PR Training

How to Call Out to the Reader in a Headline

Readers look at only the first two or three words of the headline when scanning lists.

That makes front-loading your headlines with your topic word so important that usability expert Jakob Nielsen ranks it as the No. 1 thing you can do to improve the ROI of your communications.

But what’s the topic?

Too many communicators (and, let’s be honest, their reviewers) believe that the company or its product or service is the topic. But the real topic is the reader or what the reader can do, as the Silver Anvil Award-winning headlines below demonstrate.

Here are four ways to do that:

1. Call out to the reader in the headline.

“If you want mothers to read… display ‘Mothers’ in your headline,” advised advertising guru David Ogilvy.

Here’s an example from a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign:

Blood Cancer Patients and Advocates Visit Capitol Hill to Inspire Continued Support for Be the Match

July 18 Legislative Day Event Aimed at Delivering More Cures to Patients in Need

Here’s another example:

Teens Get Opportunity to Celebrate With an Idol

State Farm and Grammy Award Winner Kelly Clarkson Team Up for Teen Driver Safety

2. Use the imperative voice.

Let the reader know what they can do differently if they read your release, buy your product or engage with your organization. Here’s how:

Color Your Easter with Eggs

HGTV Interior Designer Sabrina Soto Offers Easter Decorating Tips to “Dye” for


Join the Teen Driver Safety Celebration Supporting New Drivers

Communities Commit to Drive Safe in Support of New Drivers During National Teen Driver Safety Week

3. Focus on the readers’ interest — not on “us and our stuff.”

Don’t write about your products and services. Write about the readers’ needs:

Before Spring Planting, Expert Says, “Dig a little. Learn a Lot.”


Survey: Cover Crops Deliver Strong Harvest Amid Drought

Agency Focuses on Helping Farmers Build Resilient Farms Through Soil Health

4. Write for the reader.

Even the IRS is getting in on this approach. Here’s a recent newsletter headline:

10 Million Taxpayers Face an Estimated Tax Penalty Each Year

Don’t write about us and our stuff. To catch your reader, write about the reader and the reader’s needs.

Copyright © 2020 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at Get FREE writing tips here.

Want more tips for getting the word out with media relations pieces? Join PRSA and Ann Wylie at “NOT Your Father’s News Release,” an online PR writing workshop with live coaching calls in September.

Photo credit: iQoncept

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Ann Wylie

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