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January 31, 2007


Joseph Ratliff


Nicely done.

In terms of positioning yourself as a copywriter...

What added value services do you provide? Do you offer valuable marketing advice along with your services?

Do you market yourself as a "Marketing Coach" that writes copy as part of the services menu?

What field do you specialize in?

What particular problems are you better at solving than most other copywriters?

Just some food for thought. Ryan is dead right about this service becoming a commodity as more enter the field. If you have not positioned yourself might position yourself with very little income (harsh reality, sorry).

Joseph Ratliff

Ali Manson

Hey Ryan,

This is a ballsy post, and one that I'm sure will generate a number of responses from both sides of the fence.

In my opinion, being original is something which should be embraced within the direct response industry.

But it must be applied in the correct way - i.e. tested and measured, just like any properly executed campaign.

Promoting yourself in an original way will be a good indicator as to whether your original methods will succeed - if they do, run with them. If not, there are plenty of well-used methods out there that will get people to want to use your talents...

The most important thing to have (and use) is perseverance. I rank this above all other tools in a copywriters bag of tricks.

There are plenty of mediocre copywriters out there with a ton of work on their desks because they grit their teeth and get on with it.

And conversely, there are plenty of genuinely talented copywriters out there who will either quit or starve because they don't have the what it takes to shrug off rejection by the umpteenth prospect.

Sorry, I digress a little...

My point being, originality isn't universally important; it all boils down to what you say and how those words connect with your prospects that matters.

I say be original, but ONLY if you've tested it and it works...


Michel Fortin


Great post. Here's a post by Tom Chandler, who echoes your sentiments -- and backs it up with some proof, straight from Yahoo!...

John Angel

Positioning is key.

If you can't find a way to position yourself as different from the competition you won't be able to survive.

Alan Allard


Back to your question: "Is a great copywriter one who swipes well? Or one who writes original ads that still get fabulous result"...

Perhaps a great copywriter is one who does both! No need to choose between the two, do whatever produces great results.

Alan Allard

Andrew Cavanagh

Every new ad or innovation has swiped elements.

John Carlton used the formatting and style of many previous magazine and newspaper ads for his One Legged Golfer copy.

Caples ad was not particularly original in the style of the period either.

It was just a brilliant headline with a free report and lesson as a lead generator (most people don't realize that possibly the most powerful element in Caples "they laughed when I sat down at the piano" is the free report, musical ability test and demonstration lesson offered at the end.

These key elements had all been used before.

They were swiped.

Everyone swipes in one way or another.

The key to brilliance is not in being original but in bringing an unusual twist or element to your copy or your marketing process.

Brilliance comes not from ignoring the formulas of the past but in truly mastering them so you can go beyond them.

As far as copywriting being a commodity goes...

Crappy copywriting has always been a commodity.

I see it all the time from clients who approach me AFTER getting someone else to do their copy.

It's mysteriously sobering for online business owners when the copy they got cheap bombs.

They quickly learn that while copywriting may be a commodity great copywriting is a precious and very valuable gem.

As a copywriter the simplest way to avoid being viewed as a commodity is to niche yourself tightly.

If you were to try to compete with me deep in my niche of helping information marketers who combine online and offline marketing you'd find it very difficult.

What do you tell someone who's going on a radio for the first time?

I tell them exactly what to do based on appearing repeatedly on over 40 radio stations across Australia.

What do you tell them when they say they want to advertise a local seminar in their paper?

Can you give your new client half a dozen actionable strategies off the top of your head to help him sell product from the back of the room, get a flood of testimonials and ensure his prospects turn up in the first place?

If you niche tight it becomes really obvious to your clients that you know what you're doing.

And the unexploited niches out there for copywriters are endless.

Look at AlanForrest Smith niching in the hairdressing industry.

If you've sold or been involved in real estate why not niche yourself as a copywriter for real estate agents?

There is no reason to compete with anyone and you make it nearly impossible for others to compete with you when you're tightly niched.

Kindest regards,
Andrew Cavanagh


Hey Ryan, I saw the guys who wrote 22 Immutable Laws also have a lot of other books... any more recommendations? I wanna qualify for that Amazon free shipping :)

Ryan Healy

Hey Stephen - Al Ries has a few other books, but most could have been written more succinctly. For marketing, I highly recommend Seth Godin's All Marketers Are Liars. Also, Harry Beckwith's Selling the Invisible.

Joseph Ratliff


Nicely done.

Maybe you should write

"The Controversy on Blog Posting"


Joseph Ratliff

Michel Fortin

Stephen, for books by the same authors, I would recommend, in order:

1) Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (Trout and Ries)

2) The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (Trout and Ries)

3) The New Positioning (Trout and Rivkin)

4) The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding (Ries)

5) Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends On It (Ries and Ries)

Tim Schaefer


I first heard John Carlton mention the "arrows in the back of pioneers" just last month at a seminar. And it stuck out in my mind (no pun intended).

Along that line, there is the advice of following the deepest ruts left by previous wagons. You take a big chance when you go off the beaten path to try something different (the Donner party anyone?)

Originality is important, especially in this field. But so is doing what has been proven by those before you. It would be ill-advised to just start traveling west without some guidance.

Follow the leaders and learn what made them great... then start to branch off and check the terrain for something they may have missed.

Even traveling 1 mile to the left of the trail is an original effort.

Hidden out of sight from the tried-and-true course could be a breakthrough suddenly visible from "just over there".

Besides, to be a pioneer, you have to start from an established, familiar area...

Tim Schaefer

Ryan Healy

Great input, Tim. I especially like that last paragraph:

"Besides, to be a pioneer, you have to start from an established, familiar area..."


I couldn't agree more with your statement that the first guy was *the genius*. The problem I think boils down to how much space and will one has in experimenting and trying to come up with something unique, original, fresh, yet flawlessly effecient :)

Are most big names - despite their calls to follow the leader - capable of doing so? Certainly. Most newbies sooner or later can also come quite close to this ultimate goal. The crucial factor to consider, however, is time: you can definitely save at least 3-5 years according to top names in the industry by starting with mimicing your swipe file's best examples. Later, once you've got it on auto-pilot you're free to experiment and this is where your true genius can come to shine. However, until you're there, most of us have got bills to pay and deadlines to meet.

So my take on it: start with a swipe file, then slowly move away from it into developing something unique and original.

tower defense

Al Ries has a few other books, but most could have been written more succinctly. For marketing, I highly recommend Seth Godin's All Marketers Are Liars.

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