5 Tips for Writing Great Headlines

Tip 1: Have a benefit that is clear.

That is exactly what I did with the headline on this post. I told you I was going to give you five tips for writing great headlines. Full disclosure: These are not my tips, but rather those of Richard Haddad, digital director of Western News & Info, who presented on the topic at the 2012 NFPW Communications Conference in Arizona.

Headlines that focus on benefits such as “better, easier and happier” will get more attention. Lists also are popular, Haddad said, because they become a “how-to” for readers.

Tip 2: Avoid the seven deadly flag words.

Haddad challenged his audience to write a headline with the following words: budget, council, agenda, meeting, taxes, discuss, still. We labored over the assignment but most of were thinking, “What do these words tell us?”

The answer, Haddad said, “is they don’t tell you anything.”

“A bad headline is a lid to a jar that will remain locked,” Haddad said. “If no one reads, all is lost.”

And yet the goal of a headline is to entice the reader into the article. His recommendation is for reporters to always submit two headlines when submitting a story.

Tip 3: Optimize your headlines for web readers and search engines.

You will need to inject keywords into the headline. “The headline alone must provide enough information scent to let users predict what they’ll get if they follow the link,” Haddad said.

As authors we have about three seconds to catch the reader’s attention, Haddad said. Using clear, immediate-read keywords to draw people into the story is essential.

Tip 4: Get the first two words right.

Haddad said it’s important to front-load headlines with compelling keywords, even if the headline is passive voice. Several audience members cringed at that having been taught to always write in the active voice. Yet, when Haddad showed several examples where headlines were written in the passive voice, it was obvious those examples were more compelling because the strong keywords were immediately recognizable. As Haddad said, “Get me the meat!”

This tip also holds true for subheads, summaries, captions and bulleted lists.

Tip 5: Write your headline first.

That’s exactly what I did with this blog. I reviewed my notes to confirm that Haddad had indeed provided the audience with five tips and that became my headline.

Haddad said more news writers should follow the practice of marketing copywriters, which is 50 percent research and 50 percent writing the headline. Of course, writers need time to write, but the point is – headlines are critical.

“Your headline is a promise to readers,” Haddad said. “Writing the headline first, commits you to fulfilling a promise.”

What if you attended a boring meeting? Haddad’s solution is simple, don’t write a story. Instead create a grid that outlines what was discussed and the actions taken. If one action stands out that becomes the story with a compelling headline.

I hope you agree that with the content of this blog I kept my promise to you that I made in my headline.

Crisis Communications Impacted by Technology

When it comes to handling a crisis today, it’s a whole new world.

Julie Rodriguez, public information manager of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, shared at the National Federation of Press Women 2012 Communications Conference how the world has changed technologically and how those changes impact news.

When she started in the business, press releases were still faxed to reporters. Today communications is instant and includes tools such as email, websites, 24-hour media texts, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, blogs, apps and direct email lists.

“When something starts happening we immediately go to Facebook and Twitter,” said Rodriguez. “The reporters follow us.”

It’s also how news gets out. “We hear about something. We see it on Twitter. We see the photos posted on Twitter. We see it on CNN,” she said. “That’s the progression.”

Rodriguez added, “I love social media, especially Facebook. We can have a conversation.”

When a crisis happens, Rodriguez says it’s important to follow a timeline that includes:

  • Fact finding
  • Communicating with all agencies and business partners involved
  • Returning media calls
  • In-person media briefings

Beginning with the fact finding ensures that you have the needed information or have identified what you still need before speaking to the media. It’s then important to communicate with partners, Rodriguez said.

“We have to stay in our lane,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t share information that is out of our area of control or authority.”

She and her staff, though, will assist reporters in finding the person who can give them the necessary information.

Once you have done these two steps you can return media calls, post to social media and send group emails. Then, she said, schedule in-person media briefings.

Following these steps and using the new technology, Rodriguez, said will help you dispel inaccurate rumors and enable you to quickly contact news outlets.

NFPW Conference Renews Spirit


Hotel Valley Ho set the stage for the 2012 NFPW Conference.

It’s 4 a.m. in Scottsdale, Ariz., as I write this. I’m awake only because it’s time for me to check out of my outstanding accommodations at the Hotel Valley Ho and leave behind my friends and the annual NFPW conference and return to the real world.

For a few days each year at this conference I rekindle friendships, renew my spirit and reawaken my thirst for knowledge.

