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My 2007 Interview with Clayton Makepeace

Back in 2007, the legendary copywriter Clayton Makepeace interviewed me for his Total Package newsletter. As we all know, Clayton was a force in the business and I was honored that he asked me to do this.

Both before and after the interview we talked shop and we had more than a few laughs as both competitors and colleagues–and as only two old seasoned veterans in the business can. 

When I found this transcript, I thought it might be fun to share it with you not only as a way for you to get to know me better but also to pick up some great knowledge that Clayton dropped during the interview. 

During the interview you’ll learn how I got in the business, how I approach projects, and the kind of success I have had. All of which forms the foundation of my Million-Dollar Copywriting Formula.  

If you are new or a seasoned copywriter, I hope that you will find it inspirational that you, too, can rise to the top of the A-List. 

All good wishes, 

Doug D’Anna, Copywriter and Creator of The Million-Dollar Copywriting Formula


Clayton Makepeace: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your life growing up before you got into this business?  Where did you come from?

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, okay.  Well, I grew up in San Bruno, California and just a local guy.  Went to a local public school.  I guess if there was any type of a signal or divining rod that would point to me being in direct marketing or copywriting was I was voted most talkative in high school.  I’ve always had sort of a gift for gab.  In fact I chose my major in college was based on the fact that I like to talk to people which was in speech communication.  You know why?

Clayton Makepeace:   Why?

Doug D’Anna:            Because I thought there would be no writing.  I could just get up and talk all day.  I go, “Hey, I’m all over that.  Let’s get a degree in speech.”  Until I came to the conclusion that I had to write a speech to persuade, a speech to inform, and a speech to entertain.  And it became a different deal.  But a great deal.

Clayton Makepeace:   Did you do any sales early on Doug?

Doug D’Anna:            Yes.

Clayton Makepeace:   When you were a kid?  I sold trading cards door to door and lawn-mowing services.  Did you have any experiences like that?

Doug D’Anna:            No.  Not really.  Oh, yes, I did as a matter of fact.  When I was at San Diego State I was the concert promoter’s assistant.  So essentially I would make the flyers to sell the concerts.  I’d pick the people up at the airport.  I’d make the deli tray.  I’d hand them the checks.  And as a result of that experience I figured out this promotion business.  I understand how this works.  

  And since I owned a moped and mopeds were coming on pretty strong I figured let’s do a moped show.  So I rode my moped to a number of moped dealers around San Diego and made up a little flyer and got them all to pay me a hundred bucks to be in the moped show.   

  Now, I got the space on campus because I was a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity and I split the proceeds with the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity so they got half and I got half.  So I guess I did have some selling experience.

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.  Entrepreneurship too.  That’s great.

Doug D’Anna:            I mean hopping on that moped and riding like six miles down to the beach not sure if the guy’s gonna buy or not.  

Clayton Makepeace:   You took a risk.  So what did you major in in college?

Doug D’Anna:            Speech.

Clayton Makepeace:   Ah-ha.

Doug D’Anna:            Speech communication.

Clayton Makepeace:   And what were you planning to do with your life then?

Doug D’Anna:            I had no idea.

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.  You just liked to talk.

Doug D’Anna:    I just liked to talk but a few things cropped up along the way.  As a part of taking a degree in speech communication they have a class called Introduction to Speech Communication and the teacher says, “When you guys finally graduate and open the classified ads you will not find a job that says speech communicators wanted.  So you’ve got to put a resume together and write a letter to try and sell yourself into another industry”

 So I think at that point I realized that I’m gonna have to transfer my skills to something.  And when I graduated from college I put that resume together and I opened the back of Ad Week and I started writing people’s names and numbers down and I sent out 38 letters to everybody from movie producers to artist’s managers to concert promoters and that was my first direct mail campaign.

 Out of the 38 letters I got three responses and I turned each of those into an interview.  One at ABC television.  Another with an artist’s manager.  And another at Bill Graham Presents.  And I turned the interview at Bill Graham Presents into an internship.  Writing press releases.  

 So that was my first direct mail campaign and I didn’t even know it.

Clayton Makepeace:   Now, this is the famous Bill Graham that did all the concerts up around San Francisco?

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, yeah.  I was in there and Santana was walking in and Eddie Money was walking in and Rodney Dangerfield was walking in.  As I would be sitting there typing a press release.  It was kind of cool.  But there was one thing that I learned.  There’s no money at the bottom.  And no way to the top.

Clayton Makepeace:   Yep.

Doug D’Anna:            Ultimately this whole thing mushroomed Clayton.  Along the way I was a member of the Screen Actors Guild.  I worked on a movie.  At the movie there was a singer in the band.  That band guy asked me what I did and of course I told him I was the concert promoter’s assistant at San Diego State.  Hey, I’m over at Bill Graham Presents.  

 He sent me to a restaurant.  He said the guy’s advertising is no good.  I called him up.  Set up an appointment.  Showed him my book.  And he fired the entertainment editor of the newspaper and hired me.  And that’s where it started.

A week later I was at a Mexican restaurant.  I saw a guy from high school that I knew who owned a woodstove store and he asked me, “What are you doing?”  And I said, “Hey, I’m the advertising guy over at this restaurant.”  And he said, “I need a marketing director.”  So I said, “Let’s talk.”  And within three weeks I had two things going on.  

