It’s strange but true—the shortest part of your press release is the most important and, quite often, the hardest to write. Even after you’ve obsessed over every component of an effective press release, the headline is still there, staring back at you and asking, “Are you sure you’re done with me?”.
Why is it so hard to write great press release headlines?
Well, we can start with these reasons:
- Your headline has to be intriguing enough to get journalists to keep reading. Remember that you’re pitching to people who get flooded with press releases—why should they stop and read yours?
- It has to quickly communicate the essence of your message, which may or may not easily lend itself to neat, tidy summaries. Super-complex ideas boiled down to a few words? This is your problem.
- It needs to accomplish all of this using a number of words or characters that are only a fraction of what you think you need.
If that seems like a challenge, it is. No one said it’s easy. But it’s important to remember that headline writing is part science and part art—there are some rules you can follow but you definitely get better through experience and applying your own creativity.
Since we can’t help you much with your experience or creativity in creating press releases (or can we?), we’ve put together a list of tips, examples, and general guidelines to follow when writing press release titles. After you get your headline on the page but before you publish it, check it against these rules to see if there’s anything you can do to give it that extra something that will get results.
Here are our “musts” and a couple of “must-nots” for writing great press release headlines.
Press release headline tips
Remember who you’re writing for
Your press release is for journalists and others in a position to deliver media coverage to your announcement. It’s right there in the name—press release.
We mention this obvious point because your headline has to speak to them. Why is your announcement worth their time? Why should they be interested in your message? What are they going to get by spreading it through their platform? How are their readers going to benefit?
If you’re not writing your press release headlines with this very specific and limited audience in mind, you’re already on the wrong track. Start off right by always keeping in mind that your press release contains your media pitch and the people who read it are looking to check certain boxes as they do. If they don’t see value for them, it’s time to move on to the next press release.
Here you can find an example of a book press release that’s tailored to both readers and journalists, hitting the sweet spot.
Use numbers where you can
Which has more impact on you—”Sales Up In Third Quarter” or “Third Quarter Sales Up By 60%”? The second one, of course. Numbers always help to paint a more complete and compelling mental picture for the reader.
If your announcement can be enhanced with statistics or anything that helps to quantify what you’re trying to get across, add numbers to make it easier for the reader to feel it. Journalists and readers both benefit from putting an exact value on whatever you’re talking about, so do everyone a favor, including yourself, by making those numbers the focus of your message.
Think of your PR as your company’s or organization’s newspaper
You’ve probably noticed that press release headlines and newspaper headlines (both online and old-school paper) have a lot in common. In fact, you could argue it’s the same language. Newspapers have the same challenge you have when writing a press release header—getting attention and igniting interest using limited space.
So do what the pros do by imagining that you’re competing for attention by encapsulating the main takeaway from your press release in the headline in a way that makes readers want to know more.
You have the same task as a newspaper headline writer and you know from your own experience what kind of format gets your attention there. Use the same structures, shortcuts and phrasing in your press release headlines.
Apply some simple grammar rules
Ok, we don’t want to turn this into English class, but there are a couple of handy grammar rules to keep in mind when writing your press release titles.
First of all, remember that in the world of headline writing, a certain degree of flexibility is allowed when it comes to the tenses used. You may have noticed that, for example, things that happened in the past take the present tense:
Organization X Hires John Smith to Lead Strategy Department
Company Y Announces Major Tech Breakthrough
Association Z Opens New Location
All these things happened in the past but we use the present tense because they are news. Nothing happens in the past in the world of headlines, so the past tense is out. If you’re talking about future activities or planned events, the simple use of “to” takes the reader into the future:
Organization X To Hire John Smith to Lead Strategy Department
Company Y To Announce Major Tech Breakthrough
Association Z To Open New Location
Also on the subject of grammar, the cliche about using the active voice and avoiding the passive voice definitely applies. The details on this are a little outside of our lane, so if you’re not sure which is which, you can read more about it here.
One more thing here before we move on. We know there’s a difference between grammar and punctuation but let us sneak this in here anyway. The smart use of punctuation can help both you and the reader. It helps you by saving space and the reader by clarifying what might otherwise be confusing. Compare:
Company X to Expand to Florida and Georgia
Company X to Expand to Florida, Georgia
A New Start Company X to Launch Brand Makeover
A New Start: Company X to Launch Brand Makeover
There’s no need to dive too deep into the rules of commas and colons, just remember that one or the other can be just what you need when writing your next headline.
Need some help with your press releases? If you’re just getting started with writing your press releases, be sure to check out the press release guide. To make it even faster and easier to get your message out to the world, take a shortcut and use one of the press release templates. You’ll find everything you need to design, build and send great press releases with Prowly!
Leave your name out of headlines (when possible)
Depending on the context, this won’t always be possible but it’s often the case that you don’t need to use your own name in the press release headline. Recipients and readers of your press release know that we’re talking about you. Your logo and boilerplate company info are in the press release so there’s no need to use your name again in the headline.
