This is how to tweak your headlines for success

This is how to tweak your headlines for success

You know those ‘How to write better headlines’ guides?

“10 Knock-Their-Socks-Off Press Release Headline Tips”

“The science behind high-performance headlines.”

“3 Tips to Draft Head-Turning Press Release Headlines”

And so on, and so on, and…

Nice. Fine. Helpful.

BUT.

While I love the idea of writing 20 headlines, sending the list to friends and colleagues, collating the results, then cherry-picking the most popular one… seriously. Who has the time?

And devoting the same number of hours to the headline—as the press release?  If only there were enough hours in the day.

So when I read these blogs, I’m left thinking…OK, thanks for the theory, now SHOW me an example. Can you relate? How often have you searched for an example headline? A headline that powered through the rot, gunk and goo of a journalists inbox, grabbed them by the scruff and shouted PICK ME! A headline that totally nailed it?

Not an easy thing to do.

Because, you can’t really ever tell what triggered a journalist to click on your email.

It could be the interesting topic. It could be a clickbaity headline. It could be that nothing else grabs their fancy.

Last year, something EYE-OPENING happened to me.

It was a breezy April morning; and with a freshly brewed pot of green tea at my side, I sat down to write a press release.

BESPOKE PIANO COMPANY UNVEILS WORLD’S MOST LUXURIOUS PIANO

On paper, it seemed like a pretty engaging story. I mean, what on earth constitutes the world’s most luxurious piano? Keys hand-carved by angels? Unicorn wood?

It was bold and it was newsworthy. (My story: let’s run with it).

I built a beautiful news room, carefully displayed my assets and meticulously-researched my influencers—then got a nice early night. The next morning—all guns glazing—I unleashed my story.

Who could possibly resist this? Turns out, almost everyone. Even my list of carefully researched influencers...

So I looked at the messaging and rewrote the headline:

DUBAI SHEIKH BUYS £420,000 BRITISH PIANO STUDDED WITH HALF A MILLION SWAROVSKI CRYSTALS

Aaaand, BAM! The editors I’d spoken to yesterday, pricked up their ears. My Press Association contact went bananas. One national newspaper (who’d snubbed the story) called me up—tail between legs. Suddenly we were awash with interest from radio, TV, newspapers, supplements, magazines and bloggers—all clamouring for the story.

Same story, different headline.

So what happened? In a nutshell: we got specific.

We turned a lofty concept (world’s most luxurious piano) into something reach-out-and-taste-it tangible. We added numbers, money, a protagonist, two evocative locations (and a sprinkling of sparkle). From fuzzy, obscure concept to technicolour soap opera in one tappety-tap of my keyboard.

And the impact of this simple tweak? Mind boggling amounts of coverage.

Why?

Because journalists don’t have time to sumo-wrestle with your vague, watery headline. If you’re not crystal-clear in your headline, they’ll skip right over you. (Even if a seam of pure news gold lies beneath).

Next: Shareability.

Ask yourself: is this headline Buzzfeed friendly? Would I share this story on Facebook? If the answer is yes, your headline has potential.

Because journalists need stories that get clicked and shared. Not because it makes them feel good (though that helps). But because, they’ve got editors to keep happy. And those editors have traffic targets to hit. Because these days, an editor’s worth is just as much about page views and unique monthly visitors, as it is in, you know…editing.

So write your headline like a journalist. If they like it, they might just use it verbatim.  

Now (I hear you say): Why hadn’t I written it like that in the first place? Good question.

A few reasons:

1. Forgetting journalists are crazy-edge-of-their-seats busy

2. Focusing more on the client’s needs, than the final readers—come on, we’ve all done it!

3. Not considering shareability enough—in this dog-eat-dog, data-driven digital world.

So, there you go! I made the mistake, so you don’t have to.

Plus: concrete evidence that headline science really does work.

Here’s to productive mishaps, specific & shareable headlines and happy clients.

Tam Henderson runs Gather Creative a PR & copywriting agency in Cambridge, England.  Get in touch @GatherCreative. She’d love to hear from you.

Photo: Newspapers folded via Shutterstock

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