To be or not to be (cute): PR writing in a web world

Don’t tell my crush: I’m a word nerd. I fantasize about clipping catchy headlines from glossy mags for the ‘inspiration’ binder I vow to compile. Browsing the pages of TIME Magazine’s Style & Design issue, my inner monologue chirps away: ‘Prints Charming’ opens a profile on a famed Italian printmaker (‘witty!’). ‘Crème of the Crop’ kicks off an item on Kiehl’s (‘clever!’).

As PR professionals, we’re charged with writing copy that’s good enough for a journalist. Yet, with editors barraged with inappropriate pitches and poorly-written releases , a news release headline can make or break you. Make it good, or else.

Yet, what makes a good headline? (Get ready to pen your comment, BackTalk readers). Do you need to be ‘cute’ or ‘clever’ to cut through the clutter? Many seasoned professionals might say yes. Yet, some experts are suggesting that the web is changing the rules of the writing game. Again.

With consumers and journalists searching the web for content and information more than ever before, writing for search engine optimization (SEO) is a must. Yet, I’ve heard that cute headlines work terribly in search engines. Google confused by a clever phrase? Gasp. And, of course, keeping searchable keywords right at the beginning of a headline ups the chances your release will be found online.

So what’s a word nerd to do? Go back to the first rule of communication: speak to your audience. If the evolution of the Internet means that a press release reaches two audiences, media and consumers, then let’s speak to both. You might craft a clever headline for an email pitch to a journalist with whom you have a relationship, yet keep it factual and searchable for a release you distribute across the wire.

Copy writers of the world, we want to hear from you! But, before you comment, check out my Buzzworthy picks for the week:

1. OkCupid! (http://www.okcupid.com/) Take their free online dating personality test, even if you’re not looking for love online. Hilarious.

2. Coachella (http://www.coachella.com/) A hipster’s music festival dream. Three days, more than 100 live acts. Prince just added to the lineup. ‘Nuff said.

3. Dedicate a redwood seedling for Earth Day (www.savetheredwoods.org). For a donation of $50 or more to Save-the-Redwoods League, you can have a redwood seedling planted in one of California’s state parks.

4. Rosamunde Sausage Grill. (http://sanfrancisco.citysearch.com/profile/904053). Sausages from around the world grilled to order. Enjoy your dog on-site or at neighboring bar, Toronado.

5. Eyebrows to Die For (http://www.eyebrowstodiefor.com/). If eyes are the window to the soul, then eyebrows are pretty darn important. Artist Kimberly Jones works magic.

6. Dolores Park. Ultra-sunny Mission weather, palm trees and sweeping San Francisco views make this one of the city’s best urban parks.

7. Bi-Rite Creamery. (http://biritecreamery.com/). Ice cream flavors to die for. It’s worth the out-the-door wait.

8. American Craft Show in San Francisco (www.craftcouncil.org). Eco-friendly craft, live art demonstrations and a new ‘AltCraft’ section showcasing work of ‘indie’ and ‘DIY’ artist re-invent the 2008 show.

9. Lime. (http://www.lime-sf.com/). All you can drink mimosas for $6 with brunch.

10. Little Star Pizza (http://www.littlestarpizza.com/). A second Mission location makes it twice as easy to savor deep dish pizza with a signature (read delicious) cornmeal crust.

11. Painted Bird. (http://www.paintedbird.org/) Vintage clothing finds abound.

12. Google text. Text a destination (store, restaurant, bar) with city name to g-o-o-g-l-e (466-453) to get the full address and phone number delivered to your text inbox in seconds. Thanks, Google.

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  1. David Reply

    Hey, Marsha (or perhaps this is Alicia?):

    Bravo! I always vote for the headline that is clever over cute. And as a word nerd myself, here’s my favorite headline of the day, thanks to the New York Post’s Page Six (See full article below):

    http://www.nypost.com/seven/04272008/gossip/pagesix/riddle_behind_jagger_dagger_108256.htm:

    “Riddle Behind Jagger Dagger”

    April 27, 2008 — JADE Jagger’s specially designed Jagger dagger ice pick for Belvedere Vodka may have a dark, disturbing history.

    Jagger took the inspiration for the mass-marketed dagger from an official World War II Nazi knife, according to a source close to the designer.

    “She removed the swastikas and eagles and redesigned it as her own creation,” said the source. “Belvedere obviously did not know.”

    Jagger then debuted her creation to the public last week at a Belvedere Vodka party at the Angel Orensanz Foundation in New York and at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, where she told Women’s Wear Daily, “The dagger’s a very English symbol, very authoritarian. I’ve got tons.”

    Jagger’s London-based rep, Amanda Harding, told us, “She doesn’t own any.” Harding also said Jagger “would never ever do that” – copy a Nazi weapon.

    But the similarities to a Nazi dagger we found online are striking (see right). The shapes are very similar, down to the twisted rope design of the handle above the blade.

    Belvedere’s dagger, with 12 carats of diamonds, retails for $250,000.

    Harding said, “She was inspired by the King Arthur legend. She has influences, as does everyone. This is hurtful to her. She’s such a well-respected designer. It’s completely untrue.”

    Harding then sent us a link to what she called “Medieval daggers” – and one had a swastika on the handle.