Hold the front page

Ramesh Sharma

June 1, 2004

It’s all about the headline

I often talk about the art of writing meaningless press releases and, let me assure you, it is an art. I say art but I probably mean this in the same sense that the results of an elephant holding a paint brush with its tail and flicking paint onto a canvas is art.

The point is that for a press release to register with a journalist no doubt high on drink and drugs takes a special talent. And it all begins with the headline – it has to catch the attention. Something along the lines of ‘XYZ lender launches new…’ zzzzzzzzz, sorry I’ve gone already. This just isn’t going to cut the mustard.

To break through my novocaine hell and make an impression requires certain rules to be followed. The headline must contain either: a) weak puns; b) the mention of sitcoms (‘Keeping Up Appearances’, ‘Open All Hours’, ‘Robin’s Nest’, etc); c) phrases such as ‘safe as houses’; d) all of the above; or e) none of the above.

Dropping into e) this week we have two examples of the art which I’m using to show just how talented some of the press teams in the industry are. No Virgin Money ‘action’ this week but I’m sure the boys won’t keep us waiting very long.

First up we have the Investment Management Association (IMA) which brings us a press release headlined ‘New survey highlights what young people spend’. Now, I’m probably not the only person out there who read this and thought, ‘I bet they spend money like everyone else’. And d’you know what? I’m right. They do spend money – most of it on their mobile, cigarettes and alcohol. Looks like the journalistic profession is safe in the future then.

Then we have Direct Line who begin with ‘ UK dog-owners forced to take drastic action’. Prior to reading the release I envisaged a comprehensive survey had been conducted into the ways UK dog-owners side-stepped doggy doo-doo.

Something along the lines of: 49 per cent stop and walk round it; 34 per cent jump over it; 15 per cent perform a somersault; and 2 per cent walk straight through it. But no, the release informs us that 7 per cent of dog-owners have no option but to put down their sick dogs if they can’t afford the vet bills. Which I think is more upsetting than the dog poo release I had imagined.

So there you have it. Well done to both the IMA and Direct Line who have managed to get it so wrong and yet so right. And by the way if any firms out there conduct the dog mess research, I want a piece of the action. And by ‘action’ I mean cold, hard cash, not soft, wet…ahem.

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