Show 10 – Cops & Copy

Psych Insights for Modern Marketers

In this episode of Psych Insights, Kevin and John explore the fascinating parallels of street-smart police work versus effective salesmanship – inspired by Kevin’s recent interview with his uncle Pete, a now retired veteran detective in Lowell, MA.

By special request, here is the recorded interview with Uncle Pete:

Part of being a Sales Detective is having a Bullshit Detector that goes off when people aren’t being straight with you or when the “facts” aren’t gelling with what you know the reality to be.

One of the best things a marketer can do is to get their Bullshit Detector up to “high”.

Not so you’re running around being cynical all the time. But running everything through a gauntlet in your head, trying to find the bottom line, focused on the goal.

As Sales Detectives, we’re dealing with bad actors, unreliable narrators, clueless people, incompetents and liars. Liars are easier to deal with once you realize they’re just lying…

We’re looking for what we can use in order to ethically, rationally and effectively make a sale.

In business, somebody needs to step up and take care of the copy… and it’s you. You’re the one who’s gonna do it.

The mindset is you want to WIN.

If you have to not get credit for it, you still do it.

The more noble way is to make the thing work… and if someone else comes up with a better headline or hook than you have and you’re smart enough to recognize it – then that’s what you go with.

A cop is trying to narrow things down. You’re always sifting through piles of inchoate non-understandable stuff looking to narrow it down so you can start to apply the pressure on the few things that you have.

You can’t have everyone in the neighborhood as a suspect… and you can’t have everything the client wants in an ad always. You’ve got to narrow it down to the things that are salesworthy.

31 thoughts on “Show 10 – Cops & Copy

    1. Aaron Miller

      Loving this podcast! I know very little about my prospects. How do I get these guys on the phone/skype and interview them to build my avatar? What questions should I be asking in order to figure out what really drives them? This seems like a huge step but there is very little information on it. Can you give me some pointers?



  1. Raymond Duke

    (man… seems I butchered the link with my last comment. Feel free to delete it and use this one instead).

    Thanks for another great show. I don’t have any cops in my family, but I share property with someone who works at a jail over in Torrance, CA. My friend recently shared a story about a 22 year old heroin addict he had to book. The addict got arrested for heroin (guess where they found it) and was covered in scars from head to toe. My friend said the addict resembled someone who had 2nd and 3rd degree burns.

    Despite the addict’s appearance, he had to communicate with him to ask what diseases he has. Turns out he had hep, so they placed him in a cell of his own (with a blanket to cover the scars… they had to decontaminate the cell afterword).

    What the addict forgot to mention was he also had merca. So while my friend took the proper precautions in handling the addict, he touched the addict’s possessions without gloves. My friend’s now getting testing multiple times because merca is highly contagious and could become a problem for his family back home.

    When my friend found out the addict had MRSA , he didn’t get mad. He simply told him, “You should have told me. I have a family back home,” before closing the cell and never speaking to the addict again. He could’ve gotten angry, but what’s the point? It wouldn’t have changed what happened.

    The way this all ties into your show and copy is sometimes you have to talk, deal with, and put yourself in situations that’re unhealthy. As much as you want to avoid doing so, shit happens. You can argue with clients, get yelled at for what your ads say, and realize too late that you’ve done something hazardous. But until time travel is invented, you can’t undo the negative.

    What you can do is learn from it. I’m sure my friend will wear gloves from now on when handling possessions from addicts. He learned the hard way–and sometimes that’s the best way to learn.

    The bottom line: if you run into shit at your work, leave it at work. Don’t bring it home to your family. And if you work from home, like a lot of entrepreneurs do, know when it’s time to work and when it’s time to close the door.

    A detective or copywriter might stay up all night wracking his or her brain about a case or client, but if you get too emotional about the work you’ll have a one-track mindset–and it may not be the mindset that’ll work best. Save your energy for *after* you find your hook, or final clue, so you go all in for the last final write-up or to make the arrest.

