A Conversation With
Million-Dollar Copywriter

In this special interview issue …

  • How copywriters and their clients can get bigger winners, more often …
  • How business owners and marketing execs can get a copywriter’s best …
  • How one of the greats gets more assignments than he can handle …
  • How you can multiply your income without writing one more word than you’re writing now …
  • And much, MUCH MORE!

Welcome, Business-Builder!

Gawd, I love copywriters.

  • Legends like Gary Bencivenga, Jim Rutz and others – pioneers and geniuses who’ve been so generous with their wisdom over the years.
  • Today’s hottest "A" level writers – Arthur Johnson, Eric Beutel, Parris Lampropoulos, Carline Anglade-Cole and others – because I learn something that’ll make me a bundle every time I read them.
  • Most of all, I love the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young guns just breaking into this business, because they remind me of, well … me. They’re younger, thinner and better looking to be sure – but so was I, once. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

I want you to meet a copywriter I’ve seen go from fledgling to top gun at the speed of light – a guy who took his rightful place at the top of the "A" List several years ago and whose accomplishments have pretty much guaranteed him future installation in the Copywriter’s Hall of Fame …


When I first met Parris, he was about ten years younger, green and cocky as hell, and was willing to work for cheap. So I hired Parris and copy chiefed him on a few packages for Boardroom.

Next thing I knew, Parris was one of the hottest "A" list writers around – so hot, in fact, that I couldn’t even get on his schedule (or for that matter, afford his fees!).

Believe me – I’d like to take credit for his success. But the truth is, Parris came to me with all the goods: Great writing skills, considerable persuasive powers and a mind like a steel trap. When I saw his first draft of our first package together, I knew he’d be one of the great ones.

A few days ago, Parris agreed to spend an hour with me on the phone for this issue of THE TOTAL PACKAGE to talk about how business owners, marketing execs and copywriters can produce bigger winners, more often.

I gotta warn you – this is going to be a long one. So if you need a potty break, I’d suggest you do it now.

I’d also suggest that you save this issue – or better yet, print it out and stick it on your bulletin board. The concepts Parris shares with us will make you big money in the months ahead.

Here we go …


Hi, Parris – thanks for doing this with me today!

PARRIS: I usually decline interviews – but who can say, "No" to Clayton Makepeace? Actually, I’m looking forward to it.

CLAYTON: Why don’t we begin by learning a little bit about your background?


I grew up in Queens, in New York City, in a working class neighborhood. Both my parents were immigrants. And, I guess I got the work ethic from my father who came here with nothing, worked his butt off and ended up buying his boss’ company. A true American success story.

But when I was growing up, we were still poor. We lived in this little house and all four of us kids shared a single 10′ x 12′ bedroom.

So before we could go to sleep, we knew we had to use the bathroom because once my sister’s pullout bed came out, the door would be blocked and the bathroom would be closed until morning.

All that had a big influence on me. You know, a lot of people say, "Oh, we didn’t know we were poor." We were poor, and we knew it! When you go to a friend’s house and he has all these toys and stuff that you don’t have – it has an effect on you.

CLAYTON: How big a role did your family’s poverty have in creating your work ethic? Did it give you the desire to make millions?


It did. A lot of things about my childhood were really great and gave me wonderful memories. I had a lot of close family, close extended family, friends, and stuff.

But one thing I knew: I did NOT want to stay poor. And I didn’t want my kids to miss out on going to ball games and day camp like I did.

CLAYTON: That’s very similar to my own story – just a different part of the country. How about your education? How far did you go with school?

PARRIS: I got a bachelor’s degree in bullshit.

CLAYTON: You’re a Bachelor of Bullshit? I’d kill for a diploma that says that!


[laughing] Actually, my degree’s in communications and political science. That and a buck-fifty will get you on the subway.

We studied stuff like Aristotle and all the old rhetoricians from years gone by. You know – the art of persuasion: Debate type stuff. Actually, it did teach me some principles of persuasion that I still use.

CLAYTON: Socrates often used questions to make his point. Do you do much of that technique in your copy?

