“Wooing the press is an exercise roughly akin to picnicking with a tiger. You might enjoy the meal, but the tiger always eats last.”
Maureen Dowd, a New York Times columnist
Long live the release
Twitter has never issued a news release. Amazon introduced the Kindle through a series of tweets. Google announced Alphabet via a blog post from Larry Page.
It’s not just the tech companies: Canada — yep, the country — sent out its last traditional news release on Dec. 31, 2013. Now, it offers social media releases instead.
Is the press release dead? Or does it just need a makeover?
1906: The release is born.
Those days are over.
But while today’s communications and media would be virtually unrecognizable to Ivy Lee, today’s release would not. We’ve been cranking out the same old Ws, in the same old format, for more than 100 years.
Isn’t it time for the wake?
Cue the bagpipes: The release is dead.
Hey! Ivy Lee died on Nov. 9, 1934. Isn’t it time we buried the release, too? After all, releases:
1. Don’t rivet reporters. Nearly half of the editors and reporters a surveyed by Greentarget in 2014 received 50 or more releases. They spent less than a minute with each. Sometimes way less: “You’ve got three seconds to get my attention,” one journalist told Greentarget.
2. Aren’t great at gaining coverage. More than half of all traditional press releases distributed never get covered, according to PR Newswire’s own research. So where do stories come from?
- 68% of journalists surveyed by Greentarget get their story ideas from sources.
- 41% get ideas from other news outlets.
- Just 34% get them from releases.
3. Are often irrelevant. The biggest pet peeves journalists expressed in the Greentarget research are releases that don’t pertain to their beats or that aren’t relevant to the audiences they serve.
“I recently got a message from a reporter working at a small local paper who received 80 press releases in one day — of which only two were relevant to the information his paper covers,” writes digital communications strategist Jeremy Porter.
And yet, the releases just keep flooding in: Wire services like PR Newswire and BusinessWire distribute an estimated 3,000 releases each day. And those numbers are increasing, according to PR Newswire.
Don’t pull the plug yet: Long live the release.
1. Journalists rely on releases. 70% of respondents surveyed in the 2014 Business Wire Media Survey said their jobs would be harder without press releases. And 88% in the Greentarget study said they found releases at least somewhat valuable.
These journalists use releases for reference, checking spelling, titles and other facts. And, on rare occasions — such as when they’re on deadline and can’t reach a source — they’ll even turn to releases for quotes. (And some of them, we know from experience, simply edit the release — or don’t — and use it as the story.)
2. Journalists do find story ideas in releases. One in three use releases for story ideas, according to the Greentarget study. That makes it the third source of story ideas — not the top — but a source nonetheless.
3. Journalists need help. Half of the journalists in the ISEBOX study produce at least five articles a week. One in five produce more than 11 articles a week. Releases — especially those with multimedia components — make life easier for journalists on deadline.
Plus, the right release can help you reach clients and customers directly, contribute to the social conversation and draw more visitors to your site.
Give that 109-year-old release a makeover.
So what’s the answer?
Remake the release. Write releases that:
- Are relevant and valuable to the journalist and his readers. Focus on “news you can use to live your life better” and tipsheets and other value-added story angles.
- Tell a story instead of just reporting facts. The traditional news release format, with its terse hierarchical blurtation of facts, is so tedious and dry, it makes folks’ eyes glaze over.
- Make it easy to read and use. Subheads, bullets and other display approaches make details easier for the reporter to read. Multimedia elements make the release easier to use.
How can you make over your next release?
Think Like a Reporter
Some 55 percent to 97 percent of all releases sent to media outlets are never used, according to Dennis L. Wilcox and Lawrence W. Nolte, authors of the standard textbook on the topic, Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques.
So how can you create PR pieces that are among the 3 percent to 45 percent of those that actually get the word out?
