Strengthen Your Lead Using "AWAI's Rule of Thumb"

"Send in a headline and a lead."

Marketing directors frequently ask you to do this now rather than asking for a completed first draft. It saves a great deal of time and effort on everybody's part.

It allows your client to review where you're heading before you go too far off in the wrong direction. It helps you get quick feedback – and often generates ideas that help you produce a stronger promotion.

But two questions I frequently get from my coaching students are "What is a lead?" and "How do I know when I have one?"

I wish there were an easy answer to that first question, but it comes more from experience than from a particular rule.

In general, your lead is as much of your copy – after your headline – as is necessary to get the prospect committed to reading your letter.

I advise my coaching students to use AWAI's Promise-Picture-Proof structure in writing their letters. With this very powerful, proven structure, the lead is often the Promise and the Picture sections.

You could argue that a strong promise should be enough to keep the prospect reading. But the picture part of your copy is where you really begin tapping into your prospect's emotions. This is where you get her to imagine how much better her life will be because of your product.

So when you've been asked to send in a headline and lead, do this:

Open with a strong, bold, personalized promise. Base this promise on the real, three-dimensional image you've developed of your prospect.

Then write a compelling word picture that clearly illustrates how much your prospect's life will improve once she reads your letter and buys your product. But, if at all possible, avoid overt references to your product at this time. (This is the principle of "transparency," which we'll discuss in a future issue of The Golden Thread.)

And that's your lead … almost.

Almost. We writers are notorious for doing two things that get in the way of strong writing.

First, we "warm up." It's difficult to sit down and start writing great copy right from the get-go. It takes most writers two, three, or more paragraphs before we get to what we really want to say.

Second, we feel the need to explain, set the stage, introduce. WE may feel the need, but the reader does not need to read it.

This is where AWAI's Rule of Thumb comes in.

Put your thumb (or a piece of paper) over the first paragraph in your copy. Read from the second paragraph on. Is your copy stronger without that first paragraph? If so, get rid of it. (But don't delete it. I'll tell you why in a moment.)

Repeat this process with the next paragraph – and keep doing it until you reach the point where you cannot eliminate the paragraph.

That paragraph is the opening of your lead.

Now … what do you do with all the paragraphs you eliminated in this process? As I said, don't delete them. Instead, copy them to the end of your file or into another file. They may come in handy someplace else in the promotion.

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Published: November 22, 2004

27 Responses to “Strengthen Your Lead Using "AWAI's Rule of Thumb"”

  1. Very informative. Looking forward to more on the subject in The Golden Thread.

    nbrahDecember 27, 2009 at 4:13 pm

  2. Interesting advice. I'm currently working on the 'restaurant' homework. I'll use it there. (I'm reading ahead to scout the landscape, so to speak.)

    JulietDecember 29, 2009 at 6:40 pm

  3. The "Rule of Thumb" is an interesting concept. Hopefully you don't get to the end before you come up with a lead paragraph.

    HirshJanuary 8, 2010 at 3:07 pm

  4. Great info and insight. I will put it to use immediately.

    Chas757March 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm

  5. Excellent advice to lead with the strongest copy and then support it.

    LaraJFMarch 9, 2010 at 5:25 pm

  6. This advice will really help to stop the verbal diarrhea!

    SuzetteMarch 16, 2010 at 6:15 am

  7. Got it. A "promise" and a "picture" will certainly enhance the "wing and a prayer" for the 'journey' ahead.

    cazwriteMarch 21, 2010 at 10:33 am

  8. Ya, this is good. I printed it for future reference.

    FrankyMarch 22, 2010 at 11:50 pm

  9. Extremely useful. I was working on a follow up email campaign and was struggling. I ended up deleting the first paragraph of all three emails I wrote and that made all the difference.

    K WhiteApril 14, 2010 at 10:13 pm

  10. This is a great technique, i am going to use it right away in my restaurant homework

    OscaritoMay 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm

  11. Concise and quite helpful.

    JenniferMay 31, 2010 at 6:01 pm

  12. Very good. And concise. Gets right to the point, I like that. Would have liked an example of how not to make a direct reference to the product in the lead.

    ReadMeJune 3, 2010 at 5:30 pm

  13. This is so true; I have realized that I must discard the urge to build up to what I really want to say. People won't read that far.

    DemosthenesJuly 21, 2010 at 1:38 am

  14. I am working on the Picture and the Promise, so that I will have a strong lead. Thanks for the tip.

    A Francis July 22, 2010 at 9:16 pm

  15. Very informative. Just what I needed to learn today. I have been struggling with headlines and leads and this will help a lot. Thank you.

    Margaret from Follett TexasAugust 31, 2010 at 11:58 am

  16. Thanks for pointing out this useful technique for creating a strong headline and lead. I will experiment with this valuable tip.

    Guest (Youpele)October 26, 2010 at 2:16 pm

  17. This article will help me big times, it is very important to be aware of, because I feel I won't be able to keep growing without master them first

    OscaritoOctober 31, 2010 at 4:45 pm

  18. Great info, thank you!

    WriteeoDecember 7, 2010 at 2:58 pm

  19. Taught writing for twenty years. Told students the same thing---sometimes your first paragraph is really your last paragraph, too. Don't know if that works for copywriting. Will get further in to find out.

    mrsbraithwaiteJune 29, 2011 at 11:57 am

  20. This is great and useful information that anyone can use for multi purposes...
    M

    MJuly 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

  21. This information is very helpful. I will use it as I continue to learn.

    SheilaJAugust 4, 2011 at 4:10 am

  22. This is very similar to the problem with people who insist on giving you too much information in a conversation before getting to the point.

    I like applying all of these to my restaurant letter. Allows me to immediately use what I just learned.

    MichelleSeptember 5, 2011 at 10:18 am

  23. I just love it!!! Uh-what exactly is a lead?! It's just what I wanted to know, bc it says to write one for the Boot Camp. This was VERY helpful, esp as I am trying desperately to make progress in the Accelerated Course, make sense of the HUGE resources and directions of AWAI, and get a handle on what is most necessary first. I am only at the end of the first installment, and there is about a month left B4 Boot Camp....!!!

    JosieSeptember 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

  24. Took my time moving through Installment 1. I have some refresher work to do. I am currently working on my restaurant letter. I thought I had done OK until I read this section. More work to do. By the way - I really like what I am learning from AWAI.

    JamesNovember 9, 2011 at 8:29 am

  25. Yep! I can see where the rule is coming from. I know for myself, in the past, if an article or invitation or any written word did not grab my attention in the very beginning, well you get the picture. Two points I would like to make. First, some people do not like to read at all and they will be some of your buyers. You have to grab there attention, VERY QUICKLY. AND, the second point is, everyone is super busy today and many of us do not have the time for articles that do not get right to the point. So having said that to say this. GET TO THE POINT AND DO NOT WASTE YOUR CREATIVE TIME NOR THERES.

    ROBT BJuly 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

  26. In a way, it IS like Hemingway: be concise, eliminate the unecessary. just like photography: if it is not essential to the photo, and in the case of copywriting - the central idea, it shouldn't be there. You may only have a couple of seconds to keep the reader from turning away. No margin for error.

    RickDecember 22, 2012 at 12:32 am

  27. Great article! Thank you. I completed my restaurant letter, and I'm working through the rest of the course to complete my second and last assignment.

    Giselle MazuratJanuary 2, 2013 at 2:05 am


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