 So that’s where it really all started.  I guess for me it’s like hey, let’s seize the opportunity.  See the opportunity and then go for it.  The worst thing they can say is no.

Clayton Makepeace:   What was the event that moved you into freelance copywriting?

Doug D’Anna:            Well, there were actually two.  The first event was at the woodstove company the owner came over to me and said, “Today we need to do some direct mail.  Here’s the Kiplinger letter.  See if you can’t copy it.”  And I said, “Okay.”  

 So I started working on this direct mail package to sell the woodstove and the free bonus offer was the ceiling fan.  After two weeks of writing it I showed it to him and you’ll never believe what he said.  “It’s not strong enough.”  Haven’t we all heard that?  So I did it again.  Another two weeks.  And it was strong enough.  We sent it out.  I’m sure that it did okay.

But the event that changed my life was when I was at the printer’s and there was a book called Direct Marketing.  And I opened the back of that book and I flipped through it and I go, “Oh, my God.  There’s an industry called direct marketing and direct mail and copywriters.” 

So I joined the Direct Marketing Creative Guild.  Went to a meeting and got the list of attendees or the membership list.  And I started to work the phones and send people samples.  And one lady who I sent samples to and never returned my call, never returned my call, never returned my call and by the way if there’s anybody on this call who’s ever sent samples and people didn’t return their call, it’s normal.  

 But when I finally got a hold of her we met for lunch and she wanted to know what I charged to write a package.  And I didn’t know.  You know how most people are starting out.  They don’t know what to charge.  I had no idea what a direct mail copywriter should charge.  Ten dollars an hour?  Twenty dollars an hour?  But because I had direct sales experience selling woodstoves and they had marble, I figure $40.00 an hour.  

So she said how much to write this two-page visa letter?  And I looked at her and I couldn’t even look at her.  I looked all over the room and I said $40.00 an hour.  And she said how long?  Well, you know as well as I do you don’t really know how long it’s gonna take you.  And I didn’t know at the time.  I know pretty much now but not then.  So I go, “$10.00 an hour.”  

She looked over at me, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “How about we make it $50.00 an hour?  Five hundred dollars.  How does that sound?”

I said, “Hey, it sounds good to me.”  I walked out of there into the sunlight and I said, “Five hundred bucks for writing a two-page letter?  I’m getting into the letter writing business.”  

And that’s where it started.

Clayton Makepeace:   How did you move into the newsletter publishing business?  Selling subscriptions.

Doug D’Anna:            Funny thing.  Member the Direct Market Creative Guild?  

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hm.

Doug D’Anna:            That list?  On that list was a little company called Target Publishing out in Pleasanton, California.  Home of the Ruff Times.  Howard Ruff. 

Clayton Makepeace:   What year was this Doug?

Doug D’Anna:            It’s gotta be ‘87.

Clayton Makepeace:   Okay.

Doug D’Anna:            ‘86, ‘87, ‘88.  And at the time the Ruff Times was the largest investment newsletter of its kind that I’d known of.  They had like a 250,000 subscriber list.  And was doing the same things that Phillips was doing.  Had the up sell and the different products and different gurus.  And I didn’t know them from Adam.  And they got the little telephone call from me too.  I sent the samples over.  

And a gentleman, I don’t know if you ever worked with him, Ron Jackson was the marketing director there.  He said, “Hey, Doug.  I see you can write a two-page letter but we need someone who can write a four or a six or an eight-page letter.”  He hired me to do a job.  I did that job and then hired me back to come in as a consultant for three days a week.  And it was all as the result of stumbling on to that Direct Marketing Creative Guild.

So that’s how I entered quickly in my career into the investment newsletter marketing field and I had this cornucopia of projects to work on because Ruff Times had the Ruff Times.  He had the Jack Anderson Letter.  He had Women’s Sense.  I think they had Maury’s Rosen’s Rare Coin Confidential and Jack Anderson Confidential.  And then Ron put together his own investors club and I was then from there calling these other organizations around the country and writing their ad to go into Ron’s investors club package.  So all of a sudden I went from zero to 60 to working with these one company on their promotion and on these other companies on theirs and so all of a sudden now I’ve got a great book of articles to show and I could send them out to other people.  

That’s how that all happened.

Clayton Makepeace:   That’s fantastic.  When was it that you began raising your fees from $50.00 an hour?

Doug D’Anna:            Immediately.

Clayton Makepeace:   Or are you still working for $50.00?

Doug D’Anna:            Only around the house.  Less than that.

Here’s what I came to conclusion.  Remember I didn’t plan to be a copywriter.  I had stumbled and fumbled my way up and when I found out the reason they were hiring me for the $1,000.00, no for $500.00 the freelancer, is because they were paying an advertising agency five grand.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hm.

Doug D’Anna:            Figuring that they could do it in-house better and hire freelancers.  So I immediately raised my price.  In fact I always tried to raise my price a little bit along the way.  And there was another thing that I learned too.  Is that I felt I was getting this feeling from the people who were hiring me that I was just an anonymous face.  I was just a copywriter.  I was a commodity that could be bought and sold per hour.  

And I figured that I had to be a little bit more than that.  Price shouldn’t be the determining factor whether somebody hires me or not.  It should be the special little something that I bring to the table.  

Clayton Makepeace:   And what do you feel that is?

Doug D’Anna:            Well, it was the one thing that I have that nobody else has.  I’m Doug D’Anna.  

Clayton Makepeace:   (Laughter) I love that.  That’s a great attitude to have.  

