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Muhammad Ali, Gary Halbert & Me
It was January, 1971.
He watched me jump rope. He laughs and calls out, “Hey, white boy! What are YOU doing here?”
It floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. He was the Greatest.
Me? No floating. No picking. Nobody.
He had a point. What WAS I doing there?
Oh, yes. A frustrated college football player, I had decided to become a boxer. So just before Christmas, 1970, I left the University of Oregon and headed for the mecca of boxing … Miami Beach’s Fifth Street Gym.
The doors opened at noon. Media, microphones. Howard Cosell, Burt Lancaster, Angelo Dundee. Cameras, high rollers, cigars. As well as some dozen boys with bent noses and fat ears. The scene was surreal.
But I couldn’t help noticing an alarming lack of unreality in the circle. Ali sparred with his sparring partner, training seriously for his first Joe Frazier fight. Glad we could cheer him up. Gladder again I wasn’t there with him.
Three months later, my knee blew out. I retired undefeated, without a fight. “The Greatest” never noticed.
Fast Forward 19 Years
1990 was my 13th year driving a county bus in Miami & Miami Beach. I had started and failed so many businesses, I lost count. We can’t sell a lick. He did one dumb thing after another. Married with 4 children by now, I had cost us tens of thousands of dollars.
On breaks, I studied sales letters. I had written a couple dozen for other people, with some small success.
I sent samples to Prince of Print, Gary Halbert, world direct mail champion and copywriting genius. Can I work at his $7,000-per-person Key West Seminary by the Sea?
A few days later, the phone rang. Halbert didn’t laugh. He didn’t call me “white boy.” He invited me to work for him in the seminary.
Falling from Ali, but working with Halbert. YES!
Key West was bliss … for a day.
Monday morning, I met with the other copywriters: John Carlton, Brad Antin, David Deutsch, Gene Dowdle, Loretta Duffy, Brad Peterson. All legends today.
I met some of the speakers: John Eger, Dan Kennedy, Ken Kerr, Phil Kratzer, Carl Galletti, Bill Myers, Ted Nicholas. More legends. I met Halbert. What could be more exciting?
On Monday, Halbert and others shared their genius. It was wonderful. On Tuesday came the hotsets.
Whoops! Back to “white boy!”
Halbert called an attendee to the front with himself, and 3 copywriters. The guest described his business. The panel asked questions. Then Halbert shouted words that immediately struck me with fear:
“COPYWRITERS! Headlines! Headlines! Headlines, COPYWRITERS! Headlines!”
Halbert wanted one headline after another, pop pop pop pop. He wanted quality. He wanted size.
In time (and I mean weeks or months later), I understood the purpose: the more opinions and ideas, the better the chance to find many excellent copy points for the sales letter. I now accept this as absolute truth, and you should too.
But not so. My order? Sit at my word processor with a cup of coffee, think leisurely, catch a good idea now and then.
The other copywriters screamed out headlines. I suck my thumb.
Tuesday was terrible. Wednesday and Thursday were not much better. By Friday, I started to get it… but the week was over.
When I left, I promised that I would never, ever, ever again feel so ashamed.
Back home. To the library. I had years of Readers Digest, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, and other magazines on microfilm. I wrote down ALL the headlines…over 1,500 of them.
The people who wrote these heads earn millions to attract attention, to sell magazines. They are the best. So why not leverage that mental power? So I created a file of all the headlines I culled from my sources, and I titled that file Shortheads.
I have been using ShortHeads for over 15 years now. It has made me a lot of money. I used it to come up with (among others) the most recognizable title in the history of network marketing: “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie!”. Your headline is the most important part of any ad or article. If your head doesn’t hold attention, the rest of your writing is wasted. I strongly encourage you to compile your own “headline file” that you can pull from anytime you come up with a good headline.
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