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Muhammad Ali, Gary Halbert & Me
It was January 1971.
He watched me jump rope. He laughed and yelled, “Hey, white boy! What are YOU doing here?”
It swam like a butterfly, it stung like a bee. He was the Greatest.
me No swimming. Don’t bite. No one.
He had a point. What was I doing there?
Oh yeah. A frustrated football player in college, I decided to be a boxer. So, just before Christmas, 1970, I left the University of Oregon and headed to the Mecca of boxing…the Fifth Avenue Gym in Miami Beach.
Doors opened at noon. Media, microphones. Howard Cosell, Burt Lancaster, Angelo Dundee. Cameras, high rollers, cigarettes. In addition, several dozen children with bent noses and fat ears. The sight was surreal.
But I couldn’t help but notice a disturbing lack of reality inside the ring. Ali hit his sparring partner and trained hard for his first fight against Joe Frazier. Luckily I could laugh at him. Gladder yet I was not there with him.
Three months later, my knee blew out. I retired undefeated, undefeated. “The Greatest” never noticed.
19 years ago
1990 was my 13th year driving a city bus in Miami and Miami Beach. I have started so many businesses and failed, I lost count. I couldn’t sell a lick. He did one stupid thing after another. By this time, I was married with 4 children and cost us tens of thousands of dollars.
During breaks I studied sales letters. I have written several dozen for other people with little success.
I sent samples to the prince of print, Gary Halbert, world champion direct mailer and copywriting genius. Can I work in a $7,000 workshop on the beach?
A few days later the phone rang. Halbert did not laugh. He did not call me a “white boy”. He invited me to the seminar to work for him.
Dissed by Ali, but work with Halbert. YES!
Key West was lucky…for a day.
Monday morning I met with other authors: John Carlton, Brad Antin, David Deutsch, Gene Dowdle, Loretta Duffy, Brad Peterson. All the legends of today.
I met some of the speakers: John Agar, Dan Kennedy, Ken Kerr, Phil Kratzer, Carl Galletti, Bill Myers, Ted Nicholas. More stories. I met Halbert. What could be more fun?
On Monday, Halbert and others talked about their genius. It was amazing. Hot places came on Tuesday.
Oh! Back to “white boy!”
Halbert invited the participant to the front with himself and 3 copywriters. The guest told his work. The collegium asked questions. Then Halbert said something that horrified me:
Halbert wanted one title after another, pop pop pop pop pop. He wanted quality. He wanted a quantity.
Over time (and I mean weeks or months later) I learned the goal: the more points and ideas, the more likely you are to find great copy for your sales letter. Now I accept this as absolute truth and you should too.
But then not. My routine? Sit in front of my word processor with a cup of coffee, think quietly, and occasionally come up with a good idea.
Other copywriters were shouting headlines. I sucked my thumb.
Tuesday was horrible. Wednesday and Thursday weren’t much better. By Friday, I got it…but the week is over.
As I left, I vowed that I would never, ever be so embarrassed.
Back home. To the library. For many years I received Readers Digest, Forbes, Cosmopolitan and other magazines on microfilm. I wrote EVERY headline…over 1500 of them.
The people who write these headlines get paid millions to get attention, sell magazines. They are the best. So why not use that brain power? So I created a file of all the headlines I got from my sources and named that file Shortheads.
I have been using ShortHeads for over 15 years. It made me a lot of money. I used it to find the most popular 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 header is not focused, the rest of your writing will be wasted. I strongly encourage you to compile your own “headline file” that you can pull from whenever you start thinking about a good headline.
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