Insights from Working Copywriters:
How to Work With a Client to Create a Winning Package, Part 2

[Editors Note: Read Part 1 of this article.]

Recently, we interviewed some of our working copywriters and asked them to tell us how they go about creating a successful promotion. Here's what they had to say:

TGT: Aside from asking for the usual – samples of the product, past promotions, and a copy of the control – what else do you ask for before you get started?

JOHN FORDE: I talk to the product manager about what's worked, what hasn't, and what else is about to be tested. Then about premiums, relevant web links, article clippings, etc. Basically, anything that's had the stamp of the product placed on it over time. And I ask about past product performance, anticipated changes to the product, anything about background or credibility, future outlook, etc.

JUSTIN FORD: I ask for copies of promos that flopped and testimonials.

KRISTA JONES: I use a list of questions I found in Bob Bly's "Copywriter's Handbook." The most important of those questions revolve around identifying the audience, the benefits of the product, and the USP.

DICK SANDERS: I ask for recent special reports, premiums, issues, hotline messages, etc. For investment products, I like to see track-record data and get details on successful recommendations. And I ask for any relevant articles they have clipped for potential DM use.

EDITH NEE: If it's a new company I'm working for, I ask for annual reports, history, brochures, etc. Plus, I ask for pertinent research, news or magazine coverage, client testimonials, etc.

TGT: What are the first written materials you provide to your client?

JOHN FORDE: Depends on the client. The less I've worked with them – or the more ambiguous the pitch or product – the more likely I am to provide a detailed outline. For someone I haven't worked with in a while, I will at least provide an informal positioning statement. For those who have worked with me before and know what to expect, the first document I send is the first draft. Often, if not always, I'll have two different versions of the lead. Sometimes, two different versions of the whole package. Plus plenty of thoughts on formats and other possible tests.

JUSTIN FORD: Usually, I send a first draft or at least 80% of it. Sometimes a sample head and lead.

KRISTA JONES: Definitely sample headlines and one or two possible leads. Sometimes an outline as well.

DICK SANDERS: Usually, we discuss potential themes and settle on one. Then I provide headlines and leads only. With approval, I move forward – and the next thing they see is the completed package.

EDITH NEE: I usually send just the first draft. In one case, with a new client who has a diverse group of prospects, I sent the first page to them in order to get their approval for the tone/feel before proceeding.

TGT: How many versions/revisions do you typically go through before arriving at final copy?

JOHN FORDE: I rewrite and reorganize as I go along. But, usually, it's two drafts with the client. The rest happens during the production phase. The revision process never really ends. The ideas never stop coming once you're engaged by the product. I've opened files of packages just to see what they are, years after they've been used, and I catch myself revising them on screen.

JUSTIN FORD: I usually go through around seven or eight revisions.

KRISTA JONES: I write a very rough draft just to get my thoughts down. Then I edit it three times before sending it to the client. Once the client has seen the draft, I usually have to edit it two more times.

DICK SANDERS: I write about 20 drafts before the client sees it. Any revisions after that are minor. I never do a major overhaul or completely redo a package, since the direction is agreed upon in advance. After 20 drafts, it's invariably in good shape (or the client won't get it).

EDITH NEE: I usually go through just one (maybe two, at the most) versions – but many revisions. Too many to keep count.

TGT: Do you play much of a role in determining the price, the offer, and the premiums associated with the product?

JOHN FORDE: More than I'd like. The ideal product has a brilliant offer and premium package already worked out. But that's the ideal. The reality is that trends change, themes change, the way the product is produced changes. Marketing teams don't always keep up with those changes. So you inevitably find yourself trying to get them to test a different price, a new premium title, stronger guarantees, etc.

JUSTIN FORD: Yes, very much.

DICK SANDERS: Prices and offers are usually determined by the client, but I'll sometimes make a suggestion if I think they're missing a good test. I try to work with existing premiums as much as possible, but often a new premium must be written to fit them and I'll suggest one. I also sometimes change existing premium titles to fit my promotion.

EDITH NEE: Not always. I sometimes make suggestions to clients, even if they don't ask.

TGT: Do you get involved in the layout of your package?

JOHN FORDE: Yes. For a while there, I WAS the designer. I had a hard time getting the layouts I wanted, so I just took it on myself. The great part of this is that it helped me write much better for the available space. I could get different elements on a page and write them so they'd work more closely together. But, eventually, doing the design proved to be too great a distraction. I now work with a freelancer for some projects and a design department for others, with a contact orchestrating everything between us. It works fairly well. But, unfortunately for the unlucky designers, I make lots of comments on their designs. There's too much risk of unreadable fonts, too-small headlines, sidebars in the wrong places, etc.

JUSTIN FORD: I offer to comment on lasers. Most clients take me up on that.

KRISTA JONES: I haven't done it yet. But now that I'm taking AWAI's graphic design course, I plan to become very involved.

DICK SANDERS: Yes. I make suggestions on pagination (where the editorial components fall) and I also make general design recommendations. I don't make any specific suggestions – it's important to let the designer do his/her job.

EDITH NEE: I do make comments – even if they're unsolicited – because I want my package to succeed.

For more information on AWAI’s Graphic Design program, visit:

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: July 8, 2002

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