I attended the AWAI FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair from October 15 – 18 in beautiful Delray Beach, Florida.
I now have a history with the American Writers & Artists, Inc. organization. I learned about them sometime in 2011 and attended my first live Bootcamp in 2012 (reviewed here). I also purchased the “Bootcamp on Demand” home version in 2013.
As I mentioned in my previous review, there aren’t many organizations like AWAI. In fact, they really are in a league of their own when it comes to offering a variety of copywriting, graphic design, marketing, and business development courses – all geared to help an entrepreneur set up a creative freelance business.
Although to be fair, AWAI is more focused on “writers” than “artists.” The AWAI FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair is all about copywriting – and specifically, direct response copywriting.
After spending the last few years dealing with various types of clients and projects, I went into the AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair with a different perspective. I was no longer a beginner but a copywriter who had more experience under her belt – and a more realistic expectation of the realities of copywriting as a profession.
“Expectations” is the key word, here. My goal with this review is to help anyone who is just starting to investigate copywriting as a profession to understand the realities of pursuing it and the realities of this particular conference.
So without further ado, let’s get to it.
The Good Stuff
AWAI has been hosting their annual Bootcamp for aspiring copywriters for years. The 2014 AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair is their 17th conference, the first one being held in 1997.
The AWAI team was still top-notch this past October. They are very friendly and help attendees with any questions they might have. It still is a pleasure to attend a conference that has so many helpful staff people.
The hotel is decent although my husband and I stayed at Crane’s BeachHouse Hotel, which is just a few blocks away. We love Crane’s because they have kitchens in the rooms, which allowed us to cook healthy meals for our dietary needs.
The speakers that AWAI attracts are also heavy-hitters. Once you start to learn more about copywriting, you’ll begin to notice certain names being tossed around regularly – Dan Kennedy, John Carlton, Clayton Makepeace, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Donna Baier Stein, Carline Anglade-Cole, Richard Armstrong, Bob Bly, Nick Usborne and more.
AWAI gets as many of these highly accomplished copywriters scheduled as speakers as they can. And the information they share is indeed valuable. You’re given a huge binder with the slides of all the presentations and an area to take notes. I suggest you bring a separate, smaller notebook or journal with you to jot down the ideas you get from the presentations.
You don’t have to take copious notes of every presentation because you’ll get access to the audio and video recordings a few weeks after the conference. So you’ll be able to listen to the presentations over and over again. However, while you’re at the conference, your mind will likely be buzzing with ideas and many of them will be worth following up on when you get home. Keeping all those ideas in one spot will help once you get home and process everything that happened during the conference.
I had always wanted to hear John Carlton live. The only way this would ever happen is if I invested a large sum of money ($15,000) in his Platinum Mastermind Group. I’m a fan of John’s podcast with Kevin Rogers, “Psych Insights for Modern Marketers,” which I highly recommend adding to your subscription list.
I knew from listening to the podcast that John is an extreme introvert and he really didn’t like to be bothered by people asking him a bunch of stupid questions after he spoke (and an attendee did just that with the open Q&A after John spoke. I mean seriously… asking a speaker to have lunch in front of everyone deserves a resounding “Absolutely not.” Which John said to the man who asked. I’m not sure if the man was really that naive or was trying to show some chutzpah, which sometimes does open doors. But not with John.)
I did see John slip into the hotel bar on Wednesday with a baseball cap perched low on his forehead. He made a beeline for the best seat at the bar – in front of the big screen TV that was blaring out some sporting event. I smiled as I thought that was exactly the kind of entrance I thought he’d make.
The Okay Stuff
Every day, you’ll have lots of presentations to attend. Every morning, at 7:05 – 7:50 AM, there were early sessions called “A Taste of…” In 2012, they were called “Rise and Shine” sessions. They featured different copywriting niches such as health, finance, web copywriting and B2B opportunities.
As I said in my 2012 review, get there early. Like… 6:30 AM kind of early.
The reason I say this is not just because you’ll be able to grab some great breakfast grub, but you’ll get a seat. Part of me suspects that AWAI deliberately keeps these sessions in small rooms so that you do get there ahead of time.
I’ve attended other conferences and usually have found plenty of seating, especially for early morning sessions. Why AWAI continues to insist upon holding these sessions in rooms that are much too small is beyond me. It seems especially inefficient given the fact that the main large ballroom, where the bulk of the conference takes place, remained empty at that time.
