Interview with a Barefoot Writer: Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero
“The funny thing is, I never doubted that I would be a success … I just went for it blindly and boldly. I knew I could write. And I knew people hired writers. It was just a matter of matching up with them.”
— Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero, Award-winning writer and speaker
Lorrie Morgan-Ferrero was born to go after goals with the kind of tenacity that results in victory. After all, how many other folks can boast being featured on Baywatch and launching a thriving writing career?
Lucky for us here at The Barefoot Writer, Lorrie shelved her first career choice (acting) in favor of writing and agreed to share her secrets on profitable freelancing. For her, that included forging a trail in copywriting when it was still very maledominated. But she did it by learning to speak to women and is now the owner of successful copywriting firm, RedHotCopy.com.
These days, Lorrie’s list of copywriting clients is a veritable “Who’s Who” list of companies and marketers. It includes recognizable names like Office Depot, Glazer Kennedy, NAWBO, Ladies Who Launch, Ali Brown International, Braveheart Women, and more. Lorrie is also a celebrated speaker and creator of both The She Factor Copywriting Bootcamp and The Conscious Copywriting Formula.
Read on to learn about the three unlikely events that came together to launch Lorrie’s writing career. You’ll also discover “tarkets” — a concept that could strengthen your writing — and you’ll read about her secret link to Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as why she’d like to have a beer with Mark Twain. Finally, enjoy Lorrie’s multi-layered writing rituals. They just might inspire you to go after your own writing dreams with a similar resolve — and imminent success.
You first set out in life to become an actress — driving from North Carolina to Los Angeles with your cat (Marvin Gaye) and $300 in cash … but then you ultimately didn’t pursue acting. What happened?
Actually, I DID pursue acting. It just so happens I’m a terrible actress, so I didn’t pursue it for long.
But it had been a long-time passion. I studied Stanislavski (method acting) and the Meisner Technique (which actors like Kevin Costner use) every week for about five years. I took dancing, singing, and improv. I was cast in Vanities, Much Ado About Nothing, and a ton of little original plays in small theaters across Hollywood. The thing I’m most proud of, though, was spending the summer frolicking on the beach in Baywatch. I was only an extra, but I worked so often I earned my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card, which is next to impossible to get in this town.
Though I didn’t make a career out of acting, I’m proud of taking the risk to follow my dream. I studied Journalism in college to satisfy my parents. They didn’t see the value of a college degree in Drama, and frankly, they were right. I learned much more about hands-on acting in Los Angeles than I probably would have ever learned at most universities.
Did acting teach you anything about being a writer?
One of my favorite concepts I developed came directly from the acting world, actually. The “tarket” concept. When we write copy, we need to research our target market, yes? Well, once you find the data on who you’re selling to, you distill it down to a single person that I call a “tarket.”
The word “tarket” comes from combining the words “target” plus “market.” I coined the term because I think it’s critical to think in the singular, not plural in order to establish quick rapport. And “tarket” feels and sounds much more like a single person.
In acting, when you’re studying a character, you need to understand the “backstory” of your character. So I teach my copywriting students to write a “backstory” biography of the ideal prospect they’re looking to attract. Of course, I use this technique with my own copy and for clients, too. It’s really fun and engaging. And the more you can bring that “tarket” to life, the deeper the connection with your prospect.
You’ve essentially gone after two elusive, big dreams — acting and freelance writing — and you’re successful! What is it about you that made that possible?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial and a bit of a hippie spirit. I remember telling my Dad in college I refused to get a checking account because I didn’t want to be “another number.” (Well, that promise didn’t last!) Freedom is one of my highest values. Fun is another one. So I’ve never been comfortable in a 9-to-5 job, but I’m still a hard worker. In college, I worked three jobs to pay for school. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was a waitress, then studied to become a massage therapist … all in the name of freedom and flexibility.
Next I got a curveball. I married a wonderful man and immediately had two children, Justin and Chase. Being a mother suddenly became my reason for being. NOTHING had ever been as gratifying as raising my two boys and being able to stay home with them.
Unfortunately, I got a divorce and had to get a “real” job. Journalism wasn’t really an option because of the odd hours and low entry pay. One of my jobs in college was being an administrative assistant for the Journalism School so I went that direction. I scored a job as an executive assistant to the CEO of a marketing firm. Sounds like that would be where I learned about copy, but alas, they had no interest in my marketing savvy. Only my ability to fetch coffee and order lunch.
