Realizations From My 20-Year "Time Capsule"

Issue #59—March 8, 2019

Wow, what a week! There was my "big fat Agora day" I wrote you about earlier this week...then Ben Settle featuring me in his emails starting coaching calls with my amazing mentees and prepping for my upcoming Copywriting Velocity event.

I've been up each morning at dawn and pulling late nights (except for Improv class last night---on stage---and a delicious crabcake dinner with my 80-year-old mom last Tuesday night).

Now I'm getting this week's issue out to you before I head off to one of the best Indian restaurants in the country in downtown DC to meet up with my former apprentice...who's gone on to doing some very exciting things!

But without further ado, I promised to share with you some of the insights from my discussion with Agora Financial's Jake Hoffberg this past Tuesday morning. I was his featured guest on this week's Agora Copy Call, and while I don't have the exact count I know there were at least 100 people on the call when we started at 10:01 am ET sharp.

The funny thing is, these insights I'm about to share---which Jake described as "they WILL be controversial" in his email invite to the Agora call attendees---have been sifting around in my brain for the past 20 years...and looking for a chance to get out.

It's almost as if I've been stuck in some kind of marketing "time capsule" as I've spent my time shuffling upstairs to my home office wearing my sweats or yoga pants, focusing on writing sizzling sales copy (and not worrying about practically anything else except what time to pick up the kids, at least when they were younger.)

But if you know anything about my background, I spent 13 years as a marketer before going freelance---and had never worked a day in my life as a copywriter.

I ran the marketing for an insurance subsidiary that produced $30 million in net profits and used direct mail, print advertising, direct response TV, and other vehicles to generate leads, and used inbound telemarketing to convert them to sales.

I was a brand manager for a huge segment of the business for the same insurance company and had a Harvard MBA as a peer and focused on managed care strategy (oh, and I also got my own MBA in marketing, too).

I then came to Phillips Publishing and six months later helped them launch a nutritional supplement subsidiary, ran their marketing, and helped them grow to over $23 million in sales (that's $39 million in today's dollars) within 3 years.

And after that I was the Associate Group Publisher for Jay Abraham's and Denis Waitley's newsletters, before I went on to launch another major supplement line for the company---and then "launched" my first child.

So I know a thing or two about marketing. In fact, I learned invaluable business-building lessons especially during the six years I spent at Phillips Publishing, during which the company experienced a huge growth spurt in revenues.

But back to the Agora Call this past Tuesday morning. I'm short on time this morning, and I'd love to be able to share with you a recording of the complete, no-holds-barred conversation I had with Jake  Tuesday morning. But there is no "official" recording, and even if there was, it's only for Agora's use in-house.

So first I'm going to share with you the email "ad" Jake wrote and sent out to his Agora Copy Call list (it's a tough list to get on, but if you ever get the chance you should jump on it!) It's a great ad to study just on its own...his copy is great!

Right now, there's a silent crisis happening inside of almost every direct response business...

And if you don't act now, it could destroy your business (or your career) in 2019. 

Which is why on the upcoming AF Tuesday Morning Mastermind call... 

We're going to be interviewing A-List Copywriter and Copy Mentor Kim Krause Schwalm about the #1 problem affecting MOST direct response companies today...

The simple solution to stopping this deadly disease in its tracks, protecting your company from this potential disaster...

As well as some “secret sauce” to help write bigger winners, faster.

Click here now to register for the upcoming call. 

And for those of you who don't know me...

Hi, I'm Jake Hoffberg.

Roy Furr once called me the "king of short copy" when promoting a product he was selling with me as a guest speaker.

I've been writing direct response financial copy since 2016... 

And I made an unusual choice to specialize in "short copy" – like emails, space ads, advertorials, renewals, and book offers – in a world that is revered for its "long copy."

I've personally trained dozens of copywriters inside of my private mentorship program... and more than 20 have gone on to land full time jobs at one of the Agora companies or become working freelancers.

These days, you can find me in the 808 St. Paul building working on a new and exciting project...

A project I truly believe could revolutionize our business and make a huge impact on the lives of our customers.

But this call isn't about me...

It's about the #1 problem your business is facing RIGHT NOW...

And what you can do to fix it. 

Chances are, you're probably seeing a lot of "symptoms" this problem creates inside your business right now.


High refund ratesHigh churn ratesDeclining LTVLower email open ratesMore negative reviews onlineIncreased traffic costs or outright bans from top tier traffic sources

And chances are, you're focused on all the wrong things in your attempt to fix them. 

But on this upcoming call, Kim Krause Schwalm is going to reveal #1 reason why all of these symptoms are appearing inside of your business...

