What the Devil Do You Do, Anyway?

If you tell people you’re a professional, freelance copywriter, you often get blank stares in return. Sometimes that blank stare is an improvement over alternatives.

I was once asked, in a friendly but still baiting sort of way, how I managed to sleep at night, when what I did for a living was dreaming up ideas and writing copy for ads and sales letters that just sold people a lot of stuff they could probably just as easily do without. I said that I slept just fine, which I do.

I have a client who has, mounted on the wall of the entryway of his million dollar home, a cheap, small, silver-colored platter. It’s there because it and the sales letter I wrote for him that was delivered to tens of thousands of people with it … with the headline “Here’s Everything You Need To … Delivered To You On A Silver Platter” … bought and paid for his house. In cash. In full. It turned his struggling business into a wildly successful one. It ignited his rise to prominence in his industry.

No, my work creating that little sales letter with the gimmicky theme the one day it required didn’t (directly) cure cancer or build housing for orphans or yield a literary masterpiece of interest to academics for years to come. My client and I both contribute some of our inelegantly earned lucre to charities that support such things, but that’s neither here or there. This is not about appeasing guilt for the way you make money by giving some away, like the historical relationship between Mafia dons and the Catholic church.

I would like to give you a little glimpse of how I think about my work as a copywriter, as well as a marketing strategist and consultant – and at end, tell you how I think this influences your income.

My friend and speaking colleague of 10 years, the famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar calls selling the proudest of professions, and exhorts everybody to “go out and sell something because America needs the business.” Boy, do we ever!

Nothing good ever comes about without a whale of a lot of selling involved. No college or hospital built, no museum or theater funded, no orphan fed and clothed, no dog rescued, nothing, nothing, nothing you see, touch, own, benefit from, nothing standing in your community or any other, without money that came about by sales and marketing people selling stuff – including a whole lot of stuff people could just as easily do without. That’s where all the funding comes from.

In addition, pretty much everything exists because somebody sold others on the idea, the plan, and either investing in it or donating to it. We who sell are it. Without us, everybody else’ll quickly be sitting on the ground, naked, shivering.

I view the writing of copy that sells – whether directly or indirectly – as the most creative and highly evolved kind of selling there is. If there were no copywriters, all selling would de-evolve to manual labor, virtually all media would disappear, since it is all needy of advertising revenues. All information, entertainment, and intellectualism is welfare recipient permitted to exist thanks to the generosity of advertising paying the bills.

In short, the advertising copywriter is nothing less than an essential provider to American society. The fellow who asked me how I slept at night happens to own an organic foods grocery chain and him we could all get by without. There would be no mass starvation if his stores or all the stores of his type disappeared in a puff of global warming smoke. If we disappeared however, there might very well be mass starvation.

Second, as with my ‘silver platter’ client, I and most of you tend to work at actually building things. We build businesses. We build clientele that supports businesses. This rewards the person of greatest initiative and responsibility, the entrepreneur, who most deserves reward; provides gainful employment to those of less initiative but who work; and even contributes to the support of those who have no initiative and responsibility and refuse to work or to work at improving themselves via the taxes paid by the successful company, its owners and shareholders, and its employees.

Mr. Gamble of the original Proctor and Gamble said it well: any idiot can make soap. It takes a genius to sell soap. Without those of us who know how to create slice of life advertising vignettes, use testimonials, write copy about whiter whites and brighter brights, there’d be a helluva lot less soap sold thus less being manufactured, boxed, bottled, shipped and shelved, thus a helluva lot fewer jobs.

Of course, every function in our economy is important, but compare the building we are part of as advertising copywriters with the mere moving about of money already made thanks to us from place to place by bankers or the taking of the money from one for another by lawyers or the counting of the money by accountants – who is making the greater contribution? Who is more significant? I’ll quote a client of mine who barely escaped high school but made millions: “you can hire them spellers for minimum wage and them countin’ boys for not much more, but you don’t need any of ‘em unless somebody like me is sellin’ stuff.”

I don’t know about yours, but my copywriting changes lives. It buys that home, kids’ college educations, safe and secure retirements. It lifts struggling small business owners up out of near poverty into wealth, and helps them become community or industry leaders. It makes it possible for an inventor with a good idea, a dream, ambition to get a new product successfully to market.

It is on this basis I sleep so happily at night.

Strictly from a business standpoint, there is more.

We are value creators. It’s very important to know that and successfully communicate it to clients. We aren’t service providers, like the janitorial service that cleans up the office or the Federal Express guy who drops off packages or the client’s barber or even his doctor. We do a lot more than provide a service. We are modern day alchemists. We convert the barest of ideas into value, into assets of lasting value, into wealth, from thin air. When we leave our client, we leave him with more than a service ably performed. We leave him with tangible assets he did not have before. We hand him solid building blocks with which to construct the next addition to his business.

How does all this affect your income? I co-wrote the book The New Psycho-Cybernetics with the already deceased Dr. Maxwell Maltz – an interesting experience mind you, writing collaboratively with a dead author. The book’s predecessor has, since 1960, sold over 30 million copies in all its editions worldwide and may very well be the all-time bestselling book in the ‘self-help’ category. Its success is thanks to the incredibly powerful, fundamental truths about successful achievement it reveals, all centered around the “self-image,” a concept Dr. Maltz popularized.

In extremely abbreviated form, two of these truths are: one, everything external in your life is controlled by, made possible by and restricted by your inner self-image, and two, you cannot long out-perform your self-image’s view of what is possible or appropriate for you. To get nit-picky, then, if you see yourself as a provider of a service like a janitor, barber, bookkeeper, you will have within your self-image a firmly fixed concept of what fees and income and status is appropriate for you. If you see yourself as a modern day alchemist possessing miraculous, magical powers, as a value creator for your clients, and as the essential force of the entire economy and social system – as the most important person in the room – you will have within your self-image a very different concept of the fees and income and status appropriate for you. Whatever this concept, it affects you and all those around you. It “regulates” your outcomes, automatically.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

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Published: September 14, 2009

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