Selling your Copy with Headlines, Captions and Blurbs

A reminder of the importance of using headlines, captions and blurbs to "sell" your body copy to the reader.

by Dr. Don Ranly

What would people learn from your publication pages if the only things they read were the titles, the captions, and the blurbs? Because that's all most people read.

What we want to make you realize today is that we have something like 90 percent readership of titles and captions and blurbs. Body copy has about seven to 10 percent readership.

We are writing for non-readers in a hurry. And we spend maybe five to ten percent of our time on what most readers should get the most benefit from. Too many times all we do is tease those readers and don't give them any solid information in these very vital areas.

We spend 80 to 90 percent of our time conceiving articles, writing them, rewriting them, proofreading them and laying them out, and then somebody says, "Oh, we forgot the title!" or "We need a caption over here."

We've got to start talking together at the beginning of the process and not at the end. I think that in far too many publications there are writers, there are editors, and there are designers, and there are photographers – and far too few communicators.

Don't think of yourselves as "writers," "designers," "photographers." We are "presenters of ideas." And our job is to get an idea from our head into the heads of our readers.

Presentation is no longer just the job of the designers. We are all in this business. And we talk about it beforehand. How many times have you written an article, and then pictures or an illustration came, and you said, "Boy if I'd seen those pictures, I would have written that lead differently. I would have given that story a different slant"? It happens all the time.

What some designers love to do is sprinkle big initial caps on there. "Throw on a big 'B.' That'll do it." It's better than nothing, I guess. But do you know why designers do that? Because you don't give them the equipment. You don't give them the elements that they can design into a visually alive and inviting page. If you give them those elements, they'll find room for them. Otherwise, they'll say there's no room.

You've got to talk about that up front. From the conception of the story you involve the photographers and the designers, and you start saying, "How are we going to present this? Is this really a visual story? Is this a graph story? Is this a word story? How are we going to do all of that together?"

That, I think, is creative, and it's actually more fun. And for heavens sakes, we know they don't pay us enough, we might as well have more fun.

Don Ranly spoke at the 1993 EPA convention in Minneapolis. This is excerpted from that workshop.