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Tantalizing Headlines: Do's and Don'ts

Put yourself in the position of a ... or magazine editor scanning the ... and the day's email and faxes for relevant content. How would you rate the ... ... actually found on

Put yourself in the position of a newspaper or magazine
editor scanning the newswires and the day's email and faxes
for relevant content. How would you rate the following
headlines, actually found on the Internet:

New Slaves in America

HP Wheels Out Year-long Tour Bringing Digital Adventure
Directly to Consumers

Little Kids Re-introduces Sqwish Ball Adding Shimmer to the

>From the editor's perspective, all three of these headlines
stink, because they do not make sufficiently clear what the
release is about. The first of the three is the worst,
because anyone thinking it concerns human ownership of other
humans will roll their eyes upon learning that the release
touts a book claiming to "break the chains of economic
bondage" through knowledgeable investing.

The second runs aground through its use of the mysterious
phrase, "digital adventure." In fact, it plugs a traveling
exhibition of three truck-mounted houses containing digital
cameras, printers and musical devices. The third headline
stays away from complete disaster only because the company
name, Little Kids, happens to signal what the product in
question is: a kid's toy.

Unlike readers looking at headlines in their favorite
periodical, editors and other media gatekeepers are not
charmed by cute or obscure headlines. Anything mysterious
gets in the way of their task at hand, finding the raw
material to turn into articles for their audience. If the
headline doesn't answer their three paramount questions -
What is this? Who is it for? And where is the news
significance? - they don't have time or inclination to click
through and investigate further.

Understanding the mindset of those culling through press
releases will help you craft informative headlines. If you
need a lot of words to write a clear headline, go ahead. A
good guideline is to include as many of journalism's classic
"Five W's" in the headline as you can: who, what, when,
where and why or how. To address editors' top three
concerns, make sure you specify what you're promoting, who
would care about it and what makes it newsworthy.

To return to the three unfortunate examples found online, we
can fix the first specimen along these lines:

The New Underground Railroad, New Book, Helps Free Wage
Slaves from Bondage With a Beginner's Introduction to
Stocks, Bonds and Investing.

The second headline improves with a few more details:

HP Wheels Out Year-long Traveling Exhibition of Truck-
Mounted Homes Filled with Digital Photography, Computing and
Entertainment Products.

And the annoyance factor disappears from the third headline
when we revise it as follows:

Little Kids Updates Sqwish Ball, Specialty Toy from the
1990's for Age 5 and Up, With a Holographic Shimmer.

If after adding clarity, you can also inject some wordplay
or fun into the headline, go ahead. But media people giving
your headlines just three or four seconds of attention
aren't really looking for entertainment. They're on a hunt
for relevanceArticle Submission, and cuteness runs the danger of getting in
their way.

Source: Free Articles from


Marcia Yudkin is the author of the
classic guide to comprehensive PR, "6 Steps to Free
Publicity," now for sale in an updated edition at
and in bookstores everywhere. She also spills the secrets
on advanced tactics for today's publicity seekers in
"Powerful, Painless Online Publicity," available from .

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