The Secret Power of the Negative Headline: How Using the Negative Tease Can Get You Positive Press

You hear them everyday and especially during television sweeps.  You know what they are.  Negative headlines, news promos or teases.  News stations and newspapers have harnessed the power of the negative headline for decades.  They know that if you tease a story in a negative or “dangerous” way, you draw in viewers and readers.

There was a commercial airing in California within the past few years that was hilarious, though I must confess, I do not remember what the ad was promoting.  It was produced like a pseudo 11- o’clock news station promo and started with the reporter voice over announcing, “There’s something lurking in your kitchen that’s very dangerous.”  There were images of a kitchen counter loaded with food and a refrigerator door being opened as shots of various foods were panned inside.  Then the voice over continued, “It’s in your refrigerator and it could kill you.  Details at 11.”  The ad was an obvious parody on how news stations over sensationalize to grab viewers, but the satire is not too far from reality.

We understand that the overall goal of any public relations effort is to project a positive image for a product, service or brand, but all of those “happy” or “positive spin” headlines on your press release, media alert or email pitch may actually be sabotaging your efforts.  Think about it.  Which story would you rather read or tune into on the news, “We have good news about a new soft drink.  Tune in at ten,” or “As you hydrate during the summer heat wave did you know some drinks may be bad for you?  Find out what drinks you need to avoid.  Details at eleven.”  The second tease is a promo I heard on our local CBS affiliate and like it or not, viewers (and readers) tune in to the negative headlines.  So it’s obvious, your press release or media alert may get more attention if it has a negative headline or slug line.

Worried about obtaining the positive spin?  Don’t because all you’re doing with the negative headline is getting the media decision makers to actually read your pitch.  Set the story up with the negative thought and then position your product, service, or brand as a solution to the negative tease.  For example, if you’re a bottled water company or produce sports drinks containing electrolytes, you can use the CBS tease to your advantage and talk generically about avoiding drinks high in sugar during high temperatures and communicate how your product is exactly what a body needs to stay hydrated during the summer heat, replenish electrolytes, and people need to keep it on hand in the car, at the office and in kids’ backpacks.

CMP Media Café has been very successful in using this technique to get media attention when our clients have the right product or service to capitalize on it and when the clients understand that the negative springboards the positive.  Some of our successful projects have included:

Slugline: “Top Three Mistakes Parents Make with Preschoolers” Our client was a national leader in classes for kids and by identifying the top three mistakes parents make and using their service as a solution to correct one or more of those mistakes, it gave their service a very positive positioning.

Slugline: “Herbal Supplements.  Are They Safe?”  Our client was a nutritional supplement company that was responding to bad press and they put a positive message out about taking herbal supplements as recommended are very safe and how they adhere to FDA guidelines with their products.

But don’t take my word for it.  I’ve found several articles from ABC, FOX and MSNBC to see how they use the negative headline to grab an audience.  Any one of the following stories could be the launch for a positive spin on a variety of products, services or brands.

MSNBC – Five Biggest Mistakes Homebuyers Make

ABC – Medical Myths That Can Kill You: And the 101 Truths That Will Save, Extend, and Improve Your Life

MSNBC – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt Kids

ABC – Aged Tires:  A Hidden Danger on the Road

CBN – The Hidden Danger in Your Food

Now, keep in mind that some of the negative headlines do in fact report negative stories, however, you can use the same media tactics that producers and editors use to grab viewers and readers to grab the media’s attention.  So be brave.  Be Daring.  Use the secret power of the negative slugline and see your media exposure improve dramatically!

Peace & Coconuts,

Marianne Schwab, Executive Producer, CMP Media Cafe

Copyright (c) 2011. CMP Media Cafe. All Rights Reserved.

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