“Direct response” is a sub-specialty of copywriting, one I’ve enjoyed working at in the past. I’d like to continue to do it, so I’ve been responding to some job offers. The problem is in that word “past.” As with any writing job, an employer expects to see sample of past work, and mine will seem to be out of the distant past.
What will today’s copy chief make of an ad for an exciting new-technology pay phone? Or a service that tracks down misappropriated personal pagers? These were important things at one time, but a lot of the people I’m applying to weren’t yet born then. It’s auditioning for a Broadway musical by belting out a couple of verses of “Over There.”
To make things tougher, I’ve been pursuing only “remote” jobs. I’ve decided my commuting days are over. Dress code is (home) business casual: the levis can have a stylish hole at the knee, and flipflops are what you wear when you’re not barefoot. But remote jobs are a tiny fraction of the jobs offered and there’s plenty of competition for them. Worse, there will almost always be a requirement for at least one face-to-face meeting. You have to shave for those. They can be anywhere from New York City to North Billerica, Massachusetts.
The door-opener in one of these situations is the cover letter you send, showing why you’re the ideal writer for the job. It’s a balancing act. Some of the best (most successful, not most aesthetically pleasing) direct response advertising is done in those TV ads for non-stick frying pans and spray cans of stuff you can patch a hole in a battleship with. Direct response is about results. So you want your letter -- the first writing sample they’re going to see -- to sell. At the same time, you don’t want to end it with ”Call now!” and I can’t double the offer even if they respond in the next six minutes.