PARRIS: Not so much. I do it more in face-to-face selling. In sales copy, I’ll throw in a question here and there, but more often, I’ll phrase it as a statement. You know – one of those statements that get prospects nodding their heads.

CLAYTON: How did you first hear about copywriting and decide to get into this business?


I’ve always had an innate gift for writing. I had English teachers in college tell me, "Oh, you should be a writer."

But I hated writing! It’s hard work. I think Hemingway once said, "Writing’s easy. Just open a vein and bleed all over the page."

I wanted to do something lucrative – and easier – so I got into real estate sales. I had to learn how to be a salesman.

I was horrible at it at the beginning. I was really shy – one of those people who’d make a cold call, secretly praying the person wouldn’t answer so I wouldn’t have to talk to them.

So, when people say "Great salesmen aren’t born; they’re made," I totally agree. If I can become a good salesman, anyone can.

CLAYTON: The job in sales gave you valuable persuasive skills?


Yeah. I had to learn how to sell to survive. When I first started, the market was booming. Any idiot could sell property. The bottom fell out, and then I had to learn how to sell.

I got to be pretty good at it, and became sales manager in a small real estate office. My mission was to grow the company … attract better agents to work for us … and get better listings. So, I got interested in marketing.

One day, in 1990, I received a newsletter that contained an insert selling the Gary Halbert Letter. The headline was, "How To Get People To Line Up And Beg You To Take Their Money."

I signed up immediately. And one of the articles in the premium was about selling information through the mail. I got all excited and decided there and then to write a book on how to sell your home in a dead market.

It was perfect, I figured, because the real estate market was as dead as a doornail and people were having a real hard time selling their homes.

So, I wrote the sales letter for the book first. I wrote every outrageous promise I could think of, and then created the book to fulfill those promises. And threw it in the mail, and waited for the orders to come pouring in.

CLAYTON: Did they?

PARRIS: I got a 3% response. Cash with order, no credit card option, on my very first sales letter. And I didn’t know that was a good response! I was despondent. I thought, y’know, 50% of the people are gonna buy it. I had no idea.

CLAYTON: Oh that’s wonderful. 3% on your first effort.

PARRIS: Yeah. And then I tweaked it and I got it up to 6%.



But I was still losing money at 6% because I was a total idiot. I didn’t know anything about the business except just how to write copy.

So I got the copywriting stuff okay, but I knew nothing about postage, printing, mailing lists, fulfillment, and inventory, or any of the other stuff that goes with running a business. So, I lost my shirt.

CLAYTON: What was your problem with that promotion? Was your price point too low?

PARRIS: My price point was too low, my printing costs were too high. I was mailing everything first class, I wasn’t really exploiting the backend at all, and it was a one-shot product. I had no clue. So, I’m getting a 6% response and losing money.

CLAYTON: How did you get your first professional assignment?


A couple of years later, I attended a conference in Las Vegas where direct response pros like Ted Nicholas, Dan Kennedy, Gary Halbert, were speaking.

Before I left for the conference, I wrote a sales letter for myself: "How To Hire A World-Class Copywriter For Pocket Change."

I wrote about how I had created all these successful promotions for my own products. And I wrote about how the reason you’ve never heard of this guy is until now he’s just writing for himself and about how you’d better hire him quick because if you wait, you’re not going to be able to afford him.

The first night of the conference, I stopped at Kinko’s and had a few hundred copies of that letter printed up, and then handed them out to anyone who’d take them at the conference.

Four clients signed up on the spot. One of them was Chip Wood of Soundview, who hired me to write an insert for one of his newsletters. He’s still a client today.

CLAYTON: Where did you go from there?

PARRIS: Well, from there, I was like okay, I’ve got a few things under my belt, but jobs still aren’t coming in. So, I started marketing myself some more, and I hooked up with a fella named John Finn, who hooked me up with a fella named Clayton Makepeace.

CLAYTON: Okay. Why don’t you tell me what happened then?


Well, there was this crazy guy named Clayton, in Florida, who was like ah – the James Brown of direct response: "The hardest working man in the DM biz."

