"Write On Target" - A good resource for advertising copywriters

By Katharine Swan On Friday, April 28, 2006 At 7:48 PM

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iconOne of the most recent "How To Write" books I checked out from the library was Write On Target: The Direct Marketer's Copywriting Handbook, by Donna Baier Stein and Floyd Kemske. The book is an excellent resource, but I should caution that it is a little outdated: it was published in 1997. The biggest change that I have noticed between the world Stein and Kemske are writing about, and the modern world, is the way that internet has changed the face of copywriting. Advertising has started to shift its focus from snail mail and other print and media forms, to primarily internet-driven advertising.

Nevertheless, the book is a thorough study of "direct marketing" (which I think must be the polite way of saying "advertising"). The first handful of chapters focus on the advertisement mailing, breaking it down into all its individual parts (i.e. envelope, letter, response form, etc.) and explaining how to write a winning example of each. The book also describes how to write for radio, video, or other audio or visual forms of media - including telemarketing scripts. The chapter on writing for the internet is, as I have already mentioned, rather outdated - it mentions things like people paying to browse the internet and your materials (back in the days of dial-up connections that charged by the hour) and the ettiquette of email mailings (oh, those sweet days before the widespread use of spam). However, the book still offers some valuable tips on internet marketing, such as how to attract site traffic, how to design an attention-grabbing site, etc.

Personally, though, I think the most valuable part of the book (unless you're an aspiring direct marketer, of course) is the epilogue, "The Copywriter's Toolbox." As well as providing suggestions for resources such as encyclopedias and quote dictionaries, the chapter has a useful section on how to fight procrastination. He offers tips such as "Make a list of points you want to cover" (I do this! rather like a rough outline) "Write a letter to a friend about the project" (he gives a different reason, but I think this is good because it gets you excited about the work - having a conversation or writing an email ought to work, too) and "Look at somebody else's work" (and write down ways you can improve on it - but don't plagiarize!). His theory is that if you get yourself started putting words on paper, the rest will follow.

Well, that should be enough to either pique your interest in the book - or convince you that you don't need or want to look at it. I do recommend checking it - and any other book - out at the library; no sense in buying it unless you know you'll want unlimited access to it.

I have a whole stack of other library books on the art of copywriting - I will review them as well, as I get to them.

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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