Now that’s got your attention, read this:

Trying to write a decent headline for a blog post, press release or article can sometimes be like pulling teeth. The challenge is to create an enticing slogan so that people want to read on, while at the same time giving an honest depiction of what awaits the eager reader.

Of course, some people aren’t terribly bothered by that last principle (take the headline of this blog, for instance). But seriously, as a Christian working in public relations, integrity and honesty have to be paramount in my role (as they are for most PR professionals, regardless of faith background).

Unfortunately, Church and charity PR work can sometimes be… well, a little bit unsexy in terms of hot issues. The topics handled are all very important – poverty, chaplaincy, worship resources, the international arms trade… if we didn’t believe in what we did, most of us would be working elsewhere. But unfortunately, ‘worthy’ causes and positivity are often overlooked by the media if they’re not presented in a strong enough way. A journalist may see hundreds of press releases every day – they simply won’t make it past the subject header of your email if it doesn’t grab their attention. Instead, your missive may well be deleted without even a cursory glance.

Likewise, the Twitter user keeping an eye open for a decent blog to read will see so many links in their feed – how do they know that yours is worth their click through?

You have fewer than ten words (preferably much less) to persuade them – to tease them into giving your words three minutes of their precious time.

But beware: a misleading headline can be more frustrating to a journo than a snappy one – they’ll be cross if you waste their time by promising something you can’t deliver and they may not open your emails again.

So how to entice the reader, without totally compromising your message? Here are my top three tips…

  1. Less is More: Why use sixteen words when you could use five? Compare “Cameron’s stand for freedom: Defiant PM refuses to accept Leveson’s call for laws to control the Press” (Daily Mail) with “Cameron spikes Leveson’s press law.” I mean, why bother reading on when they’ve given you the story in the headline?
  2. Honesty Pays: Given the choice between a sexy, but somewhat misleading, headline (“Churches call Prime Minister a liar”) and an honest but slightly more boring one (“Prime Minister got his facts wrong, say Churches”), a journo will always respect you more for being honest.
  3. Sell the story: What’s at the heart of what you’re trying to say? What’s the story about? Can you come up with a brief headline that encompasses your core message? This way, even if people don’t check out your article or blog, they have an idea of where you’re going.  “Tsunami: One year on, the storm still rages” would be an improvement on “Charity revisits South India on Tsunami anniversary,” and at the same time it doesn’t give too much away.

What are your favourite headlines? What would make you click through to read more?

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