Gini Dietrich

Sensationalism in Headlines

By: Gini Dietrich | July 10, 2008 | 

Have you seen the New York Times article about using “striking words” in your news releases to gain the attention of reporters, especially on slow news days? Oh yes! It’s true. The article, titled “Need Press? Repeat: ‘Green,’ ‘Sex,’ ‘Cancer,’ ‘Secret,’ ‘Fat'” ran last week and quotes, GASP!, PR people who support the notion that if you sensationalize a headline, the story will run in most major publications.

Take, for instance, the example they use about a shower curtain. The headline of the news release was “Toxic Ties to ‘New Shower Curtain Smell’ Evident, According to Latest Laboratory Testing.” Most of the major media ran this story before the Consumer Product Safety Commission could determine the truth behind the stories. Turns out, the story isn’t true, but the PR people (and, quite possibly, the client) probably feel like they did their jobs because the story ran. Who cares that it just isn’t true?

While I agree certain headlines attract attention while others do not, it just isn’t ethical to use sensationalism or spin, or to stretch the truth to secure a story on behalf of our clients.

I’m certain there are some PR people who are very successful in using striking words to gain the attention of a reporter, but they are not representative of most communicators. We live to the highest ethical standards of our industry and use our skills to help a company communicate effectively, internally and externally, and with all stakeholders, honestly and ethically.

Let’s elevate our thinking, people!

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!