9 expert tips for writing press release headlines

Grabbing a reporter’s attention can all come down to your subject line. Here’s what PR veterans suggest should guide your efforts to be pithy and exhaustive at the same time.

When writing a press release, even experienced PR pros can get tripped up.

Crafting a good headline can be a real struggle. Creating a world-class headline can feel impossible.

We reached out to some of the industry’s top experts in PR, marketing and social media and asked them this one simple question: What is your No.1 proven tip for writing a press release headline?

Here’s what they said:

1. Matt Kovacs

There needs to be a sense of shock and awe as media are deluged with press releases, pitches and alerts every day. It’s important to ensure that there is a mix of “what’s the news” along with a catchiness that gets the reader to go beyond the headline, sub-head and first paragraph. In the Twitter-soundbite-world we live in, the words used need to give the reader pause to catch up to the overall thoughts that are being conveyed.

Matt Kovacs is the president of California-based Blaze PR, which specializes in integrated PR, marketing, influencer and social media strategies.

2. Samantha Jacobs

When it comes to formulating a press release headline, think about what your main message is for the announcement. It’s not uncommon for a journalist to receive thousands of emails a day so you need to be clear and concise – because they may only see that first line. On the other hand, creative and attention-grabbing headers prove to get longer reads and in turn, more engagement and coverage. A balance of both fact and fun makes for a well-received headline.

Samantha Jacobs is the founder Hemsworth Communications, a PR agency that specializes in the travel and leisure industry.

3. Liz Burke

When deciding on a headline, try to put yourself in the mindset of a journalist and ask yourself why a journalist would care about the topic of your press release. The reason itself could be the critical element needed in the headline to capture the attention of the journalist. Reasons could include a popular industry trend, a controversial topic, a new innovation or an important development within the journalist’s beat and/or regional or local coverage area.

Liz Burke is VP of account services for digital marketing firm Didit.

4. Paul Furiga

Would I read this headline if it popped up as the subject line of an email on my smartphone? Why (is this my favorite tip)? Because this is where the journalists and influencers you want to reach will first see that headline. If the headline doesn’t grab you so that it would stand out among a sea of unread emails on the small screen of a smartphone, you’ve lost the press release battle before it’s even begun.

Paul Furiga is president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based WordWrite Communications.

5. Gini Dietrich

First, use data and statistics. These instantly set a tone of credibility and speak to the specific information the journalist can learn more about in the release. Or, answer the top question you expect journalists to ask about the topic. Speak directly to the questions and then answer it in the release. A news release headline isn’t any different than any other type of headline. Your goal is to draw the journalist in and get them to bite, so to speak. It should be compelling, engaging and speak to their needs.

Gini Dietrich is the CEO of Chicago-based PR firm Arment Dietrich and founder and author of the popular website Spin Sucks, and the book with the same title.

6. Steve Cody

The very best headlines need to be a combination of the dramatic and the relevant. No one can ever top The Daily News and Post for accomplishing that goal in three or four words. And they do it every day. […] A headline MUST immediately stop a reader in her tracks because it’s immediately relevant to her and her personal interests. It also has to contain a “surprise” element that elicits a response along the lines of, “Gee, I never knew that.”

Steve Cody is the co-founder and CEO of New York-based Peppercomm, and is the author of the popular PR blog Rep Man.

7. Lindsey Carnett

Keep your press release headline succinct. It needs to capture the essence of the total announcement in one line. Be sure to include the company name that you’d like highlighted as some of your audience will only read the headline to determine if they’re interested or not. You also have the opportunity to include a sub-header which further supports the headline so be wise about what information you include in each.

Lindsey Carnett is the CEO and president of Los Angeles-based Marketing Maven.

8. Nicole Stenclik

Traditionally, press release writing has been rather formulaic, stiff, and especially within the B2B universe, not surprisingly, corporate. Even if you are writing for a business audience, at the end of the day, you are writing for another human – Business2Human. Increasingly brands are aiming to make their press releases more relatable, both in context and tone of voice. […] press releases are an opportunity to tell a story. The best headlines are short, simple and memorable. After you craft your headline, ask yourself, ‘Is this how a journalist would have introduced this story?’ If not, reconsider your headline.

Nicole Stenclik is a VP for Evanston, Illinois-based content marketing and PR firm Akrete, which focuses on commercial real estate and financial services.

9. David Landis

Make it newsworthy. Ask yourself, ‘What is new, first, different, innovative and surprising about this announcement?’ Put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. Objectively ask yourself if this nugget would pass muster with a top reporter. If not, start over.

David Landis is the president of San Francisco-based Landis Communications, a social media and digital PR agency.

What are some of your favorite headlines, Ragan/PR Daily readers?

Alex Armitage is co-founder of Publiqly, whose step-by-step systems help small and medium-sized companies write press releases.

(Image via)


Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.