    Thank you so much Kevin and John for doing this show. As a copywriter I still find myself with wanting to say a lot at the end of the day, when most people are fast asleep. The problem is I sometimes find myself now knowing what to talk about. Your show gets my brain going, and I like being able to share a story and connect it to your discussion here in a comment.

    1. John Carlton

      Hi Raymond. Thanks for the comment (and we fixed up the double-post, no problem). Every day delivers fresh excuses to get mad, or go off on someone, or kick up the resentment dust in our lives. When we live and think shallowly, it’s way too easy to fuck up relationships and projects with knee-jerk responses… and it takes some real effort to rise above the lizard brain’s yearning for blood and the ape-brain’s emotional chaos. But it’s worth it. The lessons are there to learn, and adopt, and use.

      Anytime we start thinking we’ve got it tough — especially if your gig is so removed from most people’s experience, that you never get sympathy for how hard you work, or how much sacrifice you make — it’s good to remember the world that cops inhabit, and how they navigate danger, aggressive stupidity and twisted evil every day.

      Life can be distressing at time. You can lose sense of what matters, and the exhaustion that follows sleepless nights compounds the problems of PTSD and raw anxiety. Anytime you come across tools — like this show — that can help you deal with all this, it’s good to put it in your toolkit.

      1. Kevin Rogers

        Hey Raymond… your story reminds me of the first and only time I did a ride-along with a beat cop here in St. Pete. it was a life-changing 10-hour experience.

        I signed up because I was actually considering the gig at the time (in the transition between comedy and copywriting)… partly because I’ve always had a deep fascination with the glimpses I’d get through Uncle Pete, and partly because I was desperate for decent benefits.

        A lot of things about that night stuck deep, but the big takeaway was related to something you touched on in the story about your friend working at the lock up.

        Late into the shift that night, my host arrested a guy on possession of crack. When we arrived at the jail for processing, the guy started complaining of chest pains. They assessed him and decided he needed medical clearance before they could delouse and fit him for a jumpsuit.

        So, we took him to the hospital, but when the nurse questioned him about his recent drug use he refused to divulge anything. This initiated a very long game of silent cat and mouse where no one was talking. The cop, annoyed as he was at being stuck there past shift for this guy to fess up, was content to just sit and wait. The nurse had plenty of other shit to do and the arrestee was happy to sit in a cozy hospital bed rather than a jail cell, so the stalemate wore on.

        Finally, I said to the cop, “He can’t be charged for something he wasn’t holding when you searched him, right?”

        “Right,” he said. “But he’s not gonna take that chance.”

        So I walked into the guy’s room and explained that anything he told the nurse fell under “medical confidentiality” or some such thing and that he should just tell her what he took so she can make sure those chest pains aren’t the sign of his heart tissue being torn to shreds due to some deadly mix of chemicals, or bad some shit someone gave him.

        He looked at me the way my beagle does when I say “walk?” and started rattling off a long list of drugs he’d ingested over the last 24 hours. The nurse had to slow him down twice to get the whole list down. It was hilarious and sad at the same time because there was just no communication until then.

        This scenario was so routine to everyone there but me, that they were content to just let it linger. That was a deep insight into the perils of beat police work. So much of it is a pointless game. Reminds me of that Merrie Melodies cartoon where Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf have coffee together, walk to work, clock in and go at it with knives and rockets until quitting time… then walk off into the sunset arm and arm.

        Better luck tomorrow, Sam.

        Anyway I hope your friend stays clean. That MRSA’s a nasty bitch.

          1. Raymond Duke

            Thanks for that story, Kevin.

            You know, it’s like a breath of fresh air to read and hear stories from you two about actual events–unlike theories and other marketing-hoopla that’s out there, this show lives up to its name: psych insights.

            And about it all being a pointless game, I like to think there’s more to it than that.

            However, I can recall dozens of times when I *knew* I was part of a game, I still played the part. Even when I knew what would happen next, I didn’t stop or avoid an already-known outcome–for better or for worse.

            Maybe we can’t help play the roles we think we’re meant to play.

            Or maybe we just want to be in situations where we can just be–and let the momentum of the situation take over.

