Bencivenga's #1 Copywriting Lesson

copywriting Jun 27, 2022

I’m gonna share the #1 copywriting lesson I learned from Gary Bencivenga - one of the all-time great copywriters.

It’s stuck with me my entire career…

Because it’s that powerful.

I’m gonna teach it to you through a story.

You see, copywriting is a lot like fishing.

When you write a piece of sales copy, you’re trying to get a bunch of people to read your words and take an action.

When you're fishing, you're trying to get a bunch of fish to bite your hook.

Here’s the problem.

Say there’s a fisherman named John.

John's like any old typical fisherman.

He walks down to the lake with his fishing pole and his tackle box, and he’s all excited to catch some fish.

So he sets up at his favorite spot under this big old willow tree…

Picks his lucky lure that is super flashy and that he thinks will attract the most fish attention…

Baits his hook, casts his line, and waits.

Believe it or not, the way John fishes is the same way most copywriters write…

Unfortunately, as innocent and as normal as his process sounds…

It’s 100% WRONG.

It's all about HIM.

HIS favorite spot. HIS favorite lure.

Compare that to let’s say, fisherman Gary.

Now Gary fishes a totally different way.


He zeroes in on what type of fish he wants to catch.

Then, instead of picking just some random spot on some random lake, he studies the fish.

Say he wants to catch bass.

He goes on the internet and does all the research.

Where do bass like to hang out?

Which lakes do bass like to swim around in?

Do bass swim in the center of the lake or the shore?

What type of lure or bait do bass like to eat?

What time of the day do bass like to eat?

What’s a typical day like swimming around a lake as a bass?

Only after he figures out the answer to all these questions does he get his gear, pick a spot, and start fishing.

Now, who do you think is gonna catch more fish?



Because he doesn’t think like a fisherman…

He thinks like the fish.

He gets into the head of the fish.

Understands what the world is like as a fish.

THEN and ONLY THEN does he go about catching them.

That’s what you must do as a copywriter.

Most writers get an assignment, they start writing, and 95% of their brain is just sitting there judging their own work.

If they think it’s good, they feel somewhat good.

If it’s bad, they feel terrible.

(This is a mindset block ← basing your value and worth on the quality of your work. It will lead to “writer’s block” and taking forever to write. Very common.)

These copywriters think to themselves constantly…

Is what I’m writing good? How do I come up with a good hook? What’s a good lead or angle?

Which are all good questions…

But they’re not as important as questions an “expert fisherman copywriter” would ask, like:

What is the core emotional trigger driving people to buy this product? What do people like to buy in this space - and what are the grand slam products they KEEP buying? Why are those winning out compared to other offers? What messages do they respond to when it comes to an offer like this? What is going on in the headspace of theirs? What email and ad angles keep working over and over again, and why do they work?

In other words…


When I listened to a bunch of my mentors early on in their career, a significant portion of their time was spent “living in the heads of their prospects.”

What was life like for them?

What do they care about, think about, dream about all day?

And the best ones (Dan Ferrari comes to mind) are very cerebral about this.

They sit and they imagine what life is like as their prospect.

Paul Amos, a super underground dude (he used to be the copy chief at New Market Health, a division of Agora) was a legend in the health space.

He copy chiefed a few of my projects about 5 years ago.

In the Agora scene, he was famous for putting out winning offer after winning offer writing about crazy, absurd shit like “the Nazi cure for cancer” and these big long sales letters bashing Hillary Clinton and Obama.

Funny thing is…

When I met him, he wasn’t political at all. He had nothing against Hillary or Obama.

He just spent a lot of time thinking about “80 year old Tom from Iowa” as he called it…

And what kind of message that person responds to.

So to bring it all back…

A key part of writing copy is the research process.

And a key part of the research process is understanding who you’re writing to.

Read their comments. Read their Amazon reviews. Figure out what they buy and why they buy. Understand what their life is like. What emotional triggers they have. TALK TO THEM if you can.

You must be a “human researcher.”

The same principle goes for getting clients.

The fish there is “business owners looking to hire copywriters.”

For example, if I were to ask you…

What do potential clients care about when it comes to hiring copywriters?

Would you know? Or would you be guessing?

Is it hard work? Hitting deadlines? Communication?

Yes, but that's not the 80/20.

I’ll just spell it out for you.

PROOF. Track record. Samples.

That’s the number 1 thing they care about. They need to know you’re not just some bum on the street.

They care that you can write copy that delivers them a result…

And the best way to do that is to look at your past record of winning copy.

You may be wondering…

But what if I don’t have a track record?

Then you need to make the client an offer that’s heavily in their favor.

You need to first learn how to write copy that delivers that value (this can be done through courses, mentors, etc… and you CAN’T skip this step)

Then you show them kick-ass samples, ask to write for super cheap, and look to get some wins under your belt.

Tell them if they’re not happy, you won’t charge them.

At the beginning of your career, you have to make offers like that to GET the track record.

Then, it’ll be easier to land the gigs after.

There’s more that goes into the whole thing…

But as for now…

Hopefully that helps you a bit in your journey.

- Ning


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