by Robert W. Bly
A number of my clients, prospects, and seminar attendees have asked about my own methodology for writing a direct mail package. At the risk of oversimplification, the steps are as follows:
1. I gather as much information as I can about the product and the market. This process is outlined in my article How to Prepare for a Copywriting Assignment.
2. I spend a lot of time studying the information. I key my notes into my PC. This reduces the mountain of source material into a more manageable print-out of between 2 and 20 or so single-spaced typed pages.
3. For long-copy assignments, I cut up the typed notes and paste each bit of information on an index card. I write a descriptive topic title at the top of the card. I then arrange the cards so the information is roughly in the order in which it will appear in the copy. This order usually comes to me as I study the material.
4. I write a copy platform describing the package I intend to write, including the assumptions made about the audience and the theme or slant of the package. Sometimes this platform is a brief, informal memo. But when I feel the client and I would benefit from greater detail, I do a more formal copy platform.
5. Often a platform will contain several different copy approaches and headlines. I recommend wherever possible split-testing of the best two or three, rather than betting the entire mailing on a single approach. But whether to do so is completely up to the client.
6. Once the platform is approved, I write the package. I go through many drafts before showing it to the client. Before the copy is e-mailed to the client, it is read by a professional proofreader (usually my office manager).
7. The client provides comments in any manner and format he or she prefers; however, I think the best method of reviewing copy is to read it as an electronic file and make your comments directly on the file, using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature. Doing so makes it much easier for you to comment at length than writing in the limited space available on a hard copy with a pen. I highly recommend to clients that they use this online method of copy review.
8. I revise the copy until the client is satisfied and accepts it.
9. Although I do not require it, most clients email me a pdf or fax me the package in layout form. This allows me to check that all components are in the right place, and that the design is as effective as it can be. I also give the layout to my proofreader for a final proofing on our end. However, the client is responsible for final checking of all copy, design and production elements.
10. We give our corrections and comments to the client. The package is then printed and mailed.
11. I appreciate it when the client keeps me posted on the results. If I am getting a mailing fee on the package roll-out, I will often suggest test ideas or package improvements to the client at no cost, so as to maximize response (and of course maintain the package as the control).