The term “hook” is a great example of PR jargon that some people find confusing. When a client hires us to write a press release, I always ask, “What’s your hook?” This often leads to the online discussion version of a blank stare. An explanation of the term is in order. Basically, your hook is a way of presenting your news that stimulates interest from the media audience – and, as a result, gets interest from reporters. Your news might be that your store on Amazon is introducing a new teething ring for toddlers. That’s news, but it’s not a hook. The hook might be that some teething rings contain PVC and Phthalates, chemicals that are potentially harmful to babies. Yet, your teething ring is free of PVC and Phthalate free. Is that a hook? Almost.
To find an effective hook, we have to get into the mind of the audience. Not just any audience. Your audience. That’s the first step in determining your hook: figuring out whom you want to attract to your news. Usually, this involves working backward from your point of purchase. If you sell teething products, your customers are going to be parents, mostly mothers of babies and toddlers. What do they read? What are they interested in learning about? If look into it, you might develop an audience profile that classifies your audience as mothers aged 21-40 who live in the US and Canada. The point of purchase will occur when a mother decides that one teething ring is the best or safest product available – or at least, in front of them at the moment.
Why do the audience profile and point of purchase matter? They matter because you don’t want to expend effort attracting an audience that won’t buy your product. This is where some PR firms go wrong. They might, for example, land your story in the business section of the paper. That looks impressive, but it doesn’t help with sales because readers of the business section are less likely to be in the market for a teething ring than readers of, say, the parenting column.
The word “hook” in PR comes from the idea of a real fish hook. The mothers who are in market for a teething product are like a school of fish ready to be hooked. The term really should be “bait,” but I’m not in charge of assigning meanings to PR industry jargon. At this point, we know whom we want to hook. We have an idea of what they care about. Now, we can bait our hook. An effective hook in this case might be, “Not all teething rings are safe.” Does that grab your audience’s attention? It should, or it certainly will do a better job than, “Amazon seller offers new teething ring.”
Your hook and headline don’t necessarily have to be the same. Your press release headline is your news, perhaps blended with your hook. In this example, the headline might be “Amazon store offers new, safe teething ring,” with a sub-head of, “Free from Phthalates that are common in many teething products.”
With a hook and a headline, you can now cast your line, so to speak, and dangle the hook in front of reporters. If you send a pitch email, you can present your hook in a way that suggests the article you want the reporter to write. You might say, “Help raise awareness about toxic Phthalates that are common in teething products.” In presenting your hook this way, you are taking yourself out of the equation, which is what the reporter wants. Most reporters do not want to write about companies flogging their own products. They want to write about issues their readers care about. However, reporters will generally be courteous and reference where they got the information or include points of view that are favorable to your news.
At this point, the amount and quality of media coverage you will get depends on your own uniqueness and relevance. If you are unique – let’s say you’re the first Phthalate free teething product ever created – then your hook may result in you getting some really good quality ink. Why? Because you’ve solved a serious issue that’s affecting your target audience. You’re the hero for solving the problem, so you get media coverage.