It would have been much more comfortable for the attendees (and more could have attended the presentations) if they were given in the Ballroom. If two were going on at the same time, they could open up the smaller meeting rooms that were next to each other to accommodate a slightly smaller crowd.
When I arrived ten minutes early to these sessions and found that not only was every seat was already taken, but there was a crowd standing along the walls. I left. Too claustrophobic for my taste.
The Disappointments and Caveats
This area is going to focus mostly on the promises AWAI makes for this conference. Some of the promises didn’t really materialize for this conference, and that’s not even addressing the Job Fair. I’m referring to the following, taken from the Bootcamp sales letter (emphasis mine) If the link doesn’t work, here is a screenshot of the letter.:
- “…a key part of Bootcamp’s value is that priceless association with and access to the serious clients and major achievers in the world of copy — something you just don’t get anywhere else. That’s why along with the hands-on training sessions, there are dinners, networking sessions, and intimate breakfast breakouts with representatives from the nation’s biggest and most innovative direct-mail companies.”
I know AWAI is always trying to improve the experience but this year’s 2014 Bootcamp could be summarized in one word: Busy.
And I do mean bizzzzzEEE! The early morning sessions started at 7:05 AM and it went non-stop throughout the day. This year they even had a session during lunchtime. You could buy a box lunch through the hotel, take it into the Ballroom to listen to yet another session.
If AWAI is going to advertise that there is access to marketers and the conference speakers, when exactly would that happen? When I took a bathroom break?
The breaks in between the sessions are short (15 minutes). There’s enough time to visit the restrooms and grab a cup of coffee and maybe exchange a few words with someone before having to hustle back to the main meeting room.
I must have missed the networking sessions. However, I did find that by skipping the early morning session and the 8:10 AM session, I was able to connect with a few marketers who were grabbing breakfast after everyone headed into the Ballroom.
And that 8:10 session? It was about conquering your fear – which is definitely important if you’re just starting to investigate copywriting but if you already have clients and have even six months experience, you likely don’t need to be told to jump in, the water’s fine.
- (Prefaced with the large, bold headline: “Eat Dinner With The Masters”)
“Every year, Bootcamp kicks off with a special happy-hour reception and “Wall of Fame” networking dinner.
If you’re not familiar with the Wall of Fame, it’s where copywriters are recognized for writing winning copy — copy that beats other letters in terms of sales, newsletter opt-ins, or donations. This dinner honors new Wall of Fame members, plus dozens of past Wall of Fame honorees come, too.
Now, the food at the dinner is good. But the conversations are so much better you might find you haven’t even touched your plate by the time the desserts are brought out!
The whole room buzzes as people swap names, information, and tips. Copywriting all-stars, speakers, and potential clients mix with first-time attendees and beginning writers to share ideas and make connections.
AWAI did something different for their “Wall of Fame” dinner on Wednesday night, and to be honest, I didn’t like it as much as the one in 2012.
In 2012, we enjoyed a wonderful buffet of delicious food, meeting new people in line and even some of the speakers. My husband made our way to an open table and Winton Churchill (one of the speakers), asked if he could join us. We were delighted and spent the meal chatting with him about his experiences as a copywriter living in Mexico and his insights on getting work through online job sites like Elance (Winton has an AWAI program, How to Land Clients in 21 Days, that covers this topic).
But 2014 was different. We were told to find a table that had our home state listed on it and grab a seat. Each table had more than one state, however, no “Masters” or marketers were at our table.
I know I was in a different place for this conference than in 2012. I was no longer a complete newcomer to the business of copywriting. But I was still hoping to have more conversations with the speakers and marketers. I was expecting the dinner to provide that opportunity but it didn’t. Of course everyone at the table was nice and it was enjoyable to find out how people discovered AWAI and why they were interested in becoming a copywriter. I just realized that once again, my expectations were different.
In fact, I would say to that the claim that there would be access to speakers was overstated. For this particular conference, it just wasn’t as true as it was in 2012.
In 2012, I had a nice conversation in the hallway with Nick Usborne. I met John Forde while heading back to my hotel and we also had a great conversation. These were key conversations that gave me further insight and encouragement in my pursuit of copywriting as a legitimate way to earn a living.
But at the 2014 conference, it was very different. It could have been because of the busy schedule, but I did not see as many of the speakers moving around the attendees during breaks as I did in 2012. And alas, I again missed hanging out at the bar at night, where I know many writers were able to connect with AWAI staff like Paul Hollingshead and Mark Ford.
