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The Secret of The Successful Copywriter

Table of Contents

He was getting clients and jobs, but his words weren’t making sales, and his clients rarely called him back.

A friend of his — who had taken up the trade much later than he had — was doing surprisingly well.

The friend was writing for the web, for print, and for radio in several different markets, and was beginning to make a killing.

Clients were raving about his skills, and the results that his words were bringing in.

“I’m in trouble here. I need to know your secret. Can you meet?” the copywriter said.

“Of course,” the friend said.

The next day they were sitting at a downtown bar.

The struggling copywriter laid out his problems, one after the other, stopping only to work on his gin and tonic.

“I’m grinding twelve hours a day, doing an incredible amount of research, writing and rewriting drafts until I can’t see, but it’s just not coming together. They run my stuff and nothing happens.”

“Uh-huh,” the friend said.

“Then they don’t call back. They never call back.”


The copywriter handed his friend a few examples of his recent work, and he looked them over casually, line by line.

“Well, what’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing’s wrong with it. It’s all good copy.”


“It’s good. Far as I can see, you’re doing everything right,” the friend said.

“Well then, what’s the difference between my stuff and yours? Why are you selling?”

The friend paused for a moment.

“You’re looking everywhere, but you’re seeing nothing.”

“I don’t get it. What is that, some kind of Zen crap?” The copywriter took another drink.

“Take a look around this bar.”

The struggling copywriter scanned the place, then looked back to his friend, anxious for an answer.

“How many salt shakers did you see?” the friend asked.

“Uh … I don’t know, I … wasn’t really looking for those.”

“Look again.”

The copywriter looked around the bar again, this time seeing salt shakers everywhere.

“Now that I’ve told you what to look for, the place is full of them, right?”

“Sure, sure, but what’s the point?”

“You’ve been looking at everything, but seeing nothing. All your research, rewrites, and interviews are necessary and good, but it all falls flat because you don’t know what you’re really looking for or trying to accomplish,” his friend said.

The struggling copywriter stared into his glass.

“Don’t worry, I’ll pick up the tab. Think this through and you’ll be paying it next time.”

The moral of the story

With apologies to legendary copywriter Gary Bencivenga, who said “… intention facilitates perception.

You’ve been looking at the entire bar. We all have.

When you decide to narrow your focus on the salt shakers alone (in other words — your reader’s needs, the headline, the hook, the call to action), that limited view will open you up to an entire world of “salt shakers,” and cause your writing and content marketing to become powerfully persuasive.

After you’ve gotten everything you need from the salt shakers, move on to the tumblers, and then the silverware, and then …

Focus on one thing at a time.

Then, focus on the next thing.

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