Ben Settle

  • Book & Tabloid Newsletter Publisher
  • Email Supremacist
  • Alt-Copywriter
  • Software Investor
  • Pulp Novelist

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File under: Clients, Copywriting & Sales Letters

Over the last 30 days I’ve gotten two extremely good questions from two different Email Players subscribers regarding Agora Financial.

If you don’t know who Agora is, you truly live in a cave.

And that’s okay, I certainly live in one too.

But, even I come out for some air.

Either way, the following will probably be relevant to you.

But before we dig into their questions, a caveat:

I know and respect several copywriters who work at Agora (one of them partly credited me with helping him rake in $900k per year in commissions), and even more who have worked there but then moved onto their own things. Agora also once flew me in to their Baltimore office to teach about infotainment to their writers and editors. Plus, I have been told by more than a few of them that some of their offices have been known to have Email Players issues laying around to read.

So nothing I say here is meant to be “anti” Agora.

If anything, they have opened doors for me.

And, I am grateful.

So keep that context in mind.

Here goes question #:

(Not sure he wants me naming him so name withheld)

I recently heard some ex-Agora copywriters say that John Carlton and Gary Halbert-style copy doesn’t work anymore. And that to get great at copywriting today you should learn from Agora and only be breaking down their promos etc.  (I think their methodology is really focussed on The Big Idea.)

I also heard them say that bullets aren’t at all that important.

You and many other high-level copywriters teach bullets in great detail and you have your own methodology for writing copy that is different to theirs.

So my question is:

Is there such a thing as a superior copywriting methodology in your opinion? Or is purely based on how well you’ve mastered YOUR OWN game – so it doesn’t matter if you’ve adopted Halbert-style, Bencivenga-style, Agora-style or whatever. So it’s basically down to a person’s level of mastery in that copywriting lineage/school of thought.

I have no experience writing sales letters at all (just email copy) so this is something that I’ll be looking to study in-depth in the future, hopefully.

Thanks Ben 

My response to him:

1. Don’t take anything any copywriter says as gospel for your own business, especially just because they work at Agora — more on this below when I answer the second question

2. These particular ones he’s talking about probably never read Halbert or Carlton all that carefully — Halbert was talking about coming up with the “central selling idea” (i.e., the big idea) decades before these guys were probably even born. Same with Carlton. With but a cursory read of his Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets course you can’t not walk away with being indoctrinated with his teachings on coming up with a “hook” which basically sounds like the same thing (i.e., “One-Legged Golfer”)

3. I tend to side-eye anyone saying “___ doesn’t work” — According to a lot of ex-spurts half the stuff I do doesn’t “work.” There are people who even blanket say “SEO doesn’t work!!!” or that “article marketing doesn’t work!” yet there are people still using SEO and articles extremely successfully.

4. Bullets still work, never stopped working, and will always work — When written correct everything “comes” from the bullets, including non-bullet copy or ads where there are no bullets.

All right so that was Q&A number one.

Now for the second question about Agora followed by my answer.

Another Email Players subscriber (name withheld by request) asks:

On Friday, I got hired by Agora out of apparently 100s that apply for the bootcamp I got flown out for & just attended. Me & only 2 other people. Moving to London now to learn from the best and achieve my goal. It hasn’t even been a year since I got started. Thanks for the personal advice and inspiration you’ve given me when I really needed it (like when you told me about when you were just starting out). How do I improve now? If you were training me, what would you have me do? No matter how much work it is

Couple things that spring to mind:

1. “The answer is always found in the market” — whenever you get stuck or stressed for an idea, etc, including when they tell you to whip up a “big idea” that advice can save your hocks.

2. Realize you are going to become part of a very big machine — that does things a very specific way, possibly even some things that contradict the very things and skills you’ve learned that got you there in the first place. An example of this was a much publicized (by the man himself) Gary Halbert sales letter written for Agora many years ago. He very carefully wrote a sales letter selling a financial offer, using a grabber, and the ad is a fascinating read.

But I was told by a copywriter there the ad totally bombed.

Why?

Probably because Agora has a specific kind of list, that responds to a specific kind of formula.

And it’s not that Gary’s ad sucked.

It was great.

And I have personally learned much from studying it. In fact, I even quote a paragraph from it inside the upcoming July Email Players issue as an example, to illustrate one of the ways you can sell that is more valuable than “giving value.”

But bombed the letter did according to the copywriter I talked to.

And it’s like a great movie director being hired to direct a Marvel movie.

Marvel is very formulaic with a methodology that works to a specific market.

But if that director strays from the formula and does their own thing, it would be much different, and probably wouldn’t work all that great to those expecting a “Marvel” movie. Imagine if Christopher Nolan directed a Marvel movie. It’d probably completely bomb due to it not being the same tone, style, and formula Marvel movie fans have come to respond to. Or he’d be fired before it got out of development as soon as Marvel realized he wasn’t going to go along with their formula. Thus, he’d have to go along with the machine or depart from the project.

You may or may not be faced with a similar decision some day.

That’ll do it for today.

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Ben Settle

  • Book & Tabloid Newsletter Publisher
  • Email Supremacist
  • Alt-Copywriter
  • Software Investor
  • Pulp Novelist

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