I attended the AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair last year. I remember how excited I was to first, find an organization like AWAI in 2011 and then to discover that they hosted an annual “bootcamp” for aspiring copywriters.
In 2012, I signed up around May for the conference that took place in late October. Since the AWAI’s 2013 FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair is fast approaching, I thought I’d give a review of my experience from last year, and in the process, help some of you manage your expectations if you’re attending.
The Really, Truly, Awesome Good
AWAI goes all out to make sure each attendee receives top-notch customer service. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be met by a sea of smiling faces, eager to answer questions and help direct you to where you need to go. It was truly a pleasure to attend a conference that had so many helpful staff people. It also was fun to meet some of these folks face-to-face, whom I had only known before through phone conversations.
The speakers were also simply amazing. Not only did they deliver practical and actionable advice, but again, there aren’t many conferences where the top speakers actually stick around after they speak and hang out with the attendees.
I was able to meet my first “copywriting crush,” Clayton Makepeace. He is just a phenomenal guy, laid-back and very, very approachable. You’d never know this guy earned millions of dollars for his clients and is himself a multi-millionaire by the way he acts. No attitude. No pretension. And it’s obvious he genuinely loves to help new copywriters.
I was also able to have a 15-minute conversation in the hallway with Nick Usborne, who is another A-list copywriter focusing mainly on web copywriting. Nick is brilliant, with a wonderful dry sense of humor that lets you know he doesn’t take himself too seriously but does take seriously his passion: getting businesses to optimize their websites with powerful copy that will get them sales.
Winton Churchill, who teaches copywriters how to use job boards to build their business, sat next to us for dinner. Winton was also friendly and very approachable. We chatted about copywriting but also his journey toward becoming an expat and living in Mexico.
Just about all of the speakers were amazing when it came to being accessible. Their presentations were stellar and AWAI has a special section in their members’ area where you can access the slide deck, and the audio and video of the presentations. I’m still visiting this area because there was no way I’d benefit from all that great material in one fell swoop.
There also were some great giveaways.
AWAI generously gave away an entry fee for their Web Copy Intensive, which was worth $5000. There were also other giveaways including courses and books. A few books were given away to every attendee, which was pretty awesome. A couple of Boardroom books were on my reading list and two of them were given to attendees as a complimentary gift.
My favorite though, was Clayton Makepeace’s now-discontinued book, Two Hours to More Profitable Sales Copy. I’m not sure if the attendees realized this but the book was originally offered for $294 and at one point, had a 50% discount. So if you’re reading this and you attended the 2012 event, know you have some hidden gold, there.
The location was gorgeous, too. Delray Beach, Florida is a cute beach town and the venue for the conference was literally across the street from the ocean. The conference hotel (Delray Beach Marriott) was pleasant and many attendees chose to reserve their rooms in this location.
The benefit of doing that was also being in close proximity to the bar, which may sound a bit strange, but at night, many people hung out in the bar area and from what I heard, this is where some great connections were made. My husband and I were in another hotel nearby and I didn’t even realize the potential of bar conversations, so I didn’t attend. But now you know. Even if you don’t drink alcohol, order a non-alcoholic drink and mingle with the big dogs.
Every day, you’ll have lots of presentations to attend. Every morning, at 7:15 – 8:00 AM, there is a session called “Rise and Shine.” These sessions featured different copywriting niches such as B2B, travel, graphic design, health, non-profit, and financial.
Get there 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.
Also, there is a psychological impact when you’re in a room that is packed to the gills with people. You get the feeling that you’re in a “hot spot,” a place where the information given is valuable and limited (AWAI is genius when it comes to their own “limited availability” promotions).
Since I’ve attended other conferences, I was used to having plenty of seating, so I was surprised when I arrived ten minutes early to these sessions to find that every seat was already taken.
I’ll put Brian Clark in the okay section although he probably won’t be at the 2013 Bootcamp. The reason why was because Brian was a “hit and run” kind of speaker. All the other speakers spent time with the attendees and even sat in the sessions, taking notes like the rest of us newbies. Brian is cut from a different cloth and I know this because I know the typical venues he frequents.
He delivers keynotes at some of the most popular marketing conferences in the country. And the type of people who usually attend those conferences are “movers and shakers.” Young startups with hungry venture capitalists pursuing them, potential affiliates, and all manner of internet marketing heavyweights.
So talking to a room of average Joes trying to figure out if they wanted to try this “copywriting thing” isn’t his usual cup of espresso. I was slightly surprised he didn’t mention much about Copyblogger from the stage. I didn’t see Brian before or after his presentation, although he could have been mixing it up with some folks and I didn’t notice. Still, his presentation was very decent and if any group needs a good kick in the pants to blog for their own site, it’s copywriters!
The Disappointments and Caveats
This area is going to focus mostly on the claims that you’ll get clients from this conference. It’s a teensy-tiny “maybe” with a heaping cup of “not quite.” AWAI heavily emphasizes their Job Fair as a place where you’ll make new contacts and get business. Their promo made it sound as if finding work was as easy as falling off a log. Again, not quite.
I will say the list of marketers at the Job Fair were impressive. Direct response industry leaders such as Agora, Boardroom, and Stansberry & Associates were represented. There were 35 companies and AWAI did a great job with prepping first-timers for the event.
