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B2B PR agency advice: Why headlines by humans will be vital in 2024

Written by Simpatico PR

Posted on 2023-12-05

How do you grab someone’s attention, other than creeping up behind them and shouting boo!

Shouting “boo” behind someone triggers the mind’s self-defence mechanism into deciding it ought to find out quickly whether there’s a real threat or whether its someone being silly. 

How can businesses create the same impact on people whose attention they want to grab, before they can go on to influence them with thought-leadership content?

In the world of news and journalism, the headline has long been the linguistic device used to secure eyeball attention. In advertising the “slogan” of copy punch line does the same thing.

Both of course combine language with imagery to reinforce or play on the words.

Businesses aiming to deliver often complex ideas through thought-leadership articles or insight reports need to be doing the same thing, but all too often they don’t. Ideas that should grab attention become mired in dry corporate language, jargon and over-used phrases.

Winning a click from the infinite scroll

Every business article, report, research or news piece pitched via a social post, media headline or email subject line is fighting for eyeballs on a daily infinite scroll of digital information.

All the content on this endless conveyor belt is essentially competing for FOMO clicks as we pass by.

Can AI write your B2B headlines?

Although the ability of generative AI tools to create copy still feels remarkable even a year on from the launch, anyone who has asked ChatGPT4 to knock out 600-800 words on a topic will have had a similar experience. What comes back is too basic to use.

And that’s because it’s all formula and no thought.

Ask ChatGPT4 to produce thought-leadership article headlines on the implications of the much anticipated launch of ChatGPT5 and you get:

"ChatGPT-5: Navigating the Ethical Landscape of Advanced Conversational AI"

"Unleashing the Power of ChatGPT-5: A Deep Dive into its Impact on Industries and Society"

"Conversational AI 2.0: How ChatGPT-5 Is Shaping the Future of Human-Machine Interaction"

"The Evolution of ChatGPT-5: Exploring Opportunities and Challenges in the AI Frontier"

Nothing wrong with these in principle. But how many identikit headlines like these have you seen in social posts recently or even in the media? And you've ignored them because they failed to the FOMO test?

If the piece is coming from a famous individual or a well-known business it might get traction, but a start-up or a business in a very congested market competing for attention, may struggle.

Human-style B2B PR agency headline writing

Which means that next year humans will still be the interlocutors of ideas that produce linguistic magic in the world of B2B PR.

And this is as true of persuading editors to agree to run an op-ed as it is getting their readers to spend time with your insights.

So how can we humans enhance the performance of the business content we create? How do you create FOMO in a business headline?

B2B PR headlines – stats and structure

It’s worth going back to the bit AI does well first – structure. A couple of years back BuzzSumo produced some interesting findings about the headlines that worked best online.

For social media headlines it found instructional headlines and those using curiosity phrases “those that hinted, teased or questioned something” worked well.

It also pointed to the rule of three.

What three words? Trigrams

Most people will be aware of the rule of three in maths and language amongst other things. Think Snap, Crackle and Pop or Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

It’s true of headline structures too. Using three words in effective combination – known as trigrams provokes stronger human responses.

Here are a few basic ones that provide a good starting point for thought-leadership B2B PR headlines.

• How to make/deliver/test/transform

• Three/five/ten reasons why

• Three/five/ten ways to

• The future is

• Can you make

• Why you/x should

• How to get

• This is how

• This is why

• Is this year

Note ChatGPT4 is using the formula.

If the article you are working with is truly original, headlines with questions or bold statements are probably the way to go.

If you’re intending to provide guidance on an issue, you’ll probably be best going with a “How to” or “Five reasons why”.

The media often love lists and guides as a means to cover an issue – give them what they want.


On word-length, there does appear to be statistical evidence to suggest the optimum length for headlines is around ten to eleven.

But intuitively it’s obvious short to the point headlines are best – the clue is in the word.

Meandering headlines prompt scrolling, not clicks. Think tabloid news. The principles used by The Sun are as valid for B2B PR.

Impact words and phrases

The best place to put words with impact is at the beginning of the headline. For example:

“Superhuman? What business should know about Musk’s Neuralink Corp”

“Cyborg shoppers: Could super-smart consumers wreck brand marketing?”

Counter the intuitive word mix

It’s not all about structure. It is about creative word play too. And this is where you can currently out-perform machines.

There is a lot to be said for being well read, well versed in social memes, current news and culture when it comes to headline writing for B2B PR.

For example, could you create a B2B thought-leadership using the 2023 word of the year – rizz?

It probably won’t be long before it ends up a business headline somewhere. Of course, these things have a cringe factor and certainly a life span. But if it works, it works.

Phrases like “catch-22”, “bites the dust” and “how do you solve a problem like” are the tip of a vast berg of terms drawn from, books, films, religion, politics etc. that can spice up headlines.

Take time to think beyond the obvious and write multiple versions of a headline to get it right.

Use a thesaurus

The same words are used endlessly in B2B business language.

Sustainable, diversity, performance, innovative, effective, future; yawn.

Try some others or at least mix some unusual words in to add impact.

Challenge preconceptions

Your article headline must give something to the audience – give them a reason to read. Provoking curiosity or challenging the status quo often works well.

Every sector of business has its conceptual foundation stones or emerging ideas and presumptions. Good thought-leadership can often challenge these.

For example: In digital marketing first party data has become seen as an essential ingredient for brands to enhance media investment performance, especially with third-party cookies being phased out by Google.

But is it always? 

Or at least is there enough first party data to make its use viable and cost effective for all brands in every campaign? This is a band wagon that some believe has wobbly wheels. 

So, a headline for an article examining this issue might state:

“Why first party data is not necessarily a panacea for digital marketing”

Or ask:

“Is first-party data a universal panacea for digital marketing?”

Empathy for the audience

Headlines as well as the copy beneath should be tailored to the audience. A light-hearted play on words will not work everywhere.

They should target key issues or challenges that matter to very specific audiences – these will be different depending on whether you’re reaching out to CEOs or graduate designers.

Think about the cultural references that would work best for the audience based on their likely age and experience.

To a large extent the quality of a headline can only reflect the quality of the thinking within a “thought-leadership” piece.

But the challenge for B2B PR agency humans is to communicate what’s leading in the thoughts.

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