We’re sneaking in an episode between 75 and 76 this week, because copywriter Allison Comotto is speaking at the The Copywriter Club In Real Life event this week and we wanted to introduce her before she takes the stage. She’s given us a sneak preview of her presentation and let’s just say we’re really looking forward to it. In this interview, Rob and Kira ask her about:
• how she got hired as an in-house copywriter right out of college
• the rigorous interview process she went through
• what the day-to-day work is like as a new copywriter at Stansberry
• her advice about how to “get the gig” and what not to do
• the importance of having a mentor as you start your copy career
• the difference between the various Agora companies
• the biggest surprise she’s had since starting her job at Stansberry
• how she’s taken on new responsibilities over the past 8 months
• what her copywriting process looks like
• the place that formulas and frameworks play in the Stansberry writing process
• the big lesson about failure that she learned early on
• how she finds the “big ideas” for her copy
• the size of the opportunity for copywriters at Agora
• what compensation looks like at Stansberry (she shares the numbers)
As we were wrapping up our interview, Allison “went off script” and told us what she really thinks about living and working in Baltimore. And she shared an assignment for any listeners who might want work for Stansberry Research. Ready for this one? Click the play button below, or scroll down for a full transcript.
The people and stuff we mentioned on the show:
Stansberry Copy Bootcamp
End of America
Agora’s Recruiter Email: email@example.com
The Copywriter Club Facebook Group
Intro: Content (for now)
The Copywriter Club Podcast is sponsored by Airstory, the writing platform for professional writers who want to get more done in half the time. Learn more at Airstory.co/club.
Rob: What if you could hang out with seriously talented copywriters, ask them about their successes and failures, their work processes and their habits, then steal an idea or two to inspire your own work? That’s what Kira and I do every week at The Copywriter Club podcast.
Kira: You’re invited to join the club for a special unnumbered episode, as we talk with in-house copywriter Allison Comotto about how she ended up working as a copywriter, landing a job at Stansberry Research, what she does on a daily basis, and whether the Agora companies really are the mecca of copywriting.
Kira: Welcome Allison.
Rob: Hey Allison!
Allison: Hey, thanks for having me!
Kira: It’s great to have you, Allison. So, let’s start with your story, and how you ended up as a copywriter.
Allison: I mean, I know that a lot of people say that they kind of fall into a career, especially in something like copywriting, but I mean, there is really no other way to describe the way I kind of fell; it’s a very short, steep hill in me becoming a copywriter. I was a senior at Hopkins last spring, and I was in the thick of the senior-year job hunt, and I was a writing major. So my whole focus was in poetry, and professional writing, which definitely had more of a corporate feel. So I was writing everything from marketing plans to persuasive papers, that kind of thing. And then I did a minor in marketing communication, because I really like the creativity of marketing, how it is constantly evolving…it was really nice foil to all the liberal arts classes I was taking along with them.
And as for general work experience, obviously it was limited because I was still in college, but it was all mostly in PR and communications, so I was a PR intern at a local ad agency. That was a very traditional PR, like, cold-calling small-newspapers across the country and getting hung up on. That kind of thing. And then I was a global communications intern for UnderArmor, which was kind of a fancy description of someone who packed up and sent dozens of pairs of shoes to important magazines, and other media outlets all over the world. So I liked PR a lot, and I think it’s a great field for someone who loves people like they do.
But when you’re in PR, the story kind of arrives on your lap fully baked, and all that’s left to do it put it out. And I had a much greater interest in crafting the story myself, and this route all four years of college, and, even at these sort of more pigeon-holed internships, I found myself kind of hustling my way into what I realize now are more copy-oriented projects. I wrote blogs for Hopkins submissions; I wrote website copy for Under Armor’s B-to-B websites; kind of of whisked myself onto all the creatives at the ad agency I was working at, so, really anything I could do to take more ownership of that, more appealing storytelling component of marketing PR, that was what I wanted to do.
