How to tweak your headlines for success

In journalism, clicks matter—despite what traditional news folks might say. One copywriter weighs in on how to catch the attention of reporters and the general public.

Headline writing isn’t easy.

Although many online “How to write a better headline” articles can be helpful, they’re time-consuming.

Perhaps you’ve tried writing 20 headlines and asking friends and colleagues to help you choose one; this too, takes time. Devoting the same number of hours to the headline as you do to the story or press release itself isn’t feasible for a writer on a deadline.

It’s tough to tell what triggers reporters and readers to click on your story over another. It could be the topic or the headline, or simply that nothing else they’ve seen grabs their fancy. Still, there probably isn’t a specific formula to follow.

Last year, though, something eye-opening happened to me. As I sat down to write a press release on a breezy April morning, I began with:

“Bespoke Piano Company Unveils World’s Most Luxurious Piano.”

This seemed like the start to a pretty engaging story and felt bold and newsworthy.

Before sending it out, I built an online newsroom, displayed my assets and meticulously researched whom to contact.

After I sent it, my pitch got zero response online. Even my list of carefully researched contacts didn’t reach out.

I rewrote the headline:

“Dubai Sheikh Buys £420,000 British Piano Studded With Half A Million Swarovski Crystals”

Suddenly, the editors I’d previously spoken with perked up their ears, and one national newspaper—which has shunned the previous headline—called me for more information. The updated headline prompted interest from radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, supplements, magazines and bloggers.

So, what had happened? I had gotten more specific.

Because I turned a lofty concept (world’s most luxurious piano) into something tangible, interest grew. Journalists don’t have time to wrestle with vague, watery headlines. If your pitch isn’t clear, they’ll skip over you.

Next time, ask yourself, “Is this headline Buzzfeed friendly?” Or, “Would I share this story on Facebook?” If the answer is yes, your headline has potential.

In order to keep their editors happy, journalists’ stories must get clicks and shares. To meet this need, write your headline as a journalist would. If they like it, they might just use it verbatim.

Tamsin Henderson runs UK-based Gather Creative a PR and copywriting agency. Connect with her on Twitter. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack , a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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