Lara Schmoisman 0:04
Hello everyone and welcome back to coffee number five. You guys know already my little secret that my first degree is in Screenwriting. Back then, when I started writing, I don’t think we had many kinds of writers. We have writings we had like screenplay or for Film Television. Yes, we had some sitcoms we had telenovelas back then for me, and we had also I mean, there were some writing for us, they were called creatives back then, but then copywriters, but I think the word copywriter evolved so much in the last few years, it became a new notion of what copywriter is. And with the growth of the digital world, the word copywriter became something else. Because you have copywriters for blogs that need some kind of skill for social media. And also you have copywriters that what we call direct response. Today, I brought someone who just had a case of unexpected success with his book, a self guide for copywriters. Welcome, Dan Nelken, did I say that right?
Dan Nelken 1:22
Yeah, you got it. Right. Thank you so much. Yeah, no, it’s great to be here. I’m always so humbled one ever anyone asked to speak to me.
Lara Schmoisman 1:32
I love to have you here. Because it’s about helping people there, I work with a lot of entrepreneurs, small business owners. And it’s hard to explain content with intention that I’m always trying to drill this concept that we can just not create pretty words, and mostly when we’re talking about the digital world, because we have to use also keywords or trigger words, there’s so many elements that we need to keep in mind. So we’ll talk a little bit about your book, and her cover the why you start writing it.
Dan Nelken 2:09
Oh, I mean, that’s a lot of kind of a long story. But it’s it started probably five years ago, writing the book. And at that time, I had a friend who was creating online courses. And I was really inspired by him. And I thought, Oh, I’m gonna turn this into a course. And I was meeting with a creative director at Lululemon at the time, we’re having lunch. And I had thought a little bit about this course. And I thought about how I would approach it, I thought, Well, it’d be about writing headlines. Lots of even copywriters struggle with this. Lots of people, to your point, who have their own startup or whatever are responsible for writing. So I knew it was something that would help help them. But I figured out as I was, like breaking down how to teach writing headlines that it wasn’t about writing, you need to think before you write and most people get stuck, because they start with writing. And so I explained to this creative director, what my approach would be, and but it wasn’t about that, he was a friend. It was like two minutes, we finished our lunch, and then whatever. He wanted me to freelance for them at the time. I couldn’t. So he follows up and says, Well, it’s too bad. You can’t work for us. But could you teach that course to our writers? And I didn’t have a course at that time. I was like, Yeah, sure. So I sent him kind of a high estimate. Because I was like, well, he goes for this and it’s worth putting together. Yeah. He responded and said, Can you also sort out lunch and I was like, Oh, crap, now I have to do this thing. And so I started trading it. And as I was doing it, I had never tried to teach what I knew. And I didn’t realize what I knew. And I think I was quite an, you know, a lot of traders will struggle with self doubt or imposter syndrome. And I realized, as I was piecing it together, I realized how much I knew. And it helped me grow as a writer and any way that this creative director ended up getting fired. I never taught, I never taught the course, but I’d started working on it. And I realized it was a book. And so over the last five years, I just kept chipping away at it. And so so that’s really where it started. And I just kept really focused on writing something that would have helped me. I didn’t write it to like come across as an impressive writer or someone who knew something…it was really like a compassionate, helpful resource in what I needed in the way I needed to hear it and it’s clearly resonating with people and that’s why the title is a self help guide for copywriters. Yeah, so that’s that’s the longest.
Lara Schmoisman 4:38
I love it. I love it. And I think that anyone who works in this industry or has to do something needs to understand what’s the goal of copywriting.
Dan Nelken 4:49
Yes, totally. I think I think people with any creativity. I think people who aren’t professional creatives thinks that it’s magic. And they’re like, oh, you’re a creative. What’s the fun way of saying this? And I think as creative people, we think we should have an answer. And when we don’t, that’s when the negative self talk kicks in.
Lara Schmoisman 5:09
Yeah. But it’s not only about that it’s about, for example, let’s say that most simple email markets, let’s talk for a second about email marketing. Email marketing should be very simple, you have an offer, and you want to send it. But today, we have so many things that we need to keep into consideration, we need to have an amazing title, that it’s not going to get you to spam. Right? If you’re using those keywords that they’re not getting, then you need to have a preview and the preview that that’s the make it a record that the people doing the clean and, and going to trash. And then when people need to open it, it should be communicated easy, fast, in your face. What are you proposing? How much is gonna cost? And all the details in a very small amount of space.