At the time, 24-page magalogs had become a big part of the industry, and I would look at those and say, "How do you write one of these? How do you even begin?" It seemed like such a daunting task!

And one of the first things that I learned from you was your step-by- step, methodical approach to writing long copy. It was crucial for me because after you had copy chiefed me on a few packages, Chip Wood asked me if I would write a package for Second Opinion, their flagship newsletter. And so, I wrote a magalog.

I felt like this was my big chance to get to the big leagues. And I felt I was only getting one shot to do this, so, I’d better make it good. So I used every trick I could think of to make sure that that thing was successful.

It turned out to be one of the most successful packages I’ve ever written. It mailed for about four years.

I pulled out all the stops on that package. It was packed with proof elements, testimonials, price justification, so there was no way anybody could argue with it.

Some of the claims were pretty amazing – about all these weird alternative therapies. And so, I had to prove each claim three or four different ways and overcome every possible objection I thought the reader might have.

I worked every possible emotion the reader might have too – his desire to feel and perform better … his fear of future health problems and what conventional medical treatments might do to him … and lots of anger copy directed against the medical establishment.


So, you used emotion effectively throughout the piece. How did you make the connection?

Were there techniques that you used to make a connection between how the editor felt and how the prospect was feeling about the conditions he had at the time?


Men's Health Promotion by Parris LampropoulosI’m a big believer in this sort of Stanislavsky method of copywriting – where you try to feel what the prospect is feeling.

Sometimes, I’m more successful than others. The more I have in common with the prospect, the easier it is to do. If I’m writing a package for Men’s Health, for example, I can do it in my sleep, because I am a member of the market for that product. But, if I have to be a 60-year-old woman, it’s a little more difficult.

But, luckily, I was a big believer in alternate remedies and immediately identified with my prospects.

And I liked the editor’s style. At the time, Second Opinion was edited by William Campbell Douglas, and he had a very great writing style: Sort of a rough, sarcastic, curmudgeonly way of communicating that really gave the copy a distinct personality.

CLAYTON: A lot of times, you can copy and paste right out of the newsletter for a sidebar or even for a section of running text, and really capture the editor that way.

PARRIS: Yeah. And that’s something I learned from Bill Bonner. He’d basically assemble the promotion out of things the editor had already written.

CLAYTON: I remember that Second Opinion promotion. It really launched you. As soon as it hit the mail, your phone started ringing off the wall. Publishers couldn’t wait to get onto your dance card.

PARRIS: I never had to go look for work again.

CLAYTON: Word gets out quickly, doesn’t it?

PARRIS: It’s amazing, it really does. I remember being at a Ted Nicholas seminar and asking him, what’s the best way to get gigs? And he said the best way to get gigs is to have one or two strong controls, and then the work will come to you. I didn’t believe him, I just said, "That can’t possibly be." But, it really is, as you know.

CLAYTON: Give me a list of people you’ve written for over the last, say, ten years.

PARRIS: Mostly the same people that you’ve written for: Phillips, Agora, Boardroom, Soundview, Rodale, and Georgetown Publishing – the usual suspects.

CLAYTON: Tell me about this inspired promotion you did for Louis Navellier …


Wall Street Watch promotion by Parris Lampropoulos That was a huge challenge. It was just after the stock market crash, and nothing was working at the time for bullish advisors.

So I began by asking myself, "What’s my prospect’s deepest desire right now?" My answer: To make back every dollar he lost in the decline.

So that was the promise in the headline. But I needed a proof element in the head to make that promise believable. And so my headline reads, "Secret Flaw in Financial Markets Lets You Make Back Every Dime You Lost"

I figured the "Secret Flaw" idea implied that I had proof, and would make it nearly impossible for investors to ignore.

Then I added another proof element – and a paradox to the deck copy. It told about the money manager who was making a bundle by playing it safe. So there was intrigue there also, a fascinating paradox.

Next, I demonstrated Navellier’s approach – and kicked my prospects’ greed glands into high gear – by romancing the heck out of the stocks he was recommending.

CLAYTON: Great stock stories are the heart and soul of most great promotions for financial newsletters. How do you approach them?


