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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 don’t like to waste time writing copy that isn’t going to be used, in writing it’s 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 wasn’t 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? It’s called Jeff Dobkin’s 100 to 1 Rule. It’s the rule all copywriters use but don’t tell you about. It’s the reason great copywriters get paid so much money: it’s 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. That’s the 100 to 1 Rule.

Let’s take a closer look at where the 100 to 1 Rule is used.

1. Press release headline.
The headline determines the success or failure of your release. It starts by getting the editor’s 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, I’ve 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 editor’s 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 advertiser 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 - don’t 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 one.

5. The teaser copy on your envelope.
If this crucial selection of a great line isn’t 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, you’ve already invested money to get your message delivered right into your prospect’s hands. Make a broader appeal with this teaser copy - you wouldn’t want anyone to get turned off by focusing it too tightly.

Recommended formula: Free Gift Certificate Enclosed. Gift certificates are effective draws, and they’re inexpensive to print on 1/3 or 1/4 of a sheet of paper. Since they’re only good for the products and dates you select, they’re 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 Enclosed!"

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: You’re invited. Paragraph Two: You’re invited to our biggest...

Any way around the 100 to 1 Rule? Not to any great extent... If you’re 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 you’ll 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 http://www.dobkin.com

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