This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
These days, isn’t the need for journalistic skills fading fast? Don’t the web and social media mean news writing skills are going the way of traditional news media – dying out in front of our eyes? Actually, it’s quite the opposite!
Strong headlines and intros/leads (first paragraphs) are even more crucial to good writing on websites, in social media and in mobile technology. Research shows that readers these days scan text most of the time rather than read it. Therefore, for example you have to capture their attention instantly on websites, Twitter and in emails, or they will just move on. Readers are so overloaded with information that they ruthlessly filter out what they don’t want.
As a result, you have to get to the point immediately. No leisurely intros and key points buried in para 4. This applies especially in marketing communication – in email marketing, brochure copy, Twitter and, indeed, media releases promoting products and services.
The American Writers and Artists Association recommends being guided by the 4U rule:
The headline of the media release (or any other content you publish online) is the most important part. Journalists see the headline first in newsroom material, RSS feeds, and email inboxes. News aggregators like Google News often show only a headline (as a link) and a lead sentence – from which readers need to decide whether it is worth clicking to the story. Search engines place extra weight upon the text at the top of web pages, and it’s the first thing your reader sees. When someone shares your media release in social networks, again, it’s the headline that is front and center – attracting more potential readers to your message.
Sarah Skerik from PR Newswire says the firm’s research has identified the ideal characteristics of a media release in attracting readers, search engines and social interaction. These are:
So what are some basic ideas for writing strong marketing and promotional headlines? Here are several suggestions, using a trivial example:
1. Basic. “Office furniture for sale at bargain prices”
This could not be more basic, but people on the lookout for office furniture would immediately be interested.
2. News angle. “New desks with remote-control height adjustment here in March”
Simple and straightforward. You need to highlight the key selling points up front. This is “news” only in a narrow marketing sense.
3. How to. “How to select the best office chairs for your needs”
“How to” is a powerful motivator for buyers.
4. Question. “Is your office chair giving you back pain?”
This is an invitation for buyers to solve their problem.
5. Directive. “Go to Office Furniture Galore for the best deals”
A directive or command grabs attention in any sort of advertising or marketing. Align it with the target audience’s wants and needs.
6. List. “Five things to check in a new office desk”
People like numbers. This is specific and sounds like you know what you are talking about.
7. Testimonial. “I got a great deal on a new office desk”
Testimonials are powerful. Make sure they are genuine and sound genuine, ie even leave in spelling and grammar mistakes. Running several testimonials increases trust.
8. Teaser. “The most important office purchase you will make this season”
Don’t test your credibility. Only use teasers when the product lives up to the implied value of the product.
The longest headline above is 10 words or 65 characters with spaces. This is for a reason – people scan these days rather than read a line in full. So keep it short and always check to see if you can cut the number of words. And, of course, it is SEO friendly.
Try copying and pasting your favored draft headline into Google. If others have already used the headline, try to change some of the words so your headline is unique and doesn’t get mistaken for the competing headline.
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