The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Guide to Selling with Emotion

Copywriters are taught to appeal to emotions. The problem is some take this too literally and end up writing gobbledygook:

“Join us and be a part of a movement that changes lives!”

“Help us end animal cruelty and make the world a better place!”

“Are you tired of feeling left out and ignored?”

I witnessed this myself while working with an agency recently. I’m convinced this is a reason a lot of copywriters never make it out of first gear on the steep road to glory. Copywriting IS about appealing to emotions. What it’s not about is jumping up and down on them while wearing a hula skirt and screaming into a megaphone. The more blatant the appeal to emotion, the lamer the copy. How to fix this?

Well, the answer is not booting up ChatGPT.

Appealing to emotions without calling them out relies on being able to articulate the subtleties and nuance of human experience. If you’re using Ai to write copy right now, there’s a gaping hole where this should be.

Whether this gap gets adequately filled in time for your next copywriting project is up for debate. Some copywriters are going to go “all-in” on Ai and pay the price of delegating their faculties. Others are going to play it smart, keep tabs on progress and leverage it where it makes sense to BUT also keep one foot planted in the reality and power of the human experience.

Which camp will you be in?

If you’re interested in maintaining a grip on your intellect, it pays to know the only real, deep-down reasons people buy things:

Physical activity
Social contact

I will also draw your attention to a book that has won the Pulitzer Prize: Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant. Inside this book, the authors provide a “Table of Character Elements:”

I first read the book a few years ago, before I developed an interest in direct response. But now that DR is my filter, I see this table of elements in a new and useful light.

The problem with the “only real, deep down reasons people buy things” offers a snapshot. But the “Table of Character Elements” is a spectrum. It gives you much more room for maneuver and imagination with your copy.

The human brain is wired to detect MOVEMENT as either threat or opportunity. Everything the brain does is about MOVING us between fear and desire. Survival mechanisms MOVE us toward pleasure and away from pain.

So the best way to act on the basic copywriting advice of “appeal to emotions ” is to position your product or service as the facilitator of this transition. You don’t have to spell it out, you have to make it happen. You’re putting an arm around them and helping them to see around the corner.

I’ll give you a recent example.

I was working with this agency on a handbag account. It’s a brains and beauty kind of product. Form and function. Positioned for work and play. We could have pressed on emotions to do with social status, pride, acceptance, etc. But it felt forced and contrived.

So instead we just called it “The Magic Bag!” and let the prospects fill in the emotional blanks themselves.

The result?

CTR at 5X from the other agencies hired to run ads.

I hope that helps you to see the task of appealing to emotions in a different light. Less as a spreadsheet to fill, more a symphony to explore.

P.S.P. French

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How to Position Yourself as a Copywriter

When I started out as a copywriter I didn’t digest how important this was. The result? I hooked clients but collected headaches. It was chaos.

I do not recommend skipping positioning. It allows you to compete not on price but in a category of your own choosing and in doing so, bump yourself into a different pay bracket.

You set the rules.

I’m going to show you how to position yourself as a copywriter.

By the way . . .

What’s your positioning?
What’s your USP?

These are almost the same question.

Positioning can be broad but USPs require more precision.

Now . . .

First, let’s talk about what not to do.

(This is the awkward bit.)

The following examples I plucked from Twitter are not intended to poke fun at anyone. I could have made these up, but I wanted them to be REAL. And if you do recognize yourself below? Consider it a free pep talk.

“DR Marketer & Copywriter | I write about marketing and copywriting”

“Struggling || Learning || Copywriting”

“Tweets about online business, copywriting, marketing”

“Copywriter. Tweets about writing, marketing and self development. Documenting my journey into copywriting.”

These are great examples of bad positioning. Or worse, no positioning. No differentiation whatsoever. No unique selling proposition. It doesn’t need much explaining why these are not going to help you attract clients. I am sorry if you were chosen here. Sometimes it just helps to be slapped in the face.

3 Ways to Position Yourself as a Copywriter

Option 1: Position by Vertical/Service

This is the quickest way to position yourself because you only have to make one decision. If you position by vertical you choose between writing for the three main markets: health, wealth, and relationships. Pick one and you’re done. If you position by service, you pick one THING to do and you do it very well. For example, instead of calling yourself a run-of-the-mill copywriter, you can follow my friend Logan “Landing Pages” Storti’s lead and focus on writing Landing Pages. You become known for doing one thing.

Option 2: Position by BIG IDEA

This rules on Twitter (I wrote a whole report on it.) Positioning yourself by BIG IDEA boils down to there being something NEW and SEXY about you and the way you work. New and Sexy. NEXY. The most important word in copywriting and I only just made it up. Please see How to Teleport Through Twitter for more.

Option 3: Position by Problem

My favorite. Rare but oh-so-powerful. One of the smartest examples of positioning I’m aware of is from Taylor Welch. When Taylor started freelance copywriting, he dubbed himself:

“The Infusionsoft Copywriter”


In Taylor’s words:

“Infusionsoft was a certain (expensive) software tool that I noticed my best clients all used. If someone used Infusionsoft, it meant they probably had some money, and it meant they took their business seriously. Also, there was a tremendous learning curve involved in learning how to use the tool, so I had another good niche attribute: PAIN.

There are 3 key words here…


This has less to do with the literal number of people you can help and more – much more – to do with whether or not they are easily and precisely targetable. You need to know where they hang out online.


Is your niche already spending money on marketing? You should instinctively be able to tell from their social media, website and other online cues whether or not they are equipped to wire you your fee without blinking.


Someone in PAIN will not only happily pay you to solve their problem, but they will do so with URGENCY. Your offer sells itself.

For example, I have written copy for startups in the healthcare, travel, online learning, and crypto industries.

