A Conversation With
Million-Dollar Copywriter
Kent Komae

Part One

Kent Komae

Welcome, Business-Builder!

Nothing does my heart more good than to see a young copywriter take root and blossom. And of all the copy cubs I’ve worked with over the years, NOBODY has blossomed bigger or better than Kent Komae has!

Kent’s hard-selling direct mail packages are legendary in the health supplement industry. His fabled controls for Sun Chlorella, Healthy Directions, Health Resources and many other major mailers have made Kent one of the top two or three choices for supplement companies looking to grow – FAST.

I first hooked up with Kent back in the 1990s – when he was an eager younger writer, looking to make a name for himself (and, of course some truly obscene royalties). I hired him to help me on several health promotions for a favorite client – and on his very first draft, it was clear to me that this guy had what it takes!

Since then, Kent has gone on to fame, fortune and a jamb-packed dance card as one of the half-dozen or so most in-demand copywriters in the alternative health industry. I’m proud to count him as one of my closest friends.

A few days ago, Kent took time out of his insane schedule to talk copy with me – here: Listen in …


Hey, buddy! I’d like to begin by having you tell me a little bit about your background growing up, and school, and that kind of thing.


Okay. Well, let’s see. I actually grew up in a small town called Gardena, California. I went to the public schools there. I have two brothers, and I had a pretty much normal, all-American childhood. (Laughing)


What did your dad do?


He was a pharmacist. And he had his own drugstore for 30-something years.

My mother was a homemaker. I was involved in athletics – baseball and basketball. And had a lot of fun as a kid, and a teen, and just, a good old normal childhood I would say.


When you were young, were you aware of advertising in marketing on a level that you feel might have been more elevated than your friends and other people?

Were there any early clues that you might end up being one of the top copywriters in the country?


Well, I wouldn’t say so much writing. But I loved to read. I remember when I was a kid, we had this hallway in my house, and I would curl up by the wall heater and read books.

To this day I love to read, and as we’ll probably talk about later, this is one of the things that I really enjoy about what I’m doing right now. I love reading, researching – just digging into the details.

In fact, when I read books, I love books that have the rich details that really paint a picture in my mind. I read a lot of sports biographies. I like stories – one of my favorite books is Sea Biscuit. When you read that book, it’s a slice of life. It’s a fantastic book.

I just finished a book called The Perfect Mile, which is about the breaking of the 4-minute mile barrier in running. Just a great story about life in England and Australia, and the United States.

I’d say the reading part of it was probably more of a pull to me when I was younger than advertising in a sense of knowing about advertising.


Tell me a little bit about your education. Did you go to college?


Yes. I went to college and I got a BA in English. And I actually taught English for six or seven years before I got into advertising.

And so I've had a love for the English language, for words, for writing. And that passion has helped me and given me a good feeling for expressing myself.


Where did you teach?


I taught in the public schools, at a junior high school, high school, and adult school. I taught just about every course related to English: From basic reading to remedial classes, and all the way up to the gifted program.


See? I've known you for years; I've never had any idea.


(Laughing) Well, that’s why I can stand up and speak in front of people, and give seminars and talk to people, and I don’t have a problem with that.


I see. That’s cool. Okay. Well, so why did you leave teaching?


Well, I was actually just thinking about career choices. I think I was making something like $24,000 a year. And I got to thinking about how I might earn more money for my family.

I got a job one summer as a proofreader, an editor, in a small direct-response agency here in Southern California. I worked that all summer, and then was offered a job as a copy editor, like an editor and proofreader just working with the copy. And that was my introduction into advertising.


And then that evolved in copywriting ultimately?


Yes. I remember in the old days, typing my copy on a typewriter, and then having this word processor word process my copy for me. (Laughing) This goes back, just a few years.


When was this?


This must have been like in the late ‘80s.


Okay, and what was your first copywriting assignment?


Wow. I can’t exactly remember it since I've done so many pieces. I know back in those days, the one thing I was involved a lot in, either in editing or beginning to write copy, was newsletters. Especially at that time, I was involved in promoting investment newsletters.

And those were the early days when the investment newsletter market was beginning to take off, and starting to grow into a real big industry.

I don’t specifically remember individual projects, but working on projects for gold newsletters, mutual fund newsletters, stock newsletters. There was a huge demand for independent, nonbiased information in these areas.


