Press Release Headlines: How to Write a Headline that Gets Coverage (plus examples)
No pressure, but a good press release headline will either completely make or break your entire press release.
You could've written a magnum opus press release, included the most beautiful image gallery known to man, and Beethoven himself could've written the press release theme song. But if the headline is terrible, none of that will matter. Again, no pressure.
- The anatomy of a good press release headline
- The biggest press release headline mistakes
- Press release headline tips & tricks
- The best press release headline examples
- You have the best press release headline ever. Now what?
Publish your first press release in 5 minutes
We at Prezly are in the PR software business. So we see a lot, and I mean a lot, of press releases and press release headlines. Thousands.
It can be tempting to think of the headline as an afterthought, just the cherry on top of the main event. But the headline honestly does a lot of the heavy lifting, sets the stage for your press release, and reels the reader into your story.
If the point of a press release is to:
- Communicate an update, company change, product launch
- Share about an exciting upcoming event
- Get attention and generate publicity
- Advance the company in some way
… then you've got to make that headline pop. 💥
Rarely does a company put out a press release and not want coverage. If the point is to be covered, then your press release headline must be invigorating.
In summary, if you don't want your audience to fall asleep before they even get to the actual text, make sure your press release headline is stellar.
This leads us to...
A good press release headline needs to make the subject and purpose crystal clear. Consider the 5 W's:
- Who is the press release about?
- What is being discussed?
- When will the events take place?
- Where is the action happening?
- Why does any of this matter?
Your audience shouldn't have to guess what is happening and why you've chosen to distribute a press release. Before they even click on it, readers should know what to expect just from the short headline.
That being said, you don't have to necessarily sacrifice your brand identity for the sake of professionalism. Many companies successfully pull off a cheeky, witty press release, even if it does muddy the intent a little bit. Our advice is to err on the side of caution and prioritize clarity over cleverness.
Of the 5 W's, we would argue that the "why?" is the most important. The details and minutia of your press release come second to answering the most important question: "who gives a crap?"
Before even writing out your press release headline, ask yourself, "why would anyone care? How can this press release impact my audience?" If the point is to gain coverage and buzz around your company, merger, acquisition, or product launch, great! What does that matter to anybody besides the people within the company?
Think of the journalists when you write the thing. Kelsey Ogletree talks here about the importance of maximizing the value of minimum space and why this is so crucial for journalists and writers:
If your intended audience has to guess what your press release is about, they won't. They'll go on to the next story or the next press release that won't make them parse out the meaning. Be clear, concise, actionable, and engaging. In, like, eight words. Nobody said it would be easy.
Your press release type, your industry, and the people you want to reach will ultimately determine exactly how you should craft your press release headline. Some brands and companies will get away with (and even benefit from) cheekier headlines.
Some agencies just don't have to rely on press coverage in the same standard way as others. There are even some entire industries, like the fashion industry, where it's a boon for the press releases to be edger, flashier, and break some of the rules.
In addition, there are brands whose name recognition means they don't actually have to play by the rules. Apple could write their press release in wingdings font and still get on the cover of Forbes.
When crafting a press release headline, decide if being clever or less-than-informative for the sake of flair is worth a journalist possibly glossing over your story because your title isn't clear. Sometimes it just might be worth it.
Typically (especially if you're not Apple) a quality press release should be about informing and not necessarily about entertaining. You don't want to "surprise" your readers at any point. A quality press release offers clear, concise, accurate information as quickly and succinctly as possible. Leave the meandering text and flowery prose for Wattpad.
If you can, give all the relevant information in the headline. Journalists can keep reading the rest of the press release to fill out their story, but ultimately they should have 80% of the details right in the title.
Listen, we all want coverage. And sometimes we go to drastic lengths. But as tempting as it can be, you don't want to treat your press release headline like it's clickbait. Clickbait is abhorrent and has no place within a professional communications document.
Plus, journalists and audiences have finely tuned B.S.-o-meters. Few people (besides your great Aunt Linda, maybe) will click on a hyper-sensationalized headline, and, in fact, many people will avoid clickbait on pure principle.
What is clickbait? Clickbait is over-promising and under-delivering. Don't set your audience up for disappointment, even if it's not outright lying. Semrush has a great breakdown of what clickbait is, why it sucks, and how to avoid it.
Another common mistake we see when it comes to terrible press release titles? They're way too long! Wylie Comm says that a press release headline should be 8-9 words, and never more than 14. Cision's 2021 State of the Press Release also suggests 70 characters or less.
If SEO is important for your press release (and it should be), consider that Google cuts off a page title (aka your press release headline) after 70 characters.
Keep your eyes on the length as you shape your headline. It would suck to lead with filler words only to have your power words cut off by some search engine startup.
You can use Word Counters to keep track of your actual word and character counts, but many text editors have word counters already integrated into their service. You could also count the characters manually if you pride yourself on inefficiency.
