5 Ways to Capture Attention

TAKE THESE. I’ve written a lot of copy through the years–as a freelancer, an ad agency copywriter and a copywriter in the marketing department of a major newspaper. Following are some of my free tips for successful copywriting.

Getting attention is job one of any communication. Here are five techniques that work in all media.

1. Use a headline.
There are all types of headlines: how to, news, direct, question, reason why, testimonial and more. Good ones are golden.

2. Tell the audience something they know.
On the surface, this might seem mundane, but by telling the audience something they know you’re making an important connection. You’re saying, in effect, you understand them and you identify with them in some small way, which can be a great way to start a conversation.

3. Ask a question.
There’s nothing like a good, challenging, or provocative question to pique interest. Has anyone ever asked you a question that tapped into a problem, a fear, a desire, or a joy? Did it grab and hold your attention?

4. Share an anecdote.
People love a good story. An anecdote is a story in a bite-size package. A perfect way to reel in your audience.

5. Say something timely.
Talk about something newsy, whether a particular topic, industry, subject, or other area. Tap into something on people’s minds and you will seize their attention.

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Those First 50 Words

Would you spend an entire week on your opening for an ad or other marketing or sales piece?

According to Brian Clark of copyblogger, it was a normal practice for Eugene Schwartz, a copywriting legend and author of Breakthrough Advertising.

“Master copywriter Eugene Schwartz often spent an entire week on the first 50 words of a sales piece,” writes Clark, “the headline and the opening paragraph.”

I know it might sound crazy. And I admit I’m not able to devote that amount of time to my current projects. Workload and deadlines don’t allow it. But I do remember spending long hours writing headline after headline after headline when I worked on high-visibility advertising campaigns while on staff at a B2B agency. I might spend several days refining a concept, searching for the perfect headline, and writing body copy for a new campaign.

No matter the communications project and time constraints, it’s a good reminder to concentrate your effort on those first 50 words. Because if you lose the audience at the outset, it doesn’t matter what comes after, or how much polish you applied to the rest of the piece. They’re already gone.

Keep Your Eye on the Goal


Drew Brees and the Saints offense. (Ed Schipul/Flickr)

Forgive me, but I’m going to use a sports analogy. Football, to be specific. When quarterback Drew Brees and the rest of the offensive unit of the New Orleans Saints take the field, they have just one thing in mind: score. They are focused on moving the football down the field and crossing the goal line. That’s it. Nothing else matters.

This is the way it should be in marketing and fundraising pieces. There should be a clear goal or purpose. Get the prospect, customer, or audience to do something: visit a Web site, request information, make a donation, pat head and rub stomach, something.

Here’s another key: Ideally, there should be just one goal or purpose.

The last few days I’ve been working on a fundraising appeal that has too many elements. My client agrees, I think, but her internal client is asking for a lot: to direct the audience to a personal URL, to include a separate ask with three other ways to give, to include a bumper sticker in the mailing, and to incorporate a special message that doesn’t appear to relate to anything else.

I struggled with it because, like the Saints quarterback, I wanted to drive toward just one goal: get the audience to click their personal URL, for instance. Instead, it felt muddled, even though I did my best to write a cohesive appeal.