First, I go to Fortune, Forbes and Business Week and read every article I can find on the company being recommended. Then I do something unusual: I sit down and start writing "fascination" bullets for those articles.

By doing that, I find all kinds of unexploited sales angles. Those angles lead me to the "hook" for the stock story. And once I’ve got the hook, the story almost writes itself.

Second, I write about how great and amazing this company is. Why it’s the best thing since sliced bread and why the company’s customers are tripping over themselves to buy its products or services.

Third, I tell them why there’s this strange temporary condition that’s causing the stock to be undervalued. And I come up with some sort of tangible measure of that.

I go to MSNMoneyCentral.Com, and use their stock research wizard. It’ll tell you everything you need to know: How the company’s Price/Earnings ratio (P/E), growth rates, and just about every other conceivable metric compare to other companies in the same industry.

Now, if you look through there, somewhere, you’re going to find some number that makes the case that this company’s undervalued. And you romance the heck out of that number.

Parris Lampropoulos copywriting example


I’ve also found, by the way, Parris, that the S&P and Reuters stock reports give these same kinds of comparisons. Plus, they give you dividend growth, consistent quarters of dividend payment, earnings growth, cash on hand, long- and short-term debt and a lot more.

Fidelity.Com makes them available for free to anyone with a brokerage account.

PARRIS: It’s worth opening a brokerage account just to get that kind of research!

CLAYTON: Yep – so what’s your next step in writing a great stock story?


Parris Lampropoulos copywriting exampleMy third step is to demonstrate how the numbers behind this stock mean it should be selling for two, three or more times its current price.

So, now, you’ve written your hook … you’ve explained why this is a great company … and you’ve proven that it’s a screaming bargain … you’ve explained why it’s so cheap … and you’ve shown how much the stock should be worth, and by doing so, how much money the prospect stands to make.

Now, it’s time to give them a catalyst – a trigger that’s about to move the stock higher.

Maybe there was a lawsuit, but now the lawsuit’s settled, so the stock’s ready to go back up again. Or the company has just signed a lucrative contract with the government or a bigger company, and earnings are about to soar. Or the company’s a juicy take-over target for a bigger company. Or even just that very few analysts know about this company yet, but it’s about to make a big splash and when analysts and the big institutions jump onboard – hold onto your hat!


We’ve even pointed out that in the months ahead, millions of people will be reading this report and buying the stock.

Shameless – right?


[laughing] Only you could get away with something like that!

The point is, there’s a catalyst, and you’re creating a sense of urgency. They must move now, or they’re going to miss out. And I tap into the emotion of regret my prospect has about opportunities he’s missed in the past.


Ken Roberts once had a P.S. on the end of his piece that simply asked the question, "What if I’m right? How are you going to feel three months from now when this stock has jumped 100% … 200% … 300% or more – just like I told you it would – and you missed the boat … again?

If you could name one thing that proved to be the most important factor, in making you successful today, what do you think it would be?

PARRIS: Boy, that’s hard. I mean, I know what I think the most successful thing about writing copy is: Understanding your audience and what they want.

CLAYTON: How do you do that when you’re writing for a market and you’re not a member of that market? What are some of the ways you get in touch with how your prospects might be feeling?


I read the magazines that they read. I pay particular attention to letters to the editor, because the people who write them feel strongly enough about something to actually sit down and write the editor.

And I listen. Like Gene Schwartz used to say, be a listener, first and foremost.

Today, I’m mentoring a handful of young copywriters, and I make them find people who have certain health conditions and just listen to them.

I tell them, "I want you to go out and find somebody who has arthritis, and I want you to interview them for an hour. Listen to them talk about what it’s like to have arthritis. Pick somebody you love, or who you’re close to, or is a friend of yours, so you’ll have empathy for that person as they describe how they feel."

Then, I tell them to write, a two-page description of what it’s really like to have arthritis.

And, when you write, picture someone in your mind who you’re writing to, a specific person.

When I write health promotions, I very often picture my mother-in- law. Because, she is the right age and demographic, and she’s having health problems, and she’s sort of skeptical about this alternative health stuff. So when I write to her, I have to convince this skeptical person I really care about.


