How to Get the Most out of Creative Conferences:
A Nifty Tool for Getting the Background Information You Need from Your Clients … Every Time, Part 1

Early in my career, at the outset of each assignment, I found that I was asking each new client a set of similar questions in order to obtain the background data and materials I needed to write the package.

So in the late 1970s, I devised a checklist I called a “New Project Discussion Agenda.” Over the years, others have borrowed and adapted it. It has been reprinted numerous times in direct-marketing books and trade publications – with and without attribution.

The Agenda is a working tool. It does not pretend to be exhaustive, nor will every question apply to every product. I developed it for my copywriting for subscription newsletters and other information products. But you can adapt it for virtually any niche. It serves as a useful checklist, and may help ensure that no critical item is forgotten.

The ideal source for this information is your client: the product manager, sales director, editor, owner, or someone else in the company who is knowledgeable.

In section “A” of the Agenda, I grouped what I regard to be the most significant items. And Question #4 is perhaps the most likely to generate valuable creative ideas.

The Agenda is too extensive to cover in one article, so I’m going to give you the “A” section now and the remainder next week.

A. PROJECT FUNDAMENTALS:

  1. What is the product’s Unique Selling Proposition?

    What is your publication’s concept? Its aim, function, unique selling proposition? How is it “positioned”? Ask the client to complete this sentence: “This is the only resource that …”

  2. What is the competition for this product?

    Who are the major competitors? What are their failings? Is there a gap in the marketplace? If so, how does your product fill that gap? What do you offer that’s exclusive?

  3. Who is your market?

    Who is the target subscriber or user? What are the ages and gender of the users, their income level, etc.? Such demographic data is an important starting point for getting to know the prospective buyer. But go beyond that, into attitudes, motivations, emotions, behavior, etc. For example, does the prospective investor favor gold? Is he a conservative who is suspicious of big government? Ask the client about the attitudes and mindset of the subscribers. Even better, ask some subscribers directly.

  4. What are the prospect’s biggest concerns, emotions, and needs?

    This may be the single most important question to ask. Determine your prospect’s biggest concerns and problems. What keeps him awake at night? What questions, complaints, fears, threats, mistakes, and opportunities does he face? What information or help does he need to deal with them? If it’s a B2B product, what’s the industry climate? What trends, events, hot issues, and new developments are occurring in this field?

  5. How does the product help the reader?

    How does it fill a compelling need in your prospect’s life? What are its features? What concrete benefits will he realize?

  6. What is the product’s name?

    If this is a new product, you may have a hand in naming it. Find out how the name, subtitle, slogan, and logo reflect its goals.

  7. What are the product’s origins?

    Is this a brand-new product or does it have historical roots? Who first created or developed the product? Are there any interesting or compelling stories about its start?

  8. Is there an editorial/marketing plan?

    Does your client have any internal documents about the product, its development, its marketing? Ask him to share them with you, in confidence. The more you know, the stronger the promotion you can write.

That’s it for now. Come back next week when we expand our checklist to include questions about the product itself, marketing strategy, offer, and more.

Following this checklist will help you build a stronger, more successful promotion.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: January 7, 2008

19 Responses to “How to Get the Most out of Creative Conferences: A Nifty Tool for Getting the Background Information You Need from Your Clients … Every Time, Part 1”

  1. Great article! I realize I am quite new and soaking up all the material associated with the course Accelerated Program For Six-Figure Copywriting, but this kind of summary of action steps is extremely handy, thanks!

    Jerry BuresAugust 18, 2009 at 6:41 pm

  2. Thank you AWAI the information I'm learning is really great and informative. And I really like how you have this program structured so beginners like me can understand and one day become a great copy writer. Thanks again.

    TimothyAugust 21, 2009 at 6:05 am

  3. These questions will prove to be very useful tools, especially when developing that compelling headline and lead.

    M M WagnerSeptember 28, 2009 at 7:23 pm

  4. Your "Nifty Tool" is Nifty. I can't wait to start using it.

    HirshDecember 21, 2009 at 3:48 pm

  5. A tool like this is just what every copywriter needs... especially newbies! I think it would be an invaluable productivity resource. It would keep you keyed and focused on the task at hand.

