KICKERS, SHIRTTAILS AND SLUGS. A Glossary of Newspaper and Magazine Terms

Really? Kickers? Slugs? Those are newspaper terms?


The news media has its own language. And, yes, it's weird to those of us on the outside. But – and here's the 'kicker' – what each term signifies, isn't. Words like kickers and slugs stand for important features in a news article.

And actually, when you think about it, the terms do make sense. In a convoluted, let's make-it-easy-to-remember-what-they're-for, way.

Take a shirttail, for instance. We all know that's the end of the shirt, the part that hangs down below the waist. Right? Well, in newspaperese, a shirttail is just that. It's a brief addition, or appendage, at the bottom of a news article. A separate, related piece that 'hangs' below the lead story, sometimes with another dateline.

Now a slug. This term has a pretty interesting background story.

The term 'slug' has been around for quite some time. It derives from the days of hot-metal printing, when printers set type – letters, sentences, made from molten lead – by hand. A line of lead was known as a slug.

In newspaper jargon, a slug is a brief heading, usually one word, designating an article or assignment. Trump, for instance, is a slug. At least for any article on the newspaper's National Desk. On the International Desk, Trump would turn into a PREXY.

Slugs, at first glance, might seem insignificant. But they're not. They make life around the newsroom much easier. Take for example, an announcement by President Trump on immigration (slug: IMMIG). Instead of telling writer to 'please shorten the article about Trump's immigration announcement by 200 words', you'd say 'Take 200 from IMMIG'. Cool, huh?

My favorite, though, is the kicker, sometimes called a 'shoulder' or an 'eyebrow'.

Now, you might not recognize the names, but you've certainly seen them – in newspapers, magazines, newsletters. And in page layouts on the web.

Basically, a kicker is a supplemental headline providing a hint about what's to follow or helping identify the type of article. It's usually only a word or two in length, set in small type, and positioned above the main headline. Think of the kicker as a 'visual signpost' or a visual cue that helps a reader decide whether he wants to commit to reading the entire story. Take for example a recent front page of the Arizona Republic:

THE WALL Unknown Stories. Unintended Consequences (kicker)


That kicker provides the extra space needed to pack more meaning into the headline and it entices the reader to continue on.

So, there you have it. Kickers, shirttails and slugs.

Trust newspapers to come up with totally entertaining terms for boring but essential elements of a news release. But as crazy as these words may sound, they all have a purpose. And a good one.


So. The news release. Not usually the first thing you look at doing for a client, is it? Not usually the first thing a client asks you to do either.


The news release – whether you believe it or not – can actually work wonders. Honest. A well-timed, well-positioned release can provide you with a very powerful and pro-active tool.  And an effective addition to your copywriting arsenal.

Yes, I know. It's an over-used tool and the vast majority are thrown in the trash. I've certainly had my share tossed. But … used sparingly, and only when you have something really newsworthy to announce, it can produce truly positive and long-term results.

The question now is…

What formula works best for producing a top news release? Is there a formula?

Yes, there is. And it's really quite simple:

How to Write a News Release

1 - Make sure the announcement is newsworthy and of wide interest. First and foremost. If it's not of wide interest, don't even bother. The media won't pick it up and you'll ultimately negate any hope for a positive relationship.

2 - Select/make an appropriate – and updated – media list. Key word here is updated. Lists change constantly and making a mistake in who receives it will probably ensure that your release ends up in the nearest receptacle. And don't think of just one type of news outlet. There are many groups out there that you could, and should, be targeting.

3 - Limit the length of your release to one or two pages. Remember, you want your target outlets to read it. They can call you when or if they need more info.

4 - Use the "inverted pyramid" style. That means putting the most important information in the first paragraph, followed by progressively less important information.

5 - Use only one piece of information per paragraph That can be hard to do. If you're like me, your mind's going a mile a minute and you have a ton of stuff you want to get down on paper. But don't let that take you off course. Stick to a single item per paragraph. And don't deviate.

6 - Use the past tense. (e.g., "The ABC Corporation announced today…")

7 - Answer the "5 W's" and "H": Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Old hat, yes, but it still works. And please don't forget "Who cares?" In other words, make sure what you're writing is relevant.

8 - Title, date and location of announcement are de rigeur – strictly required – in any news release. Don't forget them.

9 - Use short sentences. Don't overwhelm your reader. Make it as easy as possible for them to get your message in as short a time as possible.

10 - Use direct quotes. And make sure you have the approval of the person being quoted.

11 - End with the "-30-" sign or "…" If release continues onto a second page, use "more".

12 - Follow with your contact information: "For further information, please contact name" along with your phone number, email address and any after-hours contact you prefer.

13 - Consider using audio or, preferably, video clips to accompany your release for broadcast or internet outlets. These clips should only include "sound bites" of the news announcement. Do not package a completed "news item".

And that's it. Easy, eh? And once you get accustomed to the format, very quick.

Bottom line? The poor, sometimes maligned news release is one of the easiest and most effective ways to maintain your flow of information.

In an upcoming blog I'll talk about using Sidebars and Kickers in your articles and newsletters. And how you can get the biggest bang out of them. I'll also touch on the Video News Release (VNR).

Stay in touch.

Evaluating Market Opportunities

Do you remember learning all about the Four P's? Jerry McCarthy's Rosetta Stone of Marketing Education 101?

Of course you do. Product, Price, Place, and Promotion.