And how to fix the ROOT problem that is causing all of them. 

She’ll also discuss how this all-too-often overlooked strategy allowed her to launch and lead a nutritional supplement subsidiary that went on to produce more than $23 million in annual sales—from going to just one list.

Click here now to register for the call. 

-Jake Hoffberg

P.S. WARNING! What you hear on this call WILL be controversial! 

But if you follow the wisdom Kim is willing to share...

It could be the difference between adding millions of dollars in revenue to your business... and you shutting your doors forever.

Don't miss it!

Don't you love how Jake is building in urgency and stimulating curiosity? Makes you want to be on that call, doesn't it? I wish you had been (actually, some of you reading this were, and signed up on my list immediately afterwards--welcome!)

But if you weren't on the call, and since I can't share any recordings or even confirm whether they actually exist, I'm going to give you the next best thing: my actual "talking points" I put together and shared with Jake the morning before our call.

Here you go...hope you get many marketing and business-building ideas from them. And if they generate any questions you want to throw my way, feel free to reply to this email and I'll try to respond to them as soon as I can.


● This topic has been on my mind for a while, but came up recently when speaking with my colleague Michael Fishman, who works with founders and brands to find their voice and share their origin story and purpose. We discussed how this is more important than ever these days, as the marketplace is crowded with competitors, people are more skeptical than ever, and searching for something more than just a transactional relationship.

● I wrote about this topic a few weeks ago in my Copy Insiders e-letter and it led to further discussions with both Ryan McGrath and Jake Hoffberg that this was an especially timely topic! So here we are…

● Jake said that we’d be discussing the #1 issue that’s affecting your business. We’re actually going to talk about a few of them, but they’re mostly symptoms that are linked to one core problem: Many businesses DON’T have a core mission or purpose—or if they ever did, they’ve lost their way.

● As Warren Buffett says, most problems are symptoms of poor fundamentals. We’re going to talk about some of the fundamentals that helped Phillips Publishing, a company I was with for six years during its exponential growth…AND that helped me launch and grow a nutritional supplement subsidiary to more than $23 million (that’s $39 million today) in annual sales within 3 years—just by going to one list.

● These fundamentals and strategies are as relevant and as important today as ever, yet I don’t see enough companies I work with or follow doing them (maybe they are behind the scenes but from the customer standpoint the experience doesn’t give evidence of this.)

● I think I can bring a fresh perspective to this—it’s almost like I’ve been locked away in a “time capsule” for the past 20 years, primarily focusing on writing acquisition direct mail and online promos…and getting only limited involvement with marketing and product strategy. I haven’t been on the inside seeing “how the sausage is made” in a long time.

● Some things that haven’t changed in the past 20 years: humans are alike everywhere, we don’t change…we buy for the same reasons, desires, dreams, fears, and other emotional hot buttons.

● But our customers and prospects are more skeptical than ever…they’ve been “burned” many times…they don’t know who to trust…their guard is up…and if we screw things up from the beginning, we’re in a constant cycle of always looking for NEW customers.

● This is why A-list copywriters like me who can write promos that bring in new buyers are in constant demand. But then we create a cycle where companies become overly dependent on these promotions…and they live on one promotion to another. Their revenue numbers and their business are only as good as their most recent “hot” promotion. To me, while having a successful control is crucial in our business, you need to focus on other things as well to build a real and sustainable business.

● What are some of these things? Let me share some of the strategies from my days at Phillips Publishing and from launching and running the Healthy Directions business…and let’s look at how we can apply them in today’s world to overcome growth-constraining issues like:

•           High refund rates

•           High churn rates

•           Declining LTV

•           Lower email open rates

•           More negative reviews online

•           Increased traffic costs or outright bans from top tier traffic sources

● A quick background story: Phillips Publishing grew exponentially during the late 1980s and 1990s as the publisher of personality or leader-based newsletters on the consumer side for financial and health. (They also had a number of B2B high-priced newsletters, but this wasn't nearly as big as the consumer side of the business).

● Each newsletter had its own editor--the "guru" whose vision, leadership, and advice shaped the brand. When someone decided to subscribe to a particular newsletter (which even then ran from $39 to upwards of $99 or more a year for 12 print issues), the product they were buying was THAT guru or editor...NOT the newsletter.

● It’s important to know what you’re REALLY selling. When I helped launch the company's Healthy Directions supplement subsidiary back in 1993, once again we were selling the doctor/editor (in this case, Dr. Julian Whitaker) as the "guru" or visionary behind the supplements.