    Christopher McCargarMarch 2, 2010 at 3:52 pm

  6. You guys are bridging the gap...Shortening the learning curve...Indeed, what is better than learning at the feet of the masters...

    Jeff The WriterMarch 3, 2010 at 1:28 am

  7. I feel as JerBear does...soaking it all in happily and inspired each time with wisdom from all those that have tread this path before me...merci!!!

    CopyGirlApril 22, 2010 at 7:45 am

  8. Its almost scary. The information is so fullfiling and complete. I cannot wait to my next excercise. I'm a newbie

    J DavidAugust 27, 2010 at 11:51 am

  9. Thanks AWAI for this jewel of a program that I have in my possession! Truly life changing and mind enhancing. Looking forward to many years of writing great copy and becoming the next shining star!

    EricJanuary 18, 2011 at 12:25 pm

  10. I find many interesting thoughts in this section on getting information to help me with meeting the needs of the company project, and how to intice the reader this is a product that will help them and their needs.

    Sara Millard DieffembachApril 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm

  11. This is so much more than a nifty tool for copywriters. This is something that anyone starting their business really needs to go through several times, honing their product / service - each time becoming able to answer these questions in a more compelling, in-depth manner, until eventually they have a highly-focused understanding of their customer, product and marketing plant. Excellent resource. Thank you!

    someoneinseattleNovember 7, 2011 at 5:25 pm

  12. Good information. I did see in the course some information about list data cards as a source of information. Did I miss that in this checklist? Or would that be something you would ask for only if the client had access to that information already?
    I agree with other comments regarding the quality and structure of the course (I have the printed version also).

    HyrumMay 29, 2012 at 2:04 am

  13. This is a lot of information to be gathering at once, some of which the client may not have readily at hand. I can see this engendering a series of info-dumps, electronic or telephonic which can only help develop rapport(one would hope). Not to mention professionalism. Beautifully structured course, by the way.

    HelenscribeMay 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm

  14. Like the entire AWAI course (as far as I can tell, as a newbie just finishing up Installment #1) this is extremely useful for copywriters, marketeers, business planners, authors, small business owners . . . just about anyone with just about anything to promote. I am seriously immersed in this course, and learning something EVERY DAY! I know I will be more successful in the coming years because of this kind of material. [don't skip over any links in the educational material, fellow students; nuggest of purest gold]

    EddardAugust 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm

  15. Hauptman provides a simple yet comprehensive guide on which to structure and approach a new project. Not only is its application useful for information products, but also for sales of any kind. Hauptman's "project fundamentals" would have been highly beneficial to me early in my career had I known about it. It's simple yet comprehensive, providing a solid foundation on which to organize and move a project forward with clarity. Addressing each of the eight questions is the surest way to success.

    B JohnsonJanuary 9, 2014 at 2:18 pm

  16. Sid - Uncommon Commone Sense from a Pro.

    Thanks Don !

    Guest (Sid Grosvenor)August 8, 2014 at 3:48 pm

  17. A great tool, Don.
    My laptop (with office) is in the shop, so I headed over to Google "docs" and create a form from your questions in part one. (I'll personalized it later).

    What great results! Looks very professional and it can be emailed easily to clients creating a great impression.
    I invite readers to try their own at:
    docs dot google dot com / forms

    John KeyserAugust 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm

  18. Man this was a great article! Extremely helpful. So glad I read it. Every copywriter needs this. I'll constantly reference this. Thanks so much!

    Guest (Misha M)August 20, 2014 at 11:57 pm

  19. Thanks for these great ideas. I haven't crossed the bridge yet to apply them but maybe in the future. I've been thinking about what I can do in this little city I live in. I'm thinking I'll go and visit each business on Main St. and maybe this article will assist me.

    Wanda F SewellAugust 6, 2018 at 7:28 pm


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