The Name Game

How can you spice up your ads without sensationalizing them? Simple. Just drop a name or two.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the June 1998 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Entrepreneurs in professional practices--doctors, accountants, lawyers and the like--often prefer to err on the side of conservatism when it comes to promoting themselves. For them, it can be a bit unseemly to hawk their wares alongside flashy retail advertisers just to bring foot traffic into their offices. Unfortunately, the result can often be a pretty dry representation of themselves in advertising.

There are, of course, those Doberman-like accident attorneys who mash their noses into the TV camera and growl with promises that they'll fight for your rights if you let them represent you in court. But by and large, professionals worry about besmirching their reputations by appearing too salesy in their advertising.

My feeling? A professional doesn't have to perform advertising pratfalls--or anything close--to promote his or her knowledge and skills.

Advertising can be professional without being dry, and motivating without being tawdry. That's my message to Tim Burns, an attorney from New Orleans who wrote recently. Burns specializes in helping entrepreneurs lay the pipeline, legally and financially, to launch their businesses and help them grow. He knows his ad is a little tepid and wants to know if I can recommend anything to spice it up . . . without getting too sensational.

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 contact Jerry via America Online at

Surprise Attack

My first impulse is to "moisten" the rather dry headline "Grow your business." But what should Burns say? My idea is to borrow a little pixie dust from one of the great entrepreneurial names of our time and sprinkle it on Burns' headline so that it would read, provocatively, "How to Build a Mini-Microsoft."

Thus we've taken the thought expressed in the original headline--"Grow your business"--tweaked it and given it instant pizzazz. The new headline is also flexible enough that Burns can run his ad in different industry-specific publications and make his company one all entrepreneurs would want to emulate.

To augment the new headline, I use a boldface lead-in that starts out "You have the dream and the drive . . . but what are the little-understood legal and financial techniques that can make it much easier to grow your company?" Then I invite readers to find out by making an appointment with Burns. As I indicate at the bottom of the ad, he should offer a free copy of his soon-to-be-published book as further enticement to schedule an appointment.

Finally, I also recommend he use a sidebar example that gives a taste of the valuable information he has to offer. The headline would say "For example, did you know . . . ?" and would be followed by a bit of information about creative financing, business planning or any of Burns' other areas of expertise that would surprise and enlighten readers and make them think there must be more good stuff where this comes from.


This ad is your basic "plain wrap" professional - practice ad and needs personality.

1. This headline is too generic to garner much attention.

2. The giveaway should not only be a free consultation but a free book, too.


This ad uses both a "retro" design and an intriguing headline to get attention.

1. This headline offers a tantalizing prospect to any enterprising entrepreneur.

2. The copy rachets up the interest with a specific example of how this attorney can help.

Q: Every once in a while, I run across advertising that contains spelling or typing mistakes. That immediately takes the advertiser down a peg in my mind, and if there's more than one mistake in the same ad, it turns me off completely. What do you think?

A: Finding a spelling or typing error in advertising copy is a huge turnoff to me as well. In fact, that's one of my biggest pet peeves. No matter how convincing the sales message in an ad, I instantly extrapolate from such a mistake that the company, product or service itself must somehow be flawed, mistake-prone and less than worthy of my attention, much less my business. And I agree that if there is more than one mistake in an advertisement, it's grounds for impeachment, if not lethal injection. One mistake is bad enough, but two or more are inexcusable. I will instantly decide there's no reason to read any further or ever do business with the company running the ad.

That said, what are the best ways to prevent such mistakes? If you use a computer word processor, by all means use the spelling checker after you've finished writing the sales message. Even if you haven't found any errors in the copy after having read it a half-dozen times, believe me, eight times out of 10, a spelling checker will detect one you missed.

But spelling checkers only do what their name implies: check spelling. So if you meant to say "two" and you spelled it "to," or "hear" instead of "here," a spelling checker certainly won't point it out.

That's why every piece of copy should be read by a detail-oriented person who has a good command of the English language and who has never seen the ad before. Big advertising agencies designate proofreaders for this kind of job, and publications make sure two or more people read an article several times to catch any errors. Every advertiser should have someone like this whom he or she can call on--especially if there's a lot of copy involved where a little mistake can easily go unnoticed--to read the copy with a pair of fresh, discerning eyes.

Q: My husband and I have a mobile dog-grooming business, and we're looking for new ways to promote our company. Any ideas?

A: Here's one. You've often seen "Take One" displays in stores and offices inviting you to take a promotional flier or leaflet from the holder. What about using a portable take-one holder that would hook over the top of the window of your grooming van and would contain fliers promoting your business?

When you pull your van up to a customer's house, simply hook the holder, filled with fliers, over the window, and leave it there while you're with your customer. Assuming you have good signage on the vehicle itself, for the one or two hours you're parked there, passers-by will notice your van and take a flier if the convenience of having their pooches dolled up at home is appealing.

This idea works not only for pet-grooming, but for in-home services of any kind, such as carpet-cleaning, painting, landscaping and swimming pool maintenance. But make sure that at the top of the holder, you actually use the words "Take One" in large letters so passers-by will notice there is information to be had.

Using this tactic, your van serves a dual purpose: It's a mobile service unit and a low-cost promotional "vehicle" all in one.

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