A rare and revealing interview of MIKE PAVLISH, superstar copywriter
(conducted by Michael Senoff)
Mike Pavlish is one of the world’s top copywriters for nutritional supplements and health publications. Established in 1988, he’s written over 300 promotions for the internet, direct mail, print and TV.
He has written winning promotions for Barton Publishing, Agora, Guthy-Renker, Hampshire Labs, Proctor & Gamble, Healthy Habits, RGarden, Healthier You, Juvenon, Health Laboratories, Jenasol, Health Direct, CortiSlim, FC&A, Botanic Choice, Prentice-Hall, Primal Health, Puritan's Pride, Healthy Back Institue, Life Extension Foundation and many others. His clients have called him "the world's best health copywriter."
Mike knows the secrets and tips to create high-profit promotions. And he’s found that today’s market is significantly different than it was even just a couple years ago. In fact, he says much of the advice given today is not only outdated and wrong– but it’s costing direct marketers serious lost money.
In this interview, you’ll hear how to make sure your copywriting is effective for the consumers of today. These consumers have grown skeptical of overly hyped products and common benefit claims. They also don’t have time to read through mountains of copy if it sounds like something they’ve already heard before.
In this interview, Mike’s going to reveal what he’s learned over the years. Here’s what’s waiting for you:
- How to write headlines that stop readers in their tracks
- How to work your copy so it’s fresh for today’s market – consumers avoid what they've heard before – and so should you
- How to discover hidden objections to your product -- and overcome them
- How to use the internet to uncover what people really want
- What’s most important for winning promotions - it’s NOT the headline, offer or audience
- How to pay a top copywriter so you maximize your profits
- Sneaky little tricks to increase your response
- And much, much more
Welcome... It’s Michael Senoff with Hard To Find Seminars. Mike Pavlish's copywriting has sold an estimated $418 million worth of natural health supplements and publications. If you are a direct marketer, follow Mike Pavlish’s advice and it won’t be long before you’re way ahead of the competition. Now, let’s get started.
Michael: On your website samples, I saw the Berry Trim diet promotion and I know it was the most successful weight loss promotion ever in the United States. Gary Halbert wrote the original version. What was your involvement in it?
Mike: My involvement was to beat the control.
Michael: Did the client come to you?
Mike: Yes, and I beat the control and it remained the control for over two years.
Michael: What copywriting secrets did you use for such a legendary success?
Mike: I used a news angle. My headline was, "Doctors and TV Stars Reveal How A New Discovery From Asia Helps Overcome The Chemical Imbalance That Keeps People Fat!"
Michael: How much did your copywriting beat the control by?
Mike: My copywriting beat the already very profitable control by 32% if my memory serves.
Michael: Wow, that’s significant, especially when you’re mailing millions of pieces a year.
Michael: Give some on the idea of the volume of direct mail pieces mail per year on a huge winner like that.
Mike: It mailed 25 to 30 million pieces a year.
Michael: You also wrote the famous video sales letter and email for Barton Publishing's Diabetes Solution Kit. What can you tell us about this huge winner that has sold an estimated $30 million? (Note: You can see a sample of this promotion on Mike's website, www.ProfitBoostersCopy.com under the "online samples" section.)
Mike: I used the anti-conventional medicine angle. This is advocated by the author of the e-book, Scott Saunders, M.D. My research told me people with blood sugar problems and diabetes were not getting good results from conventional medicine and wanted a natural approach that was proven to work. The copywriting pulled great and nobody has been able to beat my control promotion for several years. And Joe Barton and Marty Fahncke at Barton Publishing are great clients to work with.
Michael: I know your copywriting for Agora has made them millions of dollars.
Mike: Yes. Nina Rose from Agora gave me a testimonial that says “Mike Pavlish’s copywriting has been extremely profitable for us over the past seven years, one promotion after another. He consistently beats the best copywriters in the world that we hire.”
Michael: That’s very strong.
Michael: How did you get started?
Mike: I started copywriting in 1988 because I owned a business that relied heavily on sales and marketing. I had to sell my own products.
