Avoid Stoppers!

Whether in an email, memo, special report, letter or anything else, stoppers are deal killers

In early April, I received a press release about Americans losing millions of jobs annually. It was a mess.
As you can see, this is a gray wall of tiny type. “Avoid gray walls of type,” counseled the great guru David Ogilvy.

[See the first image in the media player.]

Compare the layout and design of the first press release with the easy-to-grasp-and-read release about smart building product choices from Kathy Ziprik. [See the second image in the media player.]

If I needed expert P.R. help, I would hire Kathy Ziprik in a heartbeat.

The only thing more boring and unreadable than gray walls of type are gray walls of mouse-type. On my laptop, the American job loss press release appeared to be 7-point type—unreadable until I downloaded and massaged it.

Worse are “stoppers”—copy and headlines that force the reader to stop and lose the thread of concentration.

What are typical stoppers?

  • A headline not immediately clear or compelling—perhaps with a meaningless word.
  • Acronyms and abbreviations the reader doesn’t recognize.
  • Asterisks and footnotes that send the reader off on a goose chase.
  • Sentences longer than 29 words.
  • Wrong words.

Apart from the gray walls of mouse-type, this news release contains nine stoppers in the first three paragraphs.

Here is the headline and first three paragraphs:

America Losing Millions of Jobs Annually: Payscout Says Global eCommerce Levels Playing Field

Dear Denny,

I saw in my Vocus database that you cover business stories. If my information is still accurate, I think this story could fit for Target Marketing.

In 2001, the U.S. was the world’s largest economy, with a GDP of $16.2 trillion (1) — but in the decade since, the U.S. has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities, and millions of jobs have been shipped overseasthe U.S. is reportedly losing half a million jobs to China, one-fourth of the “BRIC” empire, each year (2). The BRIC nation(s)—an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China—is far outpacing the United States’ constantly struggling economy, prompting concern about how America will compete in booming global markets.

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 dennyhatch.com.

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  • Wash Phillips

    All wonderful points, .Denny..
    I have a bone to pick with hed of the good P/R example, however. Less-than- readable stacking, driven by that out-of-its-natural order "colonized") hed so popular in textbooks and professional papers these days. I.e., subject of the hed is NOT "from the ground up," but what follows. And the professional audience sorting out which p/r to publish where would know that and be undeceived by the tricky array…if they could see it directly..
    It does NOT conform to your first takeaway: ""Avoid the hard-to-grasp headline—the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance."

  • Kathy Scheessele

    Great insights, Denny
    Many Thanks!

  • Judy Colbert

    I’m lost when:

    "The first (long) sentence or paragraph tells me that Compan A, the finest, oldest, and most amazing company to ever exist, and Company B, the weirdest, newest, and only company to be headquartered in an old igloo in South Carolina, have combined to do something."

    Tell me company a and company b have done something. Then, tell me about the companies.


    John Doe, the founding president and managing partner for the oldest family-owned hospitality business announces the appointment of Jane Doe as new whatever.

    Jane Doe and her new position are the important part of this message.

    You have maybe 4-6 seconds to catch my attention. I stopped reading a long time ago.

    Keep up the good work, Denny.