Wendy Campanella is a business strategist who consults for large and small organizations. She offers career insights for professionals at her blog, www.thethinktap.com.
Ever feel like your memos fall on deaf ears? Have you had a great idea but just couldn’t get your manager to make time to hear you out? Do you find yourself following up verbally with your colleagues because they haven’t read emails you’ve sent? There’s a simple way to make sure your most important messages get the attention they deserve.
Take a lesson from the advertising industry. Your headline – or subject line, or memo head or document title – should carry 80% of the truly important message about the product you’re delivering – your idea, your insight, your latest Excel spreadsheet – and why it’s important to your reader.
The conventional wisdom is that the most effective headlines must appeal to the reader’s self-interest, have news and/or cause curiosity. In Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy argues that the first two of these are mandatory.
Advertising people create and exhaustively test headlines to find the one that works best. But the rest of us don’t have that luxury. You need a quick and simple technique to craft a powerful headline that will deliver your message right away. I make sure my important titles follow the format “New Information That Helps You (NITHY)”. I remember it with the mnemonic “Be NITHY not PITHY!”
You start by literally typing “New Information That Helps You” into your subject line. Then fill in your specifics.
Let’s say you’ve just read an article that you think might help your colleague, so you open up a new email message to send him the link. A typical subject line might read, “Interesting article.”
But if we apply the NITHY formula, we get with something more powerful. We type, “New Information That Helps You,” and replace the block with your details.
[New] – What’s different about this item that you’re passing along?
[Interesting consumer trend]
[Information] – What are you sending?
[A link to an article you read in financial magazine]
[… That Helps You] – What’s the benefit to your colleague?
[It supports a point he recently made when requesting additional budget.]
Now, here’s your NITHY subject line: “New consumer trend that supports your budget request”
Your colleague is sure to take a look and will remember your kind assistance.
Common: “Omega Project Website Now Online”
NITHY: “New Website Keeps You Current on Omega Project”
Common: “Updated agenda for Friday’s meeting”
NITHY: “Latest agenda so you can plan your schedule Friday”
Common: “DoE program summary (attached)”
NITHY: “Summary of recent DoE program that’s a perfect model for our outreach initiative”
Next time you have a new idea you think will really impress your manager, you could send a memo titled, “Proposed new accounting procedure.” Or your headline can grab attention with, “Streamlined Process That Will Reduce Our Collection Costs.” “Streamlined” tips your boss off that this information is new. “Reduce…Costs” lets her know it will serve her objectives – self-interest.
NITHY won’t be the answer for all your headlines, but it will help you avoid the frustration of writing an ineffective one. In this world of information overload, we all make very quick decisions on where to place our attention. You do it. Your coworkers do it. Your boss does it. So when you’re on the other side – outbound with important information – make sure your message shines through the haze.
Best Practice: Don’t overdo it. Don’t send 20 emails a day with NITHY titles. Don’t use NITHY titles for regular daily correspondence. If you save NITHY for that message that truly MATTERS – the one that absolutely has to stand above the crowd – then you will too.