In His Own Words: Million-Dollar Copywriter Clayton Makepeace on Banishing Writer’s Block
Clayton Makepeace loves to share strategies with other copywriters. The Golden Thread took advantage of his generosity to ask questions about his success and how he avoids that bane of all writers: writer’s block.
TGT: How did you get started in copywriting?
CLAYTON: I fell into copywriting. I was living in Los Angeles in 1973, working as a freelance film and video cameraman. I was also doing editing and technical directing.
I was doing the whole gambit – television programs, industrial films, commercials, and movies. Since I was a freelancer, I worked on all kinds of things, including fundraising, which would become important later.
Then the oil embargo brought a nasty recession. There was no work in TV.
So I started looking for a steady job and got one with a small list-brokerage company that needed a copywriter.
That was in ’74. In 1979, I went out on my own.
TGT: What sorts of copy did you work on?
CLAYTON: Most of my early promotions were fundraiser appeal letters or promos for investment newsletters. At the time, the investment-newsletter industry was in its infancy. In fact, the agency I worked for rented Howard Ruff the names he used to launch his newsletter "The Ruff Times."
TGT: Since then, you’ve done other types of copywriting, correct?
CLAYTON: I’ve written for all kinds of products. But most of my work has been in investment, finance, and health. For example, I created the launch promotions for Phillips Publishing’s "Health and Healing" newsletter that mailed 90 million pieces in three years and sold over 2 million subscriptions.
TGT: 90 million! What do you owe your success to?
CLAYTON: My first influences were from fundraising. In fundraising, there are no traditional benefits to the donor – you’re not going to make him healthier or wealthier. I HAD to focus on how donating money made him feel.
I’ve taken this focus into other promotions. I figure out what excites my prospect so much that he has trouble falling asleep … what worries him so much that he wakes up in a cold sweat.
You must understand and work with your prospect’s real emotions … not those you impose. For maximum impact, focus on the most powerful of those feelings – his dominant emotions.
Dominant Emotion copy is "marketing jujitsu." It uses the power of your prospect’s most compelling, pre-existing emotions to get him moving in the direction YOU want.
TGT: Bob Bly says you’re the fastest copywriter he knows. How is it possible to be a fast writer and still have the success you do?
CLAYTON: Being a fast writer – and one who has a good amount of success – has to do with my work process. I never start with a blank screen.
The way to write quickly – the way to avoid writer’s block altogether – is to follow a specific strategy before you write word one. These strategies fuel my creativity and make writing much easier.
When writing promotions for the investment market, for example, I start by looking at what’s happening in the economy and investment markets right now. I’m looking for the trends my prospect is watching most closely that are likely to be with us for many months.
Currently, the prospect is watching rising interest rates … rising inflation … rising commodity prices … a weakening real estate market … and lackluster gains in the stock market. So my work process begins by identifying how my prospect feels about each of these trends – and which of those feelings are most dominant in his life.
Next, I delve into how the prospect is feeling about investing in general. Not long ago, he saw the greatest stock boom in history – and all the hype that went with it.
Next, he saw a big chunk of his money wiped out by the tech bust. Since then, he’s witnessed major financial scandals and a blow-up over crooked corporate accounting. And now, for the past several years, he’s seen stock indices – and his investments – go nowhere.
I ask myself, "Given what I know about my prospect’s experience, what emotions are driving him now? Which of these emotions are most compelling – the most dominant – in his life?"
Then I identify the ways my client, his premiums, and product connect with those feelings. And I write about that.
This process gives me a fast start. More than that, it gets me off on the right foot – allowing me to connect with my prospect in the most powerful way possible, positioning my client as his advocate.
And, it gives me a pile of ideas that will eventually find their way into headlines, subheads, running text, and sidebars. Organizing those ideas gives me a logically flowing outline for the package.
Once you’ve done this, you’re never stuck for an idea. The key is understanding how the right and left sides of the brain work together. It’s too complicated to describe here, but this strategy blasts away writer’s block … forever.
TGT: Two last questions. Did you have any mentors when starting out? And are mentors important?
CLAYTON: I wish I’d had a mentor. But back when I started copywriting, we were pretty much inventing the financial and alternative health markets – learning by trial and error.
Things are much better now. Mentoring and coaching give copywriters the ability to get controls – and the big money – much faster.
The power of coaching lies in the ability to ask specific questions, get specific answers, and get clarification to the answers when necessary.
I’ve mentored seven copywriters over the past few years. All of them earn at least six figures, and two are banking seven figures annually.
It took me 20 years to get to seven figures. They’ve done it in a fraction of that time.
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