Times are tough. The mortgage industry has been tainted and blamed for the tough times we’re in. And we’re left with repairing the damage and building our business at the same time. Recently, I had the honor of hearing Joseph Sugarman, one of the top copywriters and direct marketers in America, speak before the National Association of Mortgage Women (NAPMW) at their Regional Education Conference in Portland, Ore. After his presentation, I asked him if he would let me interview him for National Mortgage Professional Magazine. What follows is our discussion. There are some really valuable gems here and some really good advice on how to kick-start your business and build it even during difficult times. Joe has written several books on the subjects of sales and marketing. If you were starting a marketing campaign, “Addressing Financial Services to Consumers,” how would you start? What issues would you be focused on in creating your first draft? I think a lot has to do with attitude. For example, I truly believe that for every problem, there is an opportunity so big it dwarfs the size of the problem. And let’s face it … the mortgage industry is facing some pretty tough problems. The first thing I would do is raise the issue of the problems facing the industry and then resolve them. For example, a radio commercial might start out with, “You no doubt have heard of the financial mess our country is in and how the mortgage industry has been hit hard. But wait. There are banks and mortgage companies that are well-funded and rates are the lowest they’ve been in years.” In short, raise the negative and resolve it with positive comments about your company. With so many ways to communicate with consumers, which medium do you think would be most effective? Due to the recession, media costs have gone way down. This is a great opportunity for small businesses to advertise at rates never before this low. And during a recession, media rates are all negotiable. A radio station, for example, would rather run your advertisement rather than a public service announcement. My preference for the mortgage industry would be radio, the Internet and direct mail. Radio is cheap, reaches a wide audience and with repetition, could make a big difference in your awareness and response. You state in your book, The Adweek Copywriting Manual, that testing is critical. How would that apply to an advertising campaign? That’s why direct marketing is the best way to go. You offer something on a specific medium, let’s say direct mail, you measure the response and then you can determine if the mailing piece was profitable. So if you spend $1,000 on a mailing and earn, as a result, $2,000, you’ve doubled your money and you’ve earned $1,000. In short, direct marketing is a measurable way to determine success or failure. In the case of radio, you need repetition. One radio spot may not give you a good measure of the potential response. And you must always test. Many times, I’ve been fooled by campaigns I thought were going to be successful only to be surprised. Can writing great copy be learned? Writing great copy for any advertising campaign is usually a skill that takes a lot of experience, but anybody can write great copy even for the first attempt. I have personally built several companies simply from the power of my pen. And I’ve taught students who have gone off to achieve great success with just their first ad. I think the key to writing great copy is to first become an expert on what you are offering. Most of you are already experts in your own business. Secondly, I would read some good books on copywriting techniques. My book, for example, gives you step-by-step techniques you can use and includes psychological triggers that influences a prospect to buy from you. The book is only $15 on Amazon.com and truly a great value if you are serious about promoting your business. You mentioned psychological triggers. What exactly are they and how have you used them? I have discovered through years of testing, that there are certain words that can double or triple your response simply by using them in your copy. There are 30 such triggers which you can use to control the mind of your prospect to influence, motivate and persuade. One of them I mentioned at the beginning of this article. By raising the negative issues of the economy and the mortgage industry and then resolving those issues to your favor, your advertising becomes more believable, and therefore, more effective. The trigger relates to the importance of raising a negative issue and then properly resolving them in a positive way. What kind of approach to consumers will create the most favorable response from your experience? I know this may sound trite, but I have found that honesty is the most effective tool in the arsenal of a marketer. Selling is really building a relationship of trust with your prospect. If you exhibit integrity with everything you do and with everything you write the results will speak for themselves. Any final bit of advice for those reading this with the desire to become great marketers? Just as important it is to become an expert in the product you wish to sell, you should also become an expert in the art and science of selling. It doesn’t matter if it is selling in person, in print, on radio or on television—becoming an expert will give you a tremendous edge over your competition and give you a skill you will be able to use for the rest of your life. We are always selling, even from childhood, and may not have realized it. If selling is so prevalent in our lives, why not master it? Finally, if you fail in your first few attempts, don’t give up. Failure is a great teacher and know that you’ll eventually succeed. Linda Moore MacCoy is executive director of the National Academy of Financial Literacy. She may be reached by phone at (503) 639-5500.