A confounding–and compelling–headline

I write a farming/local growing column for a weekly insert in my hometown newspaper, so I’m on a lot of media email lists. I get press releases announcing all manner of grower education events, invasive insect alerts, weather advisories, market news for various crops, etc.

I laughed out loud at the subject line of an announcement that landed in my inbox early this morning:

Survey Shows Tobacco as the Leading Organic Product in Virginia

Certainly this is a niche market I don’t understand, I thought: Consumers who are concerned enough about health to choose organic, yet also choose to smoke/chew a product with negative health implications? Naturally, I clicked the message to read the full announcement. (You can read it in its entirety here.)

Boom–it hooked me. And that’s exactly what a headline is supposed to do, compell a person to continue reading.

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m a rotten headline writer. I’ve gotten a little better with these years of practice, but still, putting just the right headline/title/subject line/page header on a piece of otherwise well-conceived text is a task that continues to challenge me.

I find myself often thinking of the advice a longtime client passed along from her marketing coach: Sell the sizzle, not the steak. It’s a great rule of thumb where sales writing is concerned, but the concept can apply to other titles and headlines as well. In many cases, it’s that attraction to the sizzle–the emotional response a title creates–that truly makes a person read on. In the organic tobacco headline example, the feeling that spurred me to click was a mixture of amusement and curiosity.

Please chip in, readers. What are your favorite examples of compelling headlines, current or past? Do you have a technique or tip for maximizing the impact of your titles? The comments section is open!

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