Michael: Is that where you learned about the masters Jay Abraham and Gary Halbert?
Michael: Were you studying any other copywriting masters?
Mike: I was studying John Caples. I still think he has the best books for a person who wants to become a great copywriter. I also learned a lot from the book "Scientific Advertising" by Claude Hopkins
Michael: What do you think of Gary Halbert’s advice? Did you know him ?
Mike: Yes, I knew Gary well for many years. That reminds me of a funny story. This was right before my wedding in 1990. Gary wanted me to speak at one of his seminars just 4 days before my wedding in Marathon, Florida where he lived. When I told him that, he said, “Screw the wedding - this is important.” So I came down and spoke. My wife got to relax before the wedding, so it worked out good. And then I spoke at his Seminar Of The Century in Los Angeles
Michael: Did you study his books and read his newsletter?
Michael: Where you impressed with his skills as a copywriter? Did you learn from him?
Mike: I sure did.
Michael: Is Dan Kennedy from your area, too?
Mike: Yes. I just saw Dan Kennedy a couple weeks ago. Dan lives only about 20 miles from me.
Michael: What's a key secret to copywriting that produces huge winning promotions?
Mike: I click on all the online and Facebook ads that sell supplements and health publications. I watch all the Video Sales Letters and take notes. I try to be on every mailing list in the natural health field. I get tons of direct mail and email from companies. When I see the same promotions over and over again, I know it’s a winner and I study it.
Here's the shocker. A lot of what is being told to direct marketers today on copywriting is bad advice, and frankly, it’s costing them a fortune in lost revenue. What works in copywriting, now, in a more competitive market … is totally different from what worked best even just a couple years ago!
Michael: Let’s talk about these recent changes. What do you see others teaching that is wrong? And based on your experience, your long track record of legendary success, what really works best today?
Mike: Let me start with headlines. Common advice is headlines should use so-called power words and give outrageous promises to get people’s attention and interest. Their theory is the louder you yell, the more you’re going to sell. Well, the truth is people have a built-in “Bullshit Detector” these days, so the more hyperbole and power words you put into a headline, the worse your response will actually be!
Let me give you a couple of real-life examples. Two headlines were tested for a pain relief supplement. The first was, “This amazing pain eliminator instantly erases back pain from your body with no drugs and no surgery,” and the second headline was, “The new way to end your back pain.” The first headline is chosen as the winner by most people, but it lost in an actual test. The second headline got 237% more orders. The reason is it has the news factor to it. People want to hear what’s new and news. And it uses curiosity -- a very important secret. And it doesn’t use the so-called power words. It is more believable.
Here’s another key copywriting secret. I call it the “differential element.” These days, you have to immediately say in your copy what makes your product better, different or unique. People aren’t going to even read or watch a promotion if they think it’s the same old stuff they’ve heard before.
Let's say you’re selling a pain relief supplement with glucosamine and MSM in it. That won't work because almost every other pain relief supplement contains these same two ingredients. You have to tell them right up front what’s new, what makes your product unique, different and better to gain their attention and get the order.
Michael: That makes sense. You have to do your research and make your product stand out compared to everything else in the marketplace the prospect has seen before.
Mike: Yes, bingo. The key word there is research. There is NO shortcut to great results. That’s what copywriters and direct marketers don’t do enough. You must research to find what the market wants most, and what they’re not getting now that you can give them. This can only be done through hard and painstaking research, and it takes dozens and dozens of hours.
Michael: I’d love to know your process on research.
Mike: OK. Today I’m writing an online promotion for an old client for a vitamin B-12 and folate supplement. My experience tells me, if I try to sell another vitamin B-12 product, it’s just too vanilla, too common and people don’t see the need for it.
I researched and found all the different health problems that are affected by vitamin B-12 deficiency. Then I researched why folate also needs to be included with it in the right dosage to make it most effective. This led me to the concept that there’s a link between all these health problems, and now you can help relieve them with this supplement.
Michael: Are others selling a similar supplement?
Mike: Sure. But nobody else is using the unique hook I discovered from research.
