A Nifty Tool for Getting the Background Information You Need from Your Clients … Every Time, Part 2

In part 1 of this article, I introduced you to a tool I created some 30 years ago to ensure that I have all the information I need to write a successful promotion.

It’s a checklist that I named the “New Project Discussion Agenda.” I use it to interview the client to obtain the necessary background data and materials to write the package.

Last week, I gave you the first part of the Agenda – Section A (#1–8), which covers the “Fundamentals” of the project. Today, I will give you the remaining three sections.

Remember, I devised this checklist for my own specialty: newsletters, magazines, and other information products. But with a few exceptions, you can adapt most of the questions so that they apply to all types of products.


  1. Can you supply me with back issues?

    Ask to see a year or two of back issues. If it’s a launch, ask for a list of article titles and synopses that are planned for the new publication.

  2. What is the content?

    What are the current and planned articles? What are the regular departments, columns, standing features? Does the newsletter emphasize specifics, so the reader can take action and realize concrete benefits? Does the content suggest surprising or little-known facts that can be cited in the promotional copy?

  3. What is the editorial policy?

    Is the newsletter independent? If so, is this a selling point in contrast with the competition?

  4. Does the newsletter offer exclusive content or benefits?

    Can it boast “scoops”? Accurate predictions? What is its track record?

  5. What are the newsletter’s sources?

    How does the editor/staff obtain information? Do they have “inside” sources? What is the newsgathering process?

  6. What items have generated a strong reader response?

    Was the response favorable or unfavorable? Why did readers respond that way? Can this knowledge be applied in the promotional copy?

  7. Who are the people on the editorial staff?

    Who are the editors and writers? What are their biographies and qualifications? Any anecdotes or special stories? Do you have photos?

  8. Does the newsletter have a board of advisors?

    Again, what are their biographies, qualifications, stories? Photos?


  1. What mailing lists will be used?

    What are the mailing lists, list brokers, and/or media? Is the client targeting the right audience? Are prospects already familiar with the newsletter? With the publisher?

  2. Are there testimonials or similar materials?

    Does the client have testimonials (from subscribers or authorities in the field), anecdotes, or success stories? Press clips? Awards? What special achievements can the client boast? Proof of authority?

  3. What is the circulation?

    What is the publication’s circulation and renewal rate?

  4. What market research has been done?

    Is subscriber survey data available? May I look at the subscriber list?

  5. What are the results of past promotional efforts?

    What type of testing has been done? Split-tests? Please supply copies of past promotions, and the results. The renewal series and results. Any lessons to be drawn from this data? Is a “welcome” letter sent to new subscribers?

  6. Competitive products?

    Do you have samples of competitive publications? The promotions for them? Should competitors be mentioned or named in copy?

  7. What type of package will this be?

    Any “mandatories” re the concept, format, structure? Who is the graphic designer?

  8. Are there any copy caveats?

    What legal constraints, if any, do we face? Internal policies?


  1. What is the newsletter’s subscription price?

    What is the regular price? Can we offer a discount? A “Charter” offer? If a launch, can we promise to deliver “all issues from #1”?

  2. What are the ordering options?

    Does the client prefer a soft or hard offer? Billing? Credit cards? Can the prospect order via phone, fax, online?

  3. What is the frequency of publication?

    How often is it published? Will the subscriber receive alerts between regular issues?

  4. What are the terms of the guarantee?

    How long is the guarantee valid? Is the refund full or pro-rata?

  5. How is the product delivered?

    Is it mailed First Class? Delivered via email? Other method(s)?

  6. Is the publisher offering a premium?

    What is the basic premium? Early-response premium? Prepayment incentives? Additional bonuses?

  7. Finally, do you have any additional background material that can help me write the strongest possible copy? Subscribers or experts I can interview?

The last word: Although I often used this checklist while interviewing clients by phone or in person, in other cases they completed the answers themselves and sent me the resulting document. Not surprisingly, I heard occasional complaints about the work I was asking them to do. But, more often, they told me afterward: “You’ve made me think through issues I needed to address in order to improve my business. Thank you!”

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 »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: January 14, 2008

3 Responses to “A Nifty Tool for Getting the Background Information You Need from Your Clients … Every Time, Part 2”

  1. Thank you for this checklist/tool. I'm currently working through the Acc. course on copywriting. Having this checklist is going to give me confidence in approaching clients and knowing what info I need from them...this course keeps getting better and better :)

    Holly M

  2. Great interview material- thx


  3. It gives me a lot to think about when I am ready to launch my copywriting business. Thanks so much!

    Wanda F Sewell

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)