That’s wonderful. And it’s great to pick a skeptic. Our prospects are becoming more and more mature and more skeptical as a result.

I also notice from what you said earlier that you sought out mentors who could help you get started and grow as a copywriter.


It’s sort of a cliché, so people tend to dismiss it because they’ve heard it so often before. But I can’t impress upon people how important that is.

When I went into real estate, I didn’t have a mentor, or rather, I had a mentor who wasn’t all that good at it. So, I learned how to be not all that good at it! And, it took me years to unlearn the wrong stuff and learn the right stuff, by finding people who were good at it.

So, when I got into direct response marketing, I made it a point to find great mentors.

If you learn from somebody at an ad agency who makes a hundred thousand dollars a year, he’ll teach you how to make a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why not find someone who makes millions of dollars and let him teach you to do the same?

So that’s what I did. I started out by learning from Gary Halbert and Ted Nicholas. Later, I learned from Bill Bonner, Michael Masterson, Clayton Makepeace, and Gary Bencivenga.

By the way, you don’t actually have to meet all your mentors. It’s great if you do get to meet them, but you can learn a lot just from their work.

CLAYTON: You’ve told us about your big break – the blockbuster control you wrote for Second Opinion. Tell us about some of your other great successes …


Parris Lampropoulos copywriting exampleSure. The current control for Bottom Line Health is a big winner for Boardroom – and it shows how to turn any weaknesses you might have as a copywriter into strengths.

I’m not the most creative guy in the world. I don’t get great Jim Rutz type headlines coming to me from my subconscious. I usually have to work consciously to come up with my ideas.

When I’m writing to promote a book, for example, I usually go through the product page by page, writing fascination bullets. And then once I’ve got those, several will suggest theme ideas and headline ideas. The headline in the Bottom Line Health promotion started out as a fascination.

 So did my control for Soundview, How To Undo Years of Damage Done By Stress. This was written in early 2002, so you just had 9/11, anthrax in the mail, a new war in Afghanistan and the build-up to the Iraq war. My wife and I were talking about how stressed out everybody was.

I jumped on Amazon.Com to check out the sales rankings of books on stress. They were very high, so I decided to use a stress lead.

It worked like gangbusters – Soundview mailed that package for a good two years.

CLAYTON: Interesting. I work in a very similar way. I’ll write 24 pages of copy, and then turn to the headline and deck copy last. I just go through my text and several phrases will jump out at me. I turn the strongest ones into headlines.

PARRIS: Yeah. Well, that’s no accident, I learned it from you.


I’m flattered!

There’s another element to that headline that I think is particularly powerful: Forgiveness for past sins. That’s really what I loved about the headline – the idea that I can be freed from the consequences of past actions.

PARRIS: That’s huge. Forgiveness for past sins. Undoing the past – undoing things you regret. Y’know, you always hear people interviewed and they say, "I’ve got no regrets." I’m thinking, "Bullshit. He’s got a list of regrets a mile long, we all do!"

CLAYTON: What mental processes do you go through when you’re starting a new project?


I always start with bullets. Because, like I said, I’m just not the world’s most creative guy. And if I didn’t start with bullets, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I’d just sit there staring at a blank screen.

So, if I’m writing a Boardroom package, that’s great, because half the package is done when you’re done with the bullets.

But even if I’m writing a package where there’s not a single bullet in the final package, the bulleted notes I take when beginning still shape how the package is gonna be.

CLAYTON: In that case, the bullets you’re writing relate to the benefits the product offers to the customer, right?


That’s right. But always with an intriguing twist.

I had a great conversation with David Deutsch, where he told me about teaching somebody how to write fascinations and bullets. His copy cub found a tip in the book about how keeping a wallet in your back pocket can cause back pain. So his fascination read, "How A Pick-Pocket Can Get Rid Of Your Back Pain."



You mentioned earlier that you read what your prospect’s reading. Have you ever used, like polling websites, for example, on financial packages? A lot of the best ones tend to be quite topical. We might be talking about rising interest rates and gas prices, and commodity prices, for example.

