freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips

I recently read an article about the famous actor, Forest Whitaker that gave me a great idea about how a freelance copywriter can write more persuasive copy.

Whitaker is known for the great lengths he goes through to prepare for a part in his movies. He uses an approach called “method acting,” which means he so totally immerses himself into a role that he ”becomes” the character he is playing.

For example, when he was preparing to play the role of the notorious dictator, Idi Amin, in his new movie, The Last King of Scotland, he learned to speak Swahili, visited the village of Amin’s birth, traveled all over the country of Uganda, and interviewed the dictator’s brother, sister and surviving members of his cabinet and generals who served under him.

And when they were filming, Whitaker remained in character even when the cameras stopped rolling.

What does all this have to do with the freelance copywriter? Just this: we have all heard how important it is to understand the customer before we write ads, web content or direct mail pieces intended to sell to that customer.

But do any of us put even 1/100th of the work into understanding our target customer as Forest Whitaker puts into understanding his character? And yet we all know that understanding is the key element to persuasion.

The Roman orator, Cicero, gives great advice to any freelance copywriter whose job it is to sell a product or service. “If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words.” This is advice that is just as important for us today as it was for him 2000 years ago.

Do we have to learn a new language or travel all over a distant country as Forest Whitaker did for his role of an African dictator? Hardly, but we have to stop giving lip service to understanding the customer.

We have many tools available online that we can use to get inside our target customers’ heads. Here are a few you might try:

  • If there are specific books on the topics your target customers read, go to and read the customer feedback comments people have posted.

  • Do a search on technorati for blogs devoted to these customers. Read both the blogs themselves and the comments people post to the blog’s articles.

  • Search for online forums devoted to your target customers and their topics of interest at You don’t have to participate in the online discussions, just “lurk” and read what other people have to say.

  • If you already have a blog devoted to these customers and their topics of interest (good for you) encourage comments to your posts. Do this by asking for comments and by responding to them once people do comment. Nothing dries up comments on a blog faster than ignoring what people say.

Of course we can still actually talk to people in person. Conduct telephone surveys, focus groups and other means to put yourself in contact with living, breathing human beings.

The point is that if we wish to persuade, we must first stop fooling ourselves that we already know our customers (I know, I have been guilty of this too). We have to make the extra effort to really get inside their heads.

Use Forest Whitaker as your role model – but not Idi Amin.

freelance copywriter, copywriting tips, white papers, rainmaking tips



You wrote on Michael Stelzner's blog:

The take away here is that writers pull from so many places to write. No random bit of knowledge ever seems wasted for a writer.

That is true. I had tried writing an original screenplay about 15 years ago, but even though the end result was dreck - I learned a lot about drama and writing. I've analyzed and dissected many different screenplays as well as studying the plot structure of movies to understand better what works and what doesn't work for effective storytelling.

I've listened to many audio commentaries by film makers as well as watched their deleted scene commentaries. All in the quest of understanding how they went about editing a story down to the finished product. Most of the times I agree with their decision to cut a scene because it distracted from the overall pacing or style of the story, but sometimes I disagree and think that it should have remained because it included vital information.

One other pearl of wisdom that I heard from an audio commentary had nothing to do with the individual movie, but holds true of all movies. This truism was said by Roy Scheider on the All That Jazz commentary and he referred to something his ex-wife who was a film editor said. She felt that any one film was a combination of three different movie visions. One was the movie as it was written, the second was the movie as it was directed and the third was the movie as it was edited.

Which goes back to the idea that if the writer really wants control of his or her artistic vision that it is better for them to be a novelist than enter into the communal process of filmmaking.

I hope you enjoy Michael Shurtleff's book, Audition as much as I do.



2:13 PM

So far I haven't been able to find "Auditions" in a bookstore, but I want to read it so I may order it from Amazon.

My blog is actually about copywriting, but all these things you said about writing novels and screenplays are also true in such a business-like area as writing ads and web content.

At the risk of sounding a little "Zen like," I learned the concept of "becoming" someone else years ago when I took a class in mediation. One of the exercizes we did in that class was to role play.

In one of the role plays, I was the "wife" in a couple on the verge of divorce. During that exercize the other male playing the husband, the two people playing the mediators, and I were all "transformed" into our characters. All the raw emotions of a couple in that situations became real for us.

When we ended, all four of us were quite shaken at how thoroughly we entered into those characters.

Now when I write copy, I try to recreate that experience when I attempt to understand the minds and hearts of the customers. It is uncanny, but it can be done.

Thanks for your comments.
Charles Brown

3:30 PM

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