Michael: So you researched the supplement ingredients and also how the competition was selling the product?
Michael: Are you trying to position your product differently?
Mike: Absolutely. You absolutely have to do this if you want a profitable multi-million-dollar winner!
Michael: There are some medical studies that are not that credible. How do you know which are the credible studies?
Mike: Well, the most credible studies are those published in a major medical journal, double-blind and placebo-controlled.
Michael: How did all your research come together for this product?
Mike: This is rough, but the headline will be something like, “new research reveals natural 'missing link' solution to help relieve your fatigue, memory loss, weak brittle bones, joint pain and other health problems.”
Michael: You also use focus groups for your research. Tell me what a focus group is and how you use it?
Mike: I have a group of 10 people that are in my office complex that I bring together about once a week and buy them lunch. They are my focus group for an hour. I show them headlines, ask them questions, ask them what their objections to a product are, and things like that. And then, if I need to, I’ll hire out a larger focus group.
Michael: How long have you been doing this for?
Mike: For about 20 years.
Michael: Just to get people's feedback.
Mike: I want to know what the average person, my prospect, is thinking about my product and the health issue it deals with.
Michael: Can you give me an example how your focus group helped your copywriting results?
Mike: Sure. When my focus group learned of the study results, they seemed very interested in the product. So I asked how many take a vitamin B-12 supplement now. None did. I asked; “Okay, why don’t you take one?” And the consensus was “Well, I think a deficiency would show up in my exam with my doctor from my blood test results.” Aha! That told me it’s an order-stopping objection that I have to address right upfront in my copywriting.
Michael: Did that come up for real?
Mike: Yes. People don’t want to pay for a B-12 supplement because they think if they were deficient in it, their doctor would tell them because it would show up in their blood test.
Michael: I've heard you also use online discussion groups for your research?
Mike: l find it valuable to read discussions of everyday people about the health issue I'm writing about. I find many golden nuggets there I use to make my copywriting more effective.
One client told me he pays me the big bucks because I don’t guess. I find out for sure what people want and I give it to them. I mold the product as much as possible to what the prospects want most. And I overcome their objections. I may not be the greatest copywriter, but I outwork my competition that’s why I win most of the time. I do the work.
Michael: And the hard work is the research mainly, right?
Mike: It’s the research, then the very hard mental work of figuring out what concept will pull the most orders, and how to most effectively present it.
Michael: Most copywriters say the headline is the most important element of success, do you agree?
Mike: It’s not that simple. First, I would say the most important thing if you want to make millions of dollars is that you choose the right market and the right product. You can make a fortune in certain markets, but other markets and products are a long uphill battle.
Michael: What are the most profitable products in the natural health niche?
Mike: It depends on the timing, competition and ingredients, but over the years I've written very profitable multi-million-dollar winning promotions for heart health, blood sugar, pain relief, detox, colon cleansing, prostate, weight loss, sleep, anxiety, bodybuilding, energy, potency, memory, digestion, stem cell precursors, anti-aging, skin creams and many other products.
Michael: There’s an inherent risk in being involved in that type of industry where you’ve got to be real careful with claims, right?
Mike: The two key things are number one, hire a copywriter that is experienced in that field. Number two, have an attorney that specializes in direct marketing law for natural health supplements review the copy, and sign off on it.
Michael: Do you have any other copywriting tips or secrets for our readers?
Mike: One thing that is usually a breakthrough in marketing that is not discussed much is the use of a powerful personal story. Let's just call it storytelling. I've used it to work wonders and make many promotions huge winners.
The most successful promotion ever, the Wall Street Journal's "two young men" mailing, uses a story. Why does storytelling work so well? Our brains are hard-wired to like and respond well to stories (think Disney). While statistics and facts can be valuable, emotions are more persuasive to our emotional minds.
Once you make someone feel something through storytelling, you can connect with them. Once you connect with someone, you can more easily persuade them to take action. Storytelling has the ability to bypass the skeptical and rational part of a prospects brain until they are emotionally "hooked" on buying the product on a visceral level. For many people, salesmanship repels, while storytelling sells. Every product has a great story or you can develop one by interviewing the founder, customers or customer service personnel.