Doug D’Anna:            Think about it.

Clayton Makepeace:   We’ve interviewed Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz, Arthur Johnson.  A lot of really great copywriters in these series and each one of them has a completely unique approach.  Each one brings something completely unique to the table.  So what does Doug D’Anna bring to the table besides Doug D’Anna?

Doug D’Anna:            Today or back then?  Today is a different day than back then.  Back then I was a young, somewhat bold, bowl ahead kind of guy.  Who stumbled and fumbled his way along.  Today Doug D’Anna is a seasoned 20-year veteran with numerous control packages working against top talent in the country who’s seen hundreds of split run head-to-head copywriting tasks and knows what doesn’t work.  And is able to eliminate that while people who are starting out are still doing the things that don’t work.  Does that make sense?

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah, it does.  Is there something that you see in other copywriters’ work that you look at and you say, “That obviously isn’t a D’Anna package because I would never do it that way.”  Is there something unique about your approach to copywriting?  That to which you would attribute a substantial portion of your success?

 I know that’s a tough question.  You might need to give it some thought so take your time.

Doug D’Anna:            Let me break it down into a couple of areas.  Let me say that when I see a great piece of copy I admire it and I look at it for woe – the idea, the argument, the concept and I look at it and I try to appreciate it like a fine wine or a fine piece of art.  

When I see something that is clearly not at the top of its game, it sort of – I get a little bit sad because it could have been much better.   

 I guess I’m trying to link all of these things together is that I know that in your group here there was both advanced copywriters and there are those who are working their way up.  And when I look at some stuff that doesn’t make the measure, I come back to the uniqueness of did that copywriter just knock off somebody else’s piece?  Is it a Caples wannabe package?  

 Or did somebody come up with a unique idea?  Did they – ‘cause so many times – and you’ve seen it yourself.  You look at some of these young copywriters who are struggling, looking for an idea, trying to emulate great writers and yet all they do is mimic them and they don’t bring any innovation.  

 Did I answer that question or was it just sort of a long-winded –

Clayton Makepeace:   No.  I think that’s really good.  In fact I just wrote an article on that about how young copywriters tend to focus on techniques rather than on the prospect and by doing that they’re enslaved to techniques that were developed 40, 50, 60 years ago rather than innovating and becoming the copywriting legends that the next generation will emulate.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   And getting over yourself and focusing on the prospect frees you to do that.

Doug D’Anna:            Yeah.  Many writers are so mired in technique that they laughed – I wrote one about are you an imitator or an innovator.  Some of the same – since we’ve both worked for the same clients, I can tell you that I know what they are looking for in a copywriter.  And you don’t get to second base if something you send looks like it’s a Clayton Makepeace knock-off or a Doug D’Anna knockoff.  Because you’ve shown nothing.  

 Now, they’re not gonna like everything that you ever do and not everything’s gonna work but you have to think outside of the box.  And I had this discussion with one of my clients at length the other day.  If you want to make it in this business you got to be different.

 Just like I said why did you get paid so much.  Well, hey, I’m Doug D’Anna.  And I don’t mean that to be pompous or arrogant.  I believe that everybody in life is a unique human being.  A unique individual and if there’s only one thing that I can share with you is that don’t let anybody treat you and your creatability like you’re a commodity.  Because you’re not.

You bring a special little flavor that I will never bring to the table.  In fact, one time I was on a conference – just a casual conversation with another copywriter.  He called me or we were on the same email list and he wanted to know if I was working on the same product that he was working on.  And he says, “I wanted to make sure you weren’t working on the same one I was on because I didn’t want to get skewered.”  

And I kind of chuckled and I said, “Don’t even feel that way because you’re working on what you’re working and you’re a little incubator.  Just make it the best you can be.  And let the cards go where they are.”

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hm.

Doug D’Anna:            But just to wrap up that thought, you are your – you’ve got to be unique.  Just like the unique selling proposition that we talk about in – well that everybody talks about now.  Is that you have to have your own unique selling proposition in and of yourself.  And whatever you do my advice is not to be the killer copywriting guy.  

What’s your opinion on that?

Clayton Makepeace:   Not to be the killer copywriting guy?

Doug D’Anna:            Yeah.  Or the cash sucking copywriter guy.

Clayton Makepeace:   Oh, oh, oh, yeah.

Doug D’Anna:            Because we both know –

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.  The hyperbole that is to be found in the promotions the young copywriters send out is an instant turnoff both for seniors who are looking for _______ and also for any client that has any experience in direct response at all.  You’re talking about the kind of cash sucking –

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   And the killer copywriter.

Doug D’Anna:            Yeah.  Exactly.

Clayton Makepeace:   Those are – they sound like powerful phrases but they’re really very tired and hackneyed and overstated and they destroy your credibility.

Doug D’Anna:        How about sort of like former mailman stumbles up onto big marketing secret banking $300,000.00 in 16 seconds?  The amazing story.  And everybody’s picked up this, Hi, I’m Bill Smith and let me tell you about the rags to riches story that they all learned in Chapter 11 on Robert Allen’s multiple streams of income.  The rags to riches sell.  Which is why everybody has a rags to riches story.  But they just don’t know how to tell the story.

Another thing is you often don’t sell the right angle.  Does that make sense to you?  

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.

Doug D’Anna:            They’re selling the wrong angle of what it is they do because I learned a long time ago nobody needs a copywriter.  Nobody.  You know what they need?

