Denny’s Daily Zinger: America’s Greatest Headline Writer

“Your first 10 words are more important than the next 10,000,” wrote America’s super-salesman Elmer “Sizzle” Wheeler (1903-1968).
What are the first 10 words?

  • In the world of advertising, they are called headlines.
  • Newspaper journalists call them heds.
  • On book covers, special reports, white papers, articles, blogs and press releases they are called titles.
  • On memos and emails, they are subject lines.
  • On a direct mail envelope, it’s the teaser.

“Headlines, subject lines, teasers and titles,” wrote the legendary copywriter Bill Jayme, “are the hot pants on the hooker.”—Hot!
Depending on whose statistics you pick, gets between 22 million and 35 million unique visitors a month.

The guy responsible is editor Neetzan Zimmerman, 33, arguably America’s best headline writer. A sampling of Gawker heds:

According to The Wall Street Journal’s Farhad Manjoo, Zimmerman’s secretis a deep connection to his audience’s evolving, irreducibly human, primal sensibilities.”

A fine motto for all writers.

My advice to copywriters: Study

Takeaway to Consider
• “What good is all the painstaking work on copy if the headline isn’t right? If the headline doesn’t stop people, the copy might as well be written in Greek.” –John Caples

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Glenn Peters

    Thanks for two things today, Denny:
    1. The Bill Jayme quote — I never heard it before. It’s a classic!
    2. Resurrecting the name of Elmer "Mr. Sizzle" Wheeler. One of the first first ads I ever wrote was for one of his books, How to Put Yourself Across.
    Keep zinging.