Posted by Tom Gable
How to break through the clutter and connect with your PR story when shrinking news staffs among most media have resulted in writers and editors being besieged with hundreds of pitches a day? A quick survey of some of the most-besieged journalists provides two simple guidelines: get creative with headlines and subject lines.
Headlines and subject lines need to excite, entice and entertain. For headlines, the best grab the editor’s attention in a short amount of space and lure him or her into a story. The headlines create evocative thoughts and images.
For subject lines, the creative PR professional and writer need to think like a combination of Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron and Stephen King using Twitter. What can be packed into 10 words or less? Can you communicate bigger ideas on why the story is important? What has changed? Can you pose a provocative question?
Whether for headlines or subject lines, a few good tricks are to look for communicating: cause and effect (the new technology will increase productivity 50 percent or more), before and after comparisons (from getting winded on one flight of stairs to running marathons), interesting contrasts (Surfing scientists hold board meetings – the suits are all wet; Soccer mom launches tech support service for others) and the unusual (Air Force sergeant gets bachelor’s degree from Afghan combat zone).
Here are some quick tips for writing better headlines.
- Read the media you are trying to reach and see how they write headlines and organize their stories
- Think about the ultimate target audience – the readers – and what’s important to them
- What’s the news (breaking, feature, investigative, opinion)?
- Can you get creative and stand out from the crowd?
- What style can that embody (fact-based, humorous, the ever-present pun, positioning and visionary, provocative, diplomatic)?
- What are the top three to four facts and impressions you want to leave with the writer and ultimately your audiences?
- Be a stickler for AP style
Beyond the bigger ideas are the details to consider in writing headlines:
- Brainstorm on key words and tags to use for search engine optimization
- Use a two-line headline and two-line subheadline wherever possible to make it easy for the reader and search engines to put it into context
- Have the client name in the first line wherever possible
- Use active verbs
- Have complete thoughts on each line
- Have logical line breaks and balanced lines as best possible, as you see in the media you are trying to reach
- Be smart about punctuation (including commas, semicolons and dashes)
- Use the “So What, Who Cares?” test to see if you’ve got it right
- Read the headline and subheadline aloud and see if it flows
- Edit, edit, edit!