Ann Wylie highlights in a recent article “7 ways to activate your release headlines,” in PR Tactics the importance of verbs in headlines. Every newspaper reader knows the boredom jumping out of the headlines by the constant use of words such as “announces” or “launches” or – even worse – brooding over what the content of the story is if the verb is missing. The verb is the most important feature of every headline, without it the content is lost and consequently the reader.
In her article Wylie lists the following advice:
1. Don’t drop the verb. Citing the editing guru Chris Smith, Wylie emphasizes that the story is lost with the deletion of its verb. Committing verbicide kills vital headlines.
2. Use sexy verbs. Sex sells. This unwritten law is not only valid for video ads, but also for any kind of writing. Cheeky verbs such as “spank” awaken the reader’s interest – and that is what every author wants. Connected to this is Wylie’s third advice:
3. Think action. Athletic words underline the movement going on in your organization. Readers are drawn in and the content of your story becomes alive.
4. Avoid PR verbs. Words such as the above mentioned “launch” or “announce” are the contrast of what is suggested in step 2 and 3, as they are neither sexy nor athletic. People are turned off by the frequent use of these constantly used business words.
5. Write in the active voice.; and 6. Write in the present of future tense are self-explanatory. Every school child knows these basic rules by the age of 14. If the reader is supposed to feel actively involved, the story has to be immediately touching. The history affects us far less than the present.
7. Don’t bury the verb. Using the right word in the wrong place is just as ineffective as leaving it out. Is the verb preceded by a chunk of other words it is going to be buried, killing the story you want to tell.
As Wiley makes clear in her PR tactics article, it all comes down to the usage of the right verb in the right place. The vital use of verbs can be tremendously effective. Renew your love for verbs, pay attention to them. Your headlines benefit from it. Make them worth reading again.