Harnessing Headline Theories! Flashpoints To Final Polish

My content marketing mentors were marvelous gray-haired men and woman, who cut their teeth during the Mad Men era. They trained me to develop story headlines first by brainstorming quickly through numerous theory statements, choosing the appropriate concept to develop, and then taking time to build out a polished headline.

The timeless premise is that it’s important to fully understand what needs to be communicated before attempting to package it in a headline. Otherwise, time may be wasted on spin and tone without a clear vision of what needs to be imparted. When one attempts to shred numerous ideas at the same time, as flashy finalized bytes for every idea on the table, it puts way too much pressure on the creative process and slows things down.

Sure, occasionally blow-away final headlines do come stream of consciousness, and no matter how hard we try and best the first idea, it can’t be topped. However, to many advertising writers, flashpoint creativity in the form of immediately conceiving a perfect headline, is the exception rather than the norm.  Start with a headline theory, develop the meaning that needs to be communicated first and then reduce the concept to a powerful snippet.

Get Started With Headline Theories
Start by writing out exactly what you want to communicate in as long a sentence as necessary, without worrying about style, syntax, vernacular, or length. Like an attorney planning the essence of a court case, spend some time blocking and tackling concepts, or as we call it, “crafting the headline theory.”  Express the theories as one or two sentence statements or comma-delimited strings. They do not even need to be grammatically correct.

Let’s use this blog post as an example. I know I want to write a short feature about headline composition techniques and headline theories. My first move is to quickly brainstorm various theories as to how the post might be approached. What’s cool is that there is no pressure whatsoever to think in flashy sound bytes because the only one who will ever see the raw theory document is me, prior to spending more focused time fleshing out a final headline. This enables me to speed through several ideas without stopping to smooth out rough edges. Here are four theories that took less than two total minutes total to write.

  1. Discuss 8 different tips we use at AIMCLEAR for creativity in composing amazing headlines
  2. Boiling down the fine art of writing headlines, to a technique, not always cut and dried but many similarities
  3. Explaining the need for, meaning of, and specific technique of crafting headline theories and developing finished headlines therefrom to maximize creativity
  4. Different brainstorming processes our team uses to flesh out headline ideas, how the group dynamic can totally affect the outcome

The theory I choose is in bold, far from a finished headline but clearly spelling out the concept of the post about to be written.  When deciding which theory to use, look for ideas that have multiple layers embodied in a sentence or two. The theory now becomes the blog post’s mission statement.

The next step is to build a more polished headline. Pretty much every blog post or ad I ever write has a list like the one that follows below, moving through numerous ideations of a title before landing on the final.  This process is different for each writer, but I prefer to type line after line quickly, worksheet style, developing many permutations on the headline until I find one that I like. Then I return to it over and over during the post writing process. For blog posts, I’ll usually leave 5-10 possibilities at the top of what I’m writing, add and subtract options, and finalize it sometime during the writing process. Here are the working titles for this post. The winner is in bold:

  • Harnessing Creativity! Headline Theory To Polished Headline
  • Harnessing Creativity! Headline Theory To Inspired Headline
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity! Theories To Inspiration
  • Harnessing Brainstorming Creativity! Following Theories To Finished Headline
  • Harnessing Brainstorming Creativity! Theories To Finished Headline
  • Harnessing Brainstorming Creativity! Theory To Polished Headline
  • Harnessing Brainstorming Creativity! From Theory To Polished Headline
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  Theory To Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  Brainstorming Theories To Final Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  Brainstorming, Theories, & Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  Brainstormed Theories To Final Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  Brainstorming Theory To Final Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Theories!  Flashing Ideas To Final Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Theories!  Flashpoint Ideas To Final Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Theories!  Flashpoints To Final Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  From Theory To Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  From Theories To Polish
  • Harnessing Headline Creativity!  Jamming Theories To Finished Polish

Look for the final headline to capture and boil down the true meaning of the content. We want it to be long enough to communicate the crux but short enough to have some bite. Sometimes the theoretical essence changes a bit during the writing process and the headline needs to be adjusted at the end, right before publishing.  Other times the mission statement offered in the initial theory holds steady all the way through writing the post. It’s usually a good idea to look over the final content that the headline theory inspired, in totality, for adjectives and concepts that could not be envisioned. In this case the word “flash” in the post inspired the final headline that I completed just now, right before publishing.

Team Work Puts The “Fun” In Fundamental
These concepts work really well for teams, especially working in a non-linear environment and even with virtual teammates.  Often times we’ll bandy ideas about via Google Chat, from thousands of miles away, exchanging theories and final options back and forth. This can take place at any time in the process. We believe that involving other creative teammates really adds energy, brevity and wit.  Also headline theory technique works really well for nearly any type of content that has a headline, from AdWords to Facebook Ads, SEO title tags to YouTube video names, and LinkedIn DM and email campaigns.  Happy headline writing folks!

Image: © Konstantin Li – Fotolia . com

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