Why Knowing Copywriting Basics Will Make You a More Successful Designer: An Interview With Donna Doyle

Donna Doyle, AWAI’s Copywriter of the Year in 2006, has over 17 years of copywriting experience. With that much experience, you’d expect she knows her craft really well.

She does. But in addition to being a great copywriter, Donna is also an accomplished direct-marketing graphic designer, although she denies being a graphic designer. She is, she says, a copywriter who knows direct-marketing graphic design principles.

Whatever she calls herself, Donna Doyle is very successful. And a large part of her success is due to having her feet in both worlds.

We spoke with Donna to ask her about the advantages of knowing direct-marketing graphic design … and how you can grab a similar advantage.

IFD: Donna, tell us a little about yourself.

DONNA: I live in Middletown, New Jersey. Depending on which direction you go, I’m between 5 and 20 minutes from the beach. Not bad for someone who enjoys lolling in the sun. I love my work, and it takes up a lot of my time … by choice. But I also enjoy watching cooking shows on television. And I’m a big Sudoku fan.

IFD: You say you’re not a graphic designer, but you do know a great deal about DM design. Why did you decide to add graphic design skills to your copywriting skills?

DONNA: One reason was to make more money. If a client wants a simple #10 package and you know how to do it, there’s no reason for the client to pay someone else $600 to $1,000 when you could be earning it yourself.

There’s a more important reason, though. As a copywriter, I want to make sure my words get maximum power from the design. By knowing basic design principles, I can tell the designer and client what I think is the strongest design possible.

I feel that graphic designers who know the principles of copywriting have the same advantage. As a designer who knows those principles, you’re going to be able to translate the copywriter’s copy into a much stronger package because you know both sides of the game.

By doing this, you’re offering your client additional service, additional benefit. It might not translate into more money at first. But you’re offering additional value. This builds repeat business. It builds your reputation. And it will build your client base and your success.

IFD: How did you get started with graphic design?

DONNA: Early in my career, I took a job as a “promotion manager,” which required knowledge of graphic design. This was back in the days before computers. “Cut and paste” literally meant to cut and paste. I got a real feel for design then.

I left that job and joined Prentice Hall. By then, computers and Quark had come on the scene. Artists at PH were booked up, and I was bored. So I took on some of the design work.

Eventually, when I became a freelancer, design became “another service” I offered. As a freelancer – whether a designer or a copywriter – the more services you offer clients, the more valuable you become to them. And the more loyal they will be to you.

When you’re primarily a designer, you might not feel ready to write a 24-page magalog. But if a client wants a well-designed, well-written brochure and asks you to recommend a copywriter, why not recommend yourself?

IFD: What are the disadvantages to this crossover between graphic designer and copywriter?

DONNA: I can’t think of any disadvantages. I want to be the freelancer who stands above the crowd. And I can’t imagine that going from designer to copywriter would be harder than going from copywriter to designer.

IFD:Do you have any “superwoman” stories about being able to help a client because of your dual skills?

DONNA: As a matter of fact, yes. A food company that recently contacted me knew nothing about direct marketing … so they hired me because I could advise them on graphic design and other aspects of the project. I recommended a great designer, and we worked together to put out a very strong package that just mailed. I wasn’t just a copywriter. I became a consultant … and in doing so, built value and loyalty.

IFD: How do you get jobs?

DONNA: At this point in my career, about 80% are from return business and word of mouth. But I still do self-marketing and send out prospecting packages. It took about 4 to 5 years to get good word-of-mouth referrals. Having the graphic design connection certainly increases that. Satisfied clients do refer you when they know you can deliver the goods.

IFD: To what do you attribute your success?

DONNA: A positive attitude. Running my freelance business like a real business, because it is. Going the extra yard for the client. I can’t emphasize how much having the graphic sideline has bolstered my success. For a designer, having a copywriting sideline would work the same way.

I’m also studying my craft all the time. You always have to keep on top of everything. You can’t just playact at being a successful freelancer. You have to work at it.

IFD: Any final words of advice for our readers?

DONNA: Learn your craft well. Be easy to work with. No. Make that: Be a delight to work with. There seem to be a lot of prima donnas in this business, and no one likes working with them. Learn as much as you can about all aspects of direct marketing so you are the source your clients turn to when they need answers.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: January 3, 2008

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