And then sort of out of the blue, thanks to some sort of algorithm, I got an email from Glassdoor about the Stansberry Copywriter Boot-camp. I would strongly encourage anybody to Google that job description because it is straight-up awesome copy. It was essentially a sales letter from Mike Palmer encouraging you to give copy a try, if you were a voracious reader, a really hard worker, a self-starter, an entrepreneur looking for a home…and it essentially sounded like an opportunity to get paid, get your PhD and what’s arguably the most pervasive and lucrative writing and storytelling that there is. And he didn’t mention anything about finance or experience level, which is great, because I had none of that; like, a really high-based salary for somebody straight out of college looking at agency positions.
And I remember I sent it to my mom, and I was like, “I don’t have the complete picture, but who does this sound like? I have got to try this.” So I sent him everything and heard back about a week later, and for the boot-camp itself, we had to submit, something like ten ads, and two leads, and flat portrayals for a couple of their most successful packages at that time. I totally thought I was in over my head. I had no idea what an “advertorial” was. I didn’t know a thing about finance or the stock market. I’d been reading poetry for four years in the library. And I was really just doing as much reading and research as I could possibly fit alongside midterms for those two weeks of prep and just got sick, most of it.
The boot-camp itself was kind of crazy intense, a two-day affair. It started with a happy hour, and like, there was something like four hundred applicants laying by the back fifteen. And I remember sort of mingling and learning everybody’s name and background and I watched them just kind of write me off as soon as I mentioned that I was still in college and had absolutely zero experience at anything close to writing long-form direct sales copy, especially in the financial sector. Then the next day we took all the work that we had submitted as like, for the back assignments for the boot-camp. And we edited it all in groups; there’s really intense group breakout sessions. And I remember just trying to contribute as much as humanly possible, and I know I really recalled that half of my sessions were marked as either “neutral” or actually having a negative effect on the copy we were reviewing. But it just meant more to get you thoughts and feelings out there, and trying to be remembered after the interview and, we had these speed-dating interviews with every member of the Stansberry copy team; we went to a baseball game… I mean it was really something else, in terms of any job interview that I had ever had. And then, on the following Wednesday, I just got called in for a very intense one-on-one interview with Mike, and that night they offered me the job, and then, I’ve been kind of trying to learn copy and I go that uphill battle ever sense.
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Rob: So, I’m assuming you had no idea that Agora or Stansberry was this awesome place to develop copywriters, where copywriters around the world really want to work… you just kind of found it through sheer luck, in some ways?
Allison: Yeah, and it’s funny because, the summer after my sophomore year of college, I actually worked at an internship at Agora without even really understanding what that meant. It was this editorial position; I did social media, and posted e-letters and stuff like that, for like five hours a day for like three months. And all of their copywriters were freelance, so I just never even looked at copy, touched copy, did not understand that side of the business at all; never watched a BSL… So it’s crazy to kind of put together this picture and be like, “Wait, I ended up back here? And I’m a copywriter here now? And, I’m working in finance as opposed to health?” And so I had gotten this little piece, but it was nothing like what’s like to be a copywriter. That’s the story.
Rob: Yeah, I love the story. So, I want to know week one, you know, first day, second day…did you jump into copy? I imagine you’re drinking from the fire hose. Tell us about those first few days.
Allison: For sure, yeah. They were definitely thrown into the deep end and start treading water kind of situations. So, we initially were structured where we each had a copy mentor who was one of the more experienced. We called them experience-juniors or experience writers; they’ve been around writing copy for four, five, six years. My mentor was out for the first week. So, I definitely felt like I was sitting there, not really twiddling my thumbs because we had assignments we had to work on everyday, so I wrote a list one day, an editorial the next day, a lead the next day, and we would sort peer review with all of our other juniors there. There are six juniors on the team, four hired from the copy boot-camp, and two others came in a little before that, but we’re all pretty much the same experience level. And so, that first week I was reading and copying End of America by hand. I was scoring and rating the copy of my peers, reading everything we had in circulation, all of the editorial content, and we have an idea list that we maintained and share with our mentor, and I was feeling awful the first ones of those; I can tell… I look back at my first week, and I’m like, “They’re the worst ideas that have ever been brought to fruition in the world of written copy.”
