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Opening Act

If your headline falls flat, your audience may not stick around for the whole show.

Suppose you were in the cabinet-refacing business trying to sell your services door-to-door. You walk up to a residence, ring the bell, and when the surly homeowner comes to see who's interrupting his ballgame, you utter only two words: "Cabinet refacing." That's it. Or maybe you make it into a question: "Cabinet refacing?" Either way, you're going to get a door slammed in your face and never again believe a welcome mat.

I exaggerate to make a point. Merely identifying what you're selling is no way to sell it--yet many entrepreneurs take this route in their advertising, claiming that creative advertising is not their forte. I'm here to tell you that shouldn't be a concern. Early last year in this column, I did an emergency headline transplant on a brochure that had the cover heading "Corporate video services." I found out that the company, among other things, tries to interest medical professionals in promoting their various procedures via video. So I recommended a new headline that asked "Doctor, have you ever considered waiting-room videos to promote your services?" It's not cute, clever, witty or creative, but it piques the curiosity of the prospect in a way the original brochure never would.

So the message is this: If you start your ad or brochure by merely identifying your business category, you risk getting a salesperson's brushoff in the form of a turned page or crumpled brochure. But if you give prospects a few provocative words, you've got a far better chance of getting them interested in the rest of your message.

That's my recommendation to Michael Caines, who wrote recently. Caines operates First Class Inc., a "letter shop" service in Chicago that handles laser printing, inserting, mail sorting and managing mailing lists for direct-mail advertisers. This is an invaluable service for direct marketers who want to hand over the copy for a personalized sales letter, along with a list of prospects it's going to, to a company who can handle the rest; First Class sees to it that the letter is word-processed, stuffed and mailed.

But I'm afraid Caines is not going to attract a lot of new clients with the title of his current brochure. The cover headline merely reads "Direct Mail Services," followed by the subhead "to help you succeed." Inside his brochure, he makes a decent case for giving First Class a call. But prospects may not care what's behind the curtain if the opening act--the cover headline--falls flat.


Jerry Fisher is an advertising copywriter, consultant and author of Creating Successful Small Business Advertising ($39.95), available by calling (800) 247-6553. If you'd like Jerry to consider your materials for a makeover in this column, send them to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or contact Jerry via America Online at Jerry228@aol.com

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This article was originally published in the January 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Opening Act.

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