“Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods.
Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund “Pat” Brown.”
Take a few seconds to read through the story above.
Then, find the lead in it.
If you’ve never heard of it, the lead (or lede, as some people like to call it), is the first sentence of any sales email, sales page, or any other piece of copy you write.
It’s main purpose? Get the reader interested enough to continue reading to the next sentence (and hopefully, until the end of your copy).
So go on, stop reading this blog post and find the lead based on the description above that is most likely to catch the attention of your readers (in this case: imagine you’re writing a newspaper article).
What do you think the lead is?
Did you think of something like…
“Governor Pat Brown, Margaret Mead and Robert Maynard Hutchins will address the Beverly Hills High School Faculty on Thursday in Sacramento…”
(Most people will think of something like that)
“There will be no school this Thursday!”
(if you did, nice work, you’ve found the lead!)
What you just experienced here is called Burying The Lead.
What does “Burying The Lead” mean?
This copywriting framework was born somewhere between 1861 and 1865, during the Civil War.
During the war, the telegraph machines that war correspondents used to deliver news were unreliable, and you would never know when the connection would die.
They were forced to deliver the most important news first (instead of burying the lead).
Just imagine that instead of saying “The enemy has reached our gates!”, the war correspondent would say “Thank you for the supplies you sent us yesterday,…” and then lose the connection.
It would be a disaster!
In Civil War, burying the lead meant the difference between life and death.
Burying The Lead in Copywriting
In copywriting, it makes the difference between readers reading your sales emails and sales pages until the end (and opening their wallets), or closing them (leaving you with an empty wallet).
It’s also one of the quickest ways to take your copy from “BORING!” to “can’t keep my eyes off you!”.
Today, we’ll learn how to NOT bury the lead, so you can fill up your wallets with those golden coins!
And since one of the best way to learn a new copywriting framework is through real-life examples, let’s study a few of them!
Don’t Bury The Lead: Example #1
Let’s start by analyzing this very blog post I wrote.
The intuitive way to start this email would be by saying something like:
“Ever heard of “burying the lead”?”
“In copywriting, there’s a framework called burying the lead…”
While the intuitive way to start writing a blog post MIGHT be to simply say what you’ll talk about today, it’s not the most interesting way to start the email.
Similarly, if you ever started a sales email with:
- “Yesterday, we talked about…”
- “Today, we’re going to talk about…”
Or any other part of copy that’s not the most important or interesting part of your copy, you likely buried the lead.
Now take a few minutes, study this blog post up to this point, and see if you can find an alternative lead to it.
Try to find the most interesting part of the blog post – a story, a fact, a statistic,… something that would peak the interest of my readers enough to keep reading the blog post.
For extra credit, you can also think of a completely different lead you would use to write this blog post.
Ok, now stop reading, and go find the alternative lead(s).
As you can see, I started with a story that I’ve found in Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick, where I first familiarized myself with the concept of burying the lead.
I came up with this story during my research for this email, and chose to lead with it because I felt like it was the strongest way for you to EXPERIENCE burying the lead first-hand and instantly internalize the concept.
Alternatively, I could have lead with the origin story from Civil War…
…or, I could come up with a lead like this (from one of the blog posts I’ve found on lead writing online):
It’s hard to say which of these leads would be best without testing all of them, but it’s safe to say that all of them are far more interesting than saying “Today we’ll talk about burying the lead!”.
Don’t Bury The Lead: Example #2
Let’s look at another example from the email I sent to my email list to announce The Copywriting Hell Week – a copywriting challenge I created for my readers.
Take a few minutes, study the email, and identify 3 potential leads.
Again, the boring way to start my email would be saying something like:
“Today, I’m excited to announce a new copywriting challenge!…”
We want to do better than that.
Instead, I researched how Hell Week works, and crafted a story based on it:
I dove right into the story, and added a visual image to get your attention.
The lead worked, as my inbox was flooded with hundreds of responses from my readers within a few hours of sending out the email:
This isn’t the only lead I could use though.
I could also start my email with my story of doing 1,000 push-ups in 1h17min, or I could come up with a different story altogether.
Don’t Bury The Lead: Example #3
Our final example is the beginning of a sales email from one of my clients, Sam Gavis-Hughson (he helps coders land jobs at companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook):
Where’s the lead in this email?
What’s the most interesting part of it?
Did Sam nail it, or did he bury the lead?
