Double Your Chances of Winning Any Copy Test
And Getting the Repeat Business and Royalties You Deserve!

Congratulations — you’ve just won a paying assignment from an exciting new client!

You have a control to beat, a deadline to meet, and a deal that means a check in your hands and bread on your table. Nice!

But, your efforts to win this plum assignment will be for naught unless you actually win the test. Sure, even if your copy comes in second, you’ll still have a check to take to the bank … for your ‘losing’ copy. Not exactly satisfying. Not very fulfilling. And, more than likely, you’ll find yourself out pounding the pavement again to find another new client to start the process all over again.

The purpose of this article is to show you a very easy technique for doubling your chances of winning any copy test. In fact, I’m going to show you two possible variations on putting this technique into play, so that virtually any client will say ‘Yes’ to your proposal. Getting that ‘Yes’ greatly increases your chances of winning the test, getting repeat business from this client, and cashing in on the royalties and bonuses that (let’s hope) you were savvy enough to negotiate.

Why should you listen to me? For one thing, I’ve had lots of practice doing what you don’t want to do — writing losing tests. I’ve racked up 30 years’ worth of duds, bombs, and buzz-kills (along with just enough winners and occasional breakthroughs to keep me in business). Like the ballplayer who leads the league in strikeouts, if you also hit a lot of home runs, you can still be a superstar. Another reason to consider my advice is that until I figured out this very easy technique, I did things the hard way for far too long. I lost way too many tests and too many potentially lucrative accounts.

Try my technique and watch your value as a copywriter skyrocket. You’ll double your chances of winning any copy test, especially that all-important first assignment from a new client.

In direct-response advertising, ‘test, test, test’ is the mantra of every successful direct marketer. A common way of looking at test results is to use an ‘index’ of 100. Whether it’s a two-way test or a ten-way test, all test panels are measured against the response of the control, which is assigned an index value of 100. A test panel that pulls 80% of the control is said to have an index of 80 (not where you want your test to be). One that pulls 20% better than the control has an index of 120 (that’s more like it).

Now, when you arrive on the scene as your client’s newest copywriter, that client’s control copy is already paying his bills day in and day out. It was probably written by a very competent copywriter, or at least by an average writer with a solid understanding of the market. It’s been reviewed and approved (and likely also improved) by one or more marketing pros on your client’s staff. Most important, it’s been tested and proven effective in the marketplace.

And you come along, and all of a sudden it’s your job to beat this copy. You fire up Microsoft Word, and create a new, blank document. Your copy now has an index value of zero.

You have a lot of work ahead of you just to write new copy that gets from zero all the way to 100. Heck, it’s a lot of work just to write a creative test that indexes at 90! You’ll have to be very smart and tenacious and creative and probably a little lucky just to index 100 and match the success your client’s control has already achieved. To go from zero all the way to 120 or higher? You’re going to have to be firing on all cylinders.

What is easier than going from zero to 120 — from a blank screen, from an empty Word document, to a breakthrough that whips the control by 20% or more? I submit that going from 100 to 120 is easier. That is … make the control copy, not the blank screen, your starting point. Why write a brand-new piece of copy when you can rewrite a piece of winning copy? Take what works, tweak it up, enhance it, polish it, make it shine, make it sing, and you can easily win a lot more tests than if you followed the usual path of writing a new promotion from scratch.

Winning copy is filled with great ideas. But, those ideas are not necessarily in the optimal order. Your client may not have heard (as you have) Michael Masterson’s admonition to “fire the big guns first.” The Big Idea may be buried in the third, fourth, or fifth paragraph — or page. It may be obscured by a long ‘wind-up’ — another common mistake you’ve heard Michael clearly warn against. Yet, in spite of these and other shortcomings, the copy is making money.

Why throw that all away? Why not keep what’s good about the control and add your magic to it?

So, here’s what you want to do. If you have an assignment to write a brand-new ad to test against the control, tell your client that for no extra charge, you’re also going to rework their control provided they’ll agree to test it. This gives you two bites at the apple — your new copy plus the overhaul of the control. But, you can’t charge extra to do this, so be sure to negotiate a good fee for the base project. If you try to charge more for the second test panel, it’s going to look like an upsell.

Or, if your client is only willing to commit to giving you one test panel, you have a decision to make. Will you set the control aside and write brand-new copy from scratch, or will you take the winning control and make it even stronger? To help you make this decision, you need to know just how successful the control is. If your job is to save a sinking ship by beating a control that’s losing money, you may indeed want to start from scratch. (In fact, you may want to rethink your decision to work on an unprofitable program, but that’s another story.)

Then, if you come to the conclusion that your odds of successfully going from 100 to 120 are better than your odds of going from zero to 120, start honing and polishing and recasting the control. Here are some of the techniques you’ll want to use:

  • See if the Big Idea is buried in the copy. If it is, move it up to the top.
  • Make benefit statements more credible by adding specifics, sources, and testimonials.
  • Update any facts and figures. A successful ad may have been in use for many months or even years. You may be able to beat it by citing more recent examples and removing anything which makes the copy appear dated.
  • Break up long paragraphs into short paragraphs.
  • Break long copy blocks with powerful subheads.
  • Replace any clichés with hard-hitting, original copy.
  • Ask for the order sooner and more often.
  • Use larger and more readable fonts — a nearly automatic way to increase response.
  • Look for a more powerful headline or subject line; this one change alone may have more than enough leverage to get you that 20 percent winner.

And don’t forget this technique, which AWAI has been teaching for years. Run a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Test on the control. Once you’ve ‘done your thing’ to improve readability, run the test on your own copy. If you can significantly improve the Flesch score, you have a great chance to win the test. Follow the directions at Microsoft Word 2007’s Help and How-to site. Then, to check the copy, hit the F7 key. Once you’ve reviewed all the points raised by the grammar checker, you’ll see the readability score of the copy.

One last point. This technique has the power to greatly increase response to your client’s copy. Make sure you have a deal in place in advance that assures you’ll collect your fair share for your contribution to your client’s success.

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: July 25, 2011

4 Responses to “Double Your Chances of Winning Any Copy Test And Getting the Repeat Business and Royalties You Deserve!”

  1. Very informative, thanks! I am using every bit of copywriting genius I can find to help put my first direct-response package together.

    AliceJuly 25, 2011 at 9:38 am

  2. Great idea! I've been trying to write original stuff instead of improving what is already there. I'm going to go back and rethink - and rework - my original thought processes.

    Shawn MausJuly 25, 2011 at 10:31 am

  3. Thanks Mark for the informative comments! I used the Microsoft Word Help and How-to site on a couple of my recent pieces. I must say it worked to perfection!

    Richard SmithJanuary 28, 2012 at 11:32 am

  4. Thanks! Mark for your very informative tips,I'm going to use this information ASAP!.

    Jimi D from United StatesNovember 25, 2014 at 5:27 am


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