Allison: Yeah so they had this great structure and pace for us when we first started, and the about a month into it, we changed the whole structure of the copy team. And we brought in Patrick Bové and Justin Girchman, who were Stansberry copywriters already, but they are now mentoring the two halves of the copy team. So Patrick is mentoring and guiding the six juniors, and Justin is mentoring and guiding the six to eight seniors, juniors, more experienced writers. And that has been the most intense, invaluable kind of mentorship relationship you can have in this industry. He reads my work everyday. We meet once a week, talk through everything from getting my first package out the door, to writing emails, editorial, he helps me with it all. So it’s like an accelerated, thrown-in-overdrive learning process of the business.
Kira: Wow. So, Allison, you started working there nine months ago. Is that right?
Allison: I started in June.
Kira: All right. So, I’m actually going to back up a little bit, because the boot-camp—I mean, it sounds intense, and crazy, and sounds like you just showed up and contributed, and went all out. So what was your biggest takeaway from that boot-camp experience that you could offer to other copywriters? I mean, you got the gig, right? Like, you got it. And, you had the interview with Mike Palmer, and you were one of—how many, two hundred people that you mentioned—two hundred applicants? So, what do you think that you did that got you that job?
Allison: Well I think just kind of talking to the people, like Thomas, Mike, and Kelly, and kind of ask the awkward questions—“Why did you hire me?”—that are into this, and it had a lot to do with sort of knowing as much as you could, but also having a hyper-awareness as to what you had to learn. So, they do not like to see cover letters with things like, “I can revamp your whole marketing. I can make you six million dollars my first year.”
Allison: So I definitely did all my homework. We had access to their copy archive, their editorial archive, and I read everything. So I knew that from a content perspective, there wasn’t a question that I couldn’t answer to some degree. But I also had a lot of questions myself, and I wanted to know the day-to-day; I wanted to know what it was like to be a Stansberry copywriter, I had a laundry list of things I didn’t know but wanted to know. And I think that sort of self-awareness, but gracious willingness to learn and hunger for it, is what makes you stand out a scrappy, self-starter-y place like Agora. That’s what they look for as opposed to somebody who can come in and say, “Yeah you know, anything I write for you will be golden the first year, and here’s what you’re doing wrong, and I know all there is to know about Google search words.” That is less what they’re looking for, I see in hindsight. At the time, I was just trying to give myself any edge I could, because I knew that really nothing concrete on my resume was going to give me an edge at all.
Rob: So you mentioned this idea of mentorship, and how you’ve been benefiting from it, as you’ve worked with the other writers at Agora. I’m really curious about this, because we talk to writers all the time who want to start out as freelance copywriters; they hang up their shingle; they start looking for clients, they do that. And oftentimes they think, you know, the best way to really get started as a copywriter—and again, it’s different for everybody, but—a really good way is to get into a situation like the one you’re in. Can you tell us a little bit more about that mentor relationship and the kinds of things that you do with a mentor that help you improve your skills and the things that you’re learning?
Allison: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I really owe anything of my success now or my future success to Patrick, because he sort of came in at the most vulnerable time that you have as a copywriter, knowing that the value of that you have to add is negligible at this point. And you’re trying to prove your investment, and future value, and future worth. And I think a lot of jobs aren’t like that, you can kind of some in and start really making a difference and impact right away, and so, that can be kind of daunting and unsettling for somebody in the corporate world. I’ve been out of the office, I’m a little under the weather these past two days, and we had a phone call yesterday, just a complete upsell on everything we’re working on. The front-end package I’m starting this week…he gives me instant feedback on all my writing I’ve sent him. We had a shared file where we go back and forth and collaborate and, he gives me his line-by-line edits, whether it’s five pages or twenty pages that I’ve cranked out in a day or three days, he’s giving me feedback. He’s helping state my ideas, he’s helping me write my outlines, brainstorming, lift angels and subject lines…
And even more importantly just really giving me this understanding of how the copy world works, because there are so many approvals to get through, so many little things on a checklist that are intuitive; you don’t know the right people to talk to, you don’t even know the right people to CC on an email, and having that kind of resource to just make it through—not just writing a package, but getting it, getting your parts marked up, knowing that it has all three of four rounds of approval, by all twenty people on your email chain, it sounds so silly but, not knowing that can be the difference between somebody who gets in and succeeds right off the bat, and who doesn’t, and there’s no person who can help you with that like a mentor.