What prepared you to begin writing copy? Was it just having the experience of working with copywriters?


I think it was a combination of really working with copywriters, studying great copy – just learning the trade.

I also read all the classics on copywriting by the masters The greatest thing about direct marketing is it’s based on so many principles that still apply today – that are still true maybe 50 years after they began to be developed.

It’s a very exciting field because these things work today across the board. No matter if you’re writing a space ad, a direct mail piece, or renewal series, or something on the Internet, these tried-and-true principles still work. So when you internalize them, they become your skills for the craft.

Writing ads is like working on a puzzle: Carefully piecing together everything you need to piece together. And the end result hopefully is a masterpiece.

So I learned by studying hot copy and reading the masters – and then my own trial and error. There’s really nothing better than learning from the real results that real copy produces in the real world.


Do you remember the first package you hit a grand-slam homerun in the mail?


Well, one package that stands out in my mind in particular – it must have been back in the mid ’80s when I wrote this, or maybe in the late ’80s. It was a package I wrote for Sun Chlorella.

It was probably the first promotion package that really brought up the problem of toxins, and the dangers they pose to one’s health. Sun Chlorella is a fantastic product for detoxifying your body.

This particular piece turned out to be the biggest winner that was ever mailed for that product.

I remember specifically the client telling me that he had to hire six telemarketers to help handle all the orders that promotion produced!


That’s the best – isn’t it? How did you deal with the disappointment early on of working hard on a package, and then not having it work particularly well?


Wow, that’s a good question.

I remember on occasion, we would have post-mortem meetings to try and figure out why our winners won and why our losers lost. That process really helped me win more consistently over the years. A lot of writers can write singles, maybe doubles. A few hit the occasional homerun. The key is to hone your craft until you can hit them out of the park with some consistency.

And I think this has helped me shape some of the things that I’m seeking from the client, and of my own research and developing the project. Do we have everything we need to make this package as strong as it can be? To give it a chance to be a homerun?

Sometimes this is not easy, if you don’t have the right elements. There’s something missing from the project. You could be lacking some proof elements. You could be lacking a voice of authority, or maybe the offer is not as strong as it should be. You could be lacking something really unique about the product to really make it stand out.

I think in some of my earlier days, I didn't push hard enough, or ask the right questions, or nag enough to get the information I needed.

I think about a letter that I got from a client after I wrote a successful control piece for him for a product he’d been struggling with. My copy was a grand-slam and he told me that I made him do a LOT of work to provide what I needed for the piece, but it was well worth it in the long run. He gave me the ammunition I needed to write a winning control piece.


I’m constantly amazed about the broad range of personalities among writers who have hit the big time.

On the one hand you have writers like Jim Rutz – brilliant, unfettered and extremely creative.

I've worked with you on quite a few projects, and I would put you at the other end of the scale. You’re very meticulous. And in being meticulous, you’re one of the few writers who tends to include pretty much every possible selling element in every package that you do. Do you work from a checklist, or is this all internalized at this point?


I think research is the key. I do extensive research before I write one word. I might do 50, 60, 70 pages of notes. Competitive packages. Former packages that the client has mailed. Interviews with the doctor or the investment guru or the expert. Research on my own out of books. Off the Internet. Getting as much information as I can.

I love this part of it almost as much as I love the actual writing. I’m looking for what I call the “WOW” factors. And in my notes I write “WOW” next to points that jump out at me. I also write “Big Idea” when I find something that could be a theme, headline or USP.

After I do the research, I work on extensive outlines. I probably write more detailed outlines than most writers.

My outlines are usually eight or nine pages. I identify the objectives of the piece. I want to make sure I’m clear, what exactly does the client want to do here? Is he seeking the highest percentage response? Is he seeking the highest average order? Is he seeking the best qualified leads for his project?

You can’t assume that everybody is seeking the same thing. It depends on what the product is. What the price is. What the audience is.

Next on the outline, I focus on the audience. I think it’s critical that I know exactly who I’m writing to. And this is a challenge because the audience might be a different audience per project.

And even if I’m writing to the same people, they are a moving target. By that I mean where they were mentally and emotionally two years ago or last year compared to where they are now. You have to understand where your audience is. If it’s an investor, he’s changed in his mentality since a year ago. If it’s a nutritional buyer, a vitamin buyer, he knows a lot more than he did two years ago.


How do you do that? Do you get data cards? Do you find out what lists they’re going to be mailing to?


