Much can be learned from McLean, who divided copywriting into three parts: prewriting, writing and rewriting. He wrote in “The Basics of Copy”:
If many direct mail copywriters believe that skillful rewriting can ensure the success of a direct mail package, I’m just as convinced that most of the failures in producing direct mail copy can be traced to inadequate attention or none at all to the prewriting stage.
The prewriting stage calls for you to learn as much as you can about your 1) reader; 2) product; 3) reader benefits; 4) goals—immediate and long-term; and 5) offer.
You know your reader so well you can almost see her. You know your product so thoroughly you could get up now and deliver a half hour talk on it, without notes. You know how your product features can benefit your reader, and you haven’t rejected any one reader benefit because it doesn’t seem as important to you as the others. You know what you want your reader to do immediately, and what you hope she will do eventually. You know the cost of your offer and are sure it will attract serious prospects.
Now you are ready to write!
Prewriting is when the basic thinking about a mailing should be done. The writing stage should be a fast, almost mechanical, act of getting something on paper. Rewriting should be more than merely a polishing process. It should develop the copy and make it flow.
“Only direct mail copy enters the home or business through the same channel as personal and business letters and is viewed as part of the day’s mail,” McLean wrote. “Magazines or newspapers—although welcomed—are never viewed as mail.”
The coda of “The Basics of Copy” is worth remembering:
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY,
BUT WHAT IS BELIEVED.
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU MEAN,
BUT WHAT IS UNDERSTOOD.