I attended my first conference many years ago for the same reason I suspect many members do – I was receiving an award in the annual communications contest. As a young reporter, I was excited to learn what place I had won and to learn how I could improve my writing from the judges’ comments.

Of course once you are at conference, you are going to attend the workshops, which almost always are outstanding. This year, I learned about communicating a crisis using the latest technology, writing headlines for the Web and accessing my muse.

I had conversations and laughter with friends. That’s a given, but breakfast speaker Steve Saffron reinforced the value of laughter and humor during his presentation. As he encouraged us to dance our way out of the room to our next workshop, he turned on the tunes and the next thing you knew, we were all dancing.We celebrated NFPW's 75th with cupcakes.

This year I didn’t participate in the pre- or post-tours because of my schedule, but I managed to squeeze in a few hours to explore Scottsdale. I enjoyed summer for a few more days with 100+ degree days and plenty of sunshine.

Now, though, it’s time to say good-bye and return to the chilly autumn days of the East Coast. I already have marked my calendar for Aug. 22-24 in Utah for the 2013 conference knowing all the wonderful benefits it will provide. Will you be there?

Celebrating 75 Years

When Glennis McNeal attended her first NFPW conference in 1985 in Chicago it was to pick up a first place prize for a brochure she created as a freelancer for the National Psoriasis Foundation. It also was her first trip east of the Rocky Mountains. It’s where she met her longtime friend Marlene Cook of Illinois Woman’s Press Association.

Glennis McNeal is celebrating 75 years along with NFPW.

This year she’s helping with the conference in Arizona as NFPW celebrates its 75th anniversary. Glennis, too, is celebrating 75 years as she was born Sept. 1, 1937.

Like many press women, she is as active as ever. In addition to helping with the conference, she also is co-vice president of Oregon Press Women with Katherine Keniston. Yep, Glennis has dual membership in both Oregon, which she joined in 1974, and Arizona, where she spends her winters.

“NFPW was my college and my business school as I built my communications career on the basis of only high school journalism experience,” Glennis said.

She didn’t graduate college until after retirement, earning her degree in arts and communication from Linfield College in Oregon.

“From weekly newspaper reporter to the public information director of a national lay health nonprofit, I relied on what I learned at national and affiliate conferences,” Glennis said. “Membership put me in touch with people who willingly shared information and advice. Skills learned as an officer of Oregon Press Women poised me to conduct meetings and take charge of projects in free-lance and full-time jobs.”

Along the way, Glennis contributed to OPW and NFPW.  She has served as secretary, vice president and president (twice) of OPW. She also coordinated a pre-tour through Oregon before the Seattle conference in 2005.

Sometimes, though, Glennis was reluctant to change. “I have watched with interest as NFPW worked to add value to membership, adding programs and affiliations to bring member skills forward,” she said, specifically referring to Facebook. She first learned about it at a national conference and resisted, but as she learned more about it through NFPW she discovered, “This is really cool! So glad I’ve learned to use this.” And she has, as she keeps members updated about conference plans in Arizona.

“NFPW has dragged me into new frontiers,” she said.

But NFPW is about more than skills and networking. Friendships play a key role. “Affiliate and national friendships enriched my life and remain important to me.”

As for the 75 years of celebration, Glennis said, “I think it’s amazing that while other communications groups begun by and for women have now folded and disappeared, NFPW rolls on. Maybe it’s because a federation builds from local groups up, and not from the top down. Mostly, I think, it’s the quality of people who keep the group viable. I understand that at 75, activities become more challenging and more wearying but they are no less rewarding.”

Celebrate National Women’s Friendship Day

Today is National Women’s Friendship Day.  It was created in 1999 by the Kappa Delta Sorority and is held the third Sunday in September, but I think it should be held whenever the NFPW national conference is held.

Friendships are formed in NFPW. A group of us explored Yellowstone National Park followiing a board meeting.

One of the things that makes membership in NFPW so special is the friendships that develop. I belong to several groups in addition to NFPW, and everyone is friendly, but our focus is on the business side.

In NFPW, we focus on networking and professional development. But because we also offer pre- and post-tours we have opportunities to get to know each other better. When we see each other at the annual conference we renew our friendships.

Keeping the friendships active throughout the year is much easier now that we have Facebook and other social sharing tools.

As you get ready to attend NFPW, why not send a note to the many friends you’ll be seeing and make plans to catch up. And don’t forget to reach out to the first-timers attending the conference. Before you know it you will have even more friends.