            The more I learn about copywriting, psychology, and storytelling, the more I am seeing how people just want to give in to something. It could be a job or it could be a ‘persona’. When we play the part, it let’s not think too much about what’s the best thing to do. We play the role–work the shift–then go home.

            At least that’s how ‘they’ say it’s supposed to go. I hardly know anyone who works a regular, nine-to-five anymore.

    1. John Carlton

      My recommendation: Google the order of them, and start with #1. Then read #2, etc. That’s the best way to read the 007 James Bond books, too — you see character growth, and (if the series “takes” with you, or stirs your interest) you get to experience the series as readers did back when MacDonald wrote them.

      Just remember: They’re not just pre-computer and cell phone days, they’re total Cold War fifties and sixties masterpieces. You will get a hefty dose of time-period-appropriate attitude (hint: The sixties feminist new wave hadn’t hit yet) and some real insight to why history turned out the way it did.

      These books aren’t for everyone. If they don’t “take” with you, don’t sweat it. However, give the first book a chance — all the top writers I know have devoured the series. And I’m personally jazzed that enough time has passed where I can re-read them again (along with the Flashman series by Faser…)

      Happy reading, Will.

  2. Kevin Rogers

    Yeah, definitely start with “The Deep Blue Good-By”, the first in the McGee series.

    The great treat of the novels, for me, beyond the world-class storytelling and salty characters, was that McDonald will randomly take off on a rant about the decline of western civilization and the method selling off of Florida wetland to corporate developers. It was complete soapboxing that at times risked distracting from the story, but he somehow made it work in McGee’s voice. But either way it was his fucking novel and his thorny peeve, so deal with it.

    You’re in for a real treat, Will. get the paperbacks, too, man. McGee is too cool for pixels.

  3. Aaro Blake

    This site has the order of all of the Travis McGee books:

    I just wanted to say that I love your podcast. i look forward new episodes, and was quite excited when I saw a new one in my inbox, this morning. I’m not a copywriter. I study it for fun because it is a skill everyone needs to learn at least a little bit and because I love psychology.

    Your show actually helped me out a lot, this morning by choosing to discuss police detectives. You gave me so much inspiration for my next book, as well as a fresh dose of passion. My meter had run out and I was down in the deep doldrums of depression.

    Thank You truly much!!!!!

    Also, please, please, please consider releasing that interview with Uncle Pete. It sounds amazing.

    Hang Loose and Prosper,

    Aaro Blake

  4. Corrado Izzo

    Great Show!!!

    As Sales Detectives, we’re dealing with bad actors, unreliable narrators, clueless people, incompetents and liars. Liars are easier to deal with once you realize they’re just lying…


    The worst are those though that believe their own Lies.

    You keep asking them the same question from different angles in order to get valuable information about the customers’ perspective and they keep lying….

    You know something is there but they keep reinforcing their own lies the more you ask…

    just like Criminals during an interrogation…

    It gets ridiculous when they keep doing it after you present them with the truth…

    What a Marketer and a Detective have in common in my view is that in order to succeed both have to consider ALL possible perspectives at ALL times without excluding or judging prematurely any one version of how the story went or goes before the evidence is not conclusive.

    Before all the parts have been heard…

    Before all questions are answered…

    Before tests are made…

    Before results come back…

    Before all knots are untied…

    Before dots are connected…

    Before buttons have been pushed…

    The Detective is at work while everyone else tucks himself away in their own partial perspectives hoping to not be seen or found out.

    The funny thing is that when the truth comes out at the end it often is and can be “unbelievable” or “surprising” for everyone else but the detective because for him “unbelievable” or “surprising” never left the Menu.

    It’s just part of the game…

    I have to confess besides Inventor and “I Can Solve Any Problem Just Call Me”…..yes i made up business cards with those words written on them….becoming a Detective was on my Dreamjob list when i was a kid.

    They’re just too cool.

  5. Matt Makowski

    I enjoyed the presentation exposing the unusual slant of getting the best copy. You revealed the underpinnings of good copy writing and salesmanship and how that connected to open ended sleuthing that encompassed the total project. Great stuff. I am a realtor and aspirant marketing copywriter (since that’s often the first level of the sale). Your works make me better.

