Recovering from a negative first impression is a challenge. You would never walk into a job interview with jeans and expect to go very far. It is more likely you would press your shirt, wear your suit and hope that at a minimum you convey that you are responsible and invested in yourself.
Why should a headline be any different? It is the first thing a reader sees and the reason they decide to read further.
“On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy,” says David Ogilvy in Ogilvy on Advertising.
A headline should convey the same qualities as a suit: responsibility and investment. It is certainly worth the time it takes to come up with something eye-catching, if it means your readership increases.
The Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) February Tactics issue offers the following headline advice to consider:
Do think about the benefit your content offers the reader.
“Your headline is a promise to prospective readers. Its job is to clearly communicate the benefit that you will deliver to the reader in exchange for their valuable time.”
Don’t make your headlines esoteric or long winded.
“Readers value good information packaged concisely, delivered honestly and written in a familiar language. Good headlines do all of these things.”
Do be concrete and specific.
Headlines are brief, only seven to ten words, and they contain clear subjects and active verbs in the present tense.
Don’t underestimate unexpected inspiration.
“Most of us glance at the tabloids when we’re in line at the supermarket and figure they’re written for — and by — morons. But the truth is, smart copywriters study them, because cheesy tabloids are the masters of the No.1 copywriting skill: the art of the headline.”
This advice, while often directed towards journalists, is also applicable to someone in PR. Ten years ago, press releases were for the journalists: fact oriented and with little awareness of “readership.”
Then the internet revolution: most press releases are now published online and often serve as articles themselves.
With that in mind, it is a good exercise to think of news release titles as headlines. Spend the time coming up with several ideas and ask a friend or colleague which ‘headline’ would lead them to read further.
Make that promise to your reader that they will be “more entertained, more informed, smarter or better off in some way than they were before they began to read.”