News releases are not what they used to be. People no longer have the time or energy to sift through tons of content or to extract the gist upon a quick glance. They want to receive information quickly, concisely, and as much to the point whenever possible. Most importantly, they want to know why something matters or should matter to them.
For PR professionals writing a news release to showcase their client’s story, the headline is arguably the most critical piece. It needs to tell the entire narrative in one quippy, bold sentence. It needs to pique the interest of media in one second or less, and it must showcase the underlying human interest that hooks readers’ attention right off the bat.
Here are my top tips for making your headline count:
1. Write the headline first
When drafting a news release, many PR practitioners start with the body of the release, the boilerplates, the quotes, etc. While it can be helpful to develop an outline before you tackle any writing project, the release headline should come first. Envisioning the headline, you would want to appear in a news story often helps in achieving your media coverage goal. Approaching the release in this way also makes the rest of the release flow more naturally, and ensures that the content all ladders up to the overarching narrative.
2. Make it active
This goes for all writing, not just headlines – whether we realize it or not, when reading active sentences, we are often left with a feeling that the content was well written and insightful. Ensuring the words used in the release are all active tense, and not past – leads to stronger, more effective headlines.
3. 8 words or less
Keep it short and simple. News release headlines should not be run-on sentences. They should be short, simple, and a clear articulation of the release subject.
4. Minimal to no brand mentions
I cannot stress this enough. Unless your release is about a company-specific announcement such as a new board appointment, rebrand, or merger and acquisition – brand mentions should be left to the body of the release. Media and readers do not like to read overly promotional materials. They want to consume content that’s insightful and offers good value for them. Brand inclusions within headlines often turn media off of wanting to read through the rest of a release.
5. SEO Friendly
Incorporating keywords that are frequently searched into the headline and body of your release will help to ensure you get more eyeballs on your content, that it’s easily discovered, and will make it more appealing for social sharing.
Strong and compelling writing takes ongoing practice, practice, practice. In applying these top tips when writing your next news release headline, you are sure to grab the attention of readers and media. Happy writing!