  6. Peter Michaels

    Another interesting discussion, guys.

    I’ve always been into cop shows and although my personal experience with the police is limited (not as limited as my Mother would have liked, but still…) I’ve always enjoyed a good portrayal of the duality of the cop’s role on the big and small screens.

    The McGee books sound good, I like a bit of hard-boiled, will check ’em out.

    A while back you mentioned you were looking for ideas/concepts for future shows: how about this one for a challenge… what problems or challenges have/do you encounter as industry veterans that are tougher for you now that they were back when you were starting out?

    As in: do you find yourself struggling with any aspects of a gig or client account where you have either ‘curse of knowledge’ – or even just wish you were getting thrown the curveball as a rookie instead of a seasoned campaigner, because there’s just something about it that makes it trickier at this stage of your careers?

    I just wondered if this might throw up some conflict or potential hurdles that lie ahead for the rest of us that you could shine some light on in a future episode…

    1. Kevin Rogers

      Interesting idea, Peter.

      We covered some of this in the next episode coming up about “The Perils of Partnering.” So, I’ll be looking forward to your feedback on that.

      Overall though, I think working with clients gets much easier over the course of your career mainly because you learn to avoid the bad clients. the kind who waste your time, worry too much and screw up your masterpiece by tinkering.

      Also, the best clients often want to partner, which can work out great if the terms and the personalities match.

      Again, we covered much of this in the next episode, so be sure to watch for it.


  7. Alex

    Hi Kevin and John,

    This is your best show so far – for me.

    Just, simply a mind gem.

    If possible I’d like you to dive deeper into this topic plus could John expand more on how he sees the different minds and what emotions they cover – lizard, ape etc.

    John, do you know that you’re a genius?

  8. Taheerah

    Hi Kevin and John

    This show unearthed a lot of traits I didn’t realize I possessed. I’ve only been writing copy for the last four years, but I’ve always gravitated towards weird subjects and people and believe that nothing was ever what it seemed on the surface (even as a kid). I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I am aware that reality has more layers than what we can see with our naked peepers.

    Copywriting is a conundrum of sorts. You must stay humble because that’s how you stay in tune with the “street level” understanding of the human psyche. At the same time, knowing that you can persuade someone to do anything you want with just your words is an absolute rush and can take your ego to hubris status. The art of persuasion is a dangerous skill, if placed in unethical hands, but in my opinion, writing copy is the only way I want to earn a living.

    A true crime novel that I think the both of you and your listeners would enjoy is “Serpentine” by Thomas Thompson. It’s based on a real life psychopath named Charles Sobhraj. I picked up this gem up from a yard sale almost 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. In fact, I’m inspired to read it again after listening to this podcast.

    Also, not sure if either one of you have heard of Sean D’Souza ( He is a marketer that delves into the psychology behind why people buy and why they don’t. He has an iron grip on how the consumer mind works. I am not an affiliate of his, I just like to share good shit with fellow copywriters when I can.

    Thanks for the show!

  9. Kevin Rogers

    Hey guys… this is a great discussion.

    There’s definitely more to explore here. I’ll look for the best way to share the Uncle Pete interview with you guys. Lots of big takeaways in there.

    Alex, believe it or not, John has no idea that he’s a genius. Refuses the term. Mostly because the people he’s known who he’d consider genius led rollercoaster lives (to put it politely)… and he’d never want to trade shoes with them.

    So, it’ll have to be our secret to let him go on believing he’s a mere mortal like us.

    Keep the comments and stories coming. When you get involved is where the shows get really interesting.


  10. Alex

    Hi Kevin,

    John is my favourite kind of a genius – not a born one but a made one – and I’m not even sure that there are born ones.

    The way you describe him, it seems to me, that John’s a “stable genius” : )

    But enough on that.

    This show is your best show because you made some very sharp comments on:

    – when and how to draw lines and
    – what’s at the heart of selling and
    – it’s not what most people think it is.

    Thank you guys – I’ve already listened to it a second time and I discovered even more gems.