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.

Doug D’Anna:            They need an idea.  

Clayton Makepeace:   What they really need is increased response and more sales and the idea is the vehicle that will get them there.  But if you try to sell a copywriter when they’re looking for more customers and more money in the door, you’re missing the boat.

Doug D’Anna:            And 90 percent of the sites I see do just that.

Clayton Makepeace:   Yep.

Doug D’Anna:            And you know what the worst part is?  Is that they all look like their business opportunity sites looking for other copywriters.  Does that make sense?

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.  And that’s not good because if there’s any industry outside of the diet industry that lacks credibility it’s the opportunity seeking industry.  

Doug D’Anna:            Sure.  My advice would be that create your own unique selling proposition.  Don’t mimic the greats of the past.  Model them.  Learn the ideas behind the argument and then learn how to craft arguments.  

One of my favorite copywriters, Paris Lampropellis who I’ve gotten to know over the phone.  And I got to meet at Bencivenga 100.  Paris also has his degree in speech communication.  So he spent many years writing speeches to inform, to persuade, to entertain.  And when you think about it, that’s what we do.  We inform, we entertain and we persuade.

 I would recommend if you want to rise to the top you not only need to take the speech class but a sales class too because as I tell people who contact me, this is not a writing job.  It’s a selling job.  I just happen to be a salesman that types for a living.  That’s it.

Clayton Makepeace:   Right.  That’s great advice.  I’d like to talk because I don’t want our time to get away without talking about some of the great controls that you’ve crafted over the years.  Why don’t you talk to us a little bit about the biggest success that you produced for your various clients?

Doug D’Anna:            Well, my biggest success was my first one.  I mean nobody that I know of can mail 20 or 25 million pieces nowadays.  Hey, and if you’re on this call, call me.  But it was back, you know, the heyday.  Right?  

Clayton Makepeace:   This is for financial newsletters.

Doug D’Anna:            For financial newsletters.  This was back in 1991.  Remember how I raised my price with every little job?  

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hm.

Doug D’Anna:            Well, the two years I spent out of writing copy I sold real estate.  Got back in the business and the first job was $1,500.00 and the second one was $3,500.00 and the third one was $6,500.00 and the last one was picking up the phone and calling a guy named Richard Stanton Jones over at Phillips Investment Resources.  And we talked back and forth and he gave me a shot at writing a direct mail package for the retirement letter.

 And he mentored me and guided me hand to – the guy took me by the hand.  And I would write something and send it to him.  He’d edit it and send it back and we’d go back and forth, back and forth.  For six months.  And when he said it wasn’t strong enough I would work 20 hours a day laboring and sweating and when it was finally done after six months they mailed it out.  

And 17 days later I got a call that it was a huge winner.  It beat what they were sending out by 100 percent or something.  It was huge.  It was called, “The Great Retirement Betrayal.”  And it was huge.  It was unbeatable for three years I guess.  25 million copies.  

Clayton Makepeace:   That’s one of my all-time favorite packages.

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, thanks.

Clayton Makepeace:   Okay.  So well, so you had the great retirement betrayal.  One of my favorite packages.  And it mailed 25 million pieces.  Was that over three years?

Doug D’Anna:            About over three years or so.  And it was my understanding that the gentleman who beat it was Gene Schwartz.

Clayton Makepeace:   Oh, is that right?  Do you remember the headline on the package that beat it?

Doug D’Anna:            No.  I’m not even sure I ever saw it.  All I know is I got the control back in six months.  

Clayton Makepeace:   And what was the headline on the package you wrote to get the control back?

Doug D’Anna:            You’re Absolutely Gonna Love Your Retirement.  I Guarantee It.  It was a No. 14 package.  

Clayton Makepeace:   Great.  I don’t think we have that one.

Doug D’Anna:            I do and it will be on my web site.  Thanks to you Clayton.  I’ve learned from you.  In any case, when you say is there any one package that I am most proud of and there are some that I’m more proud than others.  My second package was a launch for the Dolens.  I went from taking six months to write a package down to about a month.  We launched that and that was a winner.  Oh, my goodness!  Things are rocking right now.

So I was really proud of that ‘cause anybody I think can write a winning package but the key is to be consistent.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Clayton Makepeace:   Oh, absolutely.

Doug D’Anna:            So consistency is really key here.  

But I guess in the end beyond any package what I’m most proud of is really the respect of my peers.  Having stumbled and fumbled my way up.  In Gary Bencivenga’s promotion for his $5,000.00 seminar he writes that he considers me one of his foremost competitors.  I mean really.  I didn’t even know if I was in that league or not.  The fact that I’ve been able to compete against you, Gene Schwartz, Jim Punkrete and Jim Russ.  I’ve been in the game.  I’ve been on telephone calls with guys that are gonna go down in history like Marty Edelsten?  I mean that’s – to me that’s awfully humbling, from a guy who really didn’t know what he was doing over the past 20 years.

Clayton Makepeace:   That’s why I’m so glad you’re gonna be writing an e-zine because as we were discussing before the call, there are so many people out there who have only written copy to promote their own products and there’s a real sharpening that happens when you’re competing against other top writers.  You’re gonna get the control for your own product if you’re the only person writing a promotion for it.  But when you’re one of three top writers and you’re going head to head on a particular product, that is the real sign of an A-level writer.