Do you look for other sources of information on what your market might be thinking and feeling?


Yeah, I look at polling stuff, I look at what’s in the news, I look at Internet message boards and chat rooms to see what people are writing about.

One thing about me, though, is I’m kind of, like, lazy. I don’t wanna write a package and then have to write a new one six months later when it’s not topical anymore. So, I try to look for evergreen material if I can.

But you know, as Dan Kennedy is fond of saying, "You can make a living just going through USA Today and getting ideas for new packages."


Very true. And I’ve found that leaving the closing copy – where you present the product and the offer – the same for six months to a year at a time and simply writing new front-end facing based on what’s hot in the news today, can produce huge mailings and massive royalties.

So, I’m lazy too, but I’m lazy in a different way. I just rewrite the front ends and let the backends stand.


You know, the guarantee copy is something we probably shouldn’t be lazy about.

If you look at Rodale’s sales copy, they’ve had the same guarantee for like, twenty years. But, when Gary Bencivenga would write that copy, he would sell the guarantee in such a way that it sounded new and fresh every time he did it. He would find a new way of phrasing it that made it really sing.

I was reading a package the other day that Arthur Johnson wrote for Phillips Alternatives newsletter, and he basically had the same guarantee Phillips has run for several years now. But then Johnson added, "250,000 people who ordered this did not take us up on that guarantee."


That’s beautiful. He turns a guarantee into a selling device instead of just a risk reliever.

I often use my guarantees as contracts between the editor and the prospect, in which I get to repeat all the benefits the prospect is signing up for.

In fact I just finished a package this morning for Sinatra, where the guarantee is a contract between Dr. Sinatra and the reader. "Here’s my solemn vow to you. I’m going to do these seven things, and if I ever disappoint you, everything I sent you is free."

What could clients do for copywriters to help us produce our work more quickly and give them stronger copy?


Provide better research, more research – so the copywriter can spend his time writing – NOT beating the bushes for background stuff.

But the best thing a client can do to get really great breakthroughs for information and advisory products is to give the copywriter the freedom to write about things that may not be in the existing editorial.

The best packages I’ve ever written came from ideas the client hadn’t thought of. I got an idea and I told the client, "Hey, you should write about this, this is hot." And so, the editorial arose out of the copy instead of the copy arising out of the editorial.

Y’know, I started this interview talking about how, many years ago, I wrote a book on how to sell your home fast. But I wrote the ad first, and then wrote the book. You get better copy that way, and you also get better editorial that way.


Well that’s an important point. In a very real way, the editorial copy is marketing copy, because the strength of the editorial drives renewal rates. So for a publisher, making the connection between editorial and what’s hot in the market place is a key to profits.

I think implicit in what you’re saying is that marketing should drive editorial. The marketer is the one, not the editor, who’s going to the websites and reading the magazines and the books and asking the question, "What’s selling now? What are people worried about? What do they fear? What do they desire?"


Yeah. If you want good renewal rates, you have to ask the question, "How can I best serve my customers?" And the answer is, you give them what they want and need.

That’s what Robert Rodale, Tom Phillips, Bill Bonner, Chip Wood and other pioneers did when they first started this business.


I think another part of it too, is that when Bob, Tom and Chip got started, they were doing both the editorial and the marketing.

Now, we have editorial managers and we have marketing managers. They talk to each other, but somehow, the singular vision – giving subs the information and advice they’re hottest for – can get diluted.

That’s just a challenge of growth.

One of the problems that I had early on, I think that a lot of younger copywriters have, and I guess I still deal with it – is that, y’know, from our youngest years, we’ve been taught that the customer’s always right.

The client is my customer. I want to please the customer. And so, I feel torn. On the one hand, I want my copy to be a grand-slam homerun. On the other, I want to please the customer. Do you ever have that experience?


I was – y’know, I got this sort of cockiness from, like, Gary Halbert and people like that who were early influences on me.

And so, I was a lot better at that.

It’s interesting because, I look back on it now, and it surprises me because, like I said, I was always this shy, timid guy. But, for some reason, I was pretty good at asserting myself when it came to copy.

