notebook, headline drafting

Mistakes people make: The too-clever headline

A headline is important but I see bad ones on press releases too often. The fact is that these make me less, not more, likely to read on in the release. The headline is important and it’s worth taking some time to get it right.

Some examples might include the colleague who edited a number of women’s magazines. Every year, around February, she’d receive releases with something like “Hurrah for chocolate” and on about paragraph seven you’d find it was actually a plug for a new Easter egg, or offer of some sort.

That’s when she bothered reading it. Often she wouldn’t, because journalists receive around 60 press releases a day and if they don’t leap out and grab us, the chances are very good that we’ll ignore them.

What to put in a headline

…and when I say “headline” I mean it. That’s how we’re going to regard subject lines of emails, they are headlines and they need to reflect the story.

So, what am I looking for? First a lot of journalists like to have the word “press release” or at least “release” at the beginning so that their smart folders on their email systems can file it for them. Second, just tell me what’s happening. Nothing florid, nothing grandiose, just A is doing B, C has signed a deal with D, whatever is going on.

This can cause an issue for writers of some press releases. I get releases because a client has expressed an opinion, because a client is attending an event and plans to make a speech, because a client is going to fire the PR company if a release doesn’t come out soon.

Underlying problems can be very real, and the client who insists on a release coming out when they don’t actually have anything to say is a problem. It’s worth considering behaving as a consultant and pushing back properly when this happens.

Actually, perhaps a good test of a press release is whether it’s possible to write a short, snappy headline to go with it. If you descend to the need for waffle, perhaps it’s time to go back to the client and tell them the story isn’t up to scratch?

Do you or your clients need help with your corporate writing? I can help – contact me by emailing here or fill in the form below.

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