Doug D’Anna:            Like right now my main business is really transferred to online and it’s no secret my biggest clients – Phillips Investment Resources and it’s – I mean no way could I ever have broken in 20 years ago as a young guy and so I’m battling it out versus the top, top of the top working on separate products and the guys whose ad brings in the most orders, they get the rollout.  

And I’m constantly having to be on my toes to continually come up with something new and I have learned from my clients that a lot of guys can come up with something once and when you call them and say hey, can you rework that?  And send me something in the next hour, few people can do that.  

And so you have to have a lot of training.  You have to have a lot of practice.  I think the most important thing I can share is you’ve got to know the prospect and you’ve got to know the subject.  If you don’t know either of those and you’re just trying to wing together a couple of headlines, you’re not gonna make it.  

 And if you desire to move up the level, to step up and keep going up and up and up, you’ve really got to get to know your craft.  Look into the history.  Go back to the old books.  But don’t be looking at stealing the headlines.  Look between the lines.  Look at the arguments.  Look at the persona they create.  That’s what I did and I think it’s available to everybody.

 So if there’s one thing to wrap that up, because I have a tendency to go off, I definitely – we can do that as copywriters, can’t we?

Clayton Makepeace:   We can.

Doug D’Anna:            We get that – what’s that called?  Permission to go off.  You gotta be unique.  You gotta be different.  Gotta look to the past.  Be proud of your success.  Be who you are.  And another thing, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call.  

Clayton Makepeace:   That’s certainly one of the hallmarks of your career judging from this interview.  Another thing I was just thinking about to what you said about the unique selling proposition.  That each copywriter should have one.  And it can’t be subtle.  It has to be something – and it can’t be ethereal.  It can’t be well, I approach my projects this way or that way.  

 One of the best USPs you can have is that you know your subject inside and out and I wrote financial promotions for years pretty much faking it.  I had never invested in my life and I was scrambling to learn everything I could possibly learn about how the various investment markets work.  And surprise, surprise.  I had almost no successes at all.  And certainly no large successes.

It wasn’t until I opened my own brokerage account and really went to school on it and became passionately interested in investing that then I started getting winners in that area and of course the fact that I could sit down and talk with pretty much any economist or stockbroker or newsletter editor intelligently about an investment or an economic turn of events made me a top choice for clients who publish those kinds of things.

And the same is true later on in the early ‘90s when we essentially created the Health Newsletter.  Being one of the first writers in that market and actually being the first and then being totally immersed in various alternative cares.  What works.  What doesn’t work.  And the arguments that the alternative crowd had with the allopathic or mainstream crowd was a strong USP for me.  Every health publisher in the country wanted to talk to me.

And so what you know in those regards can become a USP and then of course so can your passion for whatever subject it is that you’re writing about.  If you want to write promotions for martial arts companies, you want to be Matt Furey’s next red-hot copywriter, you better be schooled in martial arts.  You better know what you’re talking about.  That becomes a USP then that you can take out and sell.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   And the other thing that’s run through what I’ve heard so far today is just this – you’re gregarious by nature.  You’re somebody who likes to talk.  You like people and so instead of dreading the moment at which you need to call a prospective client and talk with him, you look forward to it and glory in it and it comes across to the person on the other end of the phone line or the person on the other side of the desk from you that this is somebody that has enormous confidence in himself and therefore I’m inclined to have confidence in him as well. 

 So many of our young writers they’ve studied for years to do this and yet they really struggle to make those phone calls to go out and find clients.  

Doug D’Anna:            Yeah.  It’s really funny about finding clients.  When you’re in the beginning you take anybody.  Right?  You’ll just take anybody who’s breathing and with a checkbook.

Clayton Makepeace:   Anyone who can fog a mirror.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.  Okay?  And as I have gotten older I just won’t take anybody.  I’m looking for a business partner.  I’m looking for somebody who I can work with to help build their business and not in any kind of employer/employee relationship.  

  Let me expand on that.  As you try to find new business, I have always found as I mentioned with my I have a unique selling proposition, I prescribe to my plumber Charlie’s three tenets.  And one is you gotta have fun.  And people like to work with people who like to have fun so it’s real simple.  You gotta be fun.  

 Number two, of course, you gotta make money.  So you want to find a client who can help you make money.  But to me the most important thing is you gotta be appreciated.  If you aren’t appreciated then you then become just another copywriter.  You’ve got to work with the people who are hiring you for that special something that you bring to the table.  

Does that make sense?

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.  And you know what?  One of the brilliant things I think that Phillips has done and Marty Edelsten and Boardroom have done, whenever I would go to visit Phillips they would have a sign in the lobby, Welcome Clayton Makepeace.

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, yes.  Oh, yes.  I’ve had that sign.

Clayton Makepeace:   And they would have the break at lunch and the entire company would be invited to come to lunch and meet with you and just say hi and slap you on the back.  And there would be meetings in Bob King’s conference room and where his top people would come in and spend an hour with you and pick your brain.  And all of those rhinos really incentivise.

 Marty Edelsten at Boardroom.  I haven’t written for them in years but he used to send me a balloon bouquet whenever I submitted first draft copy.  With a big card hurrah!  Those kinds of – because I’ve said many times the money’s good.  The money’s great.  But in the end result when you’re deciding to get up at 4:00 in the morning and go to work it’s really for me at least the emotional satisfaction that comes along with this job that makes it worth doing.