Even if you're using a newswire service or press distribution service, odds are you're still going to want to email out your press release to key players on your distribution list.
The search engine gurus will tell you that an optimized press release headline can be a healthy SEO boost for your site as well. Writing your press release (and your press release title) with your company's keywords can have an effect. But also, the journalists who are covering your press release will likely link back to your website, which is just good SEO ranking vibes.
How will your press release headline look when sent through email? If you sent the press release headline as your email headline, it's worth noting that 1.8 billion people use Gmail and Gmail subject lines range from 38-98 characters (depending on the screen viewing size). You certainly don't need to fit the entire press release headline in that space, but it is something to consider.
We at Prezly truly see a lot of press release headlines, and subsequently, a lot of headline mistakes. It's a tragedy to witness a beautifully-crafted press release with gorgeous visuals, dynamic multimedia, and fantastic quotes hidden beneath a busted headline.
How can you bungle the press release headline? By making these common mistakes:
Ugh, nobody wants boring! The point is to get people to read the thing and (best case scenario) share the thing. Help them out by making it sound as attractive as you can (without sensationalizing). The people reading your press release are looking for opportunities to distribute it to their readers. If they're bored out of their minds, they're not going to want to bore their own audiences. Evocative, compelling language can breathe life into what may otherwise be a drab press release.
There are those press release headlines out there where you recognize all of the individual words, but you can't make sense of the order they decided to put them in. Avoid this by running your headline past a couple of people so they can confirm that it is clear and not unintentional word salad.
Don't yell at your poor audience. Nobody wants to be yelled at on this sacred day. Trying to differentiate yourself amongst the other press releases by using all caps is unprofessional, if not outright annoying. You can absolutely communicate your message without using all caps. Some press distribution services won't even accept all caps submissions.
Sometimes people get a little too press release gung-ho and start drafting press announcements for every little thing. Putting out too many irrelevant press releases can harm your credibility. People will stop taking your press releases seriously. If a journalist is scrolling through your newsroom and sees that half of your press releases are completely irrelevant, they're less likely to use you as a subject in the future. Journalists don't want to wade through irrelevant content to find something newsworthy.
Have you ever been on a first date, and your date is waxing poetic about their less-than-riveting job as a corporate accountant? Their monologue is full of words you have never heard, don't understand, and have no interest in learning? And they go on and on and on, neither noticing nor caring whether you find their job mesmerizing or not? (hint: you don't.)
Yeah, don't do that to your audience (or your dates). Avoid alienating people outside of your industry by keeping the language neutral. Most people reading your press release will likely not be as entrenched in your industry niche as you are. Particularly journalists, who might see a bunch of industry buzzwords and peace out. If you're struggling to make it sound interesting to the average person, so will they.
Run your headline by a colleague or two before publishing to make sure that the intent is clear.
- Check out a headline analyzer, like this one. It's not a press release headline analyzer (we looked and couldn't find one), but it will give you some insights into the kinds of language you're using and if it can be optimized or improved.
- Consider how your press release headline will look on the various newswire distribution services that you plan to use, and write to their specifications.
- Numbers are a great opportunity to communicate your news qualitatively. Did your business grow by X%? Did you open up X number of new branches, or hire X amount of employees? Journalists love concrete numbers because it's a fantastic way to show, not tell. When you can, include numbers in your headline.
- Clever punctuation is a great way to cut down on actual word count, and can help you tell your story in a dynamic and interesting way. Dashes, colons, and well-placed short quotes can pack a punch. If you find you're short on space, try switching up the punctuation.
We've compiled examples of fantastic headlines that tell a story quickly, succinctly, and effectively. We're going to break down why these are the best press release headline examples, and how you can learn from their craftsmanship.
Why it works:
- Cute, clever, but clear
- Tells a full story
- Uses punctuation to cut down on filler words
Why it works:
- It has the "wait, whaaa?" factor by including a high-profile celebrity
- Has a clear message but leaves the reader wanting more
Why it works:
- The press release headline is short
- Incorporates a cute pun without muddying the meaning
- The message is clear and the reader knows what to expect
Why it works:
- Uses numbers effectively
- Leaves the reader wanting to know more
- Short (less than 70 characters)
Why it works:
- Short, to the point
- Clearly outlines what the press release is about
- Engaging and relevant
Why it works:
- Fashion lookbook headlines don't necessarily need to tell a full story like traditional headlines
- It's clever, cute, cultural, and still tells the reader what to expect
Why it works:
- Press releases are a great way to showcase your CSR
- Clear message
- Makes the company look great
Why it works:
- Engaging language ("recover", "looted")
- Newsworthy and interesting topic
Why it works:
- Vivid imagery
- Informative arts announcement
- Short but packs a punch
Congratulations on officially mastering the press release headline. We always believed in you. If you're ready to take on the next steps of the press release journey, peruse these stunning press release examples, curated by industry type.
Or, if you're so inclined, subscribe to our ongoing PR Roundtable for more inspo from industry leaders!