In NOT Your Father’s News Release — our two-day PR-writing workshop in New York on Dec. 9-10 — you’ll learn how to think like a reporter to develop story angles that readers want to read (and that journalists and bloggers want to run). Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Fill in the blanks to a great benefits lead: You’ll leave with formulas and recipes for crafting leads that sell the story and stand out from the crowd
- Move from event to impact: Learn simple steps for transforming your event, speech or meeting coverage into news readers can use to live their lives better
- Create two types of stories media outlets want more of (and avoid one they wish they’d never see again!)
- Go beyond “new and improved” to information readers really want to know about your product
- Steal secrets from Silver Anvil winners: What do nationally award-winning PR writers do that you don’t do?
“Since I attended Ann’s PR writing class and started implementing her tips, every press release I’ve written has been picked up by the media. That’s what I call ROI!”
Stephanie Sobotik, senior manager, global marketing communications at Freescale Semiconductor
Learn to get the word out via media relations
in this two-day PR-writing workshop in New York
PR professionals have been married to the traditional news release format since Ivy Lee created the release more than 100 years ago. Why, then, do we need a new approach?
With 2,500 releases crossing the wires each day — that’s one every 35 seconds — the impact of your traditional news release ain’t what it used to be. In fact, more than half of all traditional press releases never get covered, according to PR Newswire’s own research.
But in NOT Your Father’s News Release — a two-day PR-writing workshop in New York on Dec. 9-10 — you’ll learn current best practices from the Public Relations Society of America’s “national writing coach.”
You’ll find out how to go beyond PR 101 approaches to write media relations pieces that get covered by the media, draw readers to your website and reach readers directly.
And if you act by Oct. 9, you can save up to $300 on registration.
Fill your toolbox with tricks.
In two days, you’ll have time to cram your writer’s tool bag with tricks — hard-to-find but easy-to-implement techniques that will help you:
- Think Like a Reporter. Place your PR piece among the 3% to 45% (Wilcox & Nolte) that actually get used: Develop story angles that media outlets actually want to run, instead of those that you just wish they’d run.
- Avoid PR 101 Approaches. You’re not still stuffing all of the W’s and the H into your lead, are you? You’re not writing “XYZ Company today announced that,” right? Learn current best practices — proven in the lab! — for organizing a contemporary, compelling PR piece.
- Cut Through the Clutter for PR. Make your PR piece up to 300% more readable. Find out how long is too long for PR headlines, leads, sentences, phrases and words. Then use a cool tool (you already have it on your computer) to measurably improve readability.
- Turn Lame-ass Quotes Into Killer Sound Bites. Do your PR quotes still sound like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons: “Wah wah wah wah”? Learn techniques for making your subject matter experts sound as fascinating as Winston Churchill or Ronald Reagan.
- Transform Your Story From ‘Meh’ to Masterpiece. Bring your laptop and a story to work on, write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a totally rewritten piece.
Save up to $300 when you register by Oct. 9.
I have no doubt that this Master Class will be the best money you invest on your professional development this year.
Plus, now you can save up to $100 with early bird registration if you sign up by Oct. 9. Save even more when you bring a friend, refer a friend or belong to RevUpReadership.com.
You’ll find out why Katie Haney, senior communications manager at McMurry, Inc., said Ann’s workshop “Puts me one step ahead of everyone else writing press releases and trying to get media coverage.”
“A feature story should begin with velocity. It shouldn’t just mumble and meander.”
Joel Achenbach, staff writer, The Washington Post
Master Class graduates nail the feature intro
Too many writers have married the inverted pyramid and made a lot of triangular babies. Problem is, the traditional news structure doesn’t work well with humans.
But at our Master the Art of the Storyteller Master Class in San Francisco in July, writers started flirting around with other structures.
Here are three of the results — and some ideas for how you can do transform your own leads from meh to masterpiece:
|Bring on the poster person. Heather Vana, manager of online communications and social media for PetSmart Charities, knows all about human (not to mention animal) interest.|
But in her “after” intro, she unpacks the terse newsy lead and shows us Tyler in action. Note the difference between “Tyler, 6” and Tyler’s role in the second draft.
|Kimberly and Bob Carcelli of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, wanted a diabetic alert dog for their son Tyler, 6.|
Tyler suffers from Type 1 diabetes, an auto-immune problem where the body fails to produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Even on medication, blood sugar levels can drop dangerously low long before symptoms occur.
