I’m really excited for today’s interview. I’m talking with Donna Baier Stein, one of my favorite copywriters to follow on Twitter. In this quick interview, you’ll see why you need to follow her as well. Donna is a second-generation direct response marketer, she’s also been writing copy for 32 years.
RYAN: How did you get started in direct marketing? Who were some of your top influences and mentors in the business?
DONNA: I grew up with direct marketing. My father Martin Baier was called the Father of Zip Code Marketing. He had an article in the 1967 Harvard Business Review called Zip Code: New Tool for Market Segmentation. He and Bob Stone and Pete Hoke wrote the first definition of direct marketing the DMA used. I grew up hearing Dad say “Benefits, Donna. Benefits!”
Bob Stone used to come and visit us. He was one of my early copywriting mentors. Other mentors include Kathy Fowler and Patsy Bogle who were at Times Mirror Magazines and Roland Kuniholm, a wonderful fundraising consultant and copywriter in DC. Joan Throckmorton also took me under her wing and taught me to give seminars 🙂
RYAN: For someone looking at a career in direct marketing, what advice would you offer?
DONNA: To study the mail you get (in your inbox or postal box). Look for repeat mailings; it probably means they’ve been successful. Read books about copywriting. Take courses. PRACTICE. The more you write, the better you get. It’s best to work with a company or ad agency at least for a few year to see what it is like.
I personally was very fortunate to work four years at Times Mirror and then at at DC ad agency then went out on my own, and thanks to Roland Kuniholm, took off as a freelancer. It’s important you love your work. It’s important you care about writing and about selling. Get advice from copywriters; have people evaluate your copy and teach you where you can improve. Build up your own portfolio.
RYAN: Why do you think most companies prefer general/image/brand advertising versus direct response?
DONNA: I don’t think they do anymore. I think all marketing has become direct marketing. It used to be general advertisers looked down on direct marketers – as the poor step-child. No more! No marketer worth his or her salt puts out any kind of ad these days without some response vehicle, even if it is simply a URL. Why spend money on ads you can’t test, measure, and improve?
RYAN: I see you’ve recently written and published a novel. Do you feel writing fiction helps you write copy?
DONNA: I’ve written a novel. It was at a major publisher with an editor who really liked it for six months. A new publisher came in and the word I just got was “no.” Either because of age or meditation, this didn’t set me into a tailspin. That first novel is being sent out to other publishers who have asked to see it, and I started a new novel. For me personally – and I know this doesn’t hold true for everyone – I love to combine copywriting and literary writing. I love to write period. I like the change between the two. And quite honestly I think they’re kind of symbiotic – they each improve the other.
RYAN: It seems like I’m getting less offers in the mail. Is this a trend you are also seeing? Is direct mail dying?
DONNA: Yes, I’ve been seeing a lot less mail. I don’t know if it is dying. The environment is such a big factor as well as the computer. I know in my life I usually spend 8+ hours a day at my computer. I buy most things on line. I’ve also wondered if now isn’t a good time to send out direct mail, when there is less competition. Maybe not during the holidays though! The catalogs are piling up.
Tune into part 2 of this interview tomorrow…