Capturing Reader Attention – It Starts With the Headline

Bank holiday weekend is here again in the UK.  Predictable traffic jams will form at the usual hot spots and, almost as predictable, you will return to work to an e-mail inbox jammed with junk.  Like me, you will apply the rapid scan test – if the headline provides no compelling reason to open and read, then junk/delete and scan next.  It is brutal, it could be costly, but it is the only way to avoid time stealing tedium.

Deleting unwanted e-mail

Capture your reader's attention before they hit delete

The important lesson here for all communicators, whether in PR, e-mail marketing or even memo briefing:

  • Make the headline content clear.
  • Make the content relevant to the reader.

An example from my inbox had a headline inviting people to free NLP courses.  No idea what NLP means?  Neither did I.  For the purpose of this blog I did open it and was the text any more illuminating?  Well no.  Wikipedia quickly provided the answer, Neuro Linguistic Programming – it may sound a bit like brainwashing, but I am sure that it has many practical marketing applications.

Abbreviations are dangerous.  Avoid jargon as well.  In the above example, this rules out mentioning anything about Neuro Linguistic Programming until well into the message.  Ainsworth Maguire specialises in B2B PR – mainly construction, engineering and technology and there is a tremendous overlap of abbreviations in use across these disciplines.

Technology companies, particularly, use many abbreviations for good reason – it makes good shorthand to their subject.  For some press releases, rather than explain every abbreviation as it arises, I have included a complete list at the end of the press release.  This also provides a useful search engine friendly list.

So how do you grab attention in the headline?  Lead with a benefit – better still make it tangible.  So a better headline for my example would have been – ‘Better Business Communication – FREE Training to Understanding Your Audiences Hidden Needs’.

As always there is a Free PR Checklist that has some relevance here.  Please have a look at Writing for the Web.

Kevin Ainsworth, Partner, Ainsworth Maguire Public Relations

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