From The Golden Thread Mailbag …
The Lead and the Big Idea

Hi Scott,

What exactly is the difference between the LEAD and the BIG IDEA? I’m not seeing a distinction between them. The copywriting program gives me an assignment to note all the ideas I could include in my lead – however, by this stage, I’ve already done the lead. Not sure what I’m supposed to do – it’s making me feel that I must have missed something important. Any help is very welcome.

Terri M.

Hello Terri,

You just need to go back and re-read Section 23 (pages 223 – 237). The program identifies the lead as "the copy directly after the headline. The lead delivers your big promise and introduces any important ideas that will be woven throughout your letter."

Think of the lead/Big Idea relationship like this: The lead "houses" the Big Idea. The lead’s job is to hook the prospect emotionally into the product and to hook him into reading the rest of the letter. You accomplish this with a powerful, compelling Big Idea. The program gives a very good example on page 226.

If you feel that you can write a better lead after having gotten a little further into the program, go back and do it. All of the assignments are meant to be done and re-done. Remember, good writing means re-writing.

Hi Scott, Just a quick note to let you know that Motley Fool will use my spec assignment from the Founder’s Circle for an upcoming email initiative for the Champion Funds newsletter. All I need to do is make a few minor edits. I’m planning to jump into another spec assignment as soon as I finish making the changes.

Thanks! Mike M.

Hello Mike,

That’s great news! There are two new specs posted on the Founder’s Circle website just waiting for someone to write them. Good Luck!

Hi Scott,

I was wondering how to explain what a copywriter does. I was at a family gathering, and one of my cousins thought it was "copyrighting – and didn’t get the difference. I plan to attend a local group of marketing/graphic design/ad agency professionals and need a good introduction for my copywriting services. What do you recommend? I also want to know what (if anything) I should put on my business cards other than my contact info. Thanks for your help.

Elizabeth S.

Hello Elizabeth,

The short answer is that you write "direct mail." And all you have to do to explain "direct mail" to someone is tell them to look in their mailbox. "You know all those letters and brochures and magazines selling unique products and ideas. Well … that’s what I write."

Copywriters have the sometimes difficult job of introducing/selling the world’s next great ideas before they are great. So in the not-too-distant future, you will almost certainly be able to say, "Hey, do you see this [fill in the blank]? Well, I wrote a promotion for the company that introduced it back when almost nobody had heard of it." Your question about business cards is a good one – and we’ve done articles on the subject in The Golden Thread. A business card should be simple. Other than your contact info, you want to have one line that describes what you do. No more that 11 words. Make it benefit-oriented.

Thanks to one and all. Keep those emails coming!


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Published: December 19, 2005

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