Dan Nelken 6:00
Yes, totally. And we get so much of that every day. But I think why people maybe fail is they’re focused on the sale and not building a connection or building a relationship, or they’re too focused on the sale. But once you’ve earned their trust, and you’re providing value, I think people are more likely. But you have to invest the time they’re more likely to buy but you have to earn that I don’t think enough companies do or they send you way too much. Then you unsubscribe or delete.
Lara Schmoisman 6:30
But at the same time, I think people are so… they receive so much these days that you need to be very clear in your subject, review what you’re offering for people to open it up. Of course, you need to be sassy, creative, you need to get all those things, but you need to be compelling for people to open that email.
Dan Nelken 6:49
Yes, exactly. And that’s really kind of going back to the book. It’s helping you write with personality. And there’s all kinds of techniques in the book to do that like, I don’t want to say like a cheat sheet. Someone who’s… her name is Vicki Ross. They’ve called her like the queen of copy in the in the UK, wrote something about the book saying that it was like, paint by number. But for copywriting. And in some places in the book it is I just broken it down to almost anyone can have a structure that they can follow, like film, your screenwriter, screenwriting background, there’s a structure to film, but the content changes. But in a lot of creative disciplines, they don’t have that structure. I don’t think copywriting has had that. And so I think I’ve tried to provide a structure that it doesn’t mean it’s robotic, and formulaic.
Lara Schmoisman 7:47
I love that because I believe in structures, I believe that you need to get your audience used also to your structure, they get used and they know where to find things. If you know what I mean, once in a while you can change, but then you need to keep it up. Because you can see that big companies, they always keep the same structure because people know where to find things.
Dan Nelken 8:13
Yeah. And I think that structure applies to how we create things too, like, not you need to have a process. And you need consistency in how you do things like Jerry Seinfeld, writes every single day. Like I don’t know how old he is now. And he’s in his mid 60s. But he’s always done it. And that’s his dedicated time. And that’s his structure. And then to your point in an email, a podcast or whatever, it’s consistency, having that structure helps you create.
Lara Schmoisman 8:42
Yeah, it’s the same as when we were little kids. Little kids need structure, they need to sleep hour, they need their naps, they need to eat. Yes. And we grow as an adult. So why other things that we don’t do in our life? We don’t put that structure.
Dan Nelken 8:58
Yeah, I don’t know. I think it feels easier. Like as a creative I think, to just do it, you feel like you’re making progress. If you have to write headlines and you just start writing. But like I’ve written recently, most a lot of our feelings are liars. You know, like, you have to really question and not enough people think about how they think we just do things and if you’re writing headlines, it feels like you’re getting somewhere but if you stopped and came up with ideas first and then started to write you wouldn’t be starting from a blank page. So I think that’s why we abandoned.
Lara Schmoisman 9:31
My strategy is I have a note in my phone. And that is only four lines that maybe they can be headlines they can their triggers. I call it triggers because I don’t start from zero is okay, I choose one and I have a place to start. Awesome. Maybe at the end. I don’t even use that sentence, but that was my places.
Dan Nelken 9:54
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think a lot of times our brains just need something to look at. There’s there’s a website, I think it’s called random word generator. And I think you can use that to just like if you’re stuck. If you’re writing a blog post or writing anything, you just need something. You can choose how many words, three words and just hit Refresh until something sticks. And you’re like, oh, I can write about that it will trigger something well, but often, we don’t.
Lara Schmoisman 10:24
We use music a lot, listening to music, maybe show us a few words from a song get to me. You never know where the inspiration will come. I always say that inspiration comes in the shower the best. Yeah. And it’s just because I was talking to another guest the other day, that it’s the same problem, she has the same problem. So she has this system to remember, she throws the shampoo to the floor, and then I throw the shampoo the phone because I had this idea.
Dan Nelken 10:56
That’s funny. I was just thinking today that they should have more showers in like ad agencies and stuff like this, go take a shower, a boardroom.
Lara Schmoisman 11:08
I think that shower time is a time that we let ourselves be for a minute, we are shoveling that cleansing and from the outside. But also we let our mind though.
Dan Nelken 11:20
And yes, honestly, there’s so much science, I’ve been very curious about like the neuroscience and how our brain works. And it’s it’s 100% backed by science, and it’s because you are distracted in the shower. And we’re one more to focus on a problem. If you’re stressed or pressure. That’s rarely when it comes you have to be consumed by it. And then you have to walk away. And that’s why in the shower, we’re distracted and comes also we’re more relaxed.
Lara Schmoisman 11:47
Or when you go to sleep. Many times you go with this problem or situation and then you go to sleep and you wake up. That’s it. Oh, that’s why they think because you were able to put this tense.