Kira: Yeah. No, that’s interesting, so it’s like he’s teaching you copy and providing that feedback, but also helping you understand that bigger picture and how you fit into the organization, and how to communicate within the organization. I feel like I’m listening and I’m like, “Gasp, I want a Patrick too; I want feedback on all my copy!” So…
Allison: Everybody deserves a Patrick.
Kira: Everybody needs a Patrick! So I would love to hear more about how Stansberry Research fits into the big Agora picture. And I mean we don’t have to get into all the weeds, but I know for someone who’s not familiar with the Agora companies, it’s confusing, right? We don’t understand all the companies that are connected to Agora. So can you just give us a brief overview?
Allison: Oh, sure. This is something that I had to work out for myself prior to the interview and gotten more in touch of it at my orientation, so it’s definitely not something that I think you would know automatically, unless you’re sort of seeing this inside view. So I like to think of Agora as this very wide Umbrella had houses all of these very distinct publishing affiliates. So, Stansberry, Money Map, and Agora Financial New Market—they’re all separate publishing affiliates under the greater Agora family. And, we all operate very, very independently. The one and only time I ever really needed to visit another Agora building even was when I was doing my HR orientation. And, so of to the nth degree, the one thing that pretty much every publisher under the Agora umbrella does differently is copy. As I said, I spend a summer as an Agora affiliate, and got on exposure to copy whatsoever, because it was all out-of-house copywriters, freelancers, sort of working in a vacuum. We didn’t see anything until it was a finished product. So, I think we’re pretty unique in that we have a totally in-house copy team. Even the most senior members of the team, like, these are the people who could be living the A.W.A.I. life, like, three hours a day on a beach toes in the sand, laptop on their lap, and they’re still in the office at least once or twice a week. Us Juniors are in everyday. So that in-house copy element is something that maybe wouldn’t immediately appeal to that kind of “cowboy” entrepreneurial attraction of copy, that actually I would argue is the best, fastest way to get on the fast track for learning how to do this thing.
Rob: So, Allison, what has surprised you the most in the eight months that you have been at Stansberry—things that you’re learned, or the kinds of projects that you worked on? What jumps out at you as things that maybe you didn’t expect but you’re really happy that it’s turned out that way?
Allison: First of all, the willingness of the upper level and senior copywriters who take the time our of their days to go through your much lesser copy with the fine-tooth comb was this huge pleasant surprise for me, because I think there’s kind of a misconception that, as I said before, that copywriters—especially really success ones—who have learned to do it kind of in a vacuum and on their own, are unapproachable, or you know, at the very least, pretty introverted. And if they get no benefit from looking through my copy, I mean, what leg to have to stand on standing them to? But, I have a team of five or six people who are all much higher up than I am, who I could send them my copy, and they’d get me their feedback in an hour, in three hours, line-by-line edits, and kind of even Patrick’s stuff. Just to get all those different perspectives as you’re trying to sort of figure out your own voice, and your own approach, and what works best for you. That’s been probably the most pleasant surprise, is that people are just really generous. Time is the biggest resource, and most precious resource that a copywriter has, and yet, these multi-million dollar copywriters who I get to work with are so giving of that resource. It was a really pleasant surprise.
Kira: Yeah. So it sounds like, I mean, you’re getting a lot of feedback from mentors that are committed to helping you succeed. I’m wondering what you’re actually working on each day? Can you speak to the types of projects that you’re working on in general?
Allison: You know, as with most things, I really tend to find out during the day, but right now, I just wrapped up sort of the first push for our Stansberry conference. So I’m running point on all of the copy and copy for the Vegas conference. I have two front-end ideas I’m working on right now and those are kind of kicking into gear this week and, as the month progresses. And then I also have sort of a different kind of role on the fence on the Stansberry team. I’ve taken over the copy management of the team, so that has changed up my day-to-day. So, I’m assigning projects, I’m running the schedule, I’m working with the copy team, and the marketing team, the editorial team, to make sure the copy gets out the door smoothly, and that everyone is aware of the packages that are going to end up in their laps for approvals. And so that has been really overwhelming, but really exciting to take on, because I feel like I am seeing sides of the business and learning how copy fits in the business on a more macro scale, and can’t really learn any other way. So my days…usually I’m writing in the morning. By noon, I’m working on copy off to our schedule to editorial, I’m working on the Facebook group we just launched, editing other people’s copy, so a mixed bag.
