The world is a noisy place. It is full of useful information flowing at breakneck speed. PR executives know this well. They are perpetually combatting the noise to ensure their message is put front and center. On a basic level, the only thing PR professionals really want to be is heard. There are a few ways stories can be heard above the noise, cut through the droves of useless information and make their way in front of the eyeballs of the target audience.
Usually it is not a coincidence when a story makes a lot of noise.
Careful and thoughtful PR practitioners put a lot of time into crafting the right headlines and leads to ensure their clients are placed in the brightest light.
Whether writing a headline for a press release or the lead paragraph of a bylined article, there are several principles you should follow when it comes to keeping the readers’ attention and engagement.
1. Be direct. If you can’t communicate your message in a few words, then you probably don’t understand the material you’re trying to sell.
Readers want to know quickly what a release or story entails, and they rarely will continue reading unless you have grabbed their attention at the top of the page.
This is sometimes referred to as the cocktail party theory of writing: If you can’t be compelling within a few minutes of someone meeting you at a cocktail party, you’re likely to spend the night drinking alone.
Similarly, if your headline and lead paragraph don’t grab the reader quickly, your written material will be tossed like a warm beer.
2. Use a statistic. This is a tried and true method and is critical to supporting the points you are making in a written or spoken piece. Readers like information and readers like to be shocked.
If you can include revealing information in your headline or lead, readers usually will be curious enough to read the rest of the text to find out if the statistic is validated.
3. Provide value. If your reader feels as if she is smarter after reading your material then you have won the PR game.
Craft your headline and begin your lead by detailing the added value for your reader. Remember, everyone’s favorite radio station is WIIFM (what’s in it for me).
4. Make it shareable. Part of successful PR is making sure your content attracts additional readers and that your message is spread.
Make certain that your material is written and formatted so that it’s easily shared. In addition, remember that people love to share lists, statistics and calls to action. Make sure your headline and lead indicate that a list or call to action is coming.
5. Ask questions. Using words that spark a question usually will get a reader thinking. When writing a headline, use why, how, what, or where, so readers will be enticed to keep reading and learn the answer.
6. Choose your words carefully. No matter which tip or tips you decide to include in your headline or lead, it’s important to remember to use powerful and interesting adjectives.
Words like “alluring” or “strange” or “fun” set up the rest of the piece and give the reader insight into what is ahead.
Readers are attracted to words that hold a lot of weight, and adjectives can be the perfect accent mark to an already captivating headline or lead.
Bottom line: As a PR pro, it’s your job to make sure content stands apart from the herd. It’s not always easy, but it’s a job worth paying attention to as headlines and leads can spark a dialogue between your client or organization and major influencers.
People are busy, and the last thing they want to do is be sold a story that isn’t clear, isn’t validated with facts and doesn’t provide value.
To be an effective writer, it’s best to think about the material you like reading and put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Always try to address the question: Why should the reader care about this story?
And last but not least, if you find yourself in a headline writing rut just imagine you’re at a cocktail party and apply the same logic.
If you can’t be interesting within the first five seconds of meeting someone you’re probably going to be left alone. PRN
Kristina Markos is accounts director, PR, at Ebben Zall Group. She can be reached at Kristina@ebbenzallgroup.com.
This article originally appeared in the December 8, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.