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David Ogilvy’s writing secrets could be just what you need for better headlines

01 Jun, 2020 Messaging

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

The best way to write a headline is to first take the time and effort to learn about the subject so you gain enough perspective on the key elements of the content. This applies to press releases just as much to advertising and marketing material.

Legendary copywriter and advertising guru, David Ogilvy, did exactly this, as he explained:

  • I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.
  • I am helpless without research material—and the more “motivational” the better.
  • I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.
  • Before actually writing the copy, I write down every conceivable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.
  • Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement.
  • And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.

His technique shows that best results come from doing your homework. It might seem like hard work, but if you are using the release to directly promote a new product or service, as opposed to something minor like announcing a staff appointment, the time and effort you invest in writing a good headline will literally pay off.

Other experts agree. For instance, Ann Handley from Marketing Profs advises:

“Spend as much time writing the headline as you do an entire blog post or social post. Why? Because the headline matters. (Really matters.) (I do this, by the way.)”

Drafting the body copy first will enable you to determine the answers to:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What do you want them to do?
  • Why is it relevant (so the audience can answer, “What’s in it for me?”

Obviously, your press release body copy includes answers to the journalistic questions: Who, How, Why, What, When, Where and How much?

Now you can write your headline.

You can promote press releases online in many different ways such as:

  • Posting on your website
  • Sharing via Facebook and Twitter (put social sharing buttons in your release)
  • Leverage images on various social media channels such as Pinterest and Instagram
  • Using video on YouTube
  • Promoting on your blog
  • Promoting via ads on Google, Facebook and Twitter if the subject is big enough.

Photo by neonbrand-3GZNPBLlmWc at Unsplash.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from

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