Kira: Yeah. So, and this is all we should say: this is all out of their Baltimore office, right?
Allison: Yes. Right in Mount Vernon.
Kira: Okay, I would love to hear about your writing process. Whatever you’re able to share—I know there are some Agora secrets, so like, when you’re sitting down to work on a new project, what are you doing? What are you doing with a blank page? How do you approach it?
Allison: So it depends on the origin of the project, because some of our stuff, especially on the back end, is tainted by our internal marketing calendar. So marketing has these ideas of products they want to be writing about, webinars they want to be doing, big events that would coincide and work well into copy, offers that we can play up. So, those kinds of projects, the idea kind of falls in your lap, and then you get going which sort of cuts out those couple of weeks where you’re trying to like hang on to a nugget of an idea and build it and build it.
So, on the back-end, the concepts themselves a little more laid out for you, but what I’m doing right now is working on front-ends, and we’re doing a big push for front-end copy. And, a lot more research. We’re first responsible for two pieces, which is your first go at a headline and lead, which gets sent through the copy review process which we have twice a week, and so, your headline and lead are blindly scored on a scale from one to four, and we go and we meet for an hour every Monday and Thursday, and we give feedback and people tell you what you should write, and what you did wrong, give suggestions, sort of ways to make the headline stronger, and things that would make the lead more believable and more eye-catcher, and then at the same time we’re kind of working on this giant research document, where you’re combing through everything you can, trying to address any questions that could pop up about your topic. And, slowly but surely, that turns into this very scary sixty-page research outlet, and it turns into your outline.
So I would say that that’s where you start, is with a big idea and the research. And you’re usually building your document and over the course of a few weeks; at the same time your sending has new headlines and new lines to copy review every so often, trying to sort of stay in the most simplistic they can be, and approved in the eyes of your peers. That’s kind of the beginning your writing process, and then once you have your headline and your lead, and your research now has somewhere along the way morphed into a more trustable outline, you’re pretty much ready to go, for the next queue.
Rob: So Allison, are you working off of formulas as you work with Patrick and Mike and the other writers? You know, is there a framework that you’re following as you put together front-end offers, or is every single project approached with a blank slate, and it’s a do-over every time?
Allison: Again, it kind of depends. I mean, I think a package is a really good job of taking your ideas and saying, “Oh this reminds me of this package, this reminds me of this package. Look up in the copy archives and see if you can rip-off some of this structure. We had really successful offer copy from this package; see if you can kind of have a hybrid of these two structures.” Right now I’m working on a reheat as well, which is one of the front-end projects that I’m working on right now, and, that’s totally different because I’m seeing the structure. I’m keeping the first three pages of copy, and just sort of updating different numbers and factoids and stuff like that. So, I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily a formula, but, we are a big fan of things that are tried and tested, and have been proven to work. So if there’s package that Patrick has stored in like the great anthology of successful packages, that he has in his brain, he will be the first to be like, “Oh you have to check out the middle of this; they did a great proof-building when they’re talking about Porter’s credibility”, or something like that. “Pull from that, make it look like that.”
Kira: No, this is such a great reminder that, any copywriter listening, whether or not they worked with Agora, you have your own archives, right? I tend to feel like I need to start from scratch every time I work with a new client, and just like really get in there, and, sometimes it’s easy to forget that we all have archives: projects that have worked, not worked, and our own anthology. And also copy we’ve swiped from other copywriters as well. So, I’m listening; I’m just thinking, “Oh yeah! Like, I could do this too, right?” I have my own archives I need to access more often. It’s really important to learn from what’s worked and what has not worked.
Allison: Yeah for sure, and if somebody’s already done sort of the heavy lifting and the risk of asking that before, like, take advantage of the stuff that you have done before.
Kira: Exactly; it’s smart. So, I would love to hear about your biggest copywriting lesson that you’ve learned over the last however many months, that you know could benefit other copywriters listening.
