Writing the perfect headline

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. The old adage countless moms uttered to young ones while simultaneously patting down hair or straightening a collar is good advice for press release writers as well.

You already know what makes for a good headline: It’s the stuff that makes you stop what you’re doing to scan the news. A good headline grabs the reader’s attention, encouraging them to take the next step – actually reading your story.

Your headline has to work extra hard for you these days.  In addition to competing against other wire service stories in the newsroom, your headlines also are a key piece in press release SEO strategies,  informing and and attracting  search engine users.   Headlines have to stand out on Facebook and need to be easily shared on Twitter.

Writing headlines – like writing a good tweet – gets easier with practice.  To help you out, here are some tips to create that perfect handful of words that will help you and your company gain critical news coverage and online readership.

First, state your business, and keep your message concise.

Do:

  • Keep it active. If the headline sounds like old news, journalists (and your online audiences) will treat it as such.
  • Try to lose all fluff, adjectives, and jargon.
  • Stick to around seven to eight words. Bonus points if it’s less.

Don’t:

  • Editorialize.
  • Write long, wordy headlines.
  • Use a verb that doesn’t tell the reader/journalist anything.

That last point is very important. Rather than “Company A Announces Partnership With Company B,” try “Company A Partners With Company B to _______.” (That’s the way an editor would write it anyway, so do the work for them.)

More engaging verb examples include: “Company Terminates Contract With,” “Company Forms,” “Company Buys,” “Company Loses,” and “Company Invests in.”

See how these verbs clear up gray areas?

Let’s close with earnings headlines.  As you know, every publicly held company must release earnings on a quarterly basis. This is not new news.

So take the opportunity to tell journalists something about the company’s quarter: “Company Reports 20 Percent Increase in Q1 Profits.” A headline like this will stand out among hundreds of earnings headlines, and editors are likely to notice.

Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal once advised a group at a PR Newswire media coffee to write the headline you’d like to see on your story in the Journal.  Spending a little extra time to craft that perfect headline will generate additional attention for your message – online and in newsrooms.

Media relations manager Christine Cube is our resident journalist. She contributes regularly to @PRNewswire on Twitter and also tweets under the handle @cpcube.

Photo courtesy of The Italian Voice via Flickr

5 responses to “Writing the perfect headline

  1. Very helpful advice indeed. People often struggle getting to the point, but that’s what is needed with headlines.

  2. And if they don’t like your blog heading twice, they dont ever open another. I am cutting my headlines down to ineresting, non fluff, keyword rich, gems. This is my opinion anyway and it seems to be working. Everytime I read a blog like yours, that emphasises this, I seem to get better at it.

    Many thanks. I’ll keep reading your blogs.

    • Thanks for the comments, David and Chuck. Whenever I talk about headlines, I’m reminded of the saying that’s attributed to Mark Twain, in which he started a long letter to a friend with the apology “Sorry to have written such a long letter, I didn’t have the time to write a short one.” It might take more time to craft the beautifully edited, tightly written message – but it’s worth it!

  3. Glad the blog was helpful, guys. Headlines can be tricky. I’ve read and written thousands of them. It definitely gets easier with practice.

  4. Pingback: What Makes One Press Release More Successful Than Another? | Beyond PR

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