One, I read testimonials. This is a valuable, valuable way to understand the biggest pains, the biggest needs, of the buyers. What are they thinking? Why did they buy the product? Why do they like it?

I think doing surveys is fantastic. In fact, one of the things now I’m doing is email surveys to current buyers of products.

Let’s say I’m writing for a project where there already are customers online, or they have email addresses. I’m writing a couple of surveys right now to try to see if I can gain some new insights into customers’ frustrations, worries, problems, and pain.

Why did they buy my client’s product? How is it helping them?

Another idea is to sit in on focus groups. It’s an excellent way to hear what they have to say.

If I may talk about the audience here, one of the keys to writing successful homerun-hitting packages is you want to enter the conversation the client is already having with himself.

By that, I mean it’s very difficult to be a missionary, to try to convert somebody to something that maybe they don’t believe in or haven't heard about, or know nothing about.

If you can enter the conversation your client is already having with himself, you’ve got a big jump on reaching the audience. Because you’re connecting with him where he’s at.

For example, if it happens to be a health product, and you can connect with the pains the person is having on an everyday basis, frustrations he’s having, then you have a very good chance of winning. If you write to a prospect with a health product and he or she doesn’t have any of these problems, you’re not going to reach this person.

A particular example comes to mind: In 1999, I wrote a package for Coenzyme Q, a product called Q-Gel: An advanced scientific formula that was more bio-available than Co-Q-10 in tablet or dry capsule form.

I tell people that if I had written that package five years earlier, it probably wouldn’t have worked because most people in 1995 did not know about Co-Q-10, or it wasn’t that well known. But since then, more and more vitamin takers had been reading a lot about Co-Q-10 in health newsletters and magazines. So they were aware that this is a very, very vital nutrient you need to add to your vitamin supply for your heart, for your energy, or your immunity.

So I wasn’t just selling the benefits of the nutrient – I was selling a solution to the problem of bio-availability – a solution that made the nutrient more effective.


I've found that myself. You really do want to enter a conversation that the prospect’s already having with himself.

I've seen so many instances over the years where, for example, an investment advisor spots something scary that’s about to happen in the economy or the markets. But a promotional package about that future event fails because it presents the prospect with a problem he didn't know he had.

I quite often tell clients, “Imagine that you just had a hard day at work. You’ve been dealing with problems all day long. You go home, you check your mailbox – and here’s some guy trying to give you a NEW problem you didn't know you had.

Do that, and your promotion will probably go straight into the nearest trash can.


That’s a good example. And here’s another thing: If you can tell the prospect something he thinks he already knows – but you give it an intriguing little twist – you’re miles ahead of the game.

And of course, if you tell him something he’s already suspecting in his mind, then you confirm that, you’re in too.

Let me give you another example about this on a successful piece that I wrote for the Bob Livingston Letter.

It was a challenge: A newsletter that covers both health and wealth. How do you promote something that unfocused?

Well, the main theme behind this piece was telling the other side of the story. A story you’re not hearing from the rich drug companies or big government, or the rich people who are running everything.

So the promotion wasn’t about money or nutrition – it was about getting the truth that the fat cats are trying to hide from you.

I think for the first headline that I wrote for that piece was something like “44% of all coronary bypass surgeries are unnecessary and useless.” And it got people thinking about this whole idea that, maybe I shouldn’t be going under the knife as soon as I am. Or maybe I should get a second opinion. And so I had a fantastic tie-in in this particular promotion about a natural bypass.

I also think you want to help prospects by giving them information of value. That way, you're really not selling them directly.

As Gary Bencivenga says, “The best kind of selling is no selling at all.” And that really is a mantra that I like to use and keep in my mind.

My job is to do the research, connect with the prospect and give him or her some valuable, valuable information. If I do that, they’re going to read my sales message and as they do, they’re going to begin nodding their heads – thinking, “Yeah, this is what I thought. Yes. I understand what you’re saying here. Oh, no wonder. Now I get it!”

Clayton: Gary and I were talking about just this the other day. When you provide valuable information and confirm a belief that the prospect already has, it transforms you from being a sales person to being an ally.

That’s critical. Everything that I do is “informational marketing.” And by that I mean putting in value –added information that can help people with their problems.

Whenever I write a piece, it’s always filled with information, with news, with some breakthrough, with something that’s going to help them.

