message. The landing page needs to be very aligned with the keywords and ads in the pay-per-click campaign. You need to write with that in mind. With the direct mail, you don’t have to align your writing so closely to specific keywords.

MCG: How do you build credibility for the product?

Leon: I look to incorporate as many credibility indicators as possible: awards, certifications, testimonials, case studies. Certain names or brands, depending on the industry, can offer credibility. In the health field, it can be a study from Harvard Medical School or Johns Hopkins. If the promotion is technology-related, any connection to a Google or an IBM, or a company like that, will carry a lot of weight. Certain investment firms and analysts carry a lot of weight in the financial field. Track records and biographies can be particularly effective in certain categories.

While testimonials are effective, I think testimonials integrated within case studies are even more effective. I call them case stories. This way the quotes have context. You know the situation and how a problem was solved.


To read the full interview plus an analysis of one of the projects discussed in the interview, go to www.monthlycopywritinggenius.com

To see samples and case studies of my work and find out more about my services, go to www.altmancopypro.com.


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