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Fishing For Ideas

Seeking inspiration for lively ad copy? Try hitting the newsstand.

I recently received a frustrated e-mail from a young entrepreneur whose plight may be similar to yours. He said he and his partners were banging their heads against the wall trying to come up with an arresting headline to use on a flier for their sales training program. Nothing seemed to "sing" for them, and he wondered if I could supply the magic words.

Unfortunately, I was too swamped at the time to offer hands-on help. But I wanted to at least help him help himself, believing in the essential truth of that proverb, "Give someone a fish, and you feed them for a day; teach them to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime." So I e-mailed back this thought: "Whenever I'm struggling for an advertising headline, I go fishing for it in a special pool--the pool of publications related to my client's enterprise (software, photography, health and so on). There, I scope out cover headlines, story headlines and some of the text as well. Almost without fail, I come upon sets of words that have the potential, with a little editing, to become a hard-hitting advertising headline. I copy them down, let them marinate in my head overnight and look at them the next day. Invariably, some solid headline candidates come out of it."

A good case in point is one of my current clients--Cavanaugh Gray, a finance and marketing senior at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a budding entrepreneur, who wrote recently. Gray runs a seminar program geared toward teaching young, aspiring entrepreneurs--those in seventh to 12th grades--how to get an early start on small-business success. To promote his enterprise, he says, "I have done my best to put together a brochure that depicts what the program has to offer; however, I still feel there are a lot of things missing." Let's talk about what those elements might be.


This brochure gets attention with the acronym "YEP". But is there enough salesmanship? Nope.

1. A company name as a cover headline is great if you run "Fayetteville's Fabulous Fatburgers," but this one needs more.

2. The slogan below is a good one, but it needn't be on the brochure's marquee.


This new cover uses words that grab attention and hold out a benefit to the reader.

1. This headline gets readers' juices flowing.

2. The subhead uses the always-provocative word "secrets" to describe the benefits.

3. The footline further piques the curiosity of the target audience.

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 "Ad Workshop," Entrepreneur,2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or e-mail him at

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This article was originally published in the February 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Fishing For Ideas.

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