Headline Hacks Are the Secret to Massive Media Exposure

When I was a network television producer, I was inundated with PR pitches every day. In fact, it is not uncommon for producers and assignment desk decision makers to field over 500 emails or more a day so unless you have written a headline for your pitch that grabs their attention immediately, chances are they’ll hit the delete key and your email story pitch will go right to the trash folder.

This has nothing to do with the value of your story, product or client but if you can’t get reporters or producers to open your email pitch (press release or media alert) based on your headline, even a good story will never get noticed by assignment desks, beat reporters, or producers.

Here are five ways to write headlines that will increase your earned media results:

#1. Stop Writing Headlines to Please Your Client – Write to Please Producers. Too many times, publicists think more like a client than they do the media. They’re client pleasers, not media pleasers. They use “Public Relations 101” Rules to Writing Press Releases taught by college professors (who often have no real world experience). Clients LOVE it. Media just finds the pitch boring.

#2. Start Thinking Like a TV News Promo Writer. In a world where the media needs to instantly grab viewers, listeners, and page views, with exciting headlines, you need to study how they promote their newscast and then follow their lead when it comes to your pitch.

#3. Use Deliberate Vagueness to Create Curiosity. There was a commercial airing in California several years ago that was produced like a pseudo 11-o’clock news station promo. It started with the reporter voiceover 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 the fridge.  Then the voiceover continued, “It’s in your refrigerator and it could kill you.  Details at 11.”  The ad was an obvious satire on how news stations over sensationalize promos to grab viewers, but the satire is not too far from reality. This also uses another effective technique using a threat that instills fear so you’re compelled to find the answer. It’s effective, but don’t over do it.

#4. Headline Hack Magazines and Websites to Use Their Formulas. Whenever I’m stuck in a line at the grocery store, I love reading the headlines of magazines and tabloids at the checkout for headline structure inspiration. Hey, don’t judge me. They have amazing examples for writing headlines that make you want to know more so you buy the publication. Same thing happens when you’re surfing any online news outlet. Study the best headlines and hack their formulas. You’ll be amazed at the results.

#5. Grab Interest to Read More Using Lists or Mistakes. Lists and mistakes are always a hit with producers. From the “Five Best Beach Destinations” to the “Three Biggest Mistakes Parents Make with Teenagers,” these are headlines that pique interest and compel newsrooms to open the email.

Finally, think of ways to jazz up your headline and, depending your client’s type of business (and whether or not they are publicly traded), you may need to get the legal team on board, but imagine finding a way to craft headlines that dramatically increase your story getting before the eyes of news room gatekeepers and decision makers to explode your earned P.R. results.

The key to success is grabbing the attention with media decision makers using an intriguing headline (subject line) that screams “open me” and then following through with a story that supports the tease since you don’t want to “click bait” a reporter or producer.

Peace and coconuts,

Marianne Schwab, Executive Producer, CMP Media Cafe

Follow us on Twitter:  @CMP_MediaCafe

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