Inside My Brain
This month, I'm going to treat you to some ramblings from the mind of an A-list copywriter who should be working on a new cookbook project, but would rather put it off another day or two. For instance:
... Does anybody in consumer marketing at Time Warner return phone calls or reply to e-mails?
... When was the last time you saw a direct mail package that made you say, "Wow!" (in the positive sense)?
... I still can't get used to Greta van Susteren's new face.
... Why don't the different consumer marketing groups at Condé Nast share information about their direct mail campaigns?
... When will Tina Brown come back to magazines?
... Why does Meredith have such great success with expensive, fully loaded 9" x 12" polys, while other publishers swear all they can afford to mail are double postcards?
... I've sensed a trend away from vouchers.
... I get my best creative ideas when I'm not even thinking about them.
... If more direct mail copywriters thought like designers and more designers thought like writers, we'd see more successful packages being presented (and hopefully mailedwithout too much client interference).
... Meredith is the only client I've encountered whose input and copy/design changes actually increase response.
... Over the years I've worked with Tina Brown, Jann Wenner, Steve Brill, Kurt Andersen, Art Cooper and Francis Lear in the development of new packagesand each one contributed valuable pieces to the overall creative puzzle. Lesson: It pays to listen to the person who hatched the big idea.
... Does a great offer trump great writing and design? No, but a great offer slapped on top of great writing and design is almost a sure winner.
... My gut feeling is that those "money-back guarantees" that promise money back on "all unmailed issues" have become wet blankets that no longer tip the scales in our favor.
... The full "100% money-back guarantees" that promise "all your money back" anytime during the life of the subscription carry a lot more weight and are hardly ever taken advantage of by consumers.
... I'm having success with not putting prices in the sales letter, but instead referring the reader to the order card (which makes testing prices easier, because you just have to version the order card).
... I'm hearing more and more publishers getting smaller and smaller results from bookalogs.
... The best thing about handling copy changes via e-mail is that it gives you a written record of what was requested.
... As a writer, I prefer short deadlines. If the due dates are months and months away, my initial enthusiasm for the job wanes substantially by the time I actually sit down at the keyboard. I then have to rekindle the fire that glowed so brightly when the assignment first arrived.
... I keep an ongoing file in my computer that I call "Idea Starters." It's a listing of everything from catch phrases to clichés to snappy turns of phrases I heard or read elsewhere that I can either use verbatim or alter slightly to fit my needs. (I'd give you some examples, but then I'd have to kill you).
... I'm from Texas and I've ALWAYS hated the Dixie Chicks.
... In the absence of gurus like Bill Jayme, Dick Benson, and Joan Throckmorton (and since John Klingel has a real job), who sits on the mountain top with words of wisdom to share about direct mail? Well, there are still many veteran writers, designers and consultants around who know the score. (You'll notice several listed on the masthead of this newsletter, and quoted in its articles.) But I suggest a very good source for golden nuggets of knowledge are the small but elite corps of writers and designers doing most of the work out there today; writers like Josh Manheimer, Judy Weiss, Jay van Wagenen, Jay White, Ken Scheck and, of course, yours truly. And designers like Marty Davidson and David Wise. Through sheer longevity of experience, these folks have tried it all and, by now, have amassed a finely tuned repertoire of successful solutions for just about any situation. Ask them. Pick their brains. The truth is, as freelancers, we've got to know what works, or we're out of business.
... Oh, and about Ken ScheckI've always wondered how many clients confuse him for me and me for him. We've probably been skimming hundreds of jobs from each other over the years and never knew it. For the record, Ken Scheck lives in Maryland near the Chesapeake Bay. Ken Schneider (that's me) lives in Texas near the Gulf of Mexico. He has to move his CrockPot to get to his fax machine. I have to step over my golden retrievers to get to my computer. He has a friendly, Midwest accent. I have a droning, slightly Texas accent. He writes good copy. I write unbelievably fresh, wonderfully witty and highly successful copy coupled with an extraordinary design sense. (Hey, it's my column).
... What's the most misused weapon in the magazine circulation department's arsenal? Renewal series. A good renewal series should be as creative as a good direct mail package. Teaser headlines. Stickers. Bright colors. Lift notes. Clever copy. Too many publishers go the cheap route and use form letters and outers that have zero personalityand are as exciting to receive as a jury summons. Big mistake. Take the time (and pay for the talent) to do a proper renewal series.
... Last fall, I got a holiday gift effort from Travel & Leisure. The outer said simply "DO NOT BEND, FREE GIFT INSIDE." So I opened it. Guess what? No free gift inside. Not even a free gift for me if I gave a gift subscription. Not even a "buy one, give one free" offer. I looked everywhere for something that would justify the tease on the outer. Nothing. What's going on at American Express Publishing? Isn't this unethical? Or unlawful? Or un-American? Or something?!
... Never underestimate the value of good research. One of my best clients wouldn't think of creating a new package without first conducting a few focus groups. What you hear (and see) is like rich potting soil for the growth of great ideas and deeply rooted copy lines that resonate with readers. Sure beats flying blind or going on hunches.
... I'm ready for some football.
Ken Schneider is an award-winning direct mail writer/designer specializing in magazine, book and newsletter promotions. With more than 35 circulation direct marketing awards, he has been honored more than any other individual or direct mail organization. Ken splits his time between Houston, TX, and Aspen, CO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.