Dan Nelken 11:58
100%. And a lot of times I think our brains don’t like when something’s unresolved. So it wants us to stay up and keep thinking on it. But really, if you want to solve it go to sleep. Like because our minds… I was reading somewhere or subconscious mind is only 10% less active when we’re not working or sleeping. It’s still very active. So even you’re still you’re still working. It’s still at work. Yeah.
Lara Schmoisman 12:23
Yeah. And I just, I think that we need to give ourselves that permission to stop many times when I mean, I have another agency, so it’s hectic, and there are problems. So when people, they get a little scared of me even because when there is a problem, I’m like, I shut down. And I put distance immediately I don’t I’m not reactive. This is something that I learned. I’m not gonna cry, I’m not gonna panic, I just stop right there. And I put distance and I try to see the problem. And it’s not about it’s not the time to point fingers is not the time to see even what generate the problem. First, let’s resolve it. One is resolved. And we can analyze the problem and see what was caused. And let’s, let’s learn from it.
Dan Nelken 13:17
I think that’s a great quality and like essential quality to like being a successful person. Like, I think in the past, I’ve maybe felt too much. And it stopped me because you overreact to things. And that starts you but I find as I’m creating more, I’m feeling less, which is a good thing for me. Because I whatever, most creative people are sensitive. And so it was hard for me, but it’s cool. I’ve just like it’s almost like unplugging that part of me just for a bit to get it done.
Lara Schmoisman 13:47
Also, you need to put, I mean, I can be super friendly with my clients, but I’m not your friend says her business. I mean, and it’s only so much I can give you for free. Because this is a business, you have your business too. And so there you need to learn how to put those distances. I can be funny, I can joke around, but I’m still the boss.
Dan Nelken 14:12
Yeah, I’ve said before, it’s not my job to make you happy. It’s my job to make you money as a quiet, you know, I want to like to be friendly. I want to get along. But if I’m not doing that, there’s no point in us talking, you know, this is my main job you’ve come to me for is to help you make money.
Lara Schmoisman 14:31
Even with the people that work for you, is my job is to be able to pay them at the end of the month. Yeah, and that they grow professionally too. Yeah. So that’s my job. And I think that there’s a confusion there with the disconnection that if you are friendly automatically, we’re buddies. And every kind of relationship I always say that you need to renegotiate the relationships until they’re non negotiable anymore. And even when they are non negotiable anymore, it’s still in negotiation to say, or renegotiation to say, this is not a negotiation anymore. I want to hear, but I, let’s go talk to the writer because I asked my to say love to talk to you, I want our audience to get a little pointers in screenwriting, like, what are the big differences for you into the different? How would you would you put in different boxes screenwriting for direct response, social media and blogs?
Dan Nelken 15:39
Yeah, I mean, I guess for me, my, because I work for brands, I’m a branding, I don’t know if you’d call me expert, but either a creative director or a copywriter, mostly with ad agencies, and then I’ll work up and coming startups or bigger brands. And so I don’t know that I’m an expert in individual mediums, but personality, the big brand idea. And I think it’s bringing a personality to life. It’s writing to be entertaining, or interesting, or clever or funny. And to, I guess, be more human. And that’s, I think, what the book does, and I think some people when they write, I said this the other day that I think what makes me a good writer is that I’m not a good writer, I’m a good communicator, I don’t care about you. Some people get to focus on the words or coming across as sounding like a good writer. I just want them to take something away. So it’s more strategic, like what do I want them to think? Even if they think I’m a crappy writer? I want them to get the message and learn something or do something. Yeah, so I don’t I don’t know about, I think there’s definitely writing techniques I could I could share, that might help people who are either professional writers, or people who have to write normal people, there’s techniques that can help you write a better text message or dating profile. It’s just writing and I think this book will help you get some of your personality out and not be so stiff.
Lara Schmoisman 17:17
I love what you said about the personality. I’m having a hard time. Sometimes it’s because you want to put a sales message many times because it’s a brand and you’re trying to sell that’s your goal. But also you have to have a personality that you need to carry across all platforms and using native language of each platform.
Dan Nelken 17:37
Yeah, yeah. I mean, even for my newsletter, for example. Like I just, if I was writing for a company, I couldn’t say certain things. But I always, a lot of times, I’ll say, to unsubscribe to my newsletter, go to whatever Nelkin creative club calm or to start the journey to unsubscribing to my newsletter, because most people unsubscribe. So I’m not aggressively trying to sell anything. I have fun with it. That’s part of kind of my personality. So I like kind of breaking those rules and calling it out a lot of people hide from those things. Yeah, I don’t know embracing the dirt of the medium. What what do you hate about the medium or email? Or a newsletter? I never wanted one. And so I make fun of those things as part of what I do. Yeah, but I think people get what happens with companies as they grow. It’s not coming from one person, you have a bunch of people sharing their input. And if everyone has to be happy, it’s gonna be pretty bland. We say like, if you’re going out to eat you can you know what you feel like you add another person and another person, another person, you’ll go to the bland restaurant in town. So if everyone’s equally happy.
