500 years ago, they’d have burnt her alive

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I feel I know you well enough now to tell you about Maggie –

The most evil ad sales rep ever to crawl the earth.

You need to know about this woman. Because she’s a real-life lesson in the perils of buying ad space.

Sitting comfortably…?

Okay. I worked with Maggie in the 90s, on one of those crap magazines that no-one picks up outside garages. I wrote the content, she sold the ads. And her methods made me sick.

I first got suspicious when I did an interview with Olivia Newton-John. Maggie found out, and 10 minutes later she was on the phone to a breast cancer charity, nagging them to take out an ad next to my article.


Like 10 out of 10 for ingenuity. But minus infinity for tact, diplomacy and taste.

Soon, it was clear – Maggie had no soul. And probably no reflection. Every day, I’d walk into the sales room, and hear her cackling out one tasteless pitch after another:

“Well I’m sorry to hear Paula’s dead. But she advertises with me every month. She wouldn’t want to lose her space!”

And the classic that will stay with me till the day I keel over:

“If you don’t run your drink-drive advert, think of all those little children you’re going to kill. Aw, that would be a shame. And at Christmas too…!”

I swear to you, I’m not making this up.

Maggie would stop at nothing.

She claimed our mag had “international readership” after she found out I’d left a copy on a train to Paris. She’d sell Valentine’s ads to florists, knowing we wouldn’t publish till March.

She was evil. I reckon 500 years ago, we could have had her burnt as a witch.

And while she’s an extreme case, she is not alone. I’m sure there are honourable people out there selling ad space, but as a breed they’re like piranhas – in constant attack mode, and ready to strip your business down to a bony carcass.

And the biggest problem? They’ll claim to “advise” you on advertising – when they know nothing about the mechanics of a successful ad.

They don’t understand headlines, copy, layout, offers, testing…none of it. Because they’ve only been trained to sell ad space. When it comes to the ad itself, my cat knows more than the average rep.

(My cat ain’t smart, but at least he gets to look over my shoulder.)

And the result of all this crap advice the reps dish out like gospel?

Shitty little press ads, that make every mistake in the book:

…The business name and logo sit at the top, where the headline should be.

…Haphazard layouts, that give no thought to the reader’s journey.

…”Brand awareness” ads, without a clear offer and call to action.

…And ads that keep running, with no A/B testing or even measurement. They just stay on the page, on the assumption that they’re pulling their weight.

Tis a bunch of steaming crap. And reps like Maggie make it happen.

So what of it?

Well this. If you advertise in the press, you’re probably not getting the results you were promised. So take an oath today, to find out where your leads are coming from. And pull any ads that don’t hold their own.

Maggies don’t like business owners who look for measurement. But that’s their lookout. Get tough, get measuring, and don’t let your Maggie talk you round!

UK Copywriter James Daniel

James Daniel

You might not know who I am, but no doubt you've read my copy. If you've ever bought a hearing aid, a pizza oven, flat roof or vacuum cleaner. If you've hired a will writer, an IT guy or accountant. If you've been to events on marketing, acting or how to buy a business. There's every chance it started with a bit of my copy - a few simple, chatty, gently persuasive words. Ring any bells?

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