Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Massaging the Subject Line

Among the services we provide here at the worldwide headquarters of JDK Marketing Communications Management is the writing of press releases.

To that end, I’m working on a major publicity campaign for my client, Massage Envy, the nation’s leading massage therapy clinic available to the public. Massage Envy is partnering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to stage “Massage for the Cure” at all 18 of their clinics throughout North Carolina, all day September 15. (More info to come next month, but for now you can go to: http://massageenvy.com/massage-for-the-cure.aspx )

Of course, sending out press releases these days is usually done through e-mail. Which means catching the attention of the reader – likely the jaundiced eye of the media – with a compelling enough headline in the subject box to get the recipient to open it.

Welcome to another edition of Not Your Usual Marketing Tips from JDK Marketing Communications Management.

Here’s a fascinating take, excerpted here, on the craft of subject headline writing that appeared recently in The New York Times. Joanne Kaufman is the author.

“’P.R. people want to invest time in things that are going to get picked up, so they try to put something to the ‘who cares?’ and ‘so what?’ test,” said Kate Robins, a longtime public relations consultant. 'If you say something is first, most, fastest, tallest — that’s likely to get attention. If you can use the words like ‘money,’ ‘fat,’ ‘cancer’ or ‘sex,’ you’re likely to get some ink in the general audience media.'

“David Seaman, a P.R. stunt planner and the author of a book to be published in October, ‘Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz,’ is a proponent of ‘safe,’ ‘easy’ ‘secret,’ ‘trick’ and ‘breaking’ because they suggest that something is new and fresh, he said.

“The words that attract media attention change with the times. ‘Anything that speaks to long-term health risks is good these days, because there is a belief that there’s a lot of stuff out there harming us, from the cellphone on down,’ Mr. Adamson said. David B. Armon, the president of PR Newswire, a distribution service for public relations professionals, likens writing a news release to writing a headline for the front page of a newspaper: every word has to do heavy lifting.

“’It’s a lot more scientific than it used to be,’ Mr. Armon said, ‘because you’re not just trying to get media pickup, but to get search engine attention.’

“To aid in this endeavor, PR Newswire offers its members a so-called keyword density tool. “It lets you know the words someone would have to type into a search engine for your particular press release to be found, and helps put your release at the top of the search engine,” Mr. Armon said.

“’Green’ and ‘environment’ are huge right now, he said, as is ‘foreclosure.’ ‘We’ve done 412 press releases that incorporate that word so far in ’08, up from 261 last year.’ For the record, Mr. Armon added, the use of the word “toxic’ in news releases is up 5 ‘percent.

“Perhaps because many people in public relations are former journalists, they know what grates on the Fourth Estate. Mr. Gable, who was once the business editor of The San Diego Union, has compiled a list of words that will do a news release no good whatsoever, like ‘solutions,’ ‘leading edge,’ ‘cutting edge,’ ‘state of the art,’ ‘mission critical,’ and ‘turnkey.’

“Ken Sunshine, the head of a P.R. firm in Manhattan, said he thought the media had an institutional bias against ‘hype-y terms’ like ‘world renowned’ and ‘once in a lifetime,’ which he studiously avoids putting in his news releases. ‘But ‘unique’ is fine,’ he said, ‘if something really is unique.’ “

Well, we think we’re unique. So watch for this column again -- in the subject line, of course -- the first Tuesday of next month, for another PR-tinged edition of Not Your Usual Marketing Tips.

Joel Kweskin