American Writers & Artists Institute

Copywriting Genius

The Hidden Success Secrets This Copywriter
Finds Buried in Packages That Didn’t Work…

Why You Should Make Studying
Failed Packages a Habit


Dear Copywriting Genius,

Sales packages come in all sizes… from a 32-page, 4-color self-mailer to a #10 envelope with a 12-page letter, lift note, reply form and BRE tucked inside. Regardless of their shape or size, you’ll find that even packages with just a few components are overflowing with the copywriting secrets we write about in Copywriting Genius.

So it is with the package we review this issue. While the package consists of only a few components, it’s been a successful control for three years. It beat the previous control by 20% in net response and did considerably better than that in terms of cost per new subscriber.

It’s numbers like that that immediately got CG staffer Susan Clark arranging an interview with the copywriter. So let’s get right to it and meet this issue’s copywriting genius, Lee Marc Stein.

Any Kind of Daytime Job Will Do…

Lee Marc Stein had no intention of becoming a copywriter, but that’s exactly where his hunt for a full-time job put him. You see, Lee had completed 30 credits of graduate school in American literature and was expecting to become a teacher on the college level.

But he was getting married and needed a job. He was looking for a position as an editor, but couldn’t find anything. So a relative got him an interview at Prentice-Hall. The position he was applying for was as a library sales representative.

He sailed through the interview and was offered the position. But Lee turned it down because it required too much travel. Not willing to let him go, Prentice-Hall asked Lee to take a copywriting test for their college department. As you might suspect, he passed the test.

Most of Lee’s training for his new copywriting position was self-directed. But as Lee tells us, “On my first day, I was handed a sheet of copy guidelines developed by Richard Prentice Ettinger, the company’s former chairman. Prominent among the 10 rules:  Never use humor: there is nothing funny about separating a man from his money.”

Lee’s copy assignments included writing self-mailers convincing college professors to use Prentice-Hall’s textbooks.

That was 42 years ago. Now Lee writes for a variety of projects, including insurance and financial services, publishing and information services, business software, consumer lead generation and fundraising.

And Lee has worked with many different companies and agencies. He is a well-rounded, well-experienced copywriter, which is why he manages to produce control after control.

The Importance of Concept Statements

Every copywriter has their own unique way and methodology of working on assignments. But Lee has developed what he calls “concept statements” that help get the project rolling in the right direction.

As Lee explains, “In most cases, I come up with three or four themes in the form of concept statements. These briefly position the product or service and then describe the components of the package.”

The concept statements help the client and Lee decide which strategy makes most sense. Sometimes they pick one… or they might opt to combine elements of all the concept statements into one.

After a concept statement is finalized, then Lee starts writing the package. But he starts with the headline first. That’s because the concept behind the headline has already been outlined in the concept statement.

Once Lee has crafted the headline, he may let the project rest for a day or two before looking at it again. But once he starts the body copy, he keeps going until the end. Lee is the type of copywriter who edits as he writes. 

Lee doesn’t hesitate to offer his client ideas on what they might consider testing, including teaser copy for the envelope leads and offers.

Factors That Create a Winning Promotion

As I mentioned earlier, Lee’s control for Directions in Psychiatry has lasted for three years. So what exactly did Lee do in this package that made it work as long as it has?

There are a few key elements at work. For one, Lee knew that he’d be writing to two groups of professionals… the busy, time-crunched doctor, and the detail-oriented type. Lee explains, “For the busy psychiatrist, we made the pertinent information, the benefits, extremely accessible. For the anal in the group, I provide all the details in the brochure.”

The second factor was pricing. The client had tested discount pricing in his previous mailings, so Lee emphasized the heavily discounted price several times in the package.

And the third element of success was the emotion that Lee focused on in his package. Lee says, “Previous packages had emphasized fear – falling behind in mandated education - but I shied away from that. Greed was more important - not just saving money, but just as critically, saving their precious time.”

What You Learn From the Marketplace

Lee has certainly had his share of failed packages over the years, but Lee sees them as learning opportunities. In fact, when Lee starts a project, he has the client send him not only successful controls, but also packages that were miserable failures.

For Lee, studying packages is how you gain an edge over other copywriters. Lee figures out why a control works by comparing them against packages going to the same market that have not worked. 

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’m hoping that after you finish reading this month’s issue of Copywriting Genius, you’ll start doing the same. I tell every want-to-be copywriter that the best way to understand good copy from bad is to read them. Take a yellow marker and highlight good copy points and passages of copy in controls. Keep those packages in a file… one that you can refer to every time you sit down to write.

You can begin that process with Lee’s promotion. Take a minute to read the brochure. You’ll see how Lee addresses the two types of people that make up the target audience for this product. And be sure to read the interview for the extra insights Lee provides. 

Until next month,

Sandy Franks

Editor, Copywriting Genius

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