You develop your product, price it to make a profit, place it on the shelf of a willing retailer, and then you promote the heck out of it to an eager and impressionable consumer. Easy-peasy, right?

Well, that was then. This is now. Today the consumer is king and queen. And they have a ton of options, of which you're only one.

What to do then? The old Four P formula obviously isn't working. No longer is the once-reliable retailer an easy sell, and the previously pliant consumer has all but disappeared.

Enter a new formula: Lautenborn's Four C's.

Bob Lautenborn, an expert in marketing communications and corporate advertising, first introduced the concept in Advertising Age two decades ago. How prescient he was.

So, if you haven't already done it, it's time to forget the Four P's. No more product, price, place, and promotion. The Four C's are what will help you build relationships and generate the greatest profits. Here they are:

Consumer Wants and Needs

Forget Product. Learn about Consumer Wants and Needs. You can't sell whatever you make in today's world. You can only sell what someone wants to buy. And that means you have to entice them one by one. To do that, you need to do your research, build your relationships, and listen.

Cost to Satisfy Consumer

Ignore Price. Appreciate instead the Cost to Satisfy Consumer. This is a difficult, complex calculation. But an incredibly necessary one in today's digital market. Consumers today consider numerous things before they buy; dollars are only one part of the cost. Time, tastes, conscience, all these factor in to the choices they make.

Convenience to Buy

Forget Place. Consider instead Convenience to Buy. Why drive to the mall when there's the internet? Amazon, eBay, and thousands of on-line sellers offer just about anything you might want to buy. So what does that mean for you? That means you have to think outside your usual distribution channels and get to know how each subsection of your market prefers to buy. Then permeate it.


Dispense with Promotion. Promotion is passé; gone the way of disco and mullet haircuts. It's manipulative and seller-focused. Communication, on the other hand, is supportive and buyer-focused. Today's consumers are market savvy. They don't tolerate hard-sell; they don't listen. They question, they compare, they click, and – if you've struck a chord with them – they buy. Or they move on to a new site.

The Four P's formula hasn't yet gone the way of the Dodo bird. There are still companies out there plying their trade under the product, price, place and promotion banner. And maybe that works for them.


I've got to go with Lautenborn.

Sure, we've probably been using his Four C's in our current marketing efforts. We know how important communication is, how we need to address consumers' needs, not our desires. We just didn't see it as a formula, a blueprint to follow. But it is.

The Four C's is a blueprint for success

SEO: Vital to your online presence

You know what it is. Search engine optimization. Google, right? And you know how important your existence is there in this cut-throat world of the internet.


Well, in case you're still a bit unsure, here's a quick introduction:

The underpinning of good SEO copywriting is what's termed the 'science-art' combination:

  • Key phrase data (the science) and
  • creative, motivating copywriting (the art)

It's critical to use both approaches if you want to ensure a high ranking on Google and generate tons of traffic to your site. And tons of traffic means…?

You've got it. It means more opportunities to convert visitors to customers. Now how cool is that?

The question now, of course, is: How do we best go about it?

First and foremost, you have to consider your audience when you write. People's attention spans are becoming shorter and Google is shifting to accommodate. And although it might not feel like it as you're typing words onto an unfeeling, unemotional, cold, hard computer screen, you're actually speaking to real people through your content. The search engines may love the links and search terms, but real people just want something that's easy-to-read and gives them the information they need in an interesting and entertaining manner.

So give the people what they want!

From an arts standpoint, this is actually fairly easy – if you follow the blueprint. Think about it. For every meaningful process you undertake, there's some blueprint, or formula, underlying its success. SEO is no exception.

The AIDA Principle:

As an old marketer (emphasis here on experience, not age), I've learned to love and use the AIDA principle. It's been around forever, it seems, but that's because it works. And it works because it addresses the reader and what interests him or her. In other words, AIDA helps answer:

  • What your visitor is searching for
  • What problem he needs solving, and
  • Most importantly, how your copy can provide him with a solution

The AIDA model is a results-oriented strategy with four primary goals:

  1. To get Attention. Right off the bat, you have to capture the reader's attention. And you do this by stating something that's highly significant to him. People won't read your post if your headline doesn't grab them. Make it big, bold, and full-of-promise.
  2. To stimulate Interest. Once you've caught your reader's attention, you've got to involve him. What's important to him? What does he want to read about?
  3. To drive Desire. Okay. You've grabbed his attention, you've involved him in your copy, now you have to reel him in. Talk to his heart, make him want the solution you're providing him.
  4. To solicit Acti. This is it. This is the result you need from your copy. This is where you inform your reader where and how he can obtain the solution he's looking for.

If you want to take AIDA a step further, consider analyzing your copy to make sure it's Social Media fodder. In other words, make the content so exciting and relatable that it gets Liked, Pinned, Shared or Commented on. (word to the wise: make sure you've put the social icons on your site and made them easily available).

To recap, SEO focuses on the reader, not you. The reader wants to know what's in it for him; why he should read your copy. So tell him. Grab his attention, kindle his interest, fuel his desire… then reel him in and make your sale.

AIDA. Your new secret weapon.

To learn more about SEO, sign up for our newsletter. We'll be examining how you can make SEO work for you. First up? The all-important headline. Find out why a headline like 'Shocking New Study Targets Cat Videos' works. And what key SEO elements can really elevate the sharing of your web page, social post, or blog.