3 Things Copywriters Need to Succeed

At AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair in 2011, I had the opportunity to hear Joe Sugarman speak.

Joe Sugarman is a copywriter who has created multiple multimillion-dollar businesses. He is often called a legend because of his marketing innovations.

You might know him from the BluBlocker sunglasses commercials, but he also ran a direct-response company selling calculators, watches, and other gadgets via direct-response catalogs and space ads. (He was the first to use an 800 number in a direct-response ad.)

Joe knows firsthand what it takes to become a great copywriter. Here are three things he says we need:

1. General knowledge.

Joe says you need knowledge in a variety of areas to succeed as a copywriter.

He is a successful TV producer, chairman of a bio-tech company, originator of BluBlocker sunglasses, author of six books, real estate developer, and professional photographer.

He’s an instrument-rated commercial multi-engine pilot and a former Army and CIA intelligence officer. He started several businesses and speaks fluent German.

He was a newspaper publisher, amateur radio operator, ski lift salesman, advertising agency owner, world traveler, lecturer, and presidential candidate nominee.

Truly, the list of Joe’s knowledge – and accomplishments – is overwhelming. But he says the most important thing out of all that experience is that he has failed more times than anybody he knows.

“I’m the biggest failure you’ll ever meet,” he said. “I have failed more times than anything you can imagine.”

Without the failures – and the lessons he learned from them – he wouldn’t have had the successes.

This is a very motivational lesson to me because it makes failure seem less scary. For those who have a fear of failure, think about this: Joe Sugarman survived failure and went on to be hugely successful.

Joe says that to succeed as a copywriter, you need as much experience as possible. And yes, while you’re getting all that experience, you’re bound to fail a little bit. That’s okay.

2. Specific knowledge.

The second thing copywriters need to succeed, according to Joe, is specific knowledge of their passions and current assignments.

He says, “You want to become an expert in that particular product.”

His example was an ad he did for a digital watch. Digital watches were very common, and it was difficult to write anything that hadn’t been said before. However, on the watch he was writing about, you didn’t have to press a button to see the time.

Joe went to the factory that made the watches to find out everything he could. He discovered that they used a laser beam to seal a little component in the watch. This was done with new technology that wasn’t possible the year before. So he called the watch a “laser beam digital watch.” It became a huge success.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

Joe says the third thing we need to succeed as copywriters is practice. The more you write, the better you get.

Even Joe says, when he looks back to his older ads when he first started, he can guarantee they were not anywhere near what they are right now.

Here are some of the things he has learned through practice:

  • Use paragraph headings to make your copy look less intimidating. If you can break up your copy, then people are more likely to read it.
  • All the things in the ad – the headline, the subhead, the pictures, the paragraph headings – are designed to get people to read the first sentence. The goal of the first sentence is to get them to read the second and so on until they read the whole thing. The whole idea is to get that momentum and build the curiosity.
  • Keep your first sentences short – very, very short.
  • Include a very strong satisfaction conviction. A satisfaction conviction is basically a guarantee, but not a 30-day guarantee. Joe says that’s a trial period. A satisfaction conviction is when you’re so sure your product is good that you’ll offer a guarantee that makes others think you, as the business, are going to get ripped off.

    His example was the guarantee they created for BluBlocker sunglasses. It said, “Any time in your lifetime, if you’re unhappy with this product, return it. We’ll send you all your money back.” Joe says maybe a dozen people sent back their sunglasses.

  • If the product has a bad feature, bring it up. It disarms the reader, and people appreciate the frankness. So Joe always had a policy of being exceptionally truthful with his advertising.

    For example, he wrote a thermostat ad. He found the thermostat to be terrific, but he started the ad in a very negative way.

He said, “These people came to me with this thermostat. It looked ugly. It had a stupid name: Magic Stat. It used old technology. I was really disappointed, but it did have one feature that I thought was fascinating, and that was it was really easy to install … I tried it. And then I found it was the most incredible product I have ever in my entire lifetime used.”

Finally, Joe said, “If you have the ability to write great copy, you have the ability to move mountains.”

He says to look at all the great orators of the world. They were able to communicate by speaking. Copywriters are able to communicate with the written word. It’s what he’s been doing all of his life, and that’s how he got to where he did.

He said, “I built it all on copywriting.”

Joe’s speech was amazing and inspirational, and I would love to hear him speak again. It’s an incredible opportunity to hear someone who has created multiple multimillion-dollar businesses speak about the lessons he has learned.

I don’t know if Joe Sugarman will be at this year’s AWAI Bootcamp or not, but I do know that AWAI only has the best speakers attend. Their speakers always deliver amazing copywriting and motivation with one goal in mind: to make the writer’s life happen for you.

I will be going back this year to increase my skills and soak up more advice from great copywriters and marketers. I’m looking forward to it. What about you? Will you be there?

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 26, 2012

1 Response to “3 Things Copywriters Need to Succeed”

  1. Thanks for writing this article. It was timely and right on the mark, get set, go.

    People like Joe Sugarman are an inspiration.

    I have not had the pleasure of Joe's company, but even so I feel it would be a worthy investment of time, money and energy to listen to Joe up close and personal.

    Copywriters need to keep their eyes and ears open and they need to learn how to think on their feet and close the deal.

    Read voraciously and take a multi-disciplinary approach toward your education.

    And apart from formal education, it is also a good idea to pursue educational goals that are tailor made for you.

    Archan MehtaJuly 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm


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