“When that happens, Tyler’s not able to think straight,” said Kimberly. “He’s just 6 and sometimes he ignores the signals and continues playing. We wanted a dog who could alert Tyler — and us in case Tyler becomes unresponsive.”
|When his diabetes symptoms flare up, six year old Tyler can’t think straight. That is, until a small black lab puppy paws at him.|
Tyler’s puppy companion, Pilot, is in training to become his diabetic alert dog. He’s such a standout student, so it’s hard to believe that Pilot was once homeless in a shelter in Glasgow, Kentucky. Until he boarded the PetSmart Charities Rescue Waggin’ vehicle.
|Avoid “yup” leads. Seventy years ago, the world was a very different place. Yup!|
Here, Mary Schneiter, internal communications manager for Constellation Brands, transforms a “yup” lead into a descriptive intro packed with concrete details.
Oh, how I love that abandoned sauerkraut plant and its lingering, pungent shadow. And “exorcised” seems like precisely the right verb here.
How can you transform your “yup” lead into a fascinating feature introduction?
|Seventy years ago, the world was a very different place. By September of 1945, World War II had ended and a new era was dawning. This was true not only on the global stage but within my own family as well.|
My father, Marvin Sands, was discharged from the United States Navy in December of that year, just shy of his 22nd birthday. And as that transformative year in history wound down, my father took steps that would transform his own life. He set on a new entrepreneurial path, taking the helm of Canandaigua Industries — a small bulk wine business in upstate New York. Little did he know how far his venture would someday come, evolving from a small business with just eight employees into a diversified global powerhouse. These are the humble beginnings of our collective story — of Constellation Brands.
|Without much more than a scarred wooden desk, an archaic adding machine and eight employees, my father, Marvin Sands, began a small wine business in upstate New York.|
He launched the company seventy years ago in an abandoned sauerkraut plant that still retained the lingering, pungent shadow of its previous occupant until that was exorcised by more heady aromas of grapes, sugar and oak. Back then, Marvin did not dream that from this modest start his venture would eventually grow into the total beverage alcohol company we know today as Constellation Brands.
|Show me one. It’s the Writing Rule Of One: Your readers care more about one person they know something about than they do about hundreds or thousands of nameless, faceless souls.|
Got thousands of at-risk college students? Choose one, as Debra Crawford, public information officer for Colorado Mountain College, does here.
Notice how this second approach softens the rest of the intro and makes it more compelling.
|Thousands of at-risk college students in rural Colorado will receive financial and academic support over the next five years, thanks to an expanded federal TRIO grant that will empower Colorado Mountain College to provide even more support services throughout its six-county district.|
College administrators learned recently that their previous $2.2 million Student Support Services grant, which serves students at the college’s three residential campuses, has been expanded to $4.3 million over the next five years. Up to 520 students will be able to benefit from an array of SSS offerings including supplemental grant aid, free tutoring, fluent academic plans, personal counseling and transfer and career assistance. Qualifying students attending nearly all of the college’s 11 locations in north-central Colorado can apply for SSS support.
|When Rae Carlin went back to school at the age of 52, she remembered one of the reasons she’d left high school at 15: math anxiety.|
But thanks to help she received from the Student Support Services program at Colorado Mountain College, she learned how to overcome that anxiety through testing preparation and the support of a great tutor, navigated a conflict with a professor and even got help to pay for books. And against the odds, last year she earned a certificate in medical assisting and now has a job at a local pharmacy.
Like Carlin, thousands of at-risk college students in rural Colorado will receive financial and academic support over the next five years, thanks to a new federal grant that will empower Colorado Mountain College to greatly expand support services throughout its six-county district.
So which of these leads would you rather read? And how can you use the feature-style story structure in your next piece?
