ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
February 5, 2009

Headline How-To’s: Three Tips for Propelling Readers Into Your Release


The headline is one of the first things a reader sees in your press releases, pitches and other media relations pieces. If it’s not effective, the headline may be the last thing the reader sees, as well.

Use these three tips to write more effective headlines:

  1. Telegraph a single newsworthy story. Your headline should cover one story, not many. Here’s a quick test to run on your headline: Count the number of commas, semicolons, dashes and other punctuation it includes. Each piece of punctuation may be a clue that you’re trying to cover too many ideas in your headline.
  2. Keep the headline to eight words or fewer. That’s the number of words in a sentence readers can comprehend
     completely, according to a study by the American Press Institute. At that length, editors and reporters should be able to understand your point at a glance.
  3. Check your verb. “A story should be a verb, not a noun,” said Byron Dobell, former editor of Esquire. Something should be happening here. To make sure your verb is strong, ask:
  • Is the verb enticing? Does it telegraph that something interesting is happening here? (Note: “Announced” ain’t it.)
  • Is it the second or third word in the headline? Or is it buried behind a nine-word product name or the names of each of your company’s 17 project partners?
  • Is it in the active voice? The present or future tense?

Once you’ve gained attention in the headline, use the deck — a.k.a. the summary blurb under the headline — to sell the reporter on the story. Too many public relations professionals drop this essential element. Make yours clear, concise and compelling.

Anatomy of a Press Release
Want to learn more?
Join me for PRSA’s teleseminar “Anatomy of a News Release, Pitch and E-Mailed Release: Are Your Press Materials Among the 3 Percent to 45 Percent That Actually Work?”

You’ll walk away with formats, do’s and don’ts, and rules of thumb for effective public relations writing. They didn’t teach you this in PR 101!

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Source: Ann Wylie, “Grab attention in the headline: How to propel readers into the piece,” RevUpReadership.com.

By Ann Wylie, president of Wylie Communications. Ann works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. She travels from Hollywood to Helsinki, helping communicators at such organizations as NASA, AT&T and H&R Block. She is the author of more than a dozen learning tools, including RevUpReadership.com, a toolbox for writers. In addition to writing and editing, Ann helps organizations launch or revitalize their Web sites and publications, and helps communicators. Ann has served as a public relations professional in an agency, corporate communicator for Hallmark Cards, editor of an executive magazine and as a consultant in her own firm. Her work has earned 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills.

Join Ann for her teleseminars, “Anatomy of a News Release, Pitch and E-Mailed Release: Write Releases That Get Posted on Portals, Help Google Find Your Site, Reach Readers Online and More” and “How to Write a Social Media Release: Write Releases That Get Posted on Portals, Help Google Find Your Site, Reach Readers Online and More.”

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