Heads Up!

Headline Time

As I've discussed many times before, the main headline on an ad or on a mailing can make or break your promotional effort. No matter if you've crafted the most compelling sales message ever written, if the headline doesn't bring readers to a screeching halt as they're racing through a publication or the morning mail, your ad gets as much notice as a lemonade stand without a sign.

How much time should it take to create a headline that's up to the task? An hour? Two hours? Two days? I've spent as many as four full days (and part of those nights) obsessing over the headline for a single ad. And I'm someone who is used to flexing my headline-creating muscles on a regular basis. If this is an exercise you're not used to, you may spend up to eight days coming up with just the right wording.

I say "up to" because it's entirely possible that a powerhouse of a headline could come sooner rather than later. It could occur to you 10 minutes after you start thinking about it. That's happened to me on some of my best headlines. But others have taken an eternity. However, I must reiterate, the quest for the perfect headline--whether it takes you two weeks or two minutes--is an essential one. Nothing is more crucial to your advertising success.

I also strongly recommend tucking your chosen headline out of sight for 24 to 48 hours. Then, go back and look at your masterpiece with new eyes. If the words still appear potent to you, chances are you're onto a good thing.

Another useful screening technique is to ask a few people (not just one) whose opinions you respect to give you their immediate first impression of the headline. I say "immediate" because their first reaction--without deliberation--will approximate the instant reaction a prospect has on first encountering your advertising.

If you're inspired, send me a world-class advertising headline you have encountered so I can share it with other readers for inspiration.

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This article was originally published in the October 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Heads Up!.

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