Then in 1999, three events happened that changed everything.
First, there was the horrific Columbine incident. You probably remember hearing about it … the two troubled teens that took out a bunch of kids at their school, then killed themselves. It hit me very profoundly. And it really triggered my maternal instinct. In corporate, I was only able to spend about 2-3 hours a day with my sons because of the commute and the schedule. I was so miserable because I’d have to beg for time off to see their school plays or have teacher conferences or take them to doctor appointments. It was uncomfortable, and I always felt a tinge of guilt for asking for the time off.
Next, I married my soul mate, John Ferrero. We had been friends for years and our relationship just blossomed into the most fulfilling experience I could have ever dreamed of.
The final thing was my boss retired. So I made the unilateral decision not to get another J.O.B. I was going to figure out how to work from home so I could be closer to my kids again. This was not a popular decision with John, as you can imagine. There was a lot of tension for a few years while I figured out how to run a business and market myself from the ground up.
The funny thing is, I never doubted that I would be a success. Sort of like my acting stint, I just went for it blindly and boldly. I knew I could write. And I knew people hired writers. It was just a matter of matching me up with them. So the long answer to your question is sheer determination and a lot of praying to the Universe.
You’ve lived everywhere from the Midwest to North Carolina to California. Which was your favorite?
I was born in Missouri but moved 16 times before I graduated high school. My father was in the textile industry, and we leased a new home each year. That meant even years that I lived in the same city, I’d often still have to change schools. I got real good at making connections with people fast.
When my parents divorced, my mother married a military man, so naturally we moved again. The good news was I stayed at the same high school in North Carolina for all three years. (Teen years are awkward enough without having to move around in high school!)
I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which has one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. It was an incredibly special time for me. I miss N.C. a lot. I’m still a huge Tar Heel basketball fan. I mean, I was there when Michael Jordan was there and we won the National Championship. In fact, my only tattoo is a tiny Tar Heel on my ankle!
But as much as I adore North Carolina, ever since I moved to California in 1985, it just feels like home here. I LOVE the weather. We’ve had riots, earthquakes, and fires, but California has set up residence in my heart. I’m a real West Coast gal now.
And, John and I bought our dream home in the area he grew up, Chatsworth, California. So I don’t see me living anywhere else.
Do you travel a lot, since you’re not tied down by a traditional job?
I used to love to travel but it’s become less attractive as I’ve gotten older, and travel restrictions have tightened up so much. The few places I’ve visited so far are Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, Italy, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Australia.
Scotland and Australia are the only two I actually entertained the idea of owning a home in. But when John reminded me of how cold the winters can be, I was happy to stay in sunny California. I’ve never been to Italy with John though. Since he’s 100% Italian, I can see that trip in our future.
How did you get started in copywriting?
I stumbled onto my first copywriting client by accident. I had no idea the genre existed. I mean, I had obviously seen copy but never thought about who was paid to write it. So when this client approached me and asked me to write a 52- week drip autoresponder series, it was like he was speaking Greek. Then he showed me some examples and I started searching for more online. In fact, that was when I first invested in AWAI. Their Accelerated Program is a great jumping-off place.
But what really floated my boat was when I discovered Gary Halbert. I flat-out fell in love with copywriting. I loved the conversational tone. The in-your-face power of it. The unapologetic personality you can hide behind — at least if you’re Gary and a few other noteworthy copywriters I also studied with later like Dan Kennedy and John Carlton. Writing copy became a role I could lose myself in. It was like going back to my acting roots.
Then how did you come to write for the women’s market?
It was definitely a journey to get to where I am today. It was never my intent to write for the women’s market but I believe ultimately it was my trail to blaze. You have to understand, I have a bit of “woo woo” in my personality.
Let’s be clear … copywriting was a very maledominated industry when I dipped my toe in. And I was one of the only female members of the “Boy’s Club.” And I relished it! I began to get a following as well as a solid reputation of writing winning copy campaigns.
Next I started holding live events of my own. That’s when I discovered that a lot of my community didn’t dig the over-the-top style of copy I cut my teeth on. The students in my class, who were about 75% women, warned me that a lot of the masculine language, like “crush your competition” or “massacre your sales,” didn’t resonate with them. They didn’t like the yelling tone prevalent in most of the popular copy out there.
That really made me stop and think. I had never considered a difference in language between genders.
Now that I was an official wordsmith, it seemed like I should tackle their objections. So I pulled back on teaching for a few years while I did some intense research and testing.
