SCN Encourager – Wednesday, March 27, 2013

But wait! There’s more! (So say the infomercials…)

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 3.29.48 PMWould I ever leave you hanging? Well, obviously I did – because several of you wrote to ask me for the rest of the advice from top copywriter Ray Edwards. Passing along my condensed version of Edwards’ template for creating an effective sales and marketing letter – and the power of the first and second paragraphs – seemed incomplete to some. (And it was.)

Sorry. I didn’t intend to make this a cliffhanger. But the point is well taken. As you can imagine, I don’t usually get many replies saying “tell us more” so when I do, they stand out. (I printed them out and framed them, too.)

To recap, Edwards said that an effective sales and marketing letter uses the first paragraph to spell out the problem you are committed to solving. Common sense really. How to use the second paragraph in the letter is what caught my attention.

Edwards believes that the second paragraph should be used to AMPLIFY the problem you outlined in paragraph one. Of course, you want to use a different angle, preferably one that connects emotionally with the reader, and Edwards cautions writers to not rush along to to the solution(s) too quickly. You really want readers to have a good understanding of the problem so that they’ll have a higher appreciation for your solution(s). This pivotal second paragraph is where you accomplish this.

Although this makes sense to me, I’ve never done this. I’m probably the best writer of mediocre second paragraphs around. And I was hoping I could toss out this new learning (the importance of second paragraphs) and move on. I always feel strange when I basically say to you, “Look what I found out. I’ve either never done this yet myself or I do it poorly. Maybe this’ll work well for you.”

So now that my soul is cleansed – thank you – here’s how Edwards suggests you finish a letter in which you are introducing a new school initiative or program:

Edwards says that good sales and marketing letters have SIX parts. Paragraphs One and Two I’ve already brilliantly described. (I laughed at this as well.)

Paragraph #3 is where you say (in essence), “because of the problem stated in paragraphs one and two, you will be pleased to know that we have a solution. We will_______. This will help by________________.”  Paragraph #3 is all about your solution, whatever it is. Don’t be shy about using simple bullet points to support the value of your solution. Remember, you’re solving a “big” problem of some kind. One that you took the first two paragraphs to pound home.

Paragraph #4 is where you offer heartfelt positive testimonials. If you have people who have experience with your solution or strongly believe in it (by observing it elsewhere), highlight the best of them. What would Edwards say is the “best?”  He would say that a testimonial that is the most honest is the best. In fact, he’d recommend avoiding the gushing 100% positive testimonial. For example, a good testimonial might be:  “This project was a long time coming. We’ve waited forever. But this (solution/action step) is great. I hope everyone will support District X as it goes in this direction.”

Edwards would say that a little honest negativity enhances the believability of the positive statements.

Paragraph #5 is where you express or extend your “offer.” In school circles, an offer can take many shapes. It might actually be a request to join a committee, come to an event, buy an ad for for a special publication, support the senior class party or alumni club, or help design and build a parade float. Your offer doesn’t have to be connected to a weight loss program or a mop that can hold 12 gallons of spilled wine. (Those school communicators parties can get out of hand quickly …)

Paragraph #6 is where Edwards says we (most of us, me) screw up. In this paragraph, we should AMPLIFY whatever our offer is in paragraph #5 and describe the specific actions we’d like readers to take. Edwards says that we are usually too shy in our “asks.” We should be clear. Just ask. Lay out several simple steps … and then include a benefit or two.

For example, let’s say you want to ASK your readers to sign up to work on the building bond campaign action team. Edwards would likely frame a portion of paragraph #6 this way:

Sign up for the District X campaign action team!
*  Call 555-5555 or email:
*  You’ll get a 4 question survey back from Mary Mainstreet.
*  She’ll ask for your contact information.
*  She’ll connect you with everyone on the team.
*  We won’t waste your time – but we will have fun!
*  We’ll support our kids and meet new friends too.
*  Your participation will make our campaign successful.
*  Call 555-5555 or email: (Now you know why!)

Then after paragraph #6 you provide your standard thank you, a close, and signature(s). Including contact info for the signers emphasizes the “team commitment” and a willingness to respond to questions and comments.

As we all know (even me!) a “PS” part of the letter is a highly read portion of any letter. Edwards would say that if you have a bonus offer to make – like “free shirts or game tickets for the first 25 parents to sign up for the campaign team!” – plug that in here.

Of course, there is much, much more. Edwards has a lot to say about using “sub-heads” to connect your six paragraphs and your emotional tie-in themes. He also advises to “write as long as you need to, but not one word more.”

But, I’ll save this for another day. I’ll practice his “…not one word more” advice first.

Tom Page. SCN
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