_selling a story


How to sell a story

Reading a magazine is like window shopping. Your eye is caught by the display (headline/presentation), and you check out the price tags (captions, logos, etc...). Intrigued, you enter and browse, till a saleperson wanders up and gives you the pitch (standfirst, aka strap). This is the essential sale, inviting you to sample and to part with your cash. The role of the opener is to display the story and draw the reader into the copy. Confused readers move on. At the meeting we analysed good and bad openers, studying them for examples of how not to go wrong. By the end we recognised the vital role of the standfirst in selling the story.

You won't go wrong if...
A Be obvious. A bit of clarity is more valuable than a bit of enigma.
C Look out for layers. Use logos, branding, flags, quotes, details, boxouts, prices, captions, body copy etc... to give the reader different levels at which to enter. Let details breathe.
D Any illustrations must complement the story/words and work together.
E Use impact. Be bold. Let opening spreads breathe. No body copy?
F If you do use a cliche or pun, make sure it is appropriate and that you re-work the phrase.
G Focus on continuity. Too often an opening spread looks like two individual pages.
I Is it obvious to the reader where the body copy starts?
J Short standfirsts are usually better than long ones. Most will be 20-30 words.
K Don't be strangled by style. Be prepared to lose the furniture on openers.
L Think about the sentiment of the reader, and not how hard you've worked on the story. What is it about the feature that is attractive to the reader?
M The emphasis of cover stories must continue inside the magazine.
N Don't let the grids determine the layout of opening pages. Make your openers unique.
P Make sure any questions asked in a headline are a) answered and b) suitable.
Q Beware full stops at the end of standfirsts. Surely nothing should interrupt the reading flow from standfirst to intro?

Your instant guide to standfirsts that fail to sell
A Don't offer a get-out clause. "Summer's arriving, and if you have gardening woes, why not let your PC help you plan a new back yard?" Why not? Well I don't want a new back yard, so even if the feature is fascinating I've been offered a reason not to read.
C Be direct. "A brake is nothing without a lever to pull. They complement with comfort, strength, power and control. Gez Jone finds his hands full of the little squeezers". This doesn't tell the reader that we've tested six levers and are going to show which is best for what price.
D Answer the question:. "There's no finer sight than a gundog in full flight over an obstacle. Most are natural jumpers, but don't despair if your's isn't, says Rob Smith." So what? At least we can all feel comforted that grounded gundogs aren't unique.
E Sell it to me with benefits: "The right tools and strategies for working at home" (following a headline in Macworld). Nothing else on the opener, at the start of a huge feature. No effort to sell. Nothing to say that my doubts will be allayed by their special 12-page feature, which shows me what kit to buy and how to lay out my home office.

Standfirsts that cut the mustard
Great standfirsts have Benefits, and they Lead the reader into the article with Authority, Intrigue and Detail (the BLAID theory).
A MBUK: "In the last of the series, British XC Champ Barrie Clark demonstrates the art of levitating over roots to beef up your cross country results". Authority, detail, benefit.
C Official Playstation: "The Steel City's biggest softco, Gremlin Interactive, has seen good times and bad. But it invested early in new technology and now it's at the forefront of the 32-bit revolution. PSM investigates..." Intriguing and detailed. I feel sure to learn from this even though the standfirst does not directly tell me how I can benefit.