What did your research tell you?
I was stunned to learn how the economic and social power shift has changed to women slowly over the past 50 years. Today, women make over 85% of the buying decisions across almost every brand. Plus, women also buy supplies and gifts for their loved ones and for holidays. And they have veto power to deny purchases in their family. They are clearly in charge.
It seemed like a worthwhile cause to explore more. So over the years, I became a bit of a neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and anthropology junkie. I gathered up what I learned and rolled it into The She Factor Copywriting Bootcamp, which is my signature training program. I’m still addicted to learning more, more, MORE about what makes women tick, and am constantly updating my program. I should add — just because I’m a woman doesn’t necessarily mean I automatically knew how to sell to them. I had to learn it, too.
You once quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson in something you wrote. It was “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.” What struck you about the quote?
Emerson was freakin’ amazing, wasn’t he? He has SO MANY astute quotes. What resonates with me about that particular one is he is gently telling you to get off your butt and do something. You can’t just ruminate over what you want in life. Take action, dammit! It gets me fired up. Can you tell?
And I think of him as my famous ancestor … well, let me just say I believe that’s the case. My entire life my grandmother whispered to me about how we were direct descendants of his. That was why everyone on my mother’s side of the family is a natural writer. Her maiden name was Emerson, so it all made sense.
But her claim was before the Internet when you couldn’t trace genealogy very easily. Today you can. I’ve spent my life studying him and feeling interconnected, and that’s good enough for me.
Whether we are biologically related or not doesn’t matter. His energy feels like a part of me so in my mind, yes, he is my famous ancestor!
Do you follow any rituals before tackling a big writing project?
Absolutely. Some of them are a little “out there.” I told you I have a bit of a hippie streak. But I believe to produce quality copy you need to be in the right frame of mind. So I have a ton of rituals in my toolkit. I don’t use all of them at once unless I have a mega project to complete. But when I need them, I try to incorporate as much of my energy and senses as possible.
First, I have physical rituals. My creativity soars when I move my body before I write. That includes exercise, walking my dogs, or dancing in my office to No Doubt or Vampire Weekend.
My mental rituals involve firing up my Tibetan singing bowl, laying out my Goddess cards (by Doreen Virtue), or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique).
For sensory rituals, I almost always burn an aromatic candle. My favorite is Tuberose scent by Trapp. If I’m out of candles, I have a Red Currant room spray by Votivo. I also like a lot of light so I turn on my photography studio lights.
I don’t like to write to utter silence but music with lyrics distracts me. For projects that require major concentration, I use Om Harmonics or a playlist I created on Spotify with mostly Baroque classical. If it’s a lighter workload, I might make an exception to my anti-lyric rule and listen to The Airborne Toxic Event (most famous for their song Sometime Around Midnight).
But my most productive ritual of all is my timer. I got the idea from copywriting legend Eugene Schwartz. He used a timer to laser focus on his writing for 33 minutes at a time. During that chunk of time, he didn’t allow himself to do anything but write. No bathroom breaks. No office chores. And I’m sure he wouldn’t allow checking email or Facebook during that time either. Focusing on one task in a measurable chunk of time helps me produce way faster than I would without that self-imposed pressure.
If you got to sit down for dinner with a famous writer, alive or dead … who would it be?
It would have to be Mark Twain. I’ve always admired his insight and humor. I was born in Hannibal, Missouri, where he set Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Love his style! His writing is timeless and pithy. From a very young age when I would visit relatives in Hannibal in the summers, we used to go to a wax museum that had a statue of him and his family. A recording told the story of his life. It was fascinating. In a weird way, I feel as if we’re connected because he’s been a part of my life for so long.
We’d probably eat blackened catfish from the Mississippi River with hush puppies and mashed potatoes. We’d wash it down with icy cold draft beer. Mmmm. (Even though I’m gluten-sensitive, I’d make an exception for Mr. Twain.)
What’s the single most important piece of advice you can give new writers looking to become paid freelancers?
Never stop studying human nature and marketing. The fastest way to get good and stay that way is with a mentor or through workshops. There’s no replacement for experience. Writing can be a vulnerable skill set. There’s so much personal energy that goes into doing it. When you can let your ego go and have a more experienced person (or a proven system) to your writing off of, your learning curve shortens dramatically.
This interview was previously published in the March, 2014 issue of Barefoot Writer. To read more interviews from fellow Barefoot Writers be sure to check out The Barefoot Writer's Club.
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 »