Guidelines for a Darn Good Press Release Headline

Jan 23, 2019

Editors and journalists get a ridiculous number of press releases in their inbox every day. It isn’t just this week’s news that a press release completes with it’s releases from prior weeks, being re-sent and re-packaged to find new coverage. It’s a tough, competitive world for each press release. Even if you have a newsworthy story, getting eyes on it isn’t always easy. For yours to win, you need a great press release headline that grabs attention, tells a complete story, and makes a reader want to know more.

What is seen first is of utmost importance. Here are some tips for crafting a headline for a press release that maximizes its chance to earn meaningful coverage.

Don’t Clickbait. Do What Newspapers Do.

Baiting people into clicking on terrible stories is a social media norm, popularized by scam websites, gossip rags, and less-than-reputable news sources. And, quite frankly, it isn’t a tactic that works well for educated readers such as those in healthcare IT. While an interesting or fun headline is fine, a journalist isn’t going to be enticed to read a press release unless they know exactly what the press release is about.

Like newspapers and reputable online sources, the headline needs to be a summary of the story, whatever it is. The who, what, when, and where need to exist in the headline. The why is something that can be left for the reader to discover, but the entire “in a nutshell” version of a press release needs to exist in the headline. The selling point of your press release should be its inherent newsworthiness.

Support Your News with Data

If you can, give specifics on your news. If a product showed a 10 percent improvement of patient satisfaction scores in a pilot study, that should be in the headline. If specific numbers exist and they’re impressive, show them off. Burying specifics in the text of a press release is meaningless when the goal of a press release is to earn media coverage anyway.

If you don’t have data, avoid assertive claims. Unless you back them, they shouldn’t be in the headline, since that is just asking for a journalist to press the issue. But when you can, having specific data and numbers is always welcome, since that’s ultimately the meat of any story.

Take an Active Voice

Let me correct what I said above: Product X Shows 10 Percent Rise of Satisfaction in Study. Even if this news is in the past or it’s old news, stick to active voice. Always take the philosophy when writing a headline that this is happening right now. That sends a message that this story is ongoing, worth attention, and hasn’t been covered yet all of which are necessary to earn media coverage.

Don’t Be Afraid to Have Fun

Have you checked the President’s Twitter feed? This is the era of informal communication. The days of a stoic, professional headline for press releases is over. Don’t be afraid to have fun and show a little personality, especially if that’s consistent with your company branding. Even though press releases seem like a formal event blasted through professional channels, they can still be fun. There are no rules here, and creativity is definitely welcome. In fact, a creative, fun headline may help your release standout, especially when a hard news angle isn’t particularly applicable.

Write the Header Last

When I write a press release, I use an ALL CAPs, nonsensical placeholder title, until it’s time to write the real thing. Once the full press release body is written, it’s then that I am able to summarize the story content and get a sense of its tone which is what a headline is supposed to do. It may seem counter-intuitive to work the header last, but it’s an almost necessary part of the press release writing process. A press release headline comes after the story, because if it’s written right, it contains a one-sentence summary of what’s to come.