If You Want Headlines, Write a Good Headline
I started out with a lofty ambition to identify the 10 best or worst press release headlines of the week. But a quick browse through some of this week’s releases on PR Newswire made that mission more difficult than I thought because there were very few standouts – good or bad.
However, two did catch my eye. This one was hard to ignore: Amnesty International and Ozzy Osbourne Salute 70th Anniversary of John Lennon's Birth With Exclusive Digital Release on iTunes Store. It’s the sheer unusualness of hearing Ozzy and Amnesty International in the same place that makes this work. Likewise, this one caught my eye because I’m not really sure what it means: World's Largest Social Media Conference to Include Exclusive Social Media Business Summit. Presumably the Social Media Conference will include some sort of content on the business of social media, so this doesn’t tell me more than I might have already guessed.
The typical press release headline is very predictable though. “XYZ launches new version of XYZ product” or “XYZ Company Wins XYZ Award.” Here are just a few from this week:
I like these because of their brevity, but unless a reporter is seeking out information about your company because you’re in a hot space (Boxee) or are a blue chip company (IBM), it’s tough to get noticed. For both of these headlines, I still don’t know why the announcements are important or what makes them unique.
Now let’s look at a few headlines from the top tech blogs this week:
- Almost A Year After It Hit Android, Google Finally Adds Goggles To The iPhone (TechCrunch)
- Yahoo Buys Dapper, Which Makes It Easy For Ad Buyers To Create And Track Online Ads (Silicon Alley Insider)
These both create a little bit of tension, while explaining the importance of what you are about to read. PR agencies are tasked with the daunting challenge of writing headlines that their clients will approve and the media will read and then write about. Frequently, these two goals are mutually exclusive, but I will leave that battle for my fearless colleagues and their own clients. Here are my two cents on the three things that make for a good headline (and thanks to Lisa Mokaba for #4 and #5):
- Keep it short. Twitter has made us used to 140 characters and more importantly, to optimize your release for search engines, you need to get your keywords in up front. The rest simply don’t matter.
- Controversy breeds interest. Find the tension in your story and lead with it. And if you don’t have controversy, Ozzy Osborne is always a good option. We did a campaign awhile back where the winner would get to eat Thanksgiving with him at his house. Let’s just say that TMZ posted it with an interesting graphic of Ozzy biting the head off of a bat over Thanksgiving dinner.
- Highlight why this is important. Having a new product is not news on its own. How does it change the landscape of your industry? Is it the first of its kind? What will its impact be? Find the things that set your announcement apart. And if you don’t have them, maybe you should not be making an announcement.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep. To quote the Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” One headline I read this morning announced an “unhackable system.” To me, that’s just asking for trouble. Same with “only,” and “first.” Make sure you’re really first, because math doesn’t lie.
- Tell us how you really feel. Your company may be proudly announcing something, excited for someone to join the team or looking forward to the future. We know. That’s why you are putting out a press release. Tell us what it means, not how you feel.
Don’t make your headline an afterthought. They should be the centerpieces of your announcements. Make them interesting, informative or fun. At the very least, make them something. Happy writing!