Jessalynn Coolbaugh – the voice of copy advertising copywriterdirect marketing copywriterinternet marketing copywriterjohn carltonmichel fortinogilvyray edwardsseo copywriter
There was an article in the New York Times in September, 2007, entitled “The Unsung Heroes Who Move Products Forward”.
Now, this article seemed to highlight the fact that it is the “obscure process innovations” behind the products which make them successful.
While it would be wrong of me to discount that completely, I feel the article missed out on highlighting the importance of another aspect of the whole process… although it was mentioned once, and then ignored.
Here’s what a part of that paragraph says, “…companies often spend millions to advertise and market new product designs and innovations…”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying marketing is the be-all and end-all.
Heck, without a good product, marketing is nothing, really.
But, without good marketing, the product can be the best in the world… and still be sitting on a shelf somewhere, gathering dust.
And, let’s face it, would companies, “…spend millions to advertise and market…” if that weren’t true?
Like I always said to my business students, “You can have the best product, the best outlet, the best everything… but, if no-one knows it exists, it ain’t worth a penny”.
With that, I want to go on to the subject of this article.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a few (very few) truly great copywriters emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, to make a huge huge waves on the internet.
If you’re in the industry, you’ll recognise names such as Michel Fortin (he wrote the copy which made the first ‘million-dollars-in-a-day’); and Ray Edwards, who literally came out of nowhere and was elevated to superstardom in the online copywriting world.
Then there’s guys like John Carlton and a select few others who have been making a killing off-line for decades before venturing onto the world wide web.
All great copywriters, no doubt.
Then there are those who, while great copywriters in their own right, have kept themselves in the shadows, working quietly and making fortunes for themselves and their clients, only emerging once in a while to say a few words in place like the Copywriters Board.
One of these unsung heroes is my good friend Jessalynn Coolbaugh — a successful copywriter and a first class copywriting coach.
Jessalyn is a direct response specialist, copywriter, and marketing consultant.
Her expertise is in helping small businesses, internet marketers, and home business owners achieve the success they deserve, by positioning them against the competition in a way that sets them apart.
She is also well-versed in both advanced direct response sales techniques; as well as in proper search engine optimisation – and able to combine the two into a powerfully unified sales tool!
Jessalynn managed to take out some time from her busy schedule to have a chat with me and tell us more about herself and her career.
I think you’ll find it both interesting and educational whether you’re a copywriter or fully-fledged marketer.
Marko: Shall we begin? Let’s begin by having you tell us a little bit about your background, your family life, childhood, growing up.
Jessalynn: Family’s originally from Donegal Ireland, but moved to US when I young.
Jessalynn: I was raised by my grandparents. Pretty typical stuff.
Marko: When did you move to the US?
Jessalynn: ’77. Hippy years, lol. Disco. (Don’t tell, but I became a huge ABBA fan, lol).
Marko: lol. Would you say you were outgoing?
Jessalynn: Actually no, not even a little. I’m really quite shy.
Jessalynn: Very introverted until I get to know a person.
Jessalynn: That could be why. We sensed a kindred soul. My son’s the extrovert, lol.
Marko: Sounds like it.
Jessalynn: Since I became a mum I’ve gotten much better about getting out in front of people though, so he’s been a good influence.
Marko: Know what you mean… Not that I’ve become a mum.
Jessalynn: Lol. I certainly hope not.
Marko: You seem to still have a lot of the English spelling in your writing.
Jessalynn: Always have.
Jessalynn: Never did take to American English (tongue in cheek).
Jessalynn: And you know, it’s never hurt me once with my American clients.
Marko: I understand what you mean, about the US clients.
Marko: How did you get into copywriting?
Jessalynn: By complete accident actually. I was working as a press operator for a printing company…
Marko: Go on
Jessalynn: And a client had a flyer advert they were running… it didn’t have a very strong call to action, though I didn’t know what that was at the time…
Jessalynn: And I saw how to rewrite it so that it actually told potential customers what to do… you know a clear call to action is sooo important in this business.
Marko: So, what, it was just instinctive for you?
Jessalynn: Pretty much.
Marko: Would you say you’re a natural?
Marko: That’s funny.
Jessalynn: That company made me their in-house copywriter, but they still called me a press operator… I was a jack-of-all-trades. Lol.
Marko: I heard Ken McCarthy say he was the same… He didn’t realise he was doing direct marketing when he was.
Jessalynn: Yup. Its funny when you start like that. There’s no real formal training for it. Then I was at the library one day, looking for books on advertising…
Marko: Any in particular?
Jessalynn: Hehe… that’s when I discovered Ogilvy… Ogilvy On Advertising, to be exact.
Marko: And you were hooked, right?