Allison: It’s sounds so cliché, but it’s so important in this industry, especially if you’re just getting started out, and you’re kind of walking around on baby giraffe legs, is… you don’t necessarily have to embrace failure. Like, I’m not going to get that gooey about it. Nobody really wants to fail. But fail as quickly and as epicly as possible, as soon as you can. That was the lesson that you learned in my own experience. We were doing this big push for microsites, or many websites… Kind of a different way to get in some of our more successful front-end packages, so I was tasked by Patrick with his own copy to make a microsite for 50K package. I was so stoked, I unloaded and bought myself this website mockup software, and like laid it all out and spent a week just like, making this beautiful thing, and I sent it around, and everyone thought it was so great and so amazing, and I was like “Oh my gosh, it’s my second month—I am great,” and, it sucked. And it had like a thousand-dollar EPA the three days that it was allowed to live. And it was a total kick in the gut and a blindside because everyone thought it was so great, but of course it doesn’t really matter if people think it’s great, if the market doesn’t think it’s great.
So it was an awesome lesson because nobody died; I didn’t spontaneously combust as they were telling me that there was a thousand dollar GPA which was… Um, and, it taught me that it’s not personal, and nobody is going to take your failure and think that you’re suddenly a bad copywriter. Copywriters in the game will tell you that you can set yourself up to take as many shots at the goal as humanly possible because it’s the only way to ensure that the failures balance themselves out. And it taught me to always be working on something else so you can shake it off and move on to the next. And it doesn’t haunt me anymore—that failed little project—like it could’ve if I hadn’t made the conscious decision to be like, “That’s a fail—that sucked! Move on!” (Laughs.)
Rob: I love that lesson. We spoke with Joe Schriefer who’s at another one of the Agora companies recently and he said something real similar; they try to crank through as many ideas as possible in order to find the winners. I’m curious: What do you do to find the big idea? What do you review or how much time do you spend researching? Where do your great ideas come from?
Allison: Depends on who you ask. For me, at this stage, I’m thinking of big idea and execution in terms of learning how to come up with big ideas and how to execute them… it’s kind of 50/50 for my development. But anybody will tell you that the idea plus crappy copy equals win. Bad idea plus amazing copy equals lose. So, no matter what, the big idea is the most important part. And because my background was in writing, I feel a lot more confident in my execution and a lot less confident in my big ideas. So, I probably spend a little extra time on that—as much as I can. At least staying up to date on every new piece of editorial and staying up to date on all of the publications I read every day; keeping my Google alerts firing. Because also, it’s hard. It’s hard and usually, a big idea doesn’t just come right up to you and punch you in the face. We have our IP generation document. And we’re responsible, every Thursday, to have one, pick-able, non-embarrassing big idea to present every week. And you find that over three weeks of me kind of zeroing in on the same thing, posting a different article every day, a different tid bit every single day, that adds up to one idea that I can maybe feel comfortable pitching on any given day. So it’s hard. I mean, you look for this sort of epic convergence of anything exciting and interesting that’s happening in the real world that your market is interested in. That’s more important. You could have the most interesting story that you think it just like, going to be the atom bomb, dropping into the laps of the market, but if they don’t care, if they have no interest in your corporate bomb, it does not matter. And, something that aligns with what your editors are talking about and are interested in posting. So, it’s this perfect trifecta that’s kind of hard to find. So I guess at this point, the more you read, the closer you are to the big idea. The more you know, the more you complete something and you’ve built that connection where you know that actor Steve Sjuggerud feels this way, and you see a Google alert, or a Wall Street Journal article that has a really cool event that aligns with what he’s saying, that’s the moment you can hope for as a budding copywriter. So that might not be the most helpful advice, but, just stay on top of everything you’re responsible for and record it all in one place so that eventually you can read through it and go, “There’s something here!” If I read through all 27 pieces of content and there’s something here, that’s the best you can hope for.
Kira: That’s such great advice, like what you said. Basically, just spend time reading through the research and reading relevant articles and it sounds so obvious, yet, it’s something that so many of us copywriters rush through or maybe even skip entirely because we want to jump into the copy and we don’t spend the time really thinking about the research and connecting all the pieces, like you said, which is key. I mean, I know I’ve moved very quickly on a deadline at times, as well, so it’s a really great reminder.
Allison: Yeah, and I like the writing so much more than I like the research, so that has been my pain point that I’ve had to constantly force myself, like… there is nothing without the idea! You could write beautiful Shakespearean copy and no one will read it because no one cares!
