10 of the Worst Press Headlines Ever: a Learning Opportunity

bad press headlineMentorship is underrated and under-utilized.

With PR executives jetsetting, working remotely, stuck in a marathon of meetings, or hibernating behind an office closed door, there is rarely a chance to hunker down for a learning opportunity.

On that note, one of the most visible flubs for any flack is the press release — specifically the headline.

It’s what you use to grab a reporter’s attention…at your own peril. While most headlines are perfectly functional, some earn a special place on the conference room bulletin board.

Bad headlines do happen…so let’s review a few and try to make sure they happen to someone else in the future. 

1. A Truly Innovative Way to Lose Weight. We get it: you just can’t resist using the word “innovative” because standing out in a crowd is tough! But this word in a headline tells us that you’re either exaggerating or being less than completely honest (which are basically the same thing).

PR-ER2. Terrys Fabrics Customers Take Advantage of 85% Off Curtains Range. Where to start here? First off, where is the possessive? Is it Terry or his fabrics that own the customers? This is why “marketing” folks should never moonlight as PR practitioners — where’s the news? Consider what happens when Terry’s competitor sells drapes for 90 percent off…

3. A Unique New Business. It’s not only new but it’s also unique as in “uniquer” in case you missed the first indicator about this being a “new” thing that you should check our because it’s “unique.” Redundancy is generally not a good idea in any practice that rewards getting to the point.

4. Jersey Shore Star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino Signs with Serious Pimp. Where to start? What to do? First, when you create a press release, have an inkling of public sentiment. Are people really going to care about your product or personality? (Whoever wrote this work of literary art may have been a bit confused on that point.)

mighty_press_release5. New Magnetic Door Locks from Locks-Magnetic.com. Breaking news, right? A company that specializes in magnetic door locks has a new series of magnetic door locks. That’s the thing about news — it needs to be new. This isn’t new; it isn’t even good marketing.

6. Wholesale — Uninterrupted Power Supply. A fragment. Not even a complete thought. Power for what? Supply for what? And who buys interrupted power in the first place? Hey, I love Christmas in my house…the lights are…oh, crap. They were interrupted again.

7. ZyXEL ventures into 2-Bay Media Server with the Launch of NSA221. Hey, tech PR peeps, how does this grab you? The, um, ZyXEL got the doohickey in the NSA something-or-other. The lesson here is that jargon is never a good idea. That includes talking about moving the needle, synergy, and other “end of the day” “water cooler” topics.

bad_pr8. New Evidence Links BP to the Controversial Elimination of Protected Wild Mustangs from Federally Mandated Land in Several Western US States. I feel asleep writing that, so could you read it to me again? There is not a single journalist, blogger, or even consumer that would enjoy a press release headline that long. Rule of thumb is 70 to 80 characters…not words. Why? Because no one really cares. The process of reading your release is a hopeful journey, not a rite of passage.

9. Bean Bags to Head Up the Christmas Retail Sales Charts. Is that so? Are these bean bags made of golden polymers, diamond-laced etching, or just chocolate truffles? And whose charts make this claim even close to authoritative? The only headline that might result from this link reads, “Dumb press release finally pushes reporter over the edge.”

10. My-Data-Team Releases a New Data Entry Program. The reason this headline sounds like an account of a gnome named Steve bragging about something he made in his garage is that it is nowhere close to being a newsworthy topic. Some company with some new program is doing ham-handed marketing. Everyone is developing new stuff — and only the new stuff that changes other stuff really makes news.

What do we think? What are our best/worst headlining tendencies?