In fact, I didn’t see Dan Kennedy anywhere else but on the stage. Same with John Carlton. Richard Armstrong, who was the keynote speaker, did graciously stop to talk to some of the attendees on the way out and was also manning a table at Job Fair, but that’s all I witnessed.
Finally, I was disappointed when I tried to connect with another speaker during Job Fair, which also featured a bar and appetizer area. I won’t mention his name, but he’s well-known at this event.
He was walking toward me with a beer in his hand (maybe that should have been a sign!) when I asked him a question about his course, which I had just purchased. He momentarily stopped to answer my question, but seem slightly irritated about it. After a few seconds, he started to walk away.
I walked with him simply because I wanted to bring the conversation to a decent close, chatted just a little more and then stopped and said thanks to him for speaking with me. He gave me a quick wave as he walked away.
Now there are many reasons why this individual may have acted the way he did. To be honest, it’s not my business. But it is my business when I’ve shelled out over $2K to attend a conference that promises access to experts and when I try to stop one to have a friendly chat (at an event where that’s supposed to happen), I felt about as unwelcome as a mosquito at a July 4th picnic.
I hate to say it, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I believe that at this point, the AWAI Bootcamp and Job Fair needs to switch it up a bit with their speakers. I suspect many who attended this year’s event have been attending for years and are simply burnt out. The crowd at the AWAI’s 2014 FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair was their largest one.
It’s understandable that a crowd that size would weary even the most experienced conference speaker. I imagined that I was most likely the 40th person who approached that expert and he was probably tired of talking. Again, I’m speculating but it still doesn’t excuse what I perceived as rude behavior.
- “You’ll see the biggest copy buyers in the world taking notes in sessions, swapping insights with their neighbors, and hunting for writers who “get” what’s going on in their markets — even if those writers are just starting out in the field.
In just a few hours, writers are getting projects that offer income for months … sometimes even a whole year. They’re connecting with new clients who need an unending stream of copy written … or lining up full-time jobs!
…Of course, a golden ticket to the top isn’t guaranteed. But every single year, there are new stories of copywriters who took the opportunity to be in the middle of the action. Now they have new contracts, bigger contracts, and better contacts to get what they really want.
Okay. Let’s take the first sentence: “You’ll see the biggest copy buyers in the world taking notes in sessions, swapping insights with their neighbors, and hunting for writers who “get” what’s going on in their markets — even if those writers are just starting out in the field.”
This doesn’t really make sense. For a writer to “get” what’s going on in the markets, you do need to have some field experience, even if that means working for a company where you had some type of interaction with the sales and marketing departments and thoroughly know your target audience.
The quickly added qualifying statement “even if those writers are just starting…” is an inaccurate one.
For instance, in 2012 I met a general contractor who was investigating the idea of becoming a copywriter. At the 2014 “Wall of Fame” dinner, I sat next to a doctor who had retired from treating sleep disorders. Neither one would have been the types a copy buyer sought out to “get” what was going on in their markets although the retired doctor had a better chance than most if he approached a health marketing company.
Next two paragraphs: In just a few hours, writers are getting projects that offer income for months … sometimes even a whole year. They’re connecting with new clients who need an unending stream of copy written … or lining up full-time jobs!
…Of course, a golden ticket to the top isn’t guaranteed. But every single year, there are new stories of copywriters who took the opportunity to be in the middle of the action. Now they have new contracts, bigger contracts, and better contacts to get what they really want.
The Job Fair is a madhouse. There’s no other way to describe it. Imagine 400 eager copywriters descending like vultures upon 38 different companies and the poor marketers manning their tables. Those are 10:1 odds that you as an attendee would have the opportunity to connect long enough with a marketer (and impress them) to even get considered for a project.
Again, the qualifier: “…Of course, a golden ticket to the top isn’t guaranteed.” Yes. Very true. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to connect with a marketer. I’m only saying that the claim that “in just a few hours, writers are getting projects…” is not as accurate as you might hope to believe. AWAI is legendary for knowing your hopes and dreams.
Attending a conference filled with expert copywriters who are successful in the business is definitely attractive. But being promised paying work is even better. Just know that it does happen for a few but again… the key word is a few.
More details about the Job Fair are below.