I’ll share with you my own expectations so that you can adjust your sails accordingly.
First, some background.
I’ve been a writer ever since I first started a diary when I was eight years old. I’ve always loved to write, and as I got older, I wrote for school newspapers and magazines. I continued to do this with company newsletters, church newsletters, and quarterly journals. I know how to tell a story.
In addition, I have some sales blood in me. My father was a highly successful manufacturers’ sales rep and taught me valuable lessons about prospecting and sales. This helped immensely when I held a sales job and also in pretty much all of my jobs (everyone sells, whether you realize it or not).
I’m also a huge networker. I attend between 2-3 live networking events a month in my hometown and it has been from these efforts that I’ve been introduced to prospects and opportunities, many of them leading to paid projects.
So when I registered for AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp & Job Fair, I had high expectations, especially when I left my full-time job in August to become a full-time copywriter. I was certain I’d get at least one client from attending this event.
But the AWAI Job Fair is a different bird. First, you have to submit spec assignments to these companies in order to get noticed.
A spec assignment is an unpaid writing assignment. AWAI positions it as “getting a foot in the door.” It is true that the Job Fair gives you an opportunity to speak with these companies face-to-face as opposed to trying to reach them by phone or email. But be prepared for a bunch of other aspiring copywriters to be right beside you doing the same thing. Each table usually had at least 5-6 people waiting patiently to speak with a marketer.
You can submit the specs to the companies before the Job Fair, but many of them have deadlines that are weeks after the Job Fair has ended.
A word about the specs: You are to send the completed assignment to a special AWAI email address. You are told to not contact the company. This set-up only added to my disappointment, as what transpired made me rethink my position on spec assignments and ended with an email to Katie Yeakle, AWAI’s Co-Founder and Executive Director. (Note: Katie was kind enough to respond to my concerns but I will still share them here.)
I sent twelve specs to twelve companies. I only received an email response from four of them, saying they received my spec assignment.
Because I’m rather obsessive about follow-up, it was difficult to not follow-up with the contact to make sure they received my email. I’ve had occasions in the past where I emailed a document and the person didn’t receive it. I’ve also had people email me and the message was lost or placed into my junk inbox. So I like to be certain that what was sent arrived safely to its destination.
However, you won’t receive any such assurance from most of these companies. You also won’t find out who they hired if you were not chosen, which also means you won’t find out if they chose anyone.
The one exception was Boardroom. Not only did they follow up with those who submitted the spec. They sent a nice email announcing who won their spec challenge. Classy. Too bad they were the only one who did this. Some marketers are friendlier than others. Some had a rote short list of questions they asked every single person. (Really? It’s okay if you ask different questions!)
The concern I voiced to Katie was this: you have a large group of newbies who are told that the marketers realize that they’re new to the field but are willing to talk to them and accept the spec assignments. However, 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.
I think that’s what bugged me about the whole Job Fair than anything else. I am committed toward improving my writing, but the only way you can improve is to have someone who has more experience tell you what’s wrong with it.
Unfortunately, the only way you can get that type of feedback is if you pay for it, or… you’re somehow lucky enough to have a mentor who will review your writing and tell you what needs improvement.
So just know ahead of time that no one is going to give you that type of feedback regarding the spec assignments. (Note: there is an exception, sort of. You can post your writing and ask for a critique from other AWAI members on a discussion board. But again, everyone else is in the same boat. So your critiques may not have the type of helpful advice that would come from a seasoned pro.)
I brought my resume and a writing sample, but here’s a suggestion: make every effort to put together a small portfolio and make it look really, really good. This includes the design and formatting. I got this from a very good source and it was how she was able to stand out and as a result, got work. I wished I had known this before I went because I could have put together something prettier, but now you know. May it serve you well.
I did not get any work from the Job Fair.
The closest thing that happened was an email from one of the direct response marketers who asked me to put together a few headline ideas and he’d pass them by his boss. If the boss liked them, he’d get back to me. He never did.
I think it’s a good place here to mention that there were around 300 attendees. When Katie asked how many were there for the first time, about 2/3rds of the room raised their hand. That made me think. If this event was such a great place to get clients, then why did only a third of the previous year’s attendees return?
Attend the Job Fair. Try out a few specs, but don’t get caught up in it. If anything, it’s good practice for learning what marketers need and practicing your writing skills. But if you want work, here’s my suggestion.
Consider B2B and B2C Copywriting
I have a background in B2B copywriting since I did it in my last job. But you can certainly do it once you know what businesses need. 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.
Last year 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 that 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 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.
Businesses today are desperately seeking good writers. They want writers who are hard-working, easy to get along with, and who know how to write compelling copy that will get their product or service sold to a prospect.
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’ve also leveraged my own network and got paid assignments through their referrals. Finally, find strategic partnerships where another person is working with a client to help them with social media or build their website. Often they will need a writer to write their web pages, a case study, or blog posts.
Back to the Bootcamp: It’s a great place to get motivated, to get inspiration, and to meet industry giants in the copywriting world. 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.
If you go, enjoy it! And make sure you visit that bar. :-)