Jessalynn: Yup! From that point on I soaked up everything I could get me hands on.
Marko: He’s got a very easy style of writing, doesn’t he?
Jessalynn: He does! And so many people never take the time to read him. I always loved his down to earth, matter of fact style — “This is how it works, if you don’t like it…”
Marko: Lol, you answered the question before I asked it. Are you psychic, too?
Marko: That’s some long distance mind reading.
Marko: Is he (Ogilvy) the only one you’ve read or are there others?
Jessalynn: I soak up a lot of marketing books these days… Levinson, Godin, Trout & Kennedy
Marko: What’s the latest you’ve been reading?
Jessalynn: The Guerrilla series by Levinson. Excellent books. In fact, I’ve just finished Guerrilla Marketing Weapons for the 2nd time.
Marko: I remember you mentioned you’re into guerrillas… The marketing I mean. Lol.
Jessalynn: Lol. Of course! you can’t beat the tactics… everyone thinks you have to spend millions to get your company out there in front of people… when really it’s just about getting it in front of the RIGHT people.
Marko: Very true. I agree. I’ve just recently gotten interested in it, and you peaked my interest further last time you mentioned Levinson
Jessalynn: And with the internet as a tool these days, budget is less and less of a concern for companies now: Especially with social media coming into play. I strongly suggest Guerrilla Marketing Weapons, and Guerrilla Advertising both. Oh, if you haven’t read him, you must!
Marko: I’m still on the one you sent me.
Jessalynn: Ahhh… ok
Jessalynn: No. Where? Or are you talking about what we talked about last night?
Jessalynn: Ok. By the way… love the new style of writing
Jessalynn: But of course! You know, Marko… new copywriters have no idea how lucky they are to have the internet at their disposal these days…
Marko: Very true.
Marko: Tell me about your most successful copy. You don’t have to say which it was, just the results
Jessalynn: Hmm… Let me think for just a second.
Marko: Take your time.
Jessalynn: I did a piece once, can’t say who sorry (NDA), that did an 8.5% conversion on the first mailing… something like a 3500% ROI.
Marko: Wow, that’s good.
Jessalynn: That was pretty thrilling.
Marko: Was that online or off?
Jessalynn: Offline. It was a business to business piece, too… so an even harder sell
Marko: How long did that mail for?
Jessalynn: I think about 4 years. Then they changed the program, unfortunately… so not too shabby
Marko: That is impressive.
Marko: You don’t have to answer this, but how much did you get for that?
Jessalynn: You don’t want to know.
Marko: Anything to do with monkeys?
Jessalynn: No, no monkeys. lol. I think I got about $1200 for the piece, which at the time, I thought was really good money. Terrible, isn’t it?
Marko: Okay, not too bad for a relative beginner at the time.
Marko: Good, at least it wasn’t peanuts.
Jessalynn: I was proud of that cheque, and prouder of my results… lol. Now that I know about royalties though, it’s a different story.
Marko: I can imagine. How long did it take you to write that piece?
Jessalynn: I think 3 or 4 weeks on that one. I spent a lot of time researching the market. That’s the big thing – you HAVE to know who you’re selling to… otherwise the greatest letter in the world will flop.
Marko: How would you say you prepare before beginning each piece of work? The mental process?
Marko: Then and now.
Jessalynn: I have a strange process these days, lol…
Marko: Go on…
Jessalynn: Then, it was a matter of spending countless hours in the library, and going in to talk to various business owners… heck, we even stopped folks on the street to get public opinions… now, I spend most of my research time working through contacts I’ve built in various industries; a bit of time on the internet to search out public opinion on forums and such… and then I walk away from the whole thing for a few days. I don’t let myself consciously think about the piece.
Marko: Let it all stew in your head?
Jessalynn: Yup. I know how to sell… but sometimes, as copywriters, we tend to try and over-think the process… so I walk away from it, and just let it all simmer up in there for a few days.
Marko: What do you mean?
Jessalynn: Well… I think that copywriters, especially nowadays, are bombarded with so much info about form and function, that it’s easy to forget that it’s all about just selling… your grammar doesn’t have to be perfect; your format doesn’t have to be perfect… it just has to work for that one person you’re actually trying to sell to.
Marko: I agree. And, let’s face it; selling is what it’s all about.
Jessalynn: Exactly and in fact…
Jessalynn: When most people are out buying copy courses… they should be out getting a job in sales.
Marko: Interesting. Care to elaborate on that?
Jessalynn: Make your paycheque depend on your saleability, and you’ll get the hang of it much quicker than when it’s someone else’s money on the line. When the food on your table depends on whether you can sell or not – you’re more likely to get the hang of sales much quicker than if you’re asking for money upfront from a client, and reading a few books on writing copy.
