8 Things I Know About Direct-Response Publishing

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about direct-response (DR) marketing. In particular, how to be successful as a publisher of financial information. When I’m talking about the business to new employees (and even old-timers when they seem adrift), these are the important points I try to make:


  1. DR publishers are different than literary publishers. Literary publishers are small businesses that target a tiny microcosm of readers, the academics and critics that determine literary prizes. On the contrary, DR publishers are large businesses that build their reputation (and profits) by discovering best-selling writers/analysts.


  1. The job of financial writers is not to be smarter or righter than the rest of the pack. (A futile endeavor.) Their job is to write best-selling newsletters, blogs, and special reports. They should strive for big ideas that can make a big impact on their readers. Ideas that are just beyond the conversation of popular financial pundits.


  1. In conveying their ideas, financial writers have a responsibility to make those ideas accessible to the average reader. The easiest way to do that is by using the online FK readability tool and keeping their score below 7.5.

  1. There are three levels of financial writing: bad, acceptable, and very good. Bad writing is the sort that begins: “I was watching a train speed by this morning and began thinking of how fast the market…” Then the writer leaps to an idea that he’s been saying to yawns for years. Acceptable writing expresses some aspects of a worthy idea. But it lacks facts and stories that remind the reader why he likes that writer. Very good writing not only presents a big idea but provides compelling facts and stories to support it. It reminds the reader why he likes the writer. It also makes him feel like his life is improving simply by the act of reading.


  1. The financial editor’s job is to challenge his writers to write at that very good level. The financial publisher’s job is to ensure that his writers understand what very good writing is, to give them experienced editors to work with, and to fire them if they cannot or will not improve.


  1. In addition to their regular writers, a financial publisher should have a small but prestigious group of writers that are not concerned with the average reader. These are writers whose knowledge of economics and investing is deep and specific. So deep and specific that there is little chance they will attract a wide audience. Their job is to establish the publisher’s credibility among the academics, critics, competitors, and regulators that can indirectly or directly affect the prospects of the business.


  1. Marketing: Selling financial information via direct-response marketing is very complex these days. It involves locating the market, determining the offers, and designing and executing the marketing strategy. So in addition to writers and editors, the publisher needs a team of skilled marketers and copywriters.


  1. Technology and support services: Every aspect of technology — including data input, data storage, data analysis, fulfillment, and customer service — is also more complex than ever. Too often the publisher takes the company’s support services for granted. They’re noticed only when something goes wrong. So all those talented, hardworking, and unsung heroes hear is complaints and criticism. Allowing this in any business is like allowing the structure of your boat to rot while you keep painting the frame. (Okay, I’m tired. Lame metaphor. Sorry.)