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Headline Appreciation 101

Brian Pelletier
Originally posted June 2005. Latest update November 2017.

This article was written by Brian Pelletier, a marketing communications professional based in Chicago.

In three words (counting the number as a word), the above headline tells you what to expect in reading this article. And yet it also communicates some ambiguity - what does the word "appreciation" mean in this case? Hopefully, it piqued your interest enough to convince you to read this far.

Headline writing is an art, and based on what too many communications professionals now produce, a dying one at that. Journalists, especially at the better-known publications, know the value of a good headline. We've all heard the "Dog Bites Man" vs. "Man Bites Dog" story, and how you need to get a reader's attention. Why then are so many news release headlines lacking in not only interest, but also information?

Take this example: "Acme Introduces Series 3 Scanners." Obviously the company name has been changed, but believe me, the company is well-known enough to know better. Who cares about Series 3 scanners? Or, more precisely, why should anyone care about them? The headline lacks any information, other than the availability of some previously unknown product.

A bit more information can be found in the sub-head, sometimes known as the deck: "Production Scanners Feature Advanced Technology, Dockable Flatbed, Firewire Connection." Wow, advanced technology - who woulda thunk? The dockable flatbed and firewire connection might be of interest, but these are obviously features, not benefits. Again, why should anyone care?

Product announcements are tough. The latest version of version of ACME's widgets has some less-than-exciting new feature, but needs to be announced nonetheless. A clever writer will find and communicate the benefit of that feature, in a headline that conveys important information and draws the reader into the story.

"John Johnson, Chief Technology Evangelist at ACME, a Global IT Consulting Firm, to Participate as a Speaker at Internet World Wireless East." Ugh. Mr. Johnson is speaking, and he has an important title and works for an important company. But in case that isn't enough, we'll tell you why ACME is an important company - kind of. And "to participate" is a verb? Weak, weak, weak. "To speak" would at least be clearer and shorten this verbose headline.

"U.S. Wireless Network Interoperability Lauded - Maybe." Now you've got my attention. I know what the release is about, but I'm actually going to have to read it to fully understand the situation.

Or this one, submitted by Sheldon Rose of Sack & Associates: "Airborne Entertainment Inc. Raises Bucks in a Market That Sucks." Again, you've delivered some useful information - all that some people will need, or get, as they scan the headlines. But you've also captured the people who might be interested, and encouraged them to read further. And you've done it in a clever manner that might reel in additional readers.

"Launches," "introduces" and "announces" all virtually guarantee a weak headline. "Features" and "includes" indicate an upcoming product attribute, which probably won't resonate with your audience, unless they just happen to be looking for that specific feature. "New Widget Saves Money by Increasing Fuel Efficiency" - the focus is on the benefits. That's how to write headlines that readers appreciate.

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Brian Pelletier crafts headlines and other prose to help businesses communicate their messages to people who are important to them.



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