Michael: Wow. Are there any other big copywriting or marketing secrets you can reveal to our readers?
Mike: I always have my promotions critiqued by another A-list copywriter before I submit the final copy to a client. This costs me a lot of money but is worth it because this fresh set of experienced eyes always finds one or two big improvements I can make. I work off a 54-point maximum-response checklist of things I've found over the years that work best and make sure each promotion has as many of these as possible. And I go through a structured set of 6 revision of my copywriting looking for different improvements before I submit it. None of this is glamorous, but all this helps produce copy that sings, that vibrates, that dances, that flows, that is a grand slam home run winner, a promotion that can make millions of dollars.
Michael: What have you found the best fee structure for yourself and your clients?
Mike: My standard is a base fee plus a royalty if my copywriting is successful. But I also offer a flat fee if that’s how the client prefers it, or if I don’t know the client well enough yet.
Michael: Why do you think your fee structure is best for your clients?
Mike: A copywriter is a salesperson, and like any salesperson, he needs to be incentivized and motivated to succeed. Clients who won’t do this are saving pennies, but losing dollars. The smart and most successful direct marketers all like to pay royalties. They treat me like gold and are happy to pay me royalties because I bring in the profits. Every $1 they pay me the copywriter in royalties is because I made them $2, $5 or $10 profit they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Michael: How should direct marketers look at copywriting fees?
Mike: Well, great copywriting that works costs nothing and in fact makes lots of money. It’s not a cost – it’s an unbeatable return-on-investment. Second, great copywriting is not a commodity you can shop by price like a bag of potatoes– you get what you pay for. What seems most expensive at first usually turns out to be the cheapest and the best return on investment.
Michael: Let’s talk about list brokers. There’s not much information out there on list brokers.
Mike: Yes, they’re secretive little bunch, aren’t they?
Michael: Yes, they are. What advice can you give about list brokers?
Mike: Well, I have a theory that only 2% of people in ANY business are really very good at it – I mean exceptional. If you find that 2% in a copywriter and the list broker, it’s gold. Yes it’s very important because there are a lot of tricks to direct mail lists. For example, you can sometimes make deals where you are the first mailer that can mail a certain list, and competitors can’t mail it until x number of days after that. So, you are mailing to fresh names that have not received a dozen or so other mail pieces in recent days which increases your response.
Michael: So, for instance you will see a list with hotlines and you’ll negotiate for first position?
Mike: You’ll have a huge advantage.
Michael: That’s a great secret.
Michael: Do you guarantee your copywriting? Do you charge for revisions?
Mike: I always offer 100% satisfaction guaranteed. I guarantee the client will be pleased with my copy before they test it or I’ll make revisions to their satisfaction for no additional fee.
Michael: Do you have clients you’ve written for long term?
Mike: Yes. In fact, most of the copywriting I do is for clients who’ve been hiring me for 10 or 15 years or more.
Michael: Let me ask you this question. How do you handle the copyright issues? Do you keep control of the copyright and license the client to use your copy?
Mike: No, my client owns everything.
Michael: Do you do consulting?
Mike: Yes, I consult on direct marketing success including product development, business development, new product ideas and the like.
Michael: Is it true that you are often booked up months in advance?
Mike: Yes, that's true.
Michael: What copywriting are you most proud of?
Mike: That's like asking me which one of my children is my favorite! I've very proud of a testimonial I recently received from Scott Long of Health And Energy Publishing. He said, "We've hired 14 of the top copywriters in the world over the years and the #1 for results has been Mike Pavlish. Mike also comes up with great ideas for new products and promotions that have become some of our biggest winners ever. He is professional, reliable, on time, easy to work with and a terrific consultant too. We are very satisfied."
Michael: I appreciate all the copywriting secrets and tips you revealed to me from a true copywriting legend. Now I understand why your copywriting has sold an estimated $418 million worth of dietary supplements and health publications. How can the listeners find out more about your copywriting?