  11. Matt C. Milne

    Awesome info as usual!!

    Do you (John & Kevin) have a list of questions you go through with clients when you are interviewing them?

    1. Kevin Rogers

      Hi Matt… yes I do. Every copywriter forms their own list over time, but the basic foundation is the investigative journalist’s criteria of Who What When Where Why How and The Enemy. Don’t forget to discuss the enemy, tends to get your clients fired up and fuels your writing and your readers with an extra sense of urgency.


  12. Pingback: Cops and Copy… the similarities | Scott Dudley Network

  13. Chuck Rylant

    These podcasts are exceptional. It’s a pleasure to find others deeply interested in psychology and sales.
    Thank you guys for sharing.

    With the “Cops and Copy” episode, you scratched the surface of the television cop, but there is much far more complex psychology and sales parallels with a real cop. There is so much interesting stuff to explore.

    I retired after a my first career as a police detective. I still take a few PI cases for fun, but I’m mostly onto my second career as an author of novels and selling info and coaching products.

    Here are a couple of the many other Psych Insight topics demonstrated by cops that come to mind.
    Unlike the TV detective, cops and detective are not really solving crimes or seeking justice. With 9 out of 10 cases, everyone knows who did it. Cops just clean up the mess.

    Cops are really just putting on a performance to make the public feel safe. The role of the police is to “Keep a lid on it.”

    Most of the world is sheltered with absolutely no idea of what is really going on. If they knew, they would freak out.

    Cops live in the real world so civilians do not have to.

    Doesn’t that sound familiar to the role of a good marketer?

    “6 Minutes Abs” C’mon. Marketers know this is a fairytale, but they have to sell what people want so they can deliver what works.

    A salesmen / copywriter must deal with reality when crafting their message. They cannot live in the fantasy that their market does, even though the marketer must understand and use that fantasy to sell.

    With every public interaction, law enforcement is selling the public on the idea that they have everything under control …when really cops do not.

    I love your intro quote: “Liars are easier to deal with…”

    Cops develop an unhealthy, but necessary cynicism about people. They see lies without even looking. They walk in the room assuming everyone is lying –victims, witnesses and suspects—and usually they’re right.

    Everyone lies.

    It’s easier to deal with the “crook” that is supposed to lie, than the mayor, supervisor or spouse that society pretends is honest.

    Cops and marketers must face reality, where civilians often do not, so “Civilians hate good salesman”

    Civilians hate cops.

    Cops hate the civilians.

    There is no greater example of “Us versus Them,” than with cops and the public.

    Everyone feels misunderstood, but not nearly to the same degree cops do.

    Cops fascinate everyone, but everyone loves to hate them.

    Cops alienate themselves to shield themselves from the public.

    Cops think the world consists of cops, and then everyone else.

    Kevin talked about his uncle who is non-judgmental. That is absolutely true of a great detective.

    Unfortunately, that describes a minority of cops. Most cops are incredibly judgmental, particularly in the earlier stages of their career.

    “4 Stages of a Cop’s Career”

    1. Fascination
    2. Hostility
    3. Superiority
    4. Acceptance

    Those stages are constantly accurate, but becoming less judgmental generally develops towards the end of one’s career.

    Those stages correlate to understanding your target markets stages. For example, not all CPA’s are created equally. Marketing to the CPA starting their careers is considerably different than those looking for an exit strategy.

    Anyway, I will get off my soap box.

    This was an interesting topic and there is so much more to it.

    Thanks again for the fabulous podcasts.


    1. John Carlton

      Thanks, Chuck, for the insights. You lived in a fascinating world we all love to dissect, bullshit about, and believe we could “handle” ourselves given the opportunity. Cuz, you know, we’ve seen so many TV cop shows.

      I love hearing the insider take on any story, and you’ve added to our tale tremendously. Appreciate the note… (love the 3. Superiority 4. Acceptance angle… I can affirm that even copywriters — yes, copywriters — sometimes fall into the “two world” thinking of writer or civilian… probably plumbers and cub scout troop leaders do the same thing…)…


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