Lara Schmoisman 18:49
There’s any formula that you find out that for example, for emails that triggers more sells, that create more acquisition?
Dan Nelken 18:59
Well, I mean, I don’t I don’t like I say I’m not like an expert in that’s the thing with it was your intro with copywriters, there’s so many different kinds. There’s email specialists. There’s social media specialist. There’s people who write content and blogs. And that’s why a lot of the opportunities that come my way are just not a fit for me. So I don’t have formulas in that way. It’s more here I’ll give you an example of one of the formulas in the book is called a listing twist. So this is where you have at least three items in a list or your headline. The first two are straight. And the last one is twisted or unexpected. Ellen DeGeneres on Twitter her bio is was talk show host comedian talk show host an ice road trucker. So you get so for my my newsletter I’ll I’ll do like for tips on creativity, copywriting and the mating habits of the year PN waterval or something. So it’s like to to straight and then twist it. And you could do that, you know, on a grocery list to your husband or wife, if you have a shared grocery list and just like, you know, all the groceries and something unexpected is just a fun technique. It wouldn’t work as as a subject line in the email. But you could you could do it with three single words, this that the other something unexpected. So that’s one. And those are some of the things that are in in the book. And that’s a tip that you could update a LinkedIn or Twitter bio, where it’s two things…
Lara Schmoisman 20:34
That need to be specified. And I always call about something that is a brand voice that when I started working with the client, I need to know what what’s the personality of the brand? What is it funny, because if we’re going to do something unexpected, the brand needs to be kind of unexpected too, we cannot do it just because. Because today, today, we feel that we’re funny.
Dan Nelken 20:57
Yeah, well, I think any brand that doesn’t have any humor. I mean, there’s certain industries and sectors that I get it, but I think there’s room for that, like I don’t to put in funny, I don’t think it has to be a brand characteristic. You can have overarching brand characteristics. But I think there’s still opportunity in a lot of places to like who doesn’t want to read something that makes them smile. There’s degrees of funny too. But I think, I don’t know, especially now in today’s world, like when I don’t know, why not like we all take things way too seriously and over overwhelmed with news and whatever’s going on. Well, you need to if you want people to open.
Lara Schmoisman 21:39
Well, you need to decide what’s your kind of funny? Dan Nelken 21:42 Yes, 100%. Yes, yeah. Because it’s not there’s slapstick, there’s silly, immature, which I wouldn’t recommend some brands can go there. But you know, you’re right. I think if it is funny, you have to like figure out what fun I need to be. Lara Schmoisman 21:58 See also what resonates with your audience. And this brings me to social media, which is another really fun part of copywriting. Because we have so many limitations. Like in Instagram, we have some limitations in Twitter also, because we have characters. In some of them, we can put links in some of them, we can’t put links, we have so many prerequisites that we need to, to know in order when we started writing. So now what are we looking we’re looking for followers. And I see a lot of people and I’m not saying that I’m not doing it, I’m doing it once in a blue moon, I will say this and I found that like a post really funny the other time and I felt like I had to repost it that I think it’s the first time I repost something, because I felt completely connected to that. But I feel like the lot of mostly personal brands are reposting things just to bank on other people’s funny or successful.
Dan Nelken 23:01
Yeah, yeah. Or they’ll tag someone, you it’s more popular hoping that they respond. Yeah, it’s a technique. But I think…
Lara Schmoisman 23:11
I feel like taking away from your brand. Voice.
Dan Nelken 23:15
I think so too. I think so too. I think a lot of the whatever cheap tricks to get clicks or engagement. And then our brains are kind of idiots, you know, like on autopilot. They’ll do things or things we might like or engage with. But we don’t actually like them. But you can get followers and likes for sharing crap. But if it can be tempting if your goal is to get followers.
Lara Schmoisman 23:41
But I think this from the marketing point of view, you’re not getting quality followers, because our followers are the followers of the other kind of content. Have something like really resonate with you?
Dan Nelken 23:57
I agree with you. Yeah, I think it takes longer. I think you provide something of value and be helpful. It might take longer to be I could grow a lot faster on social media if I was doing some of these other things. But I I wouldn’t have…My goal isn’t to get followers is to be helpful.
