How to create ads that sell

January 2, 2013

By Jerry Bellune | Publishers' Toolbox

The greatest weakness most of us see in newspaper advertising is that it lacks:
1. Compelling headlines. They must address the target audience.
2. Storytelling copy. The story identifies the problem and offers the solution. Or it describes the dream—your child’s education, your dream car or that exciting vacation destination.
3. Testimonials. These are from loyal—not just satisfied—customers, clients or patients. If they got results or realized their dreams, it means your target could do the same.
4. An irresistible offer. Split test your offers to determine which generates the most leads.
5. A call for action. You need to get them off the couch. Use a deadline to prompt results. I preach this so often to our sales team and my coaching clients that I can almost do it in my sleep.
There’s a sixth reason advertisers are skeptical about the drawing power of their newspaper ads—they don’t teach their people to track results from calls, walk-ins and Web page hits. We have to teach the advertisers to do this to show them how to teach their employees.

Five headline tactics
Your headline can make or break an ad’s success in generating leads and return on investment for your advertisers.
The headline your target—or your advertiser’s target—sees will decide if they read any farther.
All good news editors and advertising copywriters know this. But few of our people seem to. Judging the National Newspaper Association’s ad competition is easy. I’ve done it for years.
Just discard the ones without compelling headlines. That winnows the pool of contestants to a precious few.
• Address to target buyer. An example:

Wanted: People who want to lose weight and get in shape

• Use numbers—preferably odd ones: 3, 5, 7, 9, 11. They outperform even numbers.

93% of our users found our
product outworks all others
• Write straightforward, easy to understand heads. Your headline competes with everything else on the page.

Save big dollars by growing your lawn with Zoysia

• Use compelling words that provoke strong emotions.

You know your loved one
better than anyone

• Put benefits in your headline and make the benefits specific.

7 field-tested, sure-fire ways
to increase your income

• Write with your heart. Think about the prospect’s problems, dreams and goals.

Are you paying too much in taxes?

Practice the craft
Your chances of writing the most effective headline the first time is low. Don’t settle for your first try. Write at least a half dozen and try them out on your colleagues. See which ones they respond to.
Also, you should become a collector of compelling headlines you see in newspapers, magazines and online. We call these S&D (Swipe & Deploy) files.
Organize your ad file by specific industries or by the special promotions and sections you publish. The next time you start to write a campaign, review your files of compelling headlines.
January’s takeaway thought: Would you help me raise $10,000 for literacy tutoring? A personally autographed copy of my “Lead People, Manage Things” leadership book is available for a $20 donation. Just e-mail me at for copies. © The Bellune Co. 2013

Jerry Bellune coaches newspaper owners the field-tested strategies he and his family’ use to run their profitable publishing companies in South Carolina.

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