I think that’s critical. It’s been a BIG key to my success.

Watch for Part Two next week!

Yours for Bigger Winners, More Often,
Clayton Makepeace Signature
Clayton Makepeace
Publisher & Editor

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9 Responses to A Conversation With
Million-Dollar Copywriter
Kent Komae

  1. Susan Greene says:

    What stands out in Kent’s description of how he works is his emphasis on research. He creates his write-ups by using facts, not fluff. To keep the reader engaged, he provides meaningful information in an interesting way. Sounds like the definition of copywriting to me. No wonder he’s so succesful.

    Thanks for sharing this interview. Good stuff!

  2. Marcelino Latorre says:

    Thanks for the coool interview Clayton, your the best!

  3. Beth Gott says:

    Hey Clayton,
    Thanks for putting the interview in writing.
    As a new business owner on the internet I am
    trying to figure out how to attract customers,
    I carry over 3200 items in my catalog, with
    so many different items it is hard for me
    to put together an ad that is short on words
    but long on attraction from my customer’s
    viewpoint. Can you give me a clue as to how to
    start? How do I start researching this? These
    are not information products. I carry some
    beautiful tables, lamps, figurines, plaques,
    also dishware, candles, novelty items as well.
    The list goes on and on, trying to figure out
    the right keywords is a challenge. Okay, I get
    a bit longwinded, sorry, but I’m in need of
    a little help here, oh and no money to work
    with isn’t fun either but I have to make this
    work somehow. All the stuff I get on internet
    marketing is geared toward informational products
    and that doesn’t help me, I need ideas on
    how to market hard goods. Can you point me in
    the right direction ? Please. Thanks for your
    time in reading this. Beth Gott

  4. H Clayton – thanks for the wonderful article and interview – inpsiring!

    As to Beth above, with marketing, the basic concepts can be applied to hard goods through to information products.

    I know it can be challenging when you start something new.

    I had a look at your website and have left a message on your contact us page.

    All the best for the new year,

    Sue in Aus

  5. Chu D. Obii says:

    Very insightful interview Clayton,would be extremely helpful to me over this holiday period, as i write my first full direct mail package… thank you, and a Merry Christmas to you and Wendy and your entire team!!!!

  6. Swans Paul says:

    Dear Gott:

    I know you’re seeking Clayton Makepeace’s advice.

    I am a totally unknown copywriter/marketer.

    But I am working with a few clients and I am helping them make money.

    So I think my experience qualifies me to give you some advice.

    Here are my recommendations.

    1-Go through your sales figures and try to find the product (s) that sell(s) the most. I went through your website at: http://www.gottgiftsandthings.vpweb.com/ and I saw a few statues that I could buy. Some of them were funny. Specially the Frogs.

    2-Now once you know which products are the biggest sellers, I’d go back to the buyers of these and try to get to know why they bought this specific product. Write the a letter to the buyers to get feedback like :Why they bought this one? What their friends and family say about their purchase? This way, you get to know what the market is the most willing to buy. And you also the “Benefit” that the market gets out of the winning products.

    3-I’d look to online to see who are my competitors and how they’re selling similar products. I would spend time on their websites and see how they’re trying to sell their products. This way, it will be easier for you to differentiate your product based on what your prospects already know and what they really want.

    4-This may be the most important part of my recommendations: Either you or a good copywriter will write copy that sells the specific winning items. I’d drive Google traffic by buying keywords on Google. I’d also build specific webpages for the specific products. If your research shows that the Frogs are the Hot Items, then I’d buy a domain name like “BayouFrogsGifts.Com” and build one sales letter to sell the specific frogs.

    I am sure that Clayton Makepeace has even better ideas to help you with this, but as someone who’s benefited from Clayton’s teaching, I wanted to give back.

    Hope that helps.

    Swans G Paul
    America’s First French-Speaking Copywriter

  7. Great story thanks for sharing this one! This one story could help me to be very successful some day identifying the needs, giving a solution for customers, and entering the conversation your client is already having with himself, I would get a big jump on reaching the audience, and connecting with him.

    Marcus Johnson

  8. Pingback: Day 4 - Finding Good Products To Sell

  9. Just desire to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness in your put up is just cool and that i can think you are a professional in this subject. Well together with your permission allow me to grab your feed to stay updated with approaching post. Thanks 1,000,000 and please keep up the enjoyable work.

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