Opening Act

If your headline falls flat, your audience may not stick around for the whole show.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the January 1998 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Suppose you were in the cabinet-refacing 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 is no way to sell it--yet many entrepreneurs take this route in their , 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 that handles laser printing, inserting, 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 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

First Impression

When I create a brochure for a client, I put at least 50 percent of my time into making the cover as enticing as I can. And that's not easy. The American public is deluged with so many images on any given day that we are desensitized to all but the most interesting of solicitations. A famous director of TV commercials recently said he turns down lucrative assignments to create automobile commercials because the only cars that can truly turn heads are $100,000 Italian sports cars. He's got a point, and it applies to Caine's efforts as well: He needs to create a brochure cover that has the power to arch a few eyebrows and drop a few jaws.

But remember, you don't have to be a clever wordsmith or creative genius to make this happen. There are some tricks you can learn to make the process a lot easier. One way to start off on a headline-hunting safari is to find a good headline used in a field totally unrelated to yours and mold it into the new context. If you start looking at other ads with such appropriation in mind, you'd be surprised how many ideas pop into your head for your own promotions.

Just to get you started in the right direction, here are a few solid headlines I uncovered and how I would re-cast them for use in other industries.

Original: "Who else wants a supermodel's figure?"

Revised: "Who else wants a pro golfer's swing?" (for golf lessons)

Original: "Why some people almost always make money in the stock market"

Revised: "Why some brokers almost always land the big listings" (recruitment for real estate agents)

Original: "Five familiar skin problems: Which do you need to overcome?"

Revised: "Five home clutter problems: Which do you want to solve?" (custom closet makers)

Thinking this way gets you out of the rut of sticking with the one approach most practiced in your industry.

That said, what do I recommend Caines do to liven up his brochure cover? I decided to borrow a headline I used to promote a national magazine a few years ago. The new headline: "There are 3 secrets to direct- success. (And you already know 2 of them.)" Let's talk about what this headline offers:

1. It uses the word "secrets," a provocative, headline-enhancing word I've been promoting in this column recently because of its curiosity-arrousing appeal. Everybody wants to know secrets, especially as they relate to success. So this alone could increase the chances of getting the brochure opened.

2. The phrase "and you already know two of them" is an irresistible teaser to get readers to flip open the brochure to learn what these two secrets are, as well as the one they didn't know. What are the three secrets in this instance? The first two could be a smart approach and a targeted mailing list. And, obviously, the third secret component is the use of the mailing services of First Class. I think Caines can address the first two elements in short order inside his brochure and then, of course, elaborate substantially on secret number three. This cover refresher should help Caines get his brochure to work harder. And, by the way, a good testimonial wouldn't hurt either.

Go Your Own Way

If you've been in the same for a while, often all you're conscious of are the successful approaches in your field. As a result, you and your competitors are going after the same prospects in virtually the same way. (The cents-per-minute wars of long-distance phone services come to mind.) In some cases, this may be a perfectly acceptable way to get your fair share of the profits, live comfortably and avoid risky forays into uncharted territory. But if you're just keeping your head above water, your goal should be to break away from the pack, and your advertising needs to reflect that. This is another good reason to scout out advertising in industries far removed from your own for a possible way to shatter the mold.

Contact Source

First Class Inc., 517 S. Jefferson St., #301, , IL 60607, (312) 322-1002


More from Entrepreneur

We created the Start Your Own Business (SYOB) course to help you get started on your entrepreneurial journey. You will learn everything you need to know about testing the viability of your idea, writing a business plan, raising funds, and opening for business.
Jumpstart Your Business. Entrepreneur Insider is your all-access pass to the skills, experts, and network you need to get your business off the ground—or take it to the next level.
Let us help you take the NEXT step. Whether you have one-time projects, recurring work, or part-time contractors, we can assemble the experts you need to grow your company.

Latest on Entrepreneur