And, I think if you’ve done the work and you’ve learned from the masters … and you’ve studied Caples and Hopkins and Schwab and then some of the newer people that we’ve talked about today – and if you have some winners under your belt – you need to fight for your copy.

Once, on a conference call, I heard Jay Abraham say, "I don’t consider the client my customer. I consider the end buyer, who’s buying the product or service, that’s my customer. So, if I’m doing right by that customer, then the client automatically gets the result."


Once, Jim Rutz told a marketing manager at Phillips, "The heartbreak of a blown deadline is soon forgotten in the warm glow of a hot new control."

And the same is true, I think, of the process itself. I think you can be nice, but firm. The client may not like it in some cases, he may love it in others, but the bottom line is that response at the end of the rainbow.

CLAYTON: Parris, what’s the smartest thing you ever did to increase your income as a copywriter?


The smartest thing that I ever did to increase my income is the same thing you did. I become more than a copywriter.

I can’t write more than three or four hours a day. My brain just turns to Jell-O. So that leaves another three or four hours that I could be making money, but I’m not. That puts a ceiling on my income. Now, it’s a pretty high ceiling, but it’s a ceiling nonetheless.

So I started copy chiefing other writers. There’s a huge shortage of A-level copywriters, so there’s a value to the client to be able to go to the B and C writers and then have an A writer copy chief that and bring it up to a higher level.

I get to accept assignments that I wouldn’t otherwise. Each project only takes a tiny fraction of the time I’d normally spend on a package, and I get a chunk of the advance and the royalty.

So I make more money. The young gun gets more assignments, grows his skills on each project, and makes more money. And the client gets the promotions he needs. It’s a win-win for everyone.

CLAYTON: As I understand it, you’re getting involved in a lot more than simply creative. Aren’t you also working on marketing strategy, product positioning, development, and those kinds of things?

PARRIS: Product positioning, product development, marketing strategy, sorta coming up with a road map to take them to the next level.

CLAYTON: When in your career, did you learn the nuts and bolts side of the business? How did you pick up that knowledge?


Mostly, learning from other people. Some stuff I learned from clients, some stuff I learned from business books, some I learned from studying guys like Jay Abraham and Dan Kennedy.

You know, as Dan Kennedy says, it’s no great secret. There’s this big building in your town, with books in it, called the "library." All you have to do is go down there and you’ll find out all kinds of stuff.

CLAYTON: And "stuff" equals money. So helping your client with marketing strategy and all the rest that creates another income avenue for you. Your client isn’t getting that wisdom from you for free?

PARRIS: No. I mean, it’s free up front, it’s based on performance. I pretty much patterned what I’m doing after what I saw you doing.


It certainly was a breakthrough for me in terms of income, and it appears to have been for you.

But it’s not always easy to get clients to break with the old freelance copywriter paradigm … to think about us as more than wordsmiths … and to involve us earlier in the process, or at deeper levels of the process. How are you able to do that?


It’s the old risk reversal thing, you know? Make ‘em a risk-free offer.

I called my client and said, "Hey, y’know what? I’m trying something new, it’s kinda crazy, I don’t know if it’ll work, but it could pay big dividends. I’m gonna be in your town next month, what if I stop by there for half a day and we throw some stuff around?"

So I went to my client’s office and we took out all his newsletter inserts and I changed headlines on the spot. When he ran them again, he got a much higher response.

Then, I strengthened their telemarketing scripts. Pretty soon, we were talking products, positioning, marketing strategy, creative strategy, and mailing list strategy – the works.

Joe Sugarman said, "Two things you need to be a good copywriter are, you need specific knowledge about copywriting and about the client’s product, but you also need general knowledge, because that gives you ideas that maybe they never thought of."

If you’re well read and spend some time thinking, you’re going to get ideas on how to increase your client’s business that has nothing to do with copywriting. You’re going to be watching the news one day and say, "Wow. That idea could make my client a gazillion bucks."


I can definitely relate. I find that when I’m focused on a client or a product, my brain is working on it 24 hours a day and great ideas come at the oddest times.

