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How to Write Press Release Headlines that Win with Editors

Updated on November 15, 2014
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker with over 25 years of experience in sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.

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It's not fun being yelled at by an editor on the phone. But one such phone call taught me how to write press release headlines. Here's what I learned...

I was in the trade show business as the marketing manager for an industrial expo. The company I worked for insisted that a certain number of press releases be sent to editors in the hope of gaining a calendar listing, mention in an article or, ultimately, coverage by a reporter. Writing and sending the press releases was no problem. But the required follow-up calls were killer. Lots of getting sent to voice mail and lots of unreturned phone calls.

Then one day, I got through to a business editor at the Chicago Tribune. I actually got through! What a score! But that's when it got interesting.

Started my usual "Just following up to see if you had received my press release..." routine. Must have been the millionth phone call of this type he had received that day. He angrily said he didn't remember and that if I ever contacted him again, I better clearly tell him why my news is relevant to his readers. Click.

When I eventually became an editor myself, I understood why he was so upset and understood why most press releases are ignored.

The Biggest Problem with Most Press Releases

Now if that Tribune editor had given me a few seconds more, I might have been able to better explain myself. But, obviously, in my initial contact I hadn't answered the biggest question editors want you to answer within seconds:

What value will your news provide to my readers?

The biggest problem with most press releases is that they drone on about their latest, greatest product, service, event or whatever. It's as if the writer of the release believes that both the editor and his readers will automatically see the value. As a former editor of a trade newspaper myself, I can't tell you how many of these releases I received that did nothing more than provide a new model number and talk about technical specs. Who cares?

But an even bigger problem starts at the top.

Practice Tips for Writing Press Release Headlines

Want to learn how to write a good press release headline? Get active on Twitter! You have only 140 characters (which must include any website link, too) to tell your story.

Then when you get good at that, take it one step further and drill your message down to 40-50 characters (without website link) which is the ideal length for email subject lines.

What Editors Look at First in Your Press Release

There are two things that editors look at when considering press releases: 1) Who it's from; and, 2) Headline (or in these days of emailed releases, subject line).

If you are not actively developing relationships with editors of magazines, newspapers, blogs, news websites, radio and television, then you can never hope to gain any recognition factor with these people that can put you in front of your target audiences. It's a "who knows you" situation. But that's a long term strategy that could take years to achieve through efforts such as social media, blogging and networking. Worth the effort, but will be effort!

So let's say you're a newer company, a small business or you're new to the press release game. Then your best strategy for getting an editor's attention is to concentrate on the second item which is to write a dynamic headline or email subject line.

Compare these two press release headlines or email subject lines:

  • XYZ Company Introduces Model XJ-27
  • New Widget Helps Small Business Save 20 Percent on Utilities

Both headlines may be true and provide news. But the second headline helps tell editors who the new widget is for and what it provides to readers. When you can quickly and clearly explain the value that your news provides and to whom it would appeal, an editor can easily make a decision about whether your press release is worth reading and considering for publication.

Does it guarantee your story will be published every time? No. However, it will increase your chances of not just creating news, but of becoming newsworthy and getting your story published.

Remember, you have just seconds to grab the attention of editors and the audiences their media serves. Make sure your headline tells your story!

Bonus PR Tip: Editors aren't the only ones who might be interested in your news. Click here to learn where to submit a press release so it gets read.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thank you so much for following and the vote! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 4 years ago from Illinois

      This is great advice - to grab attention by succinctly stating the value of whatever. I like the comparison you did with the two headlines. It certainly drives your point home.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Kristin, for the comments! Yep, today we gotta think how to get our point across in mere nanoseconds. Also, glad to hear from other hubbers from my area. Cheers!

    • Tom Schumacher profile image

      Tom Schumacher 4 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

      Quickly getting your point across in a catchy headline does make a difference. I probably surf the net 2-3 hours per day reading news, researching market data, etc. and if I stumble upon a boring headline I just move on. Thanks for sharing. Vote up.

    • vinayak1000 profile image

      vinayak1000 4 years ago from Minneapolis

      Great Hub Heidi! Voted up and useful. But can you tell me how you get the capsule entitled "Practice Tips for Writing Press Release Headlines".

      I mean what is the capsule called?

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      So true, Tom! And with the overabundance of information, your headline must convey your point quickly. Thanks for your comments!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, vinayak1000, for your kind comments! I had to look back at the hub myself to see what I used. I just did a Text capsule, pushed it to the right with the -> button and then clicked the background to gray.

    • Wendy L Young profile image

      Wendy L Young 4 years ago from Tennessee

      Excellent article! Voted up and useful.

    • Ravnsted profile image

      Casper Ravnsted-Larsen 4 years ago

      I want to praise you for spreading the word on this. As a communicator and journalist myself, I have experiences from both ends of that phone call, and it warms my heart to see that other like-minded people share my views on our profession.

      Of course, there are variations of everything, and different situations call for different approaches. But what you wrote here, I agree with. A short and simple way to explain it.

      I usually call it 'consequence communication' myself. An editor/reporter wants to get his/her reader off their behinds, they do not have much time (especially in these e-times), and what usually gets the readers up from the couch is, if they stand to gain or lose something. Therefore they want the point, the consequence, served directly. And so do the editors.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Wendy, for the kind comment and support! Glad to see you're also hooked on social media, especially Twitter.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      Love the "consequence communication" concept! Thanks for sharing that with us and for your kind comments!

    • Chuck profile image

      Chuck Nugent 3 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

      The information and advice in this Hub is excellent. The writer really has to show right at the beginning why the information in the press release is newsworthy and this news will be of value to the readers of the newspaper.

      While I haven't written very many press releases and none for mid-sized or large city major papers, I have written a few for suburban and neighborhood weekly and monthly papers. These have been written for organizations which I have been associated with as a volunteer.

      In my experience I have found that it is important to first familiarize myself with the newspaper and its target audience. Then, provided the event information I want to publicize is of interest to that paper's audience, I write the press release using the same suggestions described in the Hub above. While I have never made any follow-up phone calls, I have usually found that my press release has been published as an article in the newspaper. The reason is that these little papers have a small staff and need content so a well written and relevant press release is usually printed in its entirety with little or no editing.

      My main problem is when the organization I am writing for is a large metropolitan, regional or national organization (either a for profit employer or non-profit, the press release has to be approved by the organizations marketing or PR department and the press release generally is either rejected or allowed to go stale (i.e. approval comes after the event) as it works its way through the organization's bureaucracy.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Thanks, Chuck, for thoughtfully weighing in on the topic! You're right, it's so important to be familiar with the publication (or website) and its readers before pitching press releases or stories. I can't tell you how many times I've been approached on my blog by "writers" who have no clue about my audience.

      I've had success with smaller publications and organizations, too. And, as a former regional editor, I did give first consideration to local relevant material over submissions from large national companies or PR firms (most of whom were "blasting" releases). Larger publications are VERY difficult to crack. So headlines have to be super good to cut through the clutter. But even better is developing a relationship with the editors and/or bureaucracy so that the From: address is what really cuts through the clutter. :)

      Truly appreciate your insightful comments! Happy New Year!

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