The Job Fair
There were 38 companies represented at the Job Fair. Here is the breakdown:
B2B companies (media groups, software-as-a-service, online marketing): 8
Lifestyle companies (travel, AWAI); 5
Financial (financial newsletter subscriptions, books, online services): 12
Health (exercise, nutrition, natural healing): 6
Business Opportunity (digital marketing, web writing): 4
Spec only table (representing 3 companies): 1
As I mentioned before, there were around 400 attendees. About 75% of those attendees were Circle of Success members (AWAI’s top tier program, and also priciest).
The Circle of Success members receive early access before everyone else – from 3:30 – 4:00 PM. So by the time I walked into the room, it was packed full of other attendees, all pitching themselves.
The Job Fair is exciting, I will admit. There are many marketers who are definitely looking for sharp copywriters to help them with their projects. They will take the time to talk to you and you also have the chance to ask them questions about their needs.
However, because this Bootcamp was so large, it added an extra burden to already-overwhelmed marketers. One poor man at a table was feverishly scribbling each person’s name on a notepad who spoke to him and what I assumed were reminder notes about the short conversation.
And short conversation is about all you’ll get. Because there are so many other attendees who are waiting to speak to the marketer, you don’t have time to get into detail about what you can offer and definitely no time for small talk.
This is why the claim of “In just a few hours, writers are getting projects that offer income for months …” doesn’t seem believable. When you have to wait in a line to speak to a marketer and know you only have perhaps 2 – 3 minutes to talk to her, it’s difficult to think that a project can come from it. Especially when you know that she probably has already spoken to at least a few dozen people before and after you.
The best you can do in this circumstance is follow the guidance of AWAI. They have a session for first-timers just before the Job Fair opens and give plenty of good pointers.
They also explain what spec assignments are and why it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.
Spec assignments are sort of like a writer’s version of an audition.
You don’t get paid for a spec assignment. It’s usually writing something short like a headline and lead for a sales letter. If the marketer likes it, you’ll be asked to write the full letter. Only if they use it will you get paid.
However, realize that because the Bootcamp has increased its attendance, and because more people are now submitting specs, the competition is fierce. I know someone who submitted a spec to a Job Fair company. After a few months, he learned that this company had over 500 specs submitted.
Just let that number sink in.
The copywriter in question was good about follow-up, which is key to getting any kind of project when the odds are against you. Most freelancers (in any field) are great when they contact someone for the first time. But after a few attempts of trying to contact someone, they usually give up.
As my salesman father says – the average time it takes to make a sale is seven touches. That’s either sending an email, a letter, or calling a prospect. You just have to keep trying until the prospect tells you to stop.
Another thing to consider: those testimonials you see on the AWAI sales letter for the event? Some of them are old. The landscape is vastly different than it was in 2009 for Roy Furr or 2005 for Joshua Boswell. You’re talking six to ten years ago – when attendance at an AWAI Bootcamp wasn’t as high as it is now.
Back then, there were a handful of people turning in spec assignments. Now more are doing it because more have discovered copywriting and they’re eager to get their foot in the door.
So does this mean you shouldn’t try? Of course not. I consider completing a spec assignment as great practice for your craft. One of the better things AWAI did for the 2014 Bootcamp attendees was to provide training calls that helped explain what made for a successful sales letter or sidebar. Clayton Makepeace (one of the most successful direct response copywriters around), did a phenomenal video on what it would take to beat a control. He was very specific as he outlined the sections of a financial package. That was a copywriting class in and of itself.
I’ll repeat what I said in my previous review regarding spec assignments: you really aren’t given any idea of what the marketer’s expectations are. You will not learn why your spec assignment was rejected, which means you won’t have any idea of how to improve your approach. You’re pretty much left in the dark.
My advice is to find some copywriters who’ve been doing this for a few years and ask if they’d take a look at your copy and give you feedback. Make sure this is for a short spec assignment. Few copywriters will give you a thorough critique for an 11-page promotion. But at least you’ll get some experienced eyes on your work and receive valuable tips.
I focused on a few companies to pursue at the Job Fair and although I didn’t receive any opportunities (yet) from the event, I am following up with them.
A few more truths about the Job Fair that I discovered:
- One person sent samples to a Job Fair marketer (some companies request a portfolio or samples instead of a spec assignment). This person did hear back from them and was given a small project. However, after completing the project, they had to wait three months for payment (which was $250). No further projects were given, though. And this person is a very solid writer.
- Another person (who AWAI has used to write their Bootcamp sales letter and other promotional copy) won the Boardroom spec challenge. This person completed the rest of the sales letter for Boardroom and received payment. However, no further projects materialized.
