Learn the writing techniques that grab a reader's attention with just a few carefully selected words.
6 min read
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The most important part of a press release or pitch is the headline. If the headline doesn't get a journalist's attention, if it doesn't create interest or sell your story, then it’s very unlikely the rest of the release or pitch will be read. And all of that time and energy you spent writing is wasted.
Equally important is what you put in the email subject line. The email subject line, which is often the same as the pitch or press release headline, needs to give the journalist an overall picture of the story you are suggesting and spark their interest in order to get them to open your email. Headlines and subject lines that promise journalists something new or unknown or information that will benefit their audience are very likely to get journalists’ attention.
Related: How to Write a Winning PR Pitch
Top tip: In the email subject line, start with “Story Idea:” and then the headline or “Pitch:” and then the headline. Or “Local Interest Story:” and then the headline if you were sending it to a local publication or local show. That way the journalist will know exactly what your email is about and prevent it from getting buried by other emails and spam.
Journalists receive up to 100 pitch emails a day, so it’s vital that you stand out from the crowd. Here are seven headline formats that increase your chances of getting your pitch read and your business covered.
1. Use numbers
Journalists want to educate and inform their audience so they like headlines that promise great, easy to digest content, such as “6 Steps to Seriously Improving Your Networking Skills” or “3 Simple Tips for Improving Your Health in Under 10 Minutes a Day.”
2. Use statistics
Statistics from reliable sources are a great way of backing up a point and making a story factual. For example: “25% of New Businesses Fail in the First Year — How to Avoid This” or “Shocking Statistics Show 30% of Dogs Are Abandoned — Here Are the Reasons Why.” Journalists love statistics because they instantly lend credibility and explain the scope of your story.
3. Ask questions
Asking a question in a headline is a great way to engage a journalist. This could be something like “Leadership: Can You Learn to Speak in a Way That Gets People to Listen?” Using a question in your headline gets the journalist to either mentally answer the question or feel intrigued to find out what the answer is, making this a very good way to get a journalist’s attention.
4. Use adjectives
Descriptive words like new, simple, easy, sure, smart, successful, fast, powerful, and rare can transform a headline. Let's take a headline such as “7 Beliefs That Successful People Have.” It's already a pretty good headline but let's add an adjective to it and make it a great headline. “7 Powerful Beliefs That Successful People Have.” Can you see how we’ve added extra power and interest to the headline just by adding the word “powerful”? Adding adjectives to your headline can be a great way of getting media interest.
Top tip: Do not overdo the use of adjectives, one adjective per headline is usually enough. And be sure that if you say something like “powerful,” your story lives up to the promise.
5. Add power words
Some examples of power words are secrets, solutions, techniques, methods, truths, reasons, steps, ways, keys, and principles. Let's look at an example: “5 Secret Methods for Connecting with Successful People.” Do you see how that makes it more intriguing and interesting, as opposed to “5 Methods for Connecting with Successful People”?
Top tip: Please remember, we don't want to overdo it and create a headline full of power words and adjectives. The aim is to sprinkle them in to add intrigue rather than to make it overly hyped.
6. Use the ‘How to’ format
Explaining ‘How to’ do something is a great way to educate the media’s audience, hence making it a very interesting angle to the right journalist. For example, “How to Write Something That People Will Actually Read” will likely grab more attention than “Writing Engaging Content.” How to headlines are very attractive to journalists, they are often looking for great sources to inform and entertain their followers, so this format ticks their boxes and gets their attention.
7. Combine two topics rarely seen together
Combing two topics rarely seen together is a quirky and very effective way of standing out from the crowd. For example: “How Having a Dog Improves Your Social Media Following.” These types of headlines get journalists’ attention because they are not normally seen or linked together.
Top tip: When using this headline format, where you put two topics rarely seen together, you're going to need some type of proof (such as studies or statistics) that backs up and confirms that what you’re saying is true and credible. When you can do this it’s a great way of getting media coverage.
And finally, please remember to only send your pitches and press releases, with your attention-grabbing headlines, to your niche journalists. No matter how good your headline is if you send it to a journalist that doesn’t cover what you’re pitching it’s either going to be ignored or deleted. So, my recommendation is to save yourself time and disappointment and do your research first.