The problem all startups have is that they’re in a hurry TO NOT DIE.

Specific Group.

Deep Pockets.

In Pain.

This is how you get paid for positioning by problem.

P.S.P. French

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The Best Research Method

One of my favorite copywriting trainings was written by Ben Settle a few years ago. I doubt it’s possible to get your hands on it anymore, but it was a hysterical rant about how some clients wanted to “test” all sorts of new angles by mining “data” and using schnazzy software.

Instead, Ben used his own research method.

He found someone in the market, asked them about their problems, wrote a headline based on what they said . . . and it sold like gangbusters!

“So simple, it’s almost insane.”

In my time copywriting, this has proven true. The quickest way to understand what your audience wants – BY FAR – is to ask them.

Now, the nuance.

There are two main ways to keep tabs on markets. 

What people say when they are non-anonymous. 

What people say when they are anonymous. 


“People don’t think what they feel, they don’t say what they think, and they don’t do what they say.”

David Ogilvy

Non-anonymous: request regular delivery of reviews, interviews and testimonials from your client. Here you are ASKING.

Anonymous: follow your target market to forums such as Reddit where people talk freely. You will find acute details about specific problems expressed with pain and passion. Here you are OBSERVING.

They won’t always match up, so you have to do both. 

My one-two punch?

Set up calls with 2-3 people in the market as your initial research. Then look at Reddit, forums, and social media groups for the juicy details that can make good copy great.

P.S.P. French

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How to Write Better Copy

I have written for magazines, tech startups, and 19 private clients, but never once have I meditated on how I write. But people kept asking me, so I bookmarked a doc and said to myself I’ll add to it over time if . . .

1/ I have something original to say or
2/ I learn something that proves to be valuable.

This week, I opened the doc and decided to punch it up.

Here’s the result.

One piece of context: respect and success as a copywriter (which is the quickest way to get paid as a writer) come not from the technical quality of your writing but from how you position yourself and the results you get for other people.

That said…

1. Benefit + Curiosity is the only copywriting formula worth remembering.

2. People are more interested in why something is wrong than why it is right.

3. Chicago Style Manual > Cashvertising

4. Rough day? Read Bukowski.

5. It’s OK to start a sentence with ‘but.’

6. The most powerful form of persuasion is genuine compassion.

7. Re-read sales pages for products you’ve bought. Unpack your own belief systems and pain points. Geeky, but obvious benefits.

8. If you’ve wedged yourself in with a deadline (it happens), the quick way out to a “good” headline is to ask:

a) What problem do they have?
b) What one thing matters most to them?
c) What desire are they trying to satisfy?

9. When you’ve got time to write 10+ headlines, make the first one Ben Settle’s go-to:

What it is . . .
What it does . . .
What it does for you . . .

Then try and beat that.

10. Vibe check: don’t write the way you talk, write the way your prospect talks. If they’re loose with screamers (!) and thumbs up emojis, that’s a cross you’ll have to bare.

11. When interviewing a customer, you need to ask “Why?” three times before you get the answer worth using in your copy.

12. Lots of business owners already have great ideas but don’t know how to communicate them.

13. One way to deal with objections is FAQ style. The superior skill is turning them into benefit-driven subheads.

14. Get methodical when you read your copy out loud. Ask yourself if anything sounds too “C-U-B-A”

– Confusing
– Unbelievable
– Boring
– Awkward

15. Powerful verbs trump powerful words.

16. Be wary of ‘of’: often an opportunity to tighten phrasing.

17. Engage the five senses.

18. Use flashbacks.

19. Random analogies are great.

20. The word ‘very’ is as useful as a sled in a sauna.

21. The unique mechanism for brilliance is hard work.

22. Write for clarity. You can write to a 5th-grade level on Hemingway App and still confuse people.

23. A forgotten tactic is “just write.” No ideating. No prepping the page. No diddling with your avatar notes. Take the stabilizers off and freestyle. If editing is about killing your darlings, writing is about summoning them.

24. The best way to talk about new things is with new language.

25. You can name and claim old or common ideas with uncommon phrasing. When I ghostwrite, I read everything the client has written. I pull out the words, phrases, metaphors, and analogies that make them unique. Lots of ghostwriters do this. It’s an obvious starting point. But I’m the first to call it a Lexicon Extraction.

And finally . . .

I encourage you to question all of these. Some are tips, others are tenets, but you must decide which are which. Create your own techniques, draw your own outlines. Mix mine with yours, but build your own toolbox.

One of my all-time favorite philosophies, from Marcelo Garcia, 5x Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champion:

“If you’re studying my game, you’re entering my game. And I’ll be better at it than you.”

P.S.P. French

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The Road to Freelance Copywriting Freedom

To get you started on your journey to freelance copywriting freedom, the only question that matters is:

Which small group of people with deep pockets urgently needs me to write some wickedly effective copy for them?

To answer this, we use “inside information”…

1) Small group of people

This has less to do with the literal number of people you can help and more – much more – to do with whether or not they are easily and precisely targetable. You need to know where they hang out online.

2) Deep pockets

Are they already spending money on marketing? This should be the easiest part. You should instinctively be able to tell from their social media, website and general online “vibe” if they are equipped to wire you at least $1,000 without stammering or “running it past” someone else. If you have any doubts about this whatsoever, revisit 1).

3. Urgently needs me

This is where we thread the needle through the precise group of people who have deep pockets and loop it around the common problem that transcends industries. 

An example that “transcends industries”:

I have written copy for startups in the healthcare, travel, online learning, and crypto industries.

The problem all startups have is they’re in a hurry not to die. The feature they all share is a pot of cash they are prepared to spend quickly on someone who can guarantee to communicate quickly, clearly and with effortless artistic grace what makes them so great.   

This is how you get paid.

P.S.P French