If you guessed that he buried it, you guessed correctly!
The lead in this email is at the very end of the screenshot:
“Getting good at interviewing could mean a $5k raise (or more). Invested over 40 years, just $5k per year turns into more than $1 MILLION.”
This is how my copywriting friend Alp Turan rewrote this very email with a better lead during an email copywriting workshop he hosted for my readers:
Notice how a small change in narrative instantly made the email WAY more compelling (I love the subject line $1m excuses as well!).
How to Stop Burying The Lead in Your Copy
If you paid close attention to the examples in this blog post, not burying the lead is rather simple:
- After writing a sales page, a sales email, a blog post (or any other piece of copy), scan it to find the lead.
- The lead is the most interesting piece of information in the email (typically a story, a statistic, a fun fact, a big desire or problem of your audience…)
- Once you’ve found the lead, replace your existing lead with it.
Copy Drills: Don’t Bury The Lead!
Now you know how to spot the lead… but you’ll only internalize this framework until you know how to spot leads intuitively by practicing it.
Just like Kobe Bryant didn’t go to sleep before he made 400 shots a day, neither should you before you find 400 new leads a day!
(excuse my bad sense of humor, that was a well-intended joke)
This is where Copy Drills come in.
To help you stop burying the lead, I designed a series of copywriting drills and exercises that you can use to get better at finding the leads in your copy.
Copy Drill #1: Find the lead
The first exercise you can do to get better at finding the leads is to simply spot them in the wild.
You can do that by:
- Working through your “swipe file” of good copy you’ve found online.
- Reviewing your old sales funnels, sales pages, engagement emails, blog posts (or other copy)
- Reviewing copy of other entrepreneurs or copywriters you follow (simply search for emails from them in your inbox)
- Paying attention to the leads any time you read something (blog posts, books, emails, ads,…)
The more you practice finding the buried leads, the faster you’ll get at spotting them in your own copy.
As a benchmark, I suggest applying this drill to at least 50 pieces of copy – that should be plenty to start “seeing” the patterns in the copy.
Copy Drill #2: Rewrite old leads
As an extension of the previous drill, you can replace the existing leads with better leads every time you find a buried lead.
I encourage you to do that with your own copy, as well as with copy of other entrepreneurs you follow.
This is a great way to get better at writing engaging leads that really “hook” your readers into your writing.
Copy Drill #3: Get a second set of eyes on your copy
Another great way to find buried leads in your copy is to get out of your own head and show your copy to a copywriting coach, a client, a reader or a friend.
As they read through it, pay attention to their reactions. When do they laugh, stop, smile, or shout “yes! this is amazing!” or “I love this part!” or “that’s super interesting!”.
When they do, you’ve found the lead!
This is what I regularly do with my copywriting coaching clients – I help them find the leads that they can’t see with their own eyes, which helps them get better at coming up with their own leads.
When in doubt, get a second set of eyes on your copy!
Copy Drill #4: Make lead-finding part of your writing process
Finally, I encourage you to make finding the right leads part of your writing process every time you sit down to write copy:
- Think about what the lead for the copy is BEFORE you ever write it
- Write the copy
- Once finished, double-check your copy if you wrote the best possible lead, or if you can find a better lead for it
This way, you’ll bury the leads way less often,
Then, once you finish writing the email, double-check that you actually started your copy with the correct lead, and that you didn’t bury it.
If you find an even more interesting lead, replace your existing lead with it!
Want to write copy that converts? Join The Copywriting Hell Week!
If you liked this blog post, you’ll love Copywriting Hell Week.
Copywriting Hell Week is my 7-day copywriting challenge that will teach you how to write copy that converts first-time website visitors into loyal customers and raving fans.
Through 7 copywriting missions, I’ll teach you 7 secret copywriting skills of world’s best copywriters through exercises and drills – and get you started on your mission of becoming a master copywriter.
The result? More traffic, more email subscribers, more sales – for years to come.
Just enter your name and email address in the box below, and join in on the fun!
P.S. This article is part of my new series called “Copy Drills”, where I share practical copywriting drills that help you write better copy. If you love it, do leave a comment below to let me know about it – or share the article with a friend who wants to write better copy!
Emmanuel Uzoezie says
The illustration of the civil war caught my attention though. It’s interesting to know the vital role the telegram machine played during the war. And this article was quite impressive digging through until I was able to get down to the button. Glad you gave a simple tip to stop to bury these lead.