Advice for Getting to a Great Headline from AM&P Speaker Leslie O’Flahavan

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By Lindsey Lewandowski

For returning Association Media & Publishing annual meeting attendees, Leslie O’Flahavan, founder and owner of E-WRITE, will be a familiar face.

O’Flahavan, based in Maryland, spoke on the topic of digital writing at AM&P annual meetings in 2013 and 2015. She will be back for the 2017 Annual Meeting to present "How to Write Headlines That Connect with Subscribers, Members, Followers, and Readers, from 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27.

We caught up with Leslie to learn a bit more about what she will be sharing with the audience.

Sidebar: Why is it important for associations to publish print and online headlines that engage subscribers, members, followers, readers, and potential members?

O’Flahavan: Members expect a lot of their associations. They expect associations to publish meaningful content for them when the economy is good and when it is bad. The headline is our first opportunity to show our members that we understand their needs and their world.

Unlike other types of organizations, associations are publishers in just about every facet of what they do. Successful publishers write great headlines. Think of all the types of headlines your association publishes in its print magazine, electronic newsletters, its social channels, and on its website. Associations prove their worth by their content, and that content deserves great headlines.

Sidebar: What are the challenges facing headline writers in an era inundated in digital publication and social media?

O’Flahavan: A quick warning on writing headlines that leave readers wanting more: It’s not always a good idea. It sometimes leads to a type of dull headline, which I’ve nicknamed the "We Published the Report headline.

Sadly, associations use this type of headline all the time.

Here’s an example: "Member Task Force Publishes Hospital Report. Maybe the writers think this type of headline leaves readers wanting more, but it doesn’t. Instead, we should be writing: "Report Finds Our State Needs 25% More Hospital Beds, or drop "Report Finds and write: "Our State Needs 25% More Hospital Beds. The headline should provide the message and let the reader choose whether to read more.

As for challenges, headline writers face many of them:

· Space and time constraints. As we all know, the shorter it is, the harder it is to write.

· Industry jargon, which can make it difficult to write a clear and interesting headline.

· Having to collaborate with subject-matter experts within the association. There may be some turf or perspective battles going on over a headline.

Sidebar: What are your top tips for helping headline writers overcome these challenges?


· Practice writing headlines. Practice involves a little bit of waste, so don’t fall in love with every headline you write. Learn to create several headlines quickly, knowing you’re not going to use them all.

· Have multiple headline-writing methods in mind before you start. There’s nothing wrong with using a headline-writing formula. Try these:

◦ The question headline

◦ The two-part headline (the one with the colon in the middle) can be hackneyed, but it’s still a great formula.

◦ The "For People Who... headline, which can go like this: "For Entrepreneurs Who Want New Clients, 12 Marketing Strategies to Try Today.

· Test your headlines. Write two or three versions of each headline, and publish all of them. See which one gets the most attention.

· Collect headlines you like. Save headlines from your daily newspaper and the blogs you read online. Collecting good writing is a useful learning technique. Including — or excluding — headlines from your collection will teach you a lot about how to write good ones.

· Know which of your association’s headlines performed well. Look at open rates, click-throughs, page views, and shares. Don’t guess which headlines engage your readers. Know which ones worked.

Sidebar: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s meeting?

O’Flahavan: The same thing I have always enjoyed: An AM&P session draws a roomful of savvy wordsmiths. As a person who cares about writing and teaches about writing, that means a lot to me. What I really like about AM&P is that it attracts a great mix of people who share a member-service perspective. But they’re not all alike, and that makes for great discussions.

AMP&s 2017 Annual Meeting is scheduled for June 26-28 in Arlington, Virginia. For more information or to register, visit

Lindsey Lewandowski is communications editor at the Academy of General Dentistry and a member of the 2017 Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee. Association Media & Publishing thanks Lindsey for lending her talent to advance coverage of the Annual Meeting.


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