Marko: Hmm. Sort of like putting a gun to your head, as John Carlton would say, but in a commission only sales job?
Marko: I see what you mean.
Jessalynn: I tell everyone who comes to me for tutoring to go get a job selling cars first, lol. High-pressure, and no sales means no money.
Marko: Good advice.
Marko: And I agree as I feel as lot of what I do now is influenced by the fact that I’ve been in a few sales jobs and taken a few sales courses.
Marko: Just going back to the processes, how and when do you decide when your copy is good enough to go?
Jessalynn: Ok, well… once I’ve let it stew a bit, I’ll actually sit down and write the whole piece in one fell swoop. At least I usually can. Then I’ll go back over a few times to edit for clarity… Then… And this is important… I have a select few trusted sources that I have read it… tear it to shreds. Often. And not very nicely either. Lol.
Marko: Like we’re planning to do now? And, in fact, actually doing with a particular copy?
Jessalynn: Pretty much. That’s why I’m such a big fan of the CRIT system — because it works.
Marko: Yup. Tell me a little more about the CRIT system, as you understand it.
Jessalynn: Ah… okay. Well… the crit system is basically when you have a person, or group of people, who are educated about sales and such. You take a piece to them after you think you’re finished, and they look at it with fresh eyes to show you the weak points… the things that don’t quite resonate… that’s about it, Rez. Once they’ve all had a crack at it, you sit down and rework those areas that weren’t strong enough
Marko: Sounds like you’ve got a pretty good system there. Would you show the copy to untrained people at all?
Jessalynn: Absolutely! Untrained people are great to have in your crit network, especially if they’re a part of your target audience…
Marko: Why do they have to be a part of your target audience?
Jessalynn: Then it’s even better because you can get an honest reaction from someone who’s eventually going to be receiving your piece… they don’t have to be, but it is always nice to get an unbiased opinion form someone who is, PRIOR to a mailing.
Marko: I suppose your target audience would also take the time to read it?
Marko: When you start a project, what do you look for in the product itself?
Jessalynn: First and foremost, a product or service HAS to deliver what they want me to promise. Period.
Marko: So, no messing around and conning the prospect?
Jessalynn: Nope. None at all.
Marko: That’s nice to know.
Jessalynn: I don’t like hype. Ever. It’s one thing to show enthusiasm for a product that really IS superior…
Jessalynn: And I love being able to do that… But if you’ve got an inferior product, I’m going to tell you so. I’ll suggest how to improve it… and if you do, then I’ll happily write about it.
Marko: Do you stick with a particular market?
Jessalynn: You know, I keep hearing that we’re supposed to; but I don’t. I tried that for a while… with the health industry… But there are only so many times you can write about the latest cure for this that or the other before you get bored.
Marko: So you find it easier to be open?
Jessalynn: I do. I enjoy it really. And it gives me more versatility.
Marko: Jack of all trades, huh?
Jessalynn: Yup. Because a lot of times you can cross promote two different clients and boost both of their marketing budgets.
Jessalynn: I find it more interesting, that’s for sure.
Marko: Tell me how you handle failures. Assuming you have any, of course.
Jessalynn: Lol, ALL the time. Okay… maybe not ALL the time…
Marko: How do you get through these?
Jessalynn: Well… at first, they were hard.
Jessalynn: Now, I don’t necessarily view my failures as failures… Sort of what Edison said…
Marko: More as steps to success?
Jessalynn: Right! He didn’t fail so much as he found several ways that didn’t work.
You have to fail once in a while to truly learn what does and doesn’t work.
And what works for one client, may bomb with the next.
Marko: True. Do you get writer’s block?
Jessalynn: Erm… erm… erm… only occasionally
Jessalynn: Lol. But I find that random word lists and associations help
Marko: What do you mean?
Jessalynn: I actually go through a lot of notebooks when I get writer’s block. I’ll sit down with a pen and some real paper (you remember that stuff don’t you?:) )… And I just start writing. Any words that come to mind. Odd words. Just random thoughts. In fact, a lot of times, something as simple as writing a grocery list can break the block. Eventually those random words and thoughts start to become coherent and you can sit down and write again. Plus, I try to keep a few open projects going at once, so if I get stuck on one, I can switch.
Marko: I used to hear that quite a lot as I was learning to write early on, not necessarily copywriting.
Jessalynn: Right! It’s an old trick they used to teach in creative writing classes.
Marko: What would you say gives you the ability to write winners?
Jessalynn: Oh wow… never been asked that before…
Marko: There’s always a first time, huh?
