FRIDAY INSIGHTS

Write a good headline, not just a boring header

The first advice here should perhaps have been the last. Since you should always write the headline last of all.

But then again, it is fun to break the rules. Most rules about writing are there to be broken. Not always, but quite often. The things you were taught in school about grammar is not something that applies to the exciting work of more creative writing.

Back to headlines!

Headlines only have one purpose: to make the reader read on. They are not supposed to describe the content of the text that follows.
“Instructions for dish washer” is not a headline.
”Dish washers cause 10 000 fires a year” is a headline.

When you write a press release there is a few things to keep in mind:

  • The text has to be relevant for the one on the receiving end
  • If they want, they should be able to publish the text without to much editing

To succeed with the first part, you really have to think about who will see the text: an editor, your clients, employees, visitors to your web page. Perhaps it is all of those and more.

If you do not write for a household brand, one that more or less everyone has a relation to, you need to adapt the text for exactly the right target. A press release made for all audiences will be watered down, lukewarm and plain boring.
If you succeed in making exactly the right top 1 target media interested and to publish you have won. Everything after that is a bonus. Think ”sniper rifle” rather than ”shotgun”.

When you have recogniced your target it is much easier to start thinking about an angle that will work. What’s the story? The real story. For them. Not the one you and your boss and co-workers think is the most interesting. You are not the receiver. And your boss definitely is not.

To motivate publication you need news value. And in order to complicate things further, each news outlet and each editor have different ideas about what is worthy to print.
But here is four things that always – yes, always – increases the news value of a press relase:

  • Numbers and statistics. Cold hard numbers always beats ever so lovely words.
  • New, or at least not well known, facts.
  • Real life examples. They are always better than hypothetical possibilities.

Never underestimate how you can make use of current affairs and things that already are in the media. They are published for a reason: they generate traffic and sells. Use that.

Hopefully, an interesting news angle and good news value will make the reader keep on reading far below the headline. Perhaps all the way down to the boilerplate (the often smallish text in the bottom that tells the most important facts about the sender).
The best way to find the right angle is to write a good start. The first three sentences is key.
So rewrite them.
Again and again.
Perhaps 50 times. Or perhaps 100.

When you have nailed the start the rest will go easy. It is like getting the ketchup out of the bottle. But it can time to get it going.
Writing is an art. But it is even more just plain hard work. Rewriting and killing your darlings is a big part. The rest is stamina and sweat.

As Hemingway said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

And you always write the headline last.

niclas

WRITTEN BY

NICLAS LÖVKVIST, senior advisor & CEO