One glance at your local coupon clipper will indicate the low quality of ads in the home improvement category. And that's a good thing, since ads that are even a little bit better than your competitors' ads speak volumes about your company and its work, and help set it apart. It can also help your ad deliver more leads per dollar spent.

SINGLE HEADLINES ARE POWERFUL Home improvement company ads go wrong on two counts. First, when they use multiple headlines. Why is that bad? Well, somehow an ad must be noticed in the welter of competing messages. If it has many different words and phrases in bold type, there's less chance that it will be.

The reader should have no confusion about what to read first, and top billing should go to the most compelling benefit of your product or offer. If your ad offers several products, don't resort to competing headlines. Embrace all products under a single overarching benefit headline, such as “Fall Savings on Energy Star Home Improvements.”

If your ad space is focused on a single product, your banner headline should be the product's central benefit. Secondary issues (financing, colors choices, company crews) shouldn't compete with the banner head for initial attention. If the headline does its job, the details will be read.

USE WHITE SPACE White space acts like a spotlight on your headline; everything around it diminishes the stopping power of that headline. In an ad, too much product detail makes the decision seem complex and it's more apt to be deferred.

Examine every element that appears in your ad and ask: “Will this BBB or NARI logo, or this string of credit card emblems, cause someone to call who otherwise wouldn't? Can it be handled in text?” Bottom line: Is this information more valuable than the white space it occupies?

Your aim should be to make your ad the simplest, cleanest, easiest to read in that editorial environment. Remember: White space can make the headline get noticed and the phone ring.

—John Stevens is a partner in Peterson/Stevens, an advertising agency specializing in brand-building and lead generation for the home improvement industry.; 800.270.0911.