29 January 2021
Caroline Walker, Director of PR & Content

What’s in a headline?

What’s in a headline?

The media has used headlines for centuries to sell papers and attract readers. 

From a publisher’s perspective, a headline is the most powerful way to capture attention and engage an audience, giving them a reason to read on. Traditionally used in journalism, headlines form a key part of any marketing activity. 

From newspaper articles to blog posts and email subject lines to social media captions, we are constantly bombarded with headline-style content. For content creators, the primary goal is to develop a headline that cuts through enough to get people to read and act. After all, unread copy does not influence or motivate purchase. 

What should a headline do? 
For marketers, a good headline hints at the fuller story, luring readers in to spend more time exposed to your brand messages and building trust and a memorable brand impression.

For journalists and bloggers, ad revenue has become a key measure of success. A good headline drives click-throughs or purchase of publication. Giving browsers an informative and / or entertaining read keeps them on the page for longer and encourages them to return, making them a valuable and engaged audience for advertisers to reach.

Depending on the content you are delivering, a headline can be fun, educational or shocking. If creating headlines for PR stories, it is worth remembering that British tabloid newspapers, The Sun and Daily Star, lead stories with quips and cheeky interpretations of big news stories, whereas broadsheets adopt a more serious stance.    

Creating headlines
Headlines should be succinct and speak directly to the audience you want to engage. But don’t let brevity deceive. Crafting short and punchy copy takes a lot longer than you may think and, for many copywriters, drafting headlines can take as much time as writing a full article. 

When it comes to marketing copy, including the product or brand name has an obvious benefit, yet in PR, it can deter journalists who may see the content as too salesy with little editorial appeal. Instead, it is better to address the problem or challenge that the product solves, offering valuable insight and advice beyond a sales patter. For campaign success, it is important to consider alternative headlines for different marketing channel activity.  

Tried and tested headline tactics include alliteration, puns, provocation and posing rhetorical questions. Addressing frequently asked questions as headlines are used to tap into common search engine terms has given rise to content such as: How to get fit in 10 days? How can I make more sales online? and even, What will lockdown mean for digital skills in the UK? Furthermore, listicle style headlines, made popular by magazines and online articles in the past two decades, still resonate with audiences including: 6 tips to drive web traffic, 5 ways to stay productive from home. 

Tapping into trending topics can also appeal to readers and allow writers to be creative. Whether it’s sustainability, a viral internet meme or an audience-grabbing Netflix show, these topics can be applied to either consumer or B2B content: Bridgerton-inspired additions for your spring wardrobeFrank Lampard has shown that the buck still lies with managersNow you can own mittens as warm as Bernie Sanders

Acting responsibly 
We are exposed to so much content that often headlines are our main take away from stories. Often sensationalised and scant on detail, it can lead to misinformation or a lack of appreciation for the full facts. There are countless examples of this happening, particularly in relation to the coronavirus pandemic, where, without wider statistical or scientific context, short soundbites and figures shared on social media fast become believed half-truths.

Credible journalists and PR professionals tread a fine line when creating headlines to titillate but avoid spreading false facts, defamation or promoting misunderstanding. Yet, with increased pressure to create shareable content and the opportunity for anyone to publish stories, we have become too familiar with the potential damage fake news can do. 

As readers and media professionals, it is our job to look beyond the headlines and scrutinise statistics purported at a glance. Association with incorrect information can damage credibility and reputation. Therefore, it is important for us to counter negative stories and help our clients avoid sharing misleading information by challenging misreported facts. 

For advice on grabbing headlines, contact Caroline Walker on 01732 779 087


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