Save the precious headline space for other info and avoid coming across like an ‘advertorial’. Remember, the press release is about your message, not about you. Remember the point above about focusing on your audience and how your announcement is relevant to them.
Avoid salesy language and tone
Press releases are informational, not promotional. Journalists aren’t interested in spreading what is essentially an advertisement. The who-what-when-why approach applies here but remember that the “why” is short for “why it’s important” and not “why you should buy this”.
The line between what belongs in an advertisement and what belongs in a press release can be blurry but there’s still a line. When writing your press release headers, make sure that you’re not using something that sounds like it’s better suited to a promotional text or the kind of email you would delete immediately without looking at it.
Again, journalists will resent being treated like they work for your marketing team so don’t pitch them like they do.
Careful with comedy
Everyone loves a clever headline with a comedic twist (“Coffee industry facing a latte trouble”!). It’s a great way to get attention and, yes, recipients will surely appreciate the extra effort you put into entertaining them.
Lots of industries, products, and sectors are well-suited to something out of the ordinary like this but others are not. Banks aren’t funny. Insurance isn’t funny. Funeral homes, fertility clinics, various medical procedures, and tax accountants? Yeah, not funny. Investors don’t want to see financial news as part of a joke. Your common sense and good taste should be able to guide you on this.
The temptation to be clever when crafting your headline can be strong, especially if you have a frustrated inner comedian. Successful attempts can be a major step forward in your quest for media coverage but getting it wrong can come with a cost. Be careful and conservative when trying to stand out with comic twists to your press release headlines.
Write the headline last
It might sound like strange advice but if you’re simply stuck at the headline and nothing looks or feels right, move on and come back to it after you write everything else. The process of explaining your announcement in more detail in the body of your press release can shake some ideas loose by helping you look at everything from a different angle or consider an approach you hadn’t thought of before.
Also, it can happen that writing your headline first establishes a mental path that you feel you have to stay on at the expense of other information. By leaving your headline until last and writing the body of the press release first, you might realize that the important takeaway is a bit different than what you thought at the beginning.
There’s more than one way to arrive at the same destination when it comes to writing great press release headlines so go with whichever order works for you!
Use AI to help you come up with ideas
If all else fails or you’re experiencing writer’s block, using AI tools for PR can be a great way to quickly generate a couple of headlines. Even if you don’t find any of them to be “the one”, it might be enough to inspire you to come up with your own version.
Examples of AI tools:
Examples of good press release headlines
Let’s shift the focus now to some examples of great headlines that get their point across in a simple, powerful way while making us eager to learn more. Note that they make good use of subheaders as well.
Best press release headline #1
See, we said that comic twists work well where appropriate and this is a great example. All the relevant details are there and it’s clear what the announcement is all about. Don’t you want to try some Salsa Queen now? This brilliant press release headline was written by Kristen Skladd, Senior Publicist @ Osmond Marketing.
Best press release headline #2
No gray area here. The fact speaks for itself and now the rest of the press release can be devoted to what it means and why it’s important. The “46%” sounds significant, right? There must be a story in there for the right journalist. The press release headline was submitted by Rowena Figueroa, Director of Outreach and Partnerships @ Hinge.
Best press release headline #3
Ok, maybe it’s not fair to reference companies that don’t have to work very hard to get press coverage (and one that has their own press…) but this is how it’s done. The present tense is there. The active voice is there. There’s a “new” word (debut). The headline hits the bullseye when it comes to the main message and the subheader nicely expands on the main idea with extra info, all of it of interest to a certain audience.
Best press release headline #4
Maybe a little on the long side, but every word still contributes something essential. The nature of the topic, the specific figure is given, the suggestion of conflict, and strong potential for general interest—what else could a journalist want? The press release headline was submitted by Rowena Figueroa, Director of Outreach and Partnerships @ Hinge.
Best press release headline #5
This headline works for several reasons. It’s “punny,” attention-grabbing, and delivers a clear message in just a few words. Right away, you know exactly what the release is going to cover and details of the story including the number of hotel rooms, location, and what makes the property unique and newsworthy. It was submitted by Katie Adkisson, APR, Co-Founder and Partner @ REED Public Relations.
Best press release headline #6
Yes, another mega-corp that doesn’t have to struggle with getting noticed but in fact, they often provide the best examples because they have massive teams of pros dedicated to writing press releases. Makes sense, right?
Anyway, here we find another present tense, nice action words like “powerful”, clear communication about why the announcement is important, and a subheader that fills out the details. Apple fans, tech fans, people with disabilities, people who use sign language—there are so many groups waiting to hear more about this, it’s almost too easy for the journalist. The point is, though, that Apple told them everything they need to know in about three seconds’ worth of reading.
This is what you need to do, too!
Cover photo by Annie Spratt