- Another well-known copywriter today submitted a spec for Nightengale-Conant. This person, who also is a very talented B2B copywriter and savvy professional, never heard from them – in spite of consistent follow-up. This individual is wildly successful today, though.
It takes time for some of these companies to sift through all the specs and sometimes, they may not contact you until months after Bootcamp.
The point is this: approach the Job Fair with realistic expectations. You may get some projects from it or you may not. It is not an indictment of your competency as a copywriter. Many copywriters who attend the AWAI Bootcamp but get absolutely no projects whatsoever from it (raising hand), find plenty of work elsewhere through a diligent marketing strategy.
More about direct response copywriting
From my conversations with copywriters who have written for direct response marketing companies, I noticed one thing.
They had little to no client relationship with the company.
Direct response marketers look for results and they’re typically not patient about it. Many have a “churn and burn” approach toward copywriters. You might get one shot but if your copy doesn’t perform well, that might be all you get. My husband used to write direct response copy and developed strong relationships with his clientele… but that was over 20 years ago. To find that today is very rare.
There also seems to be a general disorganization with many direct response copywriting projects. Decisions seem to be made last-minute and the copywriters are expected to drop everything in order to turn the copy around quickly.
If this isn’t your style and you prefer a more professional client/vendor relationship, then B2B copywriting will be your best choice.
B2B and B2C Copywriting
B2B copywriting is when a business sells a product or service to another business. B2C copywriting is when a business sells to the customer, such as retail businesses, dentists, lawyers, chiropractors and other professional services.
Over the years, I’ve developed relationships with several clients who continue to give me B2B copywriting projects on an ongoing basis. This includes web copy, email copy, sell sheets, brochures, press releases and company bios.
For one company, I was hired to write the web copy for a complete redesign of their website. It was for a five-figure fee. It was a lucrative opportunity that was on par with many direct response opportunities.
The other bonus of B2B/B2C copywriting is that the more you do it, the more efficient you’ll become with your writing. It isn’t unheard of that a B2B copywriter will earn more money in less time than their fellow direct response copywriters. Writing a direct response package is often a very large undertaking. It can take over a month by the time you factor in the research for the package, the writing itself, and the revision process.
Meanwhile, you could be cranking out 3 – 4 sell sheets in a couple of weeks that could net you between $1500 – $4000, depending on your experience and the industry.
When you get hired to write business copy, you get the chance to shine with your deliverables. I’ve told new copywriters that an easy-going personality, willingness to compromise on their copy (IOW, don’t take criticism so personally), and the ability to nail the deadlines consistently will make you highly desirable as a service provider.
A few years ago, I corresponded with a successful copywriter who was mentored by Clayton Makepeace. He shared with me that the direct response copywriting world is actually pretty small and the copywriters are fairly well-known. According to him, there were about 200 direct response copywriters that companies would use over and over again.
So think about that. 200 is a very small number compared with the hundreds and hundreds of people who contact AWAI, hoping to break into the field. I’m not saying it’s not possible. I just am giving you a realistic picture of what’s on the playing field.
Now consider business copywriting and you have a much larger playing field.
How do you get started?
For me, it’s happened in various ways. I used job boards to get started, which helped teach me about client relations. I also used LinkedIn to let my contacts know I was available for copywriting projects and I got referrals.
Look at the opportunities in your own town or city. Often there are Chambers of Commerce or other professional business groups where you can visit a meeting and start letting people know you’re a copywriter for hire.
Finally, build strategic partnerships with website developers, digital marketing or interactive agencies, and graphic designers where their clients might need copy. I am currently discussing a possible project with a company who was referred to me by a website designer.
So, to wrap it up: AWAI FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair will give you information, inspiration, and motivation to become the best copywriter you can be. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet industry giants in the copywriting world, although you may not be able to personally chat with all of them. Just manage your expectations when you attend and you’ll be fine. You likely won’t walk out with a $20K contract, but you will have met some amazing people and yes, maybe even have collected a few key business cards.
And make sure you re-watch the videos and listen to the audios of the presentations (available online through your AWAI account). There is so much great information that will continue to help you in your journey. The challenge is to apply it all! But in time, you’ll start to get the hang of it.
Although I chose to spend time at night with my husband rather than schmooze at the bar, I recommend taking the time to socialize later at night if you can. It’s simply another way to create opportunity and grow your business.