A Simple Rule to Create the
Best Headlines: The 100 to 1 Rule
© 1998 Jeffrey Dobkin
Nobody uses their first draft in
copywriting - at least none of my friends do. This, of course, depends on their hangover.
While I dont like to waste time writing copy that isnt going to be used, in
writing its just as important to edit severely as it is to write succinctly.
Too bad I never do. Proof of this? Take my book - please - How To Market a Product for
Under $500. It weighs in at over 2 1/2 lbs. I wasnt finished writing it, either - I
merely abandoned it because of the element of time. I knew I wanted to sell a book
people could actually pick up.
What does this have to do with creating the best headline? Its called Jeff
Dobkins 100 to 1 Rule. Its the rule all copywriters use but dont tell
you about. Its the reason great copywriters get paid so much money: its the
writing you never see.
The 100 to 1 Rule states that for every line whose contribution is so crucial to making
your writing successful, for each line that is so important it can make or break your
entire piece, for any line that is so pivotal that you place your bet on this single line
and you win or
lose everything on its strength, say hallelujah; so significant that the success or
failure of your entire direct marketing package, mailer, ad, or press release depends on
its existence being close to perfection, say hallelujah again; so it is written ye must
write that single line one hundred different ways, then go back and pick the best one.
Amen. Yep, 100 times. Thats the 100 to 1 Rule.
Lets take a closer look at where the 100 to 1 Rule
1. Press release headline.
The headline determines the success or failure of your release. It starts by getting the
editors attention, then convinces the publisher to publish it, makes the correct
segment of the audience read it, and helps make qualified prospects respond. In a press
release, the headline is the single most important line you can write. Recommended
formula: New product offers benefit. Example: "New hammer is easier to grip."
"New motorcycle has incredible acceleration."
2. The first line of your press release body copy.
After 25 years of writing press releases, Ive developed my own system for sneaking
benefits into a release without editors cutting them out. Since editors cut from the
bottom, I place my two or three most powerful benefits in the first line or two of the
body of the release - and they NEVER get cut. Recommended formula: New product offers
benefit, benefit, benefit. Examples: "New lawnmower is easier to start, quieter, and
still cuts lawns 40% faster." "New jacket is lightweight, waterproof, and
comfortable - at minus 30 degrees."
Where else does the 100 to 1 Rule rule?
3. The headline of your ad.
A press release headline has to conform to the editors need to fit in well with the
rest of the editorial material. The headline for your ad is entirely up to you - so it can
be more powerful and harder selling. Yes, there is a great deal of crossover, and these
recommendations may work for both press release and ad.
Recommended formula: Free booklet offers useful information. Example: A roofing company
offers, "Free booklet shows how to install a new roof."
Why is this a great formula? It attracts only the specific market segment the
is looking for - saving you $$$ on literature and fulfillment. Then it generates excellent
response from qualified prospects by offering something for free.
Would anyone want a brochure on installing a roof besides someone who needs a new roof?
Not likely. Are they really going to install a new roof themselves? Nah - dont be
silly. The percentage of people who are going to install their own roof from a free
booklet is pretty darn small. And if they do, these are the people who are going to need
even more professional help when they screw it up. Trust me on this one.
4. The first sentence of the body copy of your ad.
The only function of this first line is to keep the reader reading. Your most
interest-arousing line is needed to entice the reader to read the rest of the ad. The rest
of the body copy then sells the product by showing the benefits and making a strong call
to action. To hook the reader early, the first line must be electrifying. Write 100, pick
5. The teaser copy on your envelope.
If this crucial selection of a great line isnt perfection, your mail piece goes
right into the basket over which most people sort their mail. The sole function of
envelope teaser copy is to get recipients to open the mail-piece.
Unlike with an ad or press release, youve already invested money to get your message
delivered right into your prospects hands. Make a broader appeal with this teaser
copy - you wouldnt want anyone to get turned off by focusing it too tightly.
Recommended formula: Free Gift Certificate Enclosed. Gift certificates are effective
draws, and theyre inexpensive to print on 1/3 or 1/4 of a sheet of paper. Since
theyre only good for the products and dates you select, theyre cheap to
redeem, and you can target them specifically towards merchandise you want to sell off.
Nice promotion! Variations on this: "Discount Enclosed." "Free Gift
6. The first paragraph of your letter.
99% of my letters start with a first paragraph consisting of one or two lines. And most
are only one or two words. The opening of a letter has to be the most electric it can be,
because the reader makes the decision in a nanosecond to read, scan, or toss. Keep the
opening paragraph short and electrifying. One line is best. Two lines are OK. Three lines
only work if the entire second paragraph is shorter than five words.
Recommended opening lines: One of my favorite openings is, paragraph one: Cough. Paragraph
two: Cough. Cough. Paragraph three: Now that the dust is settling from the (name holiday)
holidays, let me... Another favorite: Paragraph one: Youre invited. Paragraph Two:
Youre invited to our biggest...
Any way around the 100 to 1 Rule? Not to any great extent... If youre good, you may
be able to get away with writing 50 or 80 lines, then picking the best one. But the 100 to
1 formula is a sure-fire winning solution to finding that single explosive line. The
all-out winner may be that number 100, the 100th line you wrote. Of course it may be the
very first line you wrote, too - but youll never know this...until you finish.
© 1998 Jeffrey Dobkin
Jeffrey Dobkin, author of the 400-page marketing manual, How To Market A Product for
Under $500 ($29.95), now has a second book, Uncommon Marketing Techniques ($17.95) - 33 of
his latest columns on small business marketing, exactly like the one you just read. Both
books are available directly from the publisher - 800-234-IDEA. Or visit him at
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