I will be the first to admit that as a blogger I don’t spend as much time editing and critiquing my own materials as I do for company and client materials. So, I actually had to give pause when writing the headline for this entry as it doesn’t seem quite right to just throw a headline up when talking about writing good headlines.
A former colleague sent me a note after reading my last blog entry commenting on bad headlines.
“Before I edited a recent success story, one essentially said <name of big bank> uses <company name> for massive data storage. Seriously, why should anyone care? What’s different, is there a unique quality that made them choose that company or that product, is there a unique situation or problem the storage is solving that might have wider audience appeal? You have to keep it short, but you also need to say enough so someone can identify a problem he or she has or might have or a benefit they’d like to have and therefore have a reason to read the story. People write their white paper or solution brief or success story and the headline is an afterthought – something slapped on at the end, and yet it needs to be every bit as carefully crafted as the piece itself to draw people in without over promising.”
I could feel the years of her frustration in that paragraph. It is always interesting to me how good marketing people think differently. Too often I see mediocre work getting rubber stamped by people. It can be a painful process to get just the right words, but it can be the difference in whether or not the press release actually gets read or written about.
If I was to sum up what NK wrote about a good headline, I would offer these suggestions:
- Imagine the headline that the journalist would write–if you can’t imagine a clever one, neither will he.
- What problem does your product solve? Talk about the benefit in the headline. Don’t tell how fast it is–talk about how going faster will make people more productive.
- Even if your product is a commodity, there must be interesting ways people are using it. Dig deep to give people a reason to want to try it. How are your best customers using the product?
- Leave the ego out of the discussion. Being the owner of the words is not as important as being part of the team that finds the right words.
Looking at my headline above, I think it still needs work. Suggestions?
In reading a blog post this morning on “6 horrible press release headline mistakes”, I started thinking about all various battles I have had over press releases. The question I started asking myself is how did those headline mistakes actually happen in the first place. The answer can often be found in the process. I can hear the groans at the mere mention of a ‘process’, but it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. It is more about having agreement on what party contributes what to the press release.
In a small start up, it could be the agreement that the product manager writes the release, engineering fact checks it and the CEO has the final say. [Though, ideally, the start up has some public relations expert at least look at it]. In a much larger organization, the process might look like this.
- Product management briefs the public relations agency. If the product is technical, or its lead differentiation is a technological breakthrough, engineering might also be present to provide “the gems”–the crystal nuggets that can anchor the press release and make for a good headline.
- The first draft of the release is then combed through by product management and marketing. I am using the word marketing generically as companies are structured many different ways. However, there should be someone who is not in PR, but rather product marketing, marketing communications or even channel marketing, reviewing it for the panache. Does it tell the story it needs to? A good marketing person will also be able to make sure that the hype is kept in check. Even more importantly, the marketing person should be making sure that the headline is focused on the key selling point. Nothing frustrates me more when someone wants to include every feature in the headline. Know your product and what is essential to helping it get sold.
- After back and forth between the agency and marketing, the release should then be ready for executive review and sign-off. This is the tricky part. Often if the executive review happens outside the marketing department, executive meddling starts to occur. This is where someone at the higher level who is not experienced in the do’s and don’ts of press releases, start to put back all the things you took out–adding back features, spicing it up with more hype, etc. Executives, and you know who you are, will argue that it is their right and I don’t disagree with that, but it is also why you hire good people who are experts in their field to deliver the best results.
To get good buzz you need great PR, so keep those press release headlines provocative, yet concise.