And so, the clients really get much more of you than he would if you were merely a freelancer, working at arm’s length.

Plus, so much of what we do is chemistry between us and the client. And a lot of that chemistry depends on how well each of you understands and respects the other’s work process, and having a relationship with that person that frees you to give them everything you’ve got.

And then there’s the learning curve on the product and the market. When a freelancer has to go through a new learning curve every single month, that’s time down the drain. When you have a deeper relationship with a client, you can skip the learning curve and focus intensely on the copy.

And since you get paid for writing – not for your time learning – you just naturally work faster and make more money.


Absolutely. There is a downside though. Sooner or later – it could be years – you’re going to run out of ideas for a particular product. That’s where your copy cubs come in handy.

Bringing more good people into the mix and allowing them to contribute keeps the great ideas coming.


Yes. And more than just the "idea" thing – if you’re doing your job well; your client’s going to grow. Fast. And at some point, there will be more work than you can possibly handle – even with copy cubs.

At that point, I like to bring in other "A" writers and let them work directly with the client. They put more customers on the file, and since I’m also writing sales promotions to those customers, they make me money.

At Weiss, I asked him to bring in Eric Beutel, Richard Stanton- Jones, Carline Anglade-Cole, Bob Bly and many others. I even rang you up and tried to get on your schedule.

The secret is to have a compensation schedule that rewards you for the client’s growth no matter who does the work. That way, everybody makes a bundle.

This has been great. There are tons of ideas here that both copywriters and their clients can use to make millions.

Thanks again, buddy.

PARRIS: You’re welcome.

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

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12 Responses to A Conversation With
Million-Dollar Copywriter

  1. Ruth says:

    These interviews are so helpful to me as a beginner. Actually, I get more thoughts and creativeness from them than others..people get so wordy…I hate that.. when jeweels can come from just a few well-worded paragraphs. I have a BS in Psychology, and I believe that is where I started to hate so many nonsensical words. Well, anyway, thanks so much.

  2. Red Alert!   Red Alert! As of 24 July 2008 the "Click to Enlarge" feature attached to each ad image is faulty…

  3. graham says:

    Hey, Gerard. Thanks for the catch. We can’t find the larger versions of those images right now – so the links are gone. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. It’s inspiring to see how someone like Parris came through the ranks. Very insightful. I consider myself a cub with a lot to learn…great article for someone like myself. Now how does one go about being chief’ed  by an A-level writer?

  5. Chuck says:

    I’m with Francis above…  How about an article titled, "How To Get Chiefed By a Master Copywriter and Rocket from Idle Cub to Overbooked A-Lister!"



  6. Adam says:

    Parris is the king! Rock on baby!

  7. Marcelino Latorre says:

    This interview was an inspirational jewel. Thanks for the lesson guys. -Marcelino Latorre

  8. Gene Ingle says:

    As a longtime interviewer, I must say this: It’s one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen. Fantastic! If wannabe copywriters can’t learn from this, maybe they should try something else. The Total Package — always something of value.

  9. "And I tap into the emotion of regret my prospect has about opportunities he’s missed in the past."

    Markus Trauernicht

  10. Richard Muir says:

    Hey great post and extremely insightful on the path of a copy writer.



  11. Robert J Chamberlain says:

    As a novice/beginner myself, I find this text to be a gem, an absolute classic. It is definitely well worth the read, and I can say without a doubt that I will be returning to it in the very near future. I have been in hiding so-to-speak for various reasons, but I am certain that I will have a great future career in this field. As a very creative person thanks to my ADHD, writing and persuasion come pretty easily to me. My future is bright.

    It is an interesting subject. Hell, I love marketing. I can sell sell sell and usually outperform everybody.

    Thanks for sharing.

    I will be implementing the techniques outlined here.

  12. Great article! I will be reading the rest of the archived articles on this web-site, starting with 2005.

    This interview with Clayton & Parris was inspiring to date, even though it took place in 2005. Nothing really changed a whole lot in regards to writing quality copy. I aim to digest as much as i can on this site to better my shitty skills at writing.

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