A One-On-One Interview With Duke Clarke
CI: When did you get started in direct marketing and copywriting?
DUKE: I certainly didn’t start like most. I worked inside the organized church for the first 16 years of my adult life in many different leadership positions both ministerial and corporate work. Then I left the group and went out on my own.
Within the church I was writing copy for products and programs from the beginning, but as they say, “You are preaching to the choir,” so it wasn’t that hard.
For the last 20 years, I’ve been writing to people who know me and to total strangers – it’s been great.
CI: Do you need any special background to become a copywriter for the Christian market?
DUKE: I think a good copywriter can do the research needed to write to any market. But if you are not from a Christian background and think that every Christian thinks alike and talks alike, you can be way off base. So it does help if you come from a Christian background so you know some of the language of religion.
CI: Did you know what copywriting or direct response/mail was … before you started writing copy?
DUKE: I certainly didn’t know the science of it, but being a minister I know how and which buttons to push with people on a certain topic.
CI: How did you become a copywriter?
DUKE: When I was inside the organized church, it was just my job to motivate people to participate or purchase. But I never really needed the skills of a copywriter until I was on my own – getting readers to believe me without knowing me or having any loyalty toward me. So I had to learn as I went along.
CI: Were you self-trained or did have a mentor?
DUKE: I have always believed the fastest way to learn is with a mentor, whether in person or through courses. I studied AWAI’s program extensively and Eugene Schwartz’s book, which is excellent. Matt Furey has been a personal friend and mentor for the last four years.
CI: How long have you been writing copy?
DUKE: I have been writing copy in one form or another for 30+ years, but only in the last 15 years has it been copy in the form of direct-response marketing to people who don’t know me.
CI: What do you like most about copywriting?
DUKE: Getting inside the head of the buyer and learning to speak their language and connecting with them personally.
CI: What’s the first thing you do when you start working on a new letter?
DUKE: Following the Eugene Schwartz approach, I read as much as I can about the project and start listing benefits, benefits, benefits. These then become my headlines, sub-heads and bullets as well as forming the body of the text.
CI: How do you get in tune with the target audience?
DUKE: In copywriting for the Christian market, this can be tricky. Without going into great detail, you must decide if your target audience is a single denomination or several related groups (for example, are they a fundamentalist Baptist group or a collection of associated groups). Depending on which they are, you can use hot buttons for that particular denomination or use hot buttons that work with generally accepted, broader beliefs.
CI: Do you develop the headline first or start with the body copy?
DUKE: I have done it both ways. Having a headline gives you an outline form to follow, but I have often gone back and changed the headline after the text in the body started to flow.
CI: After you finish a draft … do you let it rest for a day or so and then re-read and make edits?
DUKE: Personally I give it to my wife to read. She is most objective with me and has a uncanny way of knowing and understanding how people think … so if it makes sense to her, it will ring true to most people. Then I let it sit overnight and come back to it.
CI: How would you characterize your style of writing?
DUKE: My style is conversational; I want the reader to feel a one-on-one connection.
CI: How much testing do you do with your copy?
DUKE: Well, I have to admit, this is one of my major weaknesses. My desire to move to the next project keeps me from going back and reworking headlines and implementing other testing procedures.
CI: How involved are you in the design?
DUKE: I have the final say on the layout, but I do have a lot of idea contributors.
CI: Do you have any special tips or techniques for boosting response?
DUKE: The better you know the language of religion, the stronger connection you will make.
CI: Is there a special thing you do to come up with headlines for your projects?
DUKE: Focus on benefits and write as many as I can before picking one.
CI: Is there ONE thing that every package you write always has?
DUKE: Confidence in the copy that says, “This product is for you” without having to say it directly.
CI: If you could choose another career, what would that be and why?
DUKE: Motivating and inspiring people is what I do, whether it’s in copy, personal coaching or public speaking. So it may look like another career, but it’s the same inspiration.
CI: What advice would you give up-and-coming copywriters to help them learn this trade?
DUKE: If you’re going to be in Christian copywriting, you’ll need to study the meaning and background of different groups and find out what makes them tick. It’s the quickest way to get the purchase.
CI: What is the hardest part of being a copywriter in the Christian market?
DUKE: I’d say two things. One is educating the Christian market that it’s a more competitive market today. It’s not just “write it, produce it or make it available, and they will buy” any more. Christian products need copy promotion.
Second is learning and using the heart and language of your target group.
CI: What obstacles do you come across as a result of working in the Christian market?
DUKE: The biggest obstacle is an aversion to the concept of “selling” spiritual things – but that’s only a point of view. As a copywriter, you’re supplying a product to a fellow Christian who has a need.
CI: How do you figure out what emotions to use in your copy?
DUKE: I always try to stay on the positive side. I don’t like using guilt, fear or negative emotions to manipulate fellow Christians.
CI: Can freelance copywriters build a base of national clients, even though they may not be able to meet with them in person? Do the clients want local writers, or do they work long distance?
DUKE: In today’s world, it doesn’t matter where you live. Some clients may want locals, but it’s not necessary.
CI: If a freelance copywriter really applies himself within a year or two or three, what can he expect to make … $50,000 a year, $100,000 a year, $1 million a year? What’s a realistic income?
DUKE: That’s a great question. This market is so new and growing so fast, I don’t think there are limits or standards set yet, so it’s a great time to get in. I have made a nice six-figure income for the last four years, and that’s only part-time.
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