Crappy press releases of the week: more moans about punny, irritating and meaningless headlines


My latest nominations for press release headlines that don’t do their job and GET TO THE POINT are as follows:

“I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas”

What does this tell us? It seems to be a corruption of a well-known song sung by Bing Crosby. Is the release something to do with Crosby? Something to do with music, certainly? Why the “green”? Is it about the weather – does it mean we’re not expecting snow this year? Who is the “I” who’s dreaming? Nope – I give up.

It turns out that the news is that an ethical retailer has launched its Christmas catalogue. Hence “Green Christmas”. Ethical = “green”, “Green” = like White but not. It’s a play on words! Geddit??!! Aren’t we funny!

For goodness’ sake – why not just get to the point, instead of making the reader play guessing games.

“Wishing you a Merry & Healthy Christmas”

Ooh, it’s an early e-card from a particularly well-organised well-wisher! No. It’s a carol? No, it’s a press release – about pillows, of all things. The angle is that memory foam pillows that help support the neck properly are thoughtful Christmas presents. Again, the writer, for some reason, felt it was best not to say so in the headline.

“Winter Wonderland celebrates its 5th year with a magical new Ice Rink”

This one’s not bad – you do get the gist straight away, which is that the well-known Hyde Park attraction is getting a new ice rink.

But this release misses a trick by using the word “magical” – what on earth does that mean? Does the rink do astonishing card tricks, or make itself disappear? Does it perform the Indian rope trick or cut itself in half? The writer is so busy trying to convey the idea of festive, romantic twinkliness that she forgets to mention until paragraph 3 that the rink will be the biggest of its kind in the UK. Now, that’s quite newsworthy, actually, but the fact’s in danger of being overlooked.

Ooh, here’s another one who likes the word “magic”. Guess what this is about…

“Now that’s magic!”

Go on, have a guess. No? The headline the writer was grasping for was “Celebrity TV magician [name here] opens new headquarters of local company [name here]”.

I believe the celebrity in question uses the catchphrase “Now that’s magic!”, which is presumably why the writer used it. It’s an allusion, you see. Editors who happen to be familiar with the work of said celebrity and who have a bit of time on their hands will put two and two together and realise that the release is something to do with said celebrity. But over and above that, the headline does little to tell us what the release is about.

Same goes for this next one. To its credit, it’s about neither Christmas nor magic so it comes as rare and refreshing fruit to me, but it still manages to drive me wild through its use of a pun. Puns are inappropriate in press releases. If the writer wants to be clever and witty they should do so on their own time, for an audience that has the same sense of humour. Otherwise, they are simply showing off, at the expense of the reader’s understanding of the words.

Here you go….

“Rugby Star Muscles Up”

What does that mean, do you think? My first impression was that a rugby player was interfering where he wasn’t wanted, then I realised that would be “muscles in”, not “up”. Of course, it must be something to do with the rugby player getting more muscled. But why is that news? Don’t all sports stars work out?

The story is that he uses the products of a health supplement company with “Muscle” in its name. Aha, it’s a pun! He gets more muscles with Muscles – geddit??!!!!. Oh, I can’t start laughing.

Writers should always remember their audience – it would be fine for The Sun, for instance, to use a pun like this because that’s the kind of thing their readers like. But a press release writer isn’t writing for Sun readers – he/she is writing for a cross-section of journalists, all of whom want to know from the outset what the story is about. The reader shouldn’t have to puzzle out what is meant; it wastes time and is irritating. This story would have been better headlined something like “Rugby star puts on 10 stone by taking Muscle Company’s vitamins” or words to that effect.

Meanwhile, I’m collecting examples of good, efficient, press release headlines. There are some. Will report back in a later blog.

Pic credit: Tom Curtis, http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=178

8 thoughts on “Crappy press releases of the week: more moans about punny, irritating and meaningless headlines

  1. andrewfield says:

    Green Xmas headline is obviously about the environment …. would have been good to see you offer an alternative or correct headline for the story, which would be more constructive.

    1. Sue Fenton says:

      You make a fair point; if I’m going to take the piss I should suggest an alternative. In this example, wouldn’t a straightforward “Ethical retailer [name] launches 2011 Christmas gift catalogue” or something similar have done the job? Or, to include the ‘green’ reference, something like “Christmas gift buyers can ‘go green’ thanks to thousands of items in new retail catalogue”? Or (if it’s true), “New Christmas catalogue from [name of retailer] has record number of ethical gifts”. Or, again if true, “Record numbers of consumers will ’buy green’ this Christmas says retailer as 2011 catalogue launched”. The latter one is a bit long but would bring in another news angle.

      You’re right to say the word “green” is associated in many people’s minds with environmental subjects, so yes, anyone reading the headline might well guess correctly that there’s some eco angle in the story. My point with this and the other examples was that that’s too vague – OK it’s something to do with the environment, but then so are zillions of other press releases. The headline still leaves the question unanswered, “what is this about?” The pun on “dreaming” doesn’t help to explain this – I just think it sacrificed clarity for the sake of cleverness.

      In a situation where there are potentially dozens or even hundreds of press releases in an editor’s inbox, they’re not likely to have time to open all of them. I’d hazard a guess that they’ll be most likely to open the ones whose subject lines/headlines state clearly what the story is about. They want to know at a glance whether the story is relevant to their publication. I do understand that the aim of using amusing and punny titles is to intrigue the editor so that s/he will be attracted to read the press release and use it; I just don’t believe that necessarily works. I think it’s taking a gamble on the ed having the time and being in the right mood to read items that on the face of it don’t seem to have relevance to them.

      I know that when I was editing a trade magazine I occasionally missed interesting stories because the key facts were ignored in favour of a silly headline – one time there was some really useful info about new contracts being signed, or someone’s sales reaching record levels, which was hidden away below a headline about how the company directors were over the moon or flying high or some such pun (it was the balloon industry).

      I suppose it could be argued that if an editor misses something important because she can’t be bothered reading her emails, that’s her fault. True – but then the company that sent the release misses out too, so no-one’s happy. Clarity in the first lines of a release can help to minimise the dangers of that happening.

    2. andrewfield says:

      Hello Sue

      I agree with what you’re saying above ref the poor headlines – it’s endemic within the PR industry because most PR people (unless they are trained or experienced journalists) write for the client and not the end user media. The point should be what makes a good headline for an editor or journalist – and why puns and wordplay are more than likely to pass over their heads….!

      Andrew

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