Kira: Right. Yeah. So Allison, if someone—a copywriter—listening is like, okay, this—again, I’m going general—the Agora companies, this sounds interesting, I’m intrigued… what do you think they should know to help them decide if this is something that may be a good opportunity for them? And again, I’m not speaking to Stansberry, specifically, but just like, in general, what should they know about the Agora companies and think about to help them determine if this is a good opportunity for them?
Allison: I’m familiar with the perception of Agora in the copy industry. I’m so new to the industry itself that I don’t know if I’ve really seen full-force the breadth of that reputation, but it’s not going to be right for everyone. But I think I’m living proof that it could be right for pretty much anyone because I couldn’t have been less experienced than I was when I started at Stansberry but it’s a testament to their hiring philosophy, which is that they’re looking for attitude over aptitude. So if you resonate with the philosophy of Agora, which is all about hard work and hustle and being willing to give so much of your time and energy into learning this really exciting skill, then it could be right for anybody. And when I sit down with Mike to talk about my talk for The Copywriter Club event, the live event in New York City, he was the first person to say right away that there is an endless demand for copy at Agora. The opportunity is there.
And he stands by the idea that anybody with enough grit and enough scrap to their name can get a job here and make it big. And with all the changing and evolving marketing tables, we need more supplementary copy than ever. Because no one is going to see your beautiful sales letter anymore without a whole lot of help at the top of the funnel. And we have a team of, I think it’s 19 now? And there’s always more that we could be writing, always more that we could be publishing. So, even if you have no experience, it could never hurt to reach out to somebody with your ideas. Even something as simple as writing an advertorial or ad set for a promo you can see as running and working. That means you’re adding value without even having to be asked, and I mean, we’re—Agora is a community of people who live to test, so we will test it, and if it performs well, that’s how you get noticed and that’s how you get your foot in the door. So, I don’t want to say it’s not as hard as it looks, but it’s really not.
Rob: Seems to me, one of the advantages of working in a place like Agora is that you don’t have to be on the treadmill of constantly finding new clients and invoicing and starting new projects; you’ve got this steady flow of work. Tell us, a little bit, if we can, about how writers are compensated at Stansberry. What’s the potential? Where a lot of people struggle to make $40,000 a year as freelancers, what’s the potential that someone like you, as a beginning copywriter, at a place like Stansberry, could be making?
Allison: The base salary for copywriters at Stansberry is $52,000. And royal fees, that’s why people get into copywriting in the first place. So, Agora copywriters—it’s not a myth, they’re well compensated. There are a ton of opportunities. The marketing calendar is vast. It is very easy to get your copy out the door and testing and generating revenue for the company and for yourself. And that kind of corporate structure helps your personal bottom line a lot. Just that you’re in this position where you’re working every single day on sure-thing projects, on top of a base salary. So, I mean, someone like me with no experience and looking at other marketing jobs, which, in my agency position would be probably like $35,000 a year? I feel like I’ve walked into a dream world.
Kira: Yeah, I bet a lot of copywriters listening are like oh! Okay! This is for me! I want in! I’m curious to hear—are you making royalties yet? Or does that happen at a certain point? After your one year mark, or so forth.
Allison: Nope, I’m making royalties. I can’t speak to how that’s done across Agora, but anything that you write and put out there is on the map for royalties. We share them with our mentors, for this first mentorship period, that’s kind of a new structure that they’re testing. Patrick will be with us for at least 18 months, but it’s real. It happens. (Laughs.)
Kira: Royalties are real!
Allison: They’re great!
Rob: I was going to say, it’s almost like you’re being paid $52,000 plus royalties (thousands of dollars) to learn how to be a copywriter. What a great deal!
Kira: Right?! Like, Rob and I are shutting down The Copywriter Club Podcast and we’re moving to Baltimore with our families. (Laughs.)
Allison: It’s amazing to me—I’ve grown up here—going rogue here—but, Baltimore, I’ve lived here my whole life, I went to college here, it’s not like the Liar… and I have never felt threatened in my time in Baltimore City. It has great culture, a ton of personality, and I just wish I could show everybody what it’s like to be next door to Mount Vernon, because it is so beautiful. Architecture, like, I don’t consider myself to be someone who has a good understanding of architecture, but like, it is amazing to be around these historic brown stones that have been in the Agora family for decades. And if that’s getting in the way, if that’s a hang-up for anybody, if there’s one takeaway from listening to this podcast, it’s that Baltimore is awesome.
