Brilliant Headline: ‘Obscure Expert Joins Little Known Think Tank To Battle Issues Most Prefer To Ignore’

The Post Carbon Institute named climate hawk Paul Gilding a “Climate & Business Fellow” last week. But how could PCI best draw attention to that?

Tod Brilliant, PCI’s Strategy & Communications Director, had just finished my book, Language Intelligence: Lessons on Persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Lady Gaga. It has a long discussion of the importance of headline-writing in successful online communications and the importance of using the figures of speech in those headlines.

Brilliant was inspired to come up with this gem of irony for the news release: “Obscure Expert Joins Little Known Think Tank to Battle Issues Most Prefer to Ignore.”

The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media liked it so much, they did an entire post on it, “Seen a Better Headline than This One from Post Carbon Institute? Not Likely.” They say of this “satirical headline” that “It’s a sure way to attract attention, perhaps even some news coverage, for a release that otherwise would have landed with just a thud.”


The whole point of the figures of speech is to be memorable: They were, after all, developed by the great bards like Homer to help them remember long epic poems — and to make the epics memorable to listeners.

That’s why probably 90% of the most famous and memorable quotes use one or more of the figures, particularly puns, antithesis, irony, metaphor and the various figures of repetition (from alliteration to rhyme).

Satire uses irony and/or sarcasm — both figures — to make its point. I have a whole chapter in my book on “Irony: The Twist We Can’t Resist from Socrates to Seinfeld.” Kierkegaard famously said “no authentic human life is possible without irony. I argue in the chapter that “irony is a defining feature of the great political orators” and “the defining feature of the great stories to the ages and our own pop culture.”

And in case you were wondering, the use of synonyms like “obscure” and “little known” in the headline is also a figure, synonymia.

Of course, we at Climate Progress are fans of Paul Gilding and have interviewed him and reported on him many times (see “The Earth Is Full”: Tom Friedman on “The Great Disruption”). But to attract wider attention, the figures certainly help.


We use the figures as much as we can here. An analysis I did of our 2011 headlines found that a high proportion of the ones that get retweeted the most use the figures. But that’s for another post.

Language Intelligence is for anyone who wants to stand out from the crowd, who wants to communicate more effectively, who wants to write headlines or tweets that people remember.

You can buy the Kindle here and the paperback here.