Doug D’Anna:            Yeah.  And there’s another thing that’s going on there with these clients.  They know your value.  They know what it is that you bring to the table.  I’ve had people call and ask about wanting to use my services and then as soon as they come out too quick into the conversation with how much do you charge?  They were just really looking for something at a price.  

 Because I always want to know how’d they find me.  Oh, did Clayton mention my name?  Okay.  Someone else mention my name.  Okay.  That’s great.  But if they said I read something – okay well.  I don’t know.  Maybe I just work on referrals now.  Is that it?  I don’t know.  I’m still trying to figure out how I do all this.

Clayton Makepeace:   Well, it’s word of mouth now.  You have a big industry name.  Everybody knows you.  Let’s just talk for a little bit because you mentioned consistency earlier and let’s talk a little bit about the reality of this business at the very top.  

 For the publisher essentially he has to have several new controls in production at any time.  For one thing the life of a control in the financial market is notoriously short.  Changes in the economy and the investment markets can make your theme and sales arguments obsolete in a heartbeat.

And so these days if you have a control that lasts more than six months, it’s not – and it might be that you’re a genius but more likely it’s that you lucked out with a theme that stuck with the market for a while. 

 The second thing is because while you’re working on your new control two other writers or more are working on promotions they hope will become the control and because they’re top level writers quite often it comes down to which writer ended up with the theme that resonated best with the marketplace.  

We know that these are great writers.  We know they know how to write an offer.  We know they know how to be persuasive and engage the reader and keep him reading and ask for the sale and do all the other mechanical things, and so when you’re operating at this level it could just be – it usually is something as simple as this guy either was assigned or came up with a theme that resonated better with the marketplace.  

And so when you’re operating in those levels consistency is very difficult to achieve and I remember for example I was a consultant for Phillips for a couple of years on a monthly retainer and I’d spend several days every month in Bob King’s office and spending time with Richard and with the other VPs there.  

And I remember at that time going down the list of copywriters that were working for Phillips and some of the names that everybody would recognize and that you would assume were _________ every time, the comment would come back as, “Well, they run hot and cold.  But when they hit one it goes out of the park.”  

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   And so quite often copywriters will be put into one of two groups.  They’re the Babe Ruths and there are the Ty Cobbs.  

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   The Babe Ruths are the strike out kings but when they hit one, man it’s gone.  

Doug D’Anna:            You know what?  I’ve heard the same analogy given to me by one of the guys there.  He says, “Oh, we have no problem on the losers because we know when you have a winner it’s gonna be huge.”

Clayton Makepeace:   Right.

Doug D’Anna:            That’s why consistency is king.  

It’s gotta be and the reason why I think investment newsletter promotions will give you the absolute best copywriting training of any industry bar none, is because it’s always changing.  It changed from this morning to this evening based on forces in the marketplace that we have no control over, and that’s why it’s so tough to come up with a evergreen theme that’s going to stand the test of time, which is why you gotta keep thinking, gotta keep writing, and you can never stand on your laurels because you’re going to – you’re gonna – you’re just gonna get your clock cleaned.

Clayton Makepeace:   Tell me if – there probably aren’t any clients listening right now, so let’s trash ‘em.  What is it that clients could do better to help you produce stronger promotions for them?

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, I think – I think that – hmm.  What can the client do?  Well, let me put it another way.  I believe that my success is only a little bit dependent on Doug D’Anna.  It’s also dependent on the synergy with the client, and that the realization is that while sometimes they—this industry tends to put us – guys that are near the top on a pedestal, it is truly a team effort.  And because I take the team-effort approach, I say, okay, I may be the guy who swings the bat but someone’s got to pitch the ball.

 So what I always try to do is, because I sell an information-based product, I get in and I work with the editors.  What themes do they see working?  And they can help me identify winning themes in the marketplace because they’re working with them every day.  

Another thing is, by helping me with the research, to find out what I need to find out.  Whether it’s – if I’m working on a health promotion, well, I can’t always be the guy to find what the next big health breakthrough is; the doctor’s got to find that.  But on the investment side, show me the great investment returns.  Tell me which stock you think has a great stock story.  Tell – get me excited about that investing system.

  So we work together – we work together.  I guess that’s how I would say the client can help me, or I help the client.  We – it’s the team approach.  We have one goal in mind, and that one goal is to increase the results, get more people to do a swan dive to the order form.  And by providing research, being an incubator of ideas, really those are the two biggest ones.

  Probably another big one is that my clients allow me to do, you know, over – but I think I’ve earned it – is – is don’t put me in a box.  Don’t put me in a box and say, we want this kind of a package.  Now, if I look at it and I say, okay, I think that’s a reasonable idea, well, then, hey, I’ll run with it.  Or let’s say we want to do – I had a client one time that I’d go into these marketing meetings and they’d say, hmm, we want you to write a magalog, and we’re going to test that against the number ten.  

 And I’d say hmm, okay, how’d you come up with that?  Well, that’s what we want to do on this. Oh, so are we gonna format my copy as both a magalog and a number ten?  Said no, we’re going to have another person do the number ten.  Oooh.  So that’s – you’re really not testing formats or –

Clayton Makepeace:   Well, that – right.  That tells you the client doesn’t know what he’s doing.  The way to make a format test, use the same copy in both formats.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.

