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How to Write Press Release Headlines That Win With Editors

Updated on February 15, 2019
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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.


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.

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.

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 280 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.

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

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Heidi Thorne


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