This column has the best headline ever
I’ll be at Roxhill’s Autumn Brunch Club on Thursday (just one ticket left – grab it here!), heroically slumming it in a luxury Cotswolds hotel just so that the attending PRs can grill and pitch to me.
One of the best bits of advice I’ll be dishing out is to ensure your pitches are summarised by good headlines. This is obviously easier and more natural with written pitches, but can apply to those made orally too. And it’s just as necessary for me when pitching to editors. The Telegraph, for instance, now insists that writers pitch a digital headline with their idea otherwise it won’t get picked up. This speaks to a large part of the motivation for good headlines: digital-first strategies that demand as much,
The best way to achieve killer headlines is, I’ve found, to indoctrinate oneself in the sort of headlines which your targeted publications run — including consciously observing them in order to get a sense of how they tend to be structured, how long they are, the style, etc.
I write for the Times a lot at present, so let’s consider a few from their travel pages at the time of writing. For a Sri Lanka piece, the headline is “This underrated island has stylish new hotels . . . and hardly any tourists” — basically a noteworthy claim of the sort readers will want to hear, plus some newness. A Swiss piece is entitled: “I’ve found the best adventure trip for kids… who hate adventure” — more designed to leap out to readers with this exact type of children. Finally, there’s Susan D’Arcy’s piece: “Inside The Peninsula: London’s first billion-pound luxury hotel.” The hook is obvious here, and makes for a catchy line (as Time Out also concluded).
All three share a snappiness and a chattiness; the first two also employ intrigue, hopefully enticing the reader into clicking. Note also the use of superlatives: “the best”; the “first”.
When I pitch I employ a maximum of two paragraphs. Those are important, but the headline is more so. That’s the first thing the recipient will read, and the key influence on their eventual decision.
A final thing to consider: if you pitch Times-specific headlines to the Times, that will go particularly down well — and ditto elsewhere. It’ll show you’ve done your research.
What Richard Thinks…
“Ahead of a Metro piece about citizen science cruises, I search my inbox for such fodder. Ding ding: this press release by my dear chum Rosie appears, and her client is automatically included. High five for her!“