Doug D’Anna:            And I – you know, little things along the way.  But you have to remember, as you work your way up, people will become more – when you’re consistency, you have a few winners, they – people will then trust you.  They will trust your instincts.  And you’re never going to win or hit a home run every single time.

Clayton Makepeace:   Right.

Doug D’Anna:            But the most important home run you can hit ever in life is the relationship that you have with your client.  So even though – I have a client that I’ve never had a winner for, but I have a winning relationship.  And even though I haven’t done anything with them in, you know, four, five, six or seven years, we’ll still meet and they’ll still buy my lunch.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

Doug D’Anna:            And the difference is, is that I’ve matured.  And the next project we do together is the one – not “Half the money up front, Doug, oh, yeah, I’ll take it.”  It’s, “Hey, I feel good about this one.  I think this is going to be it.”  And I think you’ve got to develop that kind of synergy with your clients.  But it all comes from being around and getting a good track record and doing the best job you can..  

People remember, even though if your package doesn’t win, they will remember the effort that you put into it.  And if you put a good effort into it and it loses, don’t think that you’re cut out from business for the rest of your career, you’re not.  Because there are, I believe – and I don’t know if you feel the same way, Clayton – there are many factors that go on that create a winning direct mail package, and your copy is just one of those factors.

Clayton Makepeace:   Actually you know – well, I totally agree.  And I think that if you’re a proficient copywriter, you know, somebody who’s established or written strong controls in the past, your copy is probably – the quality of the copy itself is likely to be the smallest variable in getting a control for these financial – you know, in these highly competitive fields like financial and health newsletters because the prospect is constantly changing.  The market itself in the financial side is constantly changing.

  A few years ago we could hit a home run every time with a promotion about how your broker is trying to rip you off.  Today it’s got to be about either China or income investing.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   The market’s changing radically.  During the mid to late nineties, everything was high greed and hype –

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   — because of the tech boom.  And then in 2000 when we had the tech wreck and then the blue chip bust that followed, and then of course 9/11 and anthrax in the mail and all of those other things, all of a sudden safety was everything.  So the themes completely change very radically.

Doug D’Anna:            It’s funny you mention the an- — right after – right after 9/11, I did an ad for – a promotion for Michael Murphy’s newsletter.  It was a bomb, because we needed – you know, they needed to get out something and I think it was – the headline was something like – I called them the Delta Force stocks.  And I had a big like, “Osama bin Laden, you can run but you cannot find.  American investors are lining up behind companies to bring you down, and” – I don’t know how I transitioned to some sort of profit opportunity.  Oooh.

Clayton Makepeace:   There’s a great example of what I’m talking about, because the copy in that promotion was no doubt sparkling and fantastic –

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, yeah.

Clayton Makepeace:   — but the one thing Americans – and I did – I made the same mistake.  I made the same mistake, Doug, right after 9/11.  I assumed – because I was pissed.  I was ready to go get a gun and fly to Afghanistan on my own time.

Doug D’Anna:            Sure.

Clayton Makepeace:   And I assumed that my prospects would feel the same way.  But our market had reached catastrophe overload.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   They were looking for something completely different from us at that point in time.  And the topical approach bombed in every case.

Doug D’Anna:            In a – I don’t do this often, but I give a little speech in March to my local DMA.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

Doug D’Anna:            To try and help build up that little organization.  And I kind of focused on what I called building a bridge to your prospects.  And I didn’t – and I have thought about this over the years and it comes down to one big thing:  What do they want?  And the package that I wrote and the package that you wrote clearly wasn’t what they want.  It didn’t tune in to how they were feeling.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

Doug D’Anna:            And when the – when people are losing money in the market – because, you know, I have a brokerage account too –

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

Doug D’Anna:            — or when you’re making money, you check it and refresh it about every 30 seconds to see how much money you made.  But after a week of losses, you don’t even want to log on to see how much money you lost.  Now, if you’re unwilling to look at your brokerage account, pretty much you’re not willing to look at a direct mail piece.  And to add to that, even if you said that people could make money, they are not going to believe you.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

Doug D’Anna:            And they’re not – and during that 2000 and – I mean, I had a great package for personal finance that actually wrote it on the way down, which is “Boom or bust ahead for technology stocks.”  And it was hot until they didn’t believe there was a boom.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

Doug D’Anna:            And an oil package beat that.  And what do the people believe?  And that’s another thing when we sit around and look at somebody’s direct mail piece:  is it believable?  I got one the other day, “Grow your own bypass.”  Grow your own bypass?  Now, it was a stock promo letter and, okay, and I don’t know if it was a winner because I don’t know if they’re tested or not.  But grow your own bypass doesn’t have as big a believability factor to me that something like would be something about – a new breakthrough in stem cell, or this tiny little stem cell company could be blah, blah, blah, blah – Pfizer’s looking at them; somebody else wants to buy them; could it be the next big thing?  See inside.  So there’s like a whole believability factor.

Clayton Makepeace:   You know, you were talking about what people believe, and I’ve got just a short little story to illustrate that and maybe illuminate it a little bit.  And I’ve seen it happen over and over again, but a good example of it was this – the explosive move in gold –

Doug D’Anna:            Right, right.

Clayton Makepeace:   — that happened in the late seventies.  And it peaked at 850 in 1988, $850 an ounce.  

 At the very beginning of that – and of course you worked at Ruff Times later on, but at the time, Howard Ruff was all over gold.

Doug D’Anna:            Oh, yeah.

