The One-Two Punch that Creates the Most Successful Copywriters

In the copywriting world, some of us are poets and some of us are killers. The really great ones are a blend of both.


William Maynard once said,

Most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end, killers as a means to an end.

And advertising legend David Ogilvy added:

If you are both killer and poet, you get rich.

In this 18-minute episode, I talk about:

  • Why cultivating your inner poet is more important than ever for 21st-century professionals
  • Where creative wordsmiths can build their skills as “killer” strategists
  • How to become a more talented writer
  • Some details about our Certified Content Marketer program, which is going to open up (briefly) to new students in early August


The Show Notes

Sonia Simone: So glad to see you again, and welcome back to CopybloggerFM, the content marketing podcast.

CopybloggerFM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone, I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I hang out with the folks doing the real work over on the Copyblogger blog.

Note: See the show notes for all the links!

William Maynard of the Bates agency said that “most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.”

And David Ogilvy famously added,

If you are both killer and poet, you get rich.

Today I’m going to “embroider” a post I did for Copyblogger some years back, about that combination of the killer and the poet. Why? Because I like David Ogilvy’s whole “get rich” suggestion. 🙂

The Killer and the Poet: How to Get Rich as a Copywriter

Copyblogger has really always been about that combination. The creative element — and that only gets more significant for most professionals in the 21st century. The stuff that can’t be done by a robot. It was important when Ogilvy founded his agency in 1948. It’s that much more important now — because robots and algorithms, as well as a global workforce, are taking jobs away.

The more you cultivate your poet, the stronger your defense against that — but poetry alone usually doesn’t pay the bills.

Ogilvy famously despised creativity for its own sake. He had no patience for advertising that won awards and praise, but made no sales.

When I write an advertisement, I don’t want you to tell me that you find it ‘creative.’ I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.

He also favored advertising that used real content to educate prospects, whether it be a mouthwatering Guinness Guide to Oysters or a one-page tutorial on how to remove stains with Rinso detergent.

Advice to poets

For all Ogilvy’s famous disdain for creativity, he also recognized that intelligently applied creativity was crucial to effective advertising.

Like all great copywriters, he understood that formulas can only take you so far. Advertising breakthroughs need a poet as much as they need a killer.

Most good copywriters aren’t particularly good writers. If you are, you have the potential for a remarkable competitive advantage. Just remember that you need to marry the grace, elegance, and thoughtful novelty of your words to a well-thought-out business strategy.

You’re lucky—the strategic part is much easier to learn than the poetry bit.

The hard part for you can be accepting your inner killer. Make peace with the desire to make money (for yourself and your clients) as well as making something beautiful, and you’ll be unstoppable.

Also, did I mention rich?

Advice to killers

You’re a direct response disciple. You’ve studied what works. You test and measure and keep your eyes open. You’re street smart. And all of that is probably serving you very well.

Where you get into trouble is thinking that talent doesn’t matter. Don’t kid yourself.

Talent is the difference between a ten thousand dollar ad and a ten million dollar ad.

Now talent, we all know today, isn’t something you’re born with. Poets always knew this. You get creative by doing creative work. Remember the phrase “deliberate practice.” That means the stuff that isn’t too easy for you. If writing dialogue is difficult and painful — write some dialogue every day for a month. Or a year.

Don’t scorn that forgotten poetic corner of your soul because you think it’s bad for business. Actually, it’s terrific for business.

Every human being is creative, and every human child is a poet, a singer, a musician, and an artist. The only reason you quit being all of those things is that you got scared.

So ok, killer, it’s time to face the really scary stuff. Put the work in to make your copywriting extraordinary. Put some art into your marketing. Don’t throw away all the oddball ideas. And, independent of work you get paid for, spend some time playing with language.

That means doing work you don’t get paid for. (Sacrilege, I realize.) Take a screenwriting workshop, or a short story class. Get some books for fiction writers and start doing exercises as warm-ups for your writing day. Rewrite classic poems. Write a magic realist fable.

Write things you don’t ever write. They don’t have to turn out well, these are for you.

You and I both know it’s not about putting pretty descriptions of sunsets into your copywriting. It’s about caring about language and making the words sing.

If you want to create breakthrough work, and not just acceptable work that makes you a decent living, you need to get tough with yourself. As a killer, you should be good at that. So get going. Raise the bar.

We’re about to re-open our ultimate course to help poets develop their skills as killers — our Certification program. It’s all about taking your talent and ability, and deploying it more strategically. When you complete the four-week course — you can do that at your own pace — you’ll have the opportunity to apply for certification and show that you’ve mastered the material. Writers who pass are added to our “recommended content marketers page” — which is a killer way to find new clients.

Just one note — if you don’t have a strong writing voice, you won’t pass certification. That’s an essential part, and we don’t teach it in this course.

The information about content strategy and putting together a comprehensive, integrated content marketing program is still valuable whether or not you get the badge, but I want to be very up-front about that part.

Trudi Roth gave us a beautiful quote, and I’m proud so I’m going to share it here. The question was, what was the one thing you did this past year to build your writing business:

Hands down it was taking and completing Copyblogger’s Certified Content Marketer training program! I know it sounds like you guys paid me to say that, but … having a listing on the Copyblogger website as a Certified Content Marketer has brought me at least a dozen excellent repeat clients that know their stuff because they are fans of Copyblogger, too. (And my listing has only been up for a couple of months, so that’s really exciting!)” – Trudi Roth

As you know if you’ve hung out with us at all, we like to give you free things when we launch an offer, and we have a nifty ebook with some of our favorite advice for professional writers, and particularly for the content-focused types of writers who tend to be Copyblogger readers.

WORD: Writers Offer Reliable Direction – Free ebook

I’ll share a link in the show notes, and if you want to get all of the details about the Certification program when we launch, boogie over to Copyblogger, go to that products tab, and choose “Certified Content Marketers.” Then add your name to the email interest list.

This program tends to open up once or twice a year — we don’t want the “recommended writers” list to get flooded. But we’ve had folks who needed to be added to a “no new clients” section because they were booked solid, so the time seemed right.