Allison: And well worth a drive.
Kira: Everyone move to Baltimore. Okay. So if someone is listening and they are curious, do they need to attend one of these boot-camps or what is the easiest way to get in front of the right people and figure out if this is a good option?
Allison: Apparently this boot-camp was just like, an experiment…
Allison: …I know, right? Bummer! There’s no like, confirmed next copy class that they want to bring in. The last one they did was, an alternate version of it, was about four years ago and that was where some of the juniors and the more experienced writers came in, but I’m going to touch on this—I’m going to give everybody at the event a really concrete way, like, an assignment and an email address that could help them get some airtime with people on the Stansberry team. But if you can write an adset for a piece of copy that’s working, do all of the research and reading that is necessary—the most you can do without being employed… I know there’s a limit there, like, you’re access to editorial content and all of that… but, even just sending that along to an email address on the website, there’s a real good chance that it could be seen and that it could be tested. Even if they’re not constantly hiring copywriters on LinkedIn and Glassdoor, everybody is constantly hiring copywriters. The idea of kind of making your own jot before you make it can be kind of hard, and kind of counterintuitive; in the corporate world, you think that everything is going to be a job listing, but the best advice I could give that is straight from the horse’s mouth of the people that do the hiring at Stansberry is to write something for one of the packages and send it in.
Kira: That’s great advice, especially to help you stand out immediately. So we will also include information on our website, on this podcast page for this interview with information on how you can get in touch with the recruitment team at the Agora teams with some specific directions if you are listening and you are very much interested. So, Allison, if you could tease your talk, like you mentioned, you are one of our speakers at TCC in real life, which is coming up quickly, so really excited for your presentation and to meet you in person. And of course, not everyone listening will be there, but we are recording everything, so they may be able to access it after. But for everyone who will be there, can you just kind of tease it and get everyone excited for what you’re going to talk about?
Allison: The idea is that, from beginning to end, when I’m first seeing this job description on Glassdoor, and managing the copy team and having some success under my belt, there’s one thing that has enabled me to get noticed and stay noticed at Stansberry. And it’s this one skill that anyone can tap into and hone and build and build until you can really flex it and leverage it for the rest of your copy career. And that’s what I’m going to be talking about. I’m going to be revealing that one skill in three really concrete ways that you can build it, and then I’m going to be prompting everybody to kind of join me in the good fight, build this skill and have a really successful copywriting career. Whether you’re going to take me up on an opportunity at Stansberry or fight the good fight as a freelancer.
Rob: Ahhh, now I’ve got to go to the event to find out what you’re going to talk about!
Allison: Oh no!
Kira: Laughs. Right? I was going to say, we know what you’re talking about and I feel like I’m more intrigued now, even though I know what it is.
Rob: Well, we’re really looking forward to your talk and the event overall and meeting you in person and hanging out with some of the people there from Agora. I think it’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to get to know you guys better—to get to know more about your team. So we’re really looking forward to that.
Allison: Yeah, for sure! There’s always a last know.
Kira: You know, this is such a great opportunity for people at the event to really like, stand in front of you and talk to you, but for people listening who are not going to be there, can they reach you directly, or email you? Or… contact you?
Allison: Yeah! This is the weirdest thing ever to say, but hit me up on LinkedIn! (Laughs.) That’s probably the best way without me having to fill out an email address and all that. Come talk to me at the event. I’m one of those weird, extroverted copywriter people…
Kira: What?! What?!
Allison: I know, so, I would love to talk to you.
Kira: You have a superpower and an advantage over everyone else there as an introvert. Like, oh my gosh, what am I getting myself into?! That’s great. Okay, Allison, we really appreciate your time and all the insights that you shared from your experience at Agora and at Stansberry. It’s really exciting, I mean, I think you really did sell both of us. I’m like, I just want to go…
Rob: Drive up to the building.
Kira: (Laughs.) You’re convincing us.
Rob: Thank you so much, Allison.
Kira: Thank you.
Allison: Yeah, sure, thanks for having me!
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