Secrets of a Master:
From Start to Finish – How to Create a Successful Package

A number of my clients, prospects, and seminar attendees have asked about my own methodology for writing a direct-mail package. At the risk of oversimplification, the steps are as follows:

  1. Before I write the copy, I study the product – its features, benefits, past performance, applications, and markets. Digging for the facts always pays off, because in advertising, specifics sell.
  2. I gather as much information as I can about the product and the market. This material includes: tear-sheets of previous ads, brochures, catalogs, article reprints, technical papers, copies of speeches, audio-visual scripts, press kits, and files of competitors' ads and literature.
  3. I spend a lot of time studying this information. Then, I key my notes into my PC. This reduces the mountain of source material to a more manageable printout of between 2 and 20 or so single-spaced, typed pages. By this point, I've read, written, and typed my research. And, all of this effort helps me soak up the information so that it becomes second nature to me.
  4. For long-copy assignments, I cut up the typed notes and paste each bit of information on an index card. I write a descriptive topic title at the top of the card. I then arrange the cards so the information is roughly in the order in which it will appear in the copy. This order usually comes to me as I study the material.
  5. I write a copy platform describing the package I intend to write, including the assumptions made about the audience and the theme or slant of the package. Sometimes, this platform is a brief, informal memo. But when I feel the client and I would benefit from greater detail, I do a more formal copy platform.
  6. Often, a platform will contain several different copy approaches and headlines. I recommend, wherever possible, split-testing the best two or three rather than betting the entire mailing on a single approach. But whether to do so is completely up to the client.
  7. Once the platform is approved, I write the package. I go through many drafts before showing it to the client. Before the copy is e-mailed to the client, it is read by a professional proofreader (usually my office manager).
  8. The client provides comments in any manner and format he or she prefers. However, I think the best method of reviewing copy is to read it as an electronic file and make your comments directly on the file using Microsoft Word's "Track Changes" feature. Doing so makes it much easier for you to comment at length than it would be to write in the limited space available on a hard copy with a pen. I highly recommend to clients that they use this online method of copy review.
  9. I revise the copy until the client is satisfied and accepts it.
  10. Although I do not require it, most clients e-mail a PDF file to me or fax the package in layout form. This allows me to check that all components are in the right place and that the design is as effective as it can be. I also give the layout to my proofreader for a final proofing on our end. However, the client is responsible for final checking of all copy, design, and production elements.
  11. We give our corrections and comments to the client. The package is then printed and mailed.
  12. I appreciate it when the client keeps me posted on the results. If I am getting a mailing fee on the package rollout, I will often suggest test ideas or package improvements to the client at no cost in order to maximize response (and, of course, maintain the package as the control).

[You can sign up to receive Bob Bly's new e-letter (it's free!) by visiting his website at and entering your email address. It consistently contains resources, ideas, and tips for improving response to business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, Internet, and direct marketing.]

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: July 22, 2002

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