Lara Schmoisman 24:15
Exactly. And so I think that there is the wrong intention in most of the social media. And even if your goal is to sell even a product or a book or whatever you want to, to reach out to the the right person that they need product.
Dan Nelken 24:33
I think people it’s just like starting with headlines, they get caught up in the feel good hit of followers and likes and engagement. But are you selling products at the end of the day? What are you doing?
Lara Schmoisman 24:45
It’s a popularity contest.
Dan Nelken 24:47
Yeah. And if you get sucked into that you can grow but you won’t grow your business. You grow your following but not your business.
Lara Schmoisman 24:54
Okay, awesome. I really appreciate your input on that we’re in the same line. But now it’s your time to tell us that story that he made a mistake. Oh, that mistake that we all learn from… that mistake. Oh my god, I wore high heels in a muddy day. And my heels were like inside the grass and they were messy. Okay, I learned never to wear high heels anymore and those events but what’s yours?
Dan Nelken 25:26
Oh, yeah, I don’t have that one. I’ve couple come to mind. One, actually, when the book first published, I realize there were typos in it, like I have that proof read, but I had some changes. I just wanted to, like, crawl and disappear. And so I you know, you’re able to change it and upload a new, I just found out, I noticed someone posted a picture of one of the pages. And I saw another one in that that was like three days ago. So I haven’t changed it. But I think what it comes from, it’s like, it’s okay, the book is still helpful. And I knew I never, I know it’s helpful. I’ve always known it. It wasn’t perfect. It never, there’s no such thing as a perfect thing. But it’s helpful. And if there’s a few typos in it, it’s worth the 20 bucks, you’re gonna pay for it. So that I don’t know if that’s a good one. I know I’ve made bigger mistakes in life. There’s one that this is a classic that a lot of people have done where you reply in an email, not realizing. And so it was about dropping a client. And I responded to a graphic designer I was working with and I was so mad, but you know what I did? So this was like a month after it had happened. She sent me an email saying by the way she had held on to it. And I was like horrified. And I actually looked at the email. And I remember I wrote it and I wasn’t very nice at all. I wrote it. I was kind of angry. But I stopped myself and I rewrote it. And when I sent it. So I was like, No, I don’t want to I don’t want to be that person. So I was so horrified. And then when I saw that email I’d sent I was like, oh, you know what, it wasn’t so bad. And I phoned her. And I said, I’m sorry that you saw it that way. But it is how I feel. But yeah, that was that was another one where my heart just sank.
Lara Schmoisman 27:19
And those things happen, I think and that’s mainly a conversation for another day. People have problem with criticism. Like for example, I my first day of when I teach my class of digital marketing for the fashion industry at Cal Poly first day, what I will do is I will ask the person to the right or the left, I don’t remember which one I choose, it depends on the semester, is that they need to give a theme for a party to the person next to them and the others that need to get a piece of paper and just draw an invitation. And then we put them all in on the blackboard and we had to order the board. There’s no more Blackboard. And then I I asked them to everyone to criticize and you know, people don’t stand up and they are afraid to criticize others. And then of course, I’m the bad guy because I criticize everything. But that’s my job. And what is not right.
Dan Nelken 28:30
Mm hmm. Yeah, I mean, I think it’s successful people want that, because you’ll grow faster from getting that feedback. But yeah, especially creatively. I mean, when I worked in ad agencies, that’s your whole job is like creating work presenting to creative director, then you present it internally to the whole team. And then you present it to a client. And you’re constantly I mean, what they say to write one great headline, this is the highest standard of headlines. You have to write 100 to get one great one. So yeah, you’re gonna have a lot of crappy ones.
Lara Schmoisman 29:04
Also, you never have guarantees, because you don’t know that they that that headline goes out. You don’t know what’s going to happen in the world. You don’t know what your competition did, where the wall stands. I mean, I don’t remember what movie was there. It was a great movie, but it came the same day of 911. Nobody’s good?
Dan Nelken 29:24
Yeah, so true. Yeah. Yeah.
Lara Schmoisman 29:27
It was so great to have you here having coffee with me. It was such a pleasure. And I feel like I keep talking to you forever. But I always said that my podcast needs to be like a car ride.
Dan Nelken 29:40
Oh, awesome. Well, it’s like Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. We were writers in a podcast getting coffee.
Lara Schmoisman 29:51
Yes, exactly. Getting Coffee, and maybe in someone’s car ride today.
Dan Nelken 29:56
Exactly. Well, thank you so much. It’s awesome to talk to you. I appreciate it so much.
Lara Schmoisman 30:02
Thank you for being here and to you guys I will see you next week with more coffee number five.