Graphic-Design Pro Roger C. Parker on Copywriting, Design and Being an Entrepreneur

Roger C. Parker has been involved with desktop publishing since the early 1980s. (He immediately saw it as "the next big thing.") He wrote the first desktop-publishing design book – and that led to a 31-book (and still counting) career.

An entrepreneur at heart, he has not only worked with several major clients, including Apple Computer, Hewlett Packard, John Deere, Microsoft, Shearman & Sterling, and Yamaha, but has also helped numerous business startups grow to national prominence. Following his ideas, for example, Magnolia Hi-Fi & Video in Seattle grew from sales of less than $650,000 a year to the point where Best Buy recently purchased them for $87,000,000!

Roger has now joined the AWAI team as a leading contributor to AWAI's Graphic Design Success Program.

TGTE: Roger, please tell us something about your background. You started as a saleman, right?

RCP: Yes, and I am convinced that the best training a copywriter can have is to first be a salesman. When you sell face-to-face, you get immediate feedback on what works and what doesn't work. Watching your prospect's face and hands, you can tell when you're hitting the bulls-eye with your arguments and when you're missing by a mile. And, there's no greater thrill than when the prospect says, "Well, I guess I'll take it!"

No amount of education can substitute for face-to-face sales experience. You gain a better respect for the power of words and word sequence. It also teaches humility, the importance of doing your homework before you start writing, plus the importance of always telling the truth and respecting your prospect's intelligence.

TGTE: How did you become interested in graphic design?

RCP: I've always been interested in visual communications. In grammar school, I used to misbehave – so I would be sent to the principal's office, where I could operate the mimeograph machine. My teacher's hated me, but the secretaries in the principal's office loved me!

In high school, I would analyze magazines and newspapers and attempt to understand why some attracted my attention and were easier to read than others. It's a "challenge" and "puzzle" thing. The challenge is to take the elements of a message and assemble them into a pleasing "whole."

It wasn't until after I had been working as an in-house advertising manager that I realized what I was doing intuitively was actually what other people were trying to master. Or that what I was doing intuitively was what many designers had forgotten or were failing to do because they were focusing on "creativity" rather than "communication."

TGTE: What was your first job or big break?

RCP: A few years out of college (I graduated with an Honors Degree in History from Clark University), I was working for a Boston political-action committee but spending my weekends and evenings as a salesman for a very eccentric but cutting-edge high-performance stereo store. One day, the boss said, "You either come to work for me, or you are banned from the store!"

I was immediately given responsibility for the store's advertising, which was extremely iconoclastic. I went on to develop an advertising program that gained nationwide visibility – or notoriety, depending on how you look at it.

TGTE: How did you get started in your own design business?

RCP: I've always been an entrepreneur. The high point of my childhood was when I went to the dentist – and returned with a check for $200 for a stereo system to be installed in his office.

I've worked for others – but always have been on the lookout for being my own boss. I am not fond of politics and irrationality and find that there's less of that when working for myself than when working in a group environment (which leads to posturing and "group-think" committee decisions).

TGTE: Through books, coaching, consulting, and speaking you've helped close to 2 million people grow their businesses and advance their careers. What are some of your current projects?

RCP: My two favorites are two e-books: "Permission Marketing With a One-Page Newsletter" and my "Content Generator."

"Permission Marketing With a One-Page Newsletter" explains why bi-monthly four-page newsletters or quarterly eight-page newsletters are a waste of time. Newsletter marketing makes sense from the point of targeting your advertising resources on those most likely to buy from you, but these take too much time to prepare and too much time goes by between issues. A two-sided, one-page newsletter is a far better alternative, especially when sent as an e-mail attachment for free.

My "Content Generator" gives copywriters a jumpstart on a new project. It is based on the techniques I used it to win a copywriting competition that helped me escape a job I really hated. It contains over 300 topics, 250 verbs, and 275 modifiers to use to get your creative juices flowing.

TGTE: What desktop-publishing program do you use and recommend?

RCP: I use Adobe In-Design 2.0 as my program of choice for the newsletters I prepare for myself and my clients. In-Design was created from scratch to be the best and is not hampered by any "legacy code" or workaround requirements to be backward-compatible with previous generations of the program.

The program permits you to easily change your mind – you can undo just about every command or formatting decision. Plus, you can easily move from page to page by scrolling. In most programs, you have to switch from page to page, rather than simply scroll down.

TGTE: We often tell our students that the order device can make or break the sale. Can you offer some new tricks of the trade for designing winning order forms?

RCP: First of all, order forms should not be visually boring. There should be a dominant visual, something that catches the reader's eye and guides him through the actions required to order your product or service. An oversize "Yes!" is a good start.

Second, don't think of order forms as just "forms," but as one more opportunity to restate your offer and the benefits that buyers will enjoy when they take advantage of your offer. Even the offer in your original P.S. should be emphasized in the order form.

And, whenever possible, providing a credible time limit adds impact. Mention of scarcity also helps.

TGTE: What's the single most important piece of advice you can offer to our copywriting and graphic-design students?

RCP: Refuse to allow bosses or clients to dictate creative direction or quality.

You were hired for your expertise. To retain your credibility, it is essential that you follow your intuitions. You must refuse to compromise your ethics or your training. You are the creative director, not the boss or client.

Copywriting and design are endlessly challenging and fascinating. They open doors to you that can lead to a fuller, more satisfying life. Copywriting and design are based on part-whole relationships and sequence. There are endless challenges awaiting you – and nothing can substitute for the grin on a client's face when he says: "That's great! I couldn't do that myself in a million years!"

[Roger C. Parker's websites include:, (Content Generator),, and (Permission Marketing With a One-Page Newsletter).
You can reach him directly at]

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Published: August 4, 2003

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