Clayton Makepeace:   And from the time that it was legalized in the early seventies, he was recommending gold investment very heavily.  And at first it resonated only with a very small amount of the market, the people who were predisposed to not trust the government and so forth.

 And – but then as gold prices moved higher, more and more people wanted to jump on the bandwagon, and of course by 1978, ’79 and ’80, any promotion that talked about gold prices just went right through the roof, because gold had jumped from $32 an ounce to $850 an ounce in less than a decade and so people were – they believed that gold was on a rampage; they’d see it and they wanted to jump on the bandwagon.

But then something very interesting happened:  In 1980, gold prices crashed from $850 so – I think around 400 or less.

Doug D’Anna:            That’s right.

Clayton Makepeace:   And – but you know what?  The demand for that – for gold investment information didn’t tail off for about four more years.

Doug D’Anna:            Right.

Clayton Makepeace:   Because the people who had experienced those gains still believed.  They still believed that gold prices were going to rise again and that they’d return to the old glory days.  So what you have is a curve where, on the front end of that curve, if you’re too early on a trend, you’re not going to resonate with your prospects.

Doug D’Anna:            You are absolutely right.

Clayton Makepeace:   And if you – but at the end, the market will tell you when it’s through, but it may be years after the peak.  The same thing happened right now with this China boom.  You know, for years – I have a client that was telling people that China is taking off like—

Doug D’Anna:            Sure.

Clayton Makepeace:   — a rocket, and nobody wanted to know about it.  They were on to other things.  But then when China is turning in 140% per year returns in their stock market, now all of a sudden everyone wants to jump on that bandwagon.  And at some point China is going to crash, you know, and – or at least the gains will be much, much less.  But people will continue responding to promotions on the topic of China because they had the experience of making money in it, so –

Doug D’Anna:            You know, I had two points on that.  As to gold, in 2003 I did one for a – a gold letter, “Explosive Mine Stocks.”  But because of my experience selling gold, which was – what did we call that; the hard money crowd?  

Clayton Makepeace:   Right.

Doug D’Anna:            Is that – how do I position a hard-money newsletter to a general audience so that they’ll buy it? And – because I want to get the most people I can to buy.  And I – I came up with the idea of, I’m going to make this – they’re not going to know it’s gold until I get them on about page 6.  It’s going to be a whole economic report on everything that’s happening, and it’s gonna point to a divining rod, to gold, but at that certain point, which goes back to the believability factor, right?

Clayton Makepeace:   Right.  So you spread a broader net.  

Doug D’Anna:            Well, yes; and I was – I knew I couldn’t get ‘em to bite on gold on the headline, because – I said hey, just for the heck of it, let’s test the gold headline.  You know what I mean?

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah.  Did you test –

Doug D’Anna:            And – oh, yeah.  And the gold headline was like 20% off of the winner.

Clayton Makepeace:   Right.

Doug D’Anna:            But the – now, there’s a lot of people on our call here that have – never have written a financial newsletter promotion or may never write one.  But I think the big takeaway here is identifying a trend and understanding the forces in the marketplace regarding whatever product that you sell. And once you can identify that trend then the trend – like we’ve used, right? – the trend becomes your friend.

Clayton Makepeace:   Mm-hmm.

When you key into what people want, you are golden…

Doug D’Anna:            And you’ve keyed into exactly what it is they want.  

Clayton Makepeace:   And you gotta be careful not to be too early in that trend, and – and you got to be not afraid of a trend that may have already topped.  You know?  We’ve both seen some big winners – and I know that you must have in the tech market, even after the bust.

 But listen, Doug, I really appreciate your time today.  We are out of time.  We’re going to provide a link so that people can check out your ezine and I strongly recommend it.  There aren’t too many ezines on copywriting that I recommend.  Gary Bencivenga’s is one of them, The Bencivenga Bullet.  Bob Bly’s is another.  And we are going to be adding Doug’s to our list of recommended ezines, both on our forum and on our Website.  And I strongly recommend that everyone listening to this interview go get a subscription, because Doug has been there.  He’s made it happen.  And he’s had huge controls for his financial clients and he can not only help you in terms of writing, but he’s also obviously built a very successful copywriting business.  So you younger writers that are looking for help in that regard will find it with Doug.

Doug D’Anna:            Do you want me to give the Web address?

Clayton Makepeace:   Yeah, go ahead.

Doug D’Anna:            Just go to – it’s just, d-o-u-g-d-a-n-n-a, dot com.  And you know, I call my little letter The A List.  It’s just a free ezine and you’re just going to get little nuggets here and there on what you need to do to rise up to the top.  This is a great business.  There’s room in it for everybody.  And as like Clayton has done, you come to a certain point in your career that you want to give back, and it’s just my way of giving back a few ideas to help others achieve the success that they would like to get in their life.

Clayton Makepeace:   That’s great.  So check out the Website,  No apostrophe, d-a-n-n-a.  And thanks again, Doug, I really appreciate your time today.

Doug D’Anna:            All right.  Hey, thanks, and I’ll keep in touch.

Clayton Makepeace:   Thanks, Doug.

Doug D’Anna:            All right.  

Clayton Makepeace:   Bye bye.

Doug D’Anna:            Bye bye.

[End of Audio]


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Doug D'Anna

As a seasoned direct response copywriter, Doug D'Anna has created more than 100 widely-mailed control packages for the world's largest specialized information publishers—generating over $100 million in direct sales.