The Lesson That Kept Me from Quitting Copywriting — Ignore It and Risk Being a Mediocre Copywriter

Will Newman

A number of times in my early copywriting days, I thought about giving it all up.

That notion was strongest when Master Copywriter John Forde told me I'd never be a great copywriter.

We were on the phone at the time, John critiquing some copy I'd written. It was one of those "time stands still" moments. It seemed to stretch on forever. And the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach just made it worse.

It was hard to hear anything except the echoing of John’s words in my head. I almost missed his next, career-changing words.

"Your copy’s generic but not bad. You’ll be a good copywriter. But you'll never be great unless you learn to love two things: Your product. And your prospect.

“And you can’t love your prospect if you don’t know that person. Know him or her like a real, flesh-and-blood person. Because your prospect is a real flesh-and-blood person."

Suddenly, I was no longer a depressed wannabe thinking of chucking it all. John's words gave me insight and a direction I'd never heard before.

Until that moment, I thought my job as a copywriter was selling a product. More discussion with John and I realized my job was not to sell. My job was to make a connection — a real, personal connection — with the person I wanted to buy the product.

John's words started me on a successful copywriting career. They also started me on a crusade to teach as many new copywriters as I could what John had taught me. (But maybe without the empty feeling in the stomach.)

Your first sure step to copywriting success

You’ll hear John’s lesson about the importance of loving the person you're selling to summed up in the phrase "know your prospect."

This is hardly a new concept in writing. A core strategy of successful writing of all types is to "know your reader." In copywriting, your reader is your prospect.

This isn’t even a new concept in copywriting or advertising.

The importance of knowing the prospect in copywriting started around the turn of the 20th century with copywriters like John E. Kennedy. Helen Lansdowne Resor strengthened and built on the concept. (I hope you had a chance to read about her remarkable contributions to copywriting. If you missed that article, click here.

When you think about it, this whole concept of knowing the person you're selling to makes great sense. Just on a very superficial level, how you talk to a woman about a product specifically for women would differ significantly from how you talk about a product specifically for men.

But knowing the gender of your buyer is just the beginning of understanding your prospect … getting to know your prospect as a real, three-dimensional person.

And that's what we'll talk about over the next three days: Specific and effective strategies for getting to know your prospect so you can love him or her as a real person whose problems you care about and want to solve.

Your takeaway today: You cannot begin to enjoy the benefits of the writer's life until you understand the most important person in your career, your prospect.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about "knowing your prospect" and all it involves. Comment below.

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Published: August 15, 2016

16 Responses to “The Lesson That Kept Me from Quitting Copywriting — Ignore It and Risk Being a Mediocre Copywriter”

  1. Once again, Will, great article. It say's it all, "know your prospect". I approach the whole concept it as "how would I like to be addressed" when reading an published article. Does it pertain to me? "Yes, it does!"

    Thomas Arillotta

  2. Will Newman's "love your prospect" principle makes sense. It applies also in teaching: "love your student".

    Guest (DrMimi)

  3. Hello Will, It is one of those Mondays. I was trying to organize the week's work on my copywriting career but having trouble sticking to my schedule. You know how it is when you don,t see the progress you expect and unrelated things get into the mix.
    Well, guess what your little story about a down moment in your copywriting career made me think positively once again. Thanks.


  4. How can one have a conversation with someone they do not know? If we are to write in a conversational manner in our copywriting, then it is very important to know the person we are conversing with. Thank you, your articles are always very helpful.

    Angie W

  5. I do like the Idea of getting to know my prospect. I am sure that this takes several things. An imagination, sincerity, and the desire to serve my prospect also. I have a wonderful feeling about this idea, and how it will broaden my horizons. I like the writing field in its entirety, and I do like the ability to put ideas and desires into words. I love to study how and why things exist and how they can change my life and help me to better understand the world around me.

    Guest (Thomas Randall)

  6. Thank you for this article. I find myself straying from this concept constantly. I'm going to save this article and read it right before I begin to write.

    Guest (Melvin)

  7. Way back in my direct sales days, this was called relationship selling. By getting to know the prospect, we at Purina Mills, were able to form a sales response from the prospects perspective. Thanks for reminding me.

    Guest (Terry Palmer)

  8. Hi Will, What happens if your product is for both men and women? Should you still focus on just one member of one of those genders when you write?

    Guest (Kris)

  9. Thank you for your insight! Nancy Neumann

    Guest (Nancy Neumann)

  10. How to know your prospect: encourage them to talk about themselves. listen to what inspires them to laugh, produce, and most of all, to buy. then you have a basis for targeting them and their interest in your writing.

    Guest (BJ)

  11. I want to get started and i don't know how to submit my first entry. i am an excellent communicator and i want to earn money doing something with it................anybody??

    Guest (BJ)

  12. Will, I'm so glad you're going into this now! It will help so much writing headlines and leads for the COS Targeted Learning class, for Bootcamp and Advanced Training specs, and for my own prospecting letters!

    Joyce H

  13. RW. I have been in sales before. There were three things that were essential. The first was to make a friend - whether you made a sale or not if you made a friend you can have a lifelong friend. Second,learn the dream. This takes interaction and need to pay attention to detail - the smallest nonchalant item can lead to the third item in this talk. Sell the dream - yes - sell the dream - it's that simple. Using that little nonchalant item mentioned above sell the dream with it. Make a friend - hopefully for life, learn the dream, sell the dream. Oh - and maybe a fourth thing - ask for the sell - a yes or no. Won't hurt a thing to get a yes or no. They're expecting it. Never disappoint your prospect - er I mean new friend. Have a great day.

    Guest (RW Frazier)

  14. I suppose a copywriter who doesn't know his or her prospect, I believe will be writing in the air-an utter waste of time.

    Lesson duly Noted!

    Thanks wills.

    Guest (wilfred)

  15. I'll cut to the chase. You're missing a HUGE market by touting six-figure incomes. You have not gotten to KNOW many of your prospects. How do I know? Because I'm one of them. When your cover letter said you will save me $300 for training, I rolled my eyes. Yes, I've done my research. I don't need that kind of money to be a copy writer. I want to help people honestly, and I don't need to make $200K and live in Paris. Want to know more? Email me and I'll be happy to share my findings.

    Guest (Suzanne)

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