● The supplements we sold or had formulated specifically for Dr. Whitaker's line were all ones he actually used and recommended to his patients...and we stayed true to that at least for the 3+ years I was leading their marketing.

● And from the very start when we planned our first launch promotions, we were constantly asked (by the late Bob King, president of the consumer division), “How are you going to get that next order?” “How are we keeping them on the same path they’re on with Dr. Whitaker?” (There was a special Health & Healing newsletter issue each new subscriber got outlining his “7 steps to optimal health”…one of which was to take a high-potency multivitamin with an energy & fish oil supplement. So we developed a daily regimen that included 14 pills a day and cost $40/month back in 1993.

● There was an authenticity, passion, and leadership that naturally allowed and justified our ability to charge what were considered premium prices at the time. We had as much as 10% response rates just with fulfillment box stuffers after the first order. We enjoyed huge loyalty and repeat orders (which is where the REAL money is made in any consumable product).

● We analyzed and strategized and discussed ad nauseum in our marketing meetings about how to incorporate Dr. Whitaker's "brand" and voice into everything we did in our sales copy. There was a separation, as we called it, of "church and state" in terms of the supplement subsidiary operating independently of the publishing arm.

● We often found ourselves in those early days in a reactionary state...oh, look, Dr. Whitaker wrote about or recommended this specific product in his newsletter, now people are going to be asking about it--so let's stock it and add it to our catalog right away.

● By doing all of these things--staying true to Dr. Whitaker's mission to make the very best supplements available to his followers, and always carefully positioning him as the hero and NOT the salesman, we were able to grow this scrappy little start-up into generating $23 million a year in sales ($39 million in today’s dollars) within the first 3 years...just by going to ONE list: Dr. Whitaker's "Health and Healing" newsletter subscribers.

● I’ve also had my own “side” business the last 2 years building my own list and marketing a few programs…and it’s given me a whole new perspective as well as experience on what goes into nurturing that audience and building relationships that go beyond “transactional”.

So what takeaways can you take from this and apply today?

Figure out and communicate with everyone on your team as well as your customers and prospects what your MISSION and brand story is.

Put in writing how you are leading people by the hand down a path(s) to achieve end results they desire (I have an entire one-page document from 6/14/95 called “How to Become Indispensable” with nearly 20 specific strategies that explain exactly how to do this—and is as relevant today as ever!)

Encourage risk-taking within your organization. Bob King used to tell us back in those high-growth days, “If you’re not failing enough, you’re not trying enough new things.” People took smart risks all the time…it was okay to fail…and we spent our monthly management meetings writing up and sharing “Lessons Learned”.

Encourage open-mindedness and innovation. Banish anyone from ever saying, “That’s how we’ve always done it.”

Think about the entire customer experience from the time they place that first order. What is their experience? Is it positive? Or do they feel regret as soon as they hit “order now” and get thrown into a time-consuming cycle of upsells and cross-sells?

Don’t be overly dependent on other people’s platforms to sustain your business. Don’t let Facebook and Google’s ever-changing whims victimize your sales. Use them in ways to get people on YOUR list… Get them on your file, own those names, then market to them the way you want where you are in charge. Email them and build on the relationship from there. Try sending them actual physical mail, too! Connect with them and make it more than just a transactional relationship.

Don’t trade long-term lifetime customer value (LTV) for short-term initial average order. Think past that initial sales funnel…where are you taking them, and are you doing it in a way that makes them say, “I want to go on that walk or that path with you”?

Develop people in your organization as “business builders”. Give marketers and copywriters from the beginning a broader range of responsibilities for a product or business segment so they begin to see the whole picture, versus being “pigeon-holed” into doing just one thing—like only writing upsells, etc. You’ll help them contribute in more ways plus build future leaders and innovators, and retain good people longer.

During the call, I also shared some of my copywriting "secret sauce", including my favorite strategy for writing copy that I like to do before I write a single word of it. I'll share that with you in a future issue of Copy Insiders. So keep an eye out for it!

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Please check out my upcoming Copywriting Velocity event if you haven't done so already...and figure out how to get yourself to DC for it. I've got some great guests joining me--including Carline Anglade-Cole, Richard Armstrong, Lori Haller, and Big Jason Henderson. The special Copy Insiders deal of $1,000 off expires tonight at 11:59 pm PST, so grab your seat now. Use the discount code KKS1000 at checkout, and if you have any questions about Hot Seat availability (we added a few more last minute) and anything else, just email me back.

And if you don't want to hear more about this event but want to keep getting Copy Insiders, don't hit "unsubscribe", just email me back with "NOCV" in the subject line. But if you can get yourself to DC for this, it's going to be an amazing event!

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