Jessalynn: Lol, yeah. I’d say it’s my ability to analyse things, to be honest…
Marko: Go on…
Jessalynn: I tend to be very analytical… so when I’m doing my research, I pick up on a lot of nuances that perhaps others might miss. Little things, like a word a particular demographic may relate to better than another
Marko: You sound like an engineer.
Jessalynn: Lol, well, in a way we are.
Marko: I guess
Jessalynn: We’re “Word Engineers”
Marko: You gonna patent that?
Jessalynn: Lol, I should, huh?
Marko: That’s good. I like that. I mentioned earlier that we seem to have a lot in common…
Jessalynn: Yup. Which is nice when it comes to bouncing ideas like this. See how productive I’ve become? Lol
Marko: Yup. You mentioned creative writing classes. I was a pretty good creative writer.
Jessalynn: I’ve noticed. You’re style lends itself to more creative than sales at times. Which isn’t a bad thing. I should say, your style lends itself less to technical writing, and more to creative.
Marko: Maybe. Been meaning to write a book sometime.
Jessalynn: You should! I know you’d sell at least one copy. Lol.
Marko: Can’t afford it. Copywriting pays more, as you know.
Jessalynn: Which is why most authors don’t become famous until after they’re dead, lol, like artists.
Marko: Lol. True.
Jessalynn: But your newer style of writing would certainly make you a hit on the bookshelves.
Marko: Aw shucks. What would you say was the best thing you ever did to increase your income as a copywriter?
Jessalynn: Learning how to leverage the internet.
Marko: How so?
Jessalynn: We didn’t have it when I started (God that makes me sound old, lol)
Marko: ‘Nuff with the ageism. Lol
Jessalynn: I can now work with clients all over the world, instead of just in my own backyard… it’s not only expanded my income, but the types of companies I’ve been able to write for as well. And it’s made me privy to some great companies which want to expand into a Western market… and I’ll get to be a part of that.
Marko: Would you say it’s the best ‘job’ you’ve ever had?
Jessalynn: Oh without a doubt! I was never a very good “employee”… so being able to be an integral part of the process of building a company works out a lot better for me,
Marko: I noticed on your site, The Voice Of Copy, you also do copy coaching… how did that come about?
Jessalynn: Coaching actually came about by accident as well… seems that happens to me a lot…
Marko: Nice accidents, though.
Jessalynn: Absolutely! I started off with a few folks who couldn’t understand why I never went to work anywhere… when I explained to them what I did for a living, they wanted to learn… It just sort of went from there
Marko: Wow. That’s pretty cool.
Jessalynn: And it’s a relatively new phenomenon for me too. I only started coaching a few years ago, so it’s been really great to see them come along.
Marko: Well, you seem to be good at it.
Jessalynn: Thanks. (blush)
Marko: You’re also very good at motivating people… I can say that from personal experience.
Jessalynn: Well thanks, Marko… I think we get enough criticism in this industry, don’t you? If we don’t try to motivate each other at least ONCE in a while, too many good copywriters would quit.
Marko: Did you see my email?
Jessalynn: It will… trust me.
Marko: Believe me; I appreciate it more… about 500% more. Lol.
Jessalynn: Lol. Gotta love that ROI
Marko: It’s getting there.
Jessalynn: It’ll get there… your new style is so much more conversational – not that you weren’t always a pleasure to read – but I think you’re going to find a much better response all the way around now.
Marko: Thank you. Oh, did I mention, I booked myself on the System seminar this November.
Ken McCarthy’s upcoming System Intensive in London, UK November 15 & 16. For more details, click here System Intensive.
Marko: The floor’s yours.
One: Don’t waste money on high-priced copy courses. Buy a few books on marketing and advertising (think about the authors I mentioned earlier). You’ll get a much better education.
Marko: That’s good advice
Jessalynn: Two: Find a mentor. Someone who isn’t afraid to tell you when you suck. and who can praise you when you get it right…and Three: Don’t over-think it. It doesn’t have to be perfectly written, just perfect for the target reader. That’s it I think. Lol.
Marko: Pretty succinct. Advice to live by, I think. I particularly think point two is very important if you want to ‘get there’ quicker
Jessalynn: Absolutely. I didn’t get so lucky… as I said, I didn’t even know what I did had a name, lol. But today, you can find mentors readily available most everywhere you look.
Marko: And, you can get just what you need here Copywriting Coaching Program.
Jessalynn: You know Marko… you’re the first person to interview me… ever.
Marko: There’s always a first time, eh?
Marko: JV. That’s what it’s all about.
Marko: It doesn’t have to be just about selling products.
Jessalynn: Exactly. It’s about giving what you can when you can. It’s about helping each other, knowledge, etc.
Marko: Yeah, you do that. That was a good interview. Thanks.
Jessalynn: Thank you! That was really neat!
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