Transform Your Story From “Meh” to Masterpiece
In the crunch of writing headlines and meeting deadlines, it sometimes seems as if there’s not enough time to pause and consider how you’re doing.
But at Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Oct. 27-28 in Washington, D.C. — you’ll get a great opportunity for reflection and improvement.
Bring your laptop and a story to work on. We’ll give you a chance to write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a totally rewritten piece. In these practice sessions, you’ll master the art of:
- Thinking Like a Reader: Move people to act
- Going Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Master a more effective structure
- Cutting Through the Clutter: Make every piece you write measurably easier to read and understand (Graduates of our last workshop boosted readership by as much as 300%.)
- Lifting Your Ideas Off the Page Or Screen: Reach flippers and skimmers, increase readership
“Facts tell, stories sell.”
Start your story in medias res
You remember learning about in medias res (classical Latin for “into the middle things”) in college. That’s where you open your story the midst of the action.
Here’s a great example, from The New York Times Magazine:
[Here, we move through the period between summer and winter with one phrase.] He hadn’t thought about that episode since, [And now we’re back to the short period before the earache that we opened at.] until he noticed the pressure on the right side of his head that [And we’ve arrived back at yesterday.] turned into this second earache. It was the same ear but a different pain.
[More details about the current problem, yesterday …] His eye looked a little puffy too, his wife told him. He had just mowed the grass, he told her. Maybe it was his allergies.
[And now we arrive at today. More details about the current problem … ] But that night the pain worsened. Glancing into the mirror, the man noticed something new: One pupil, on the side of the painful ear, was a little smaller than the other. In the morning light, the next day, his eyes looked better. But the ear- ache throbbed on.
[One of my clients, who is head of communications at a large health care system, tells his writers to “get the patient to the hospital!” But notice how taking the time to detail the problem helps engage readers and makes your doctors seem even more brilliant for solving this huge problem.] He returned to the urgent-care center. Again he was told he had an infection, again given antibiotics. When he felt no better the following day, he called his newly assigned doctor, Robert Kavaler, in Paramus, N.J., who squeezed him in for an exam.
Three things to steal from this piece:
- Literally start at the beginning: “I’m getting another earache.”
- Masterfully interweave time elements at the top to engage the reader while delivering a lot of background and not losing track of the story.
- Detail the problem before introducing the solution. This takes a great deal of control when the solution is “us and our stuff,” or the products and services that you’re promoting through the piece.
How can you use in medias res to kick-start your story?
Master the Art of the Storyteller
Storytelling is “the most powerful form of human communication,” according to Peg Neuhauser, author of Corporate Legends and Lore. Indeed, stories can help you get attention, boost credibility, make your messages more memorable — even communicate better.
In Make Your Copy More Creative — a two-day creative writing master class on Feb. 23-24 in Phoenix — you’ll learn to identify, develop and tell stories that will illustrate your points, communicate your messages and sell your products, services and ideas. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Find the ah-ha! moment that’s the gateway to every anecdote.
- Elicit juicy stories with the key question to ask during an interview.
- Organize your material into a powerful story in just three steps with our simple storytelling template.
- Start an anecdote with a bang — instead of a snivel.
- Find anecdotes in the making with “WBHA.”
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Stephen King, prolific novelist, in On Writing
They make journalists cry ‘hype’ and more
“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives
and I’d have the facts.”
— Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird
Why cut adjectives and adverbs from your copy? Because modifiers:
1. Strike journalists as hype
Writing media relations pieces? Journalists hate hype and fluff … and modifiers are hype-y and fluffy.
“Be fair,” one journalist told researchers in the 17th Annual Bennett & Company Media Survey. “Don’t stretch the truth or tell half-truths. When words such as ‘first,’ ‘best,’ ‘biggest’ or ‘only’ are used, there had better be supportive explanations.”
No wonder people call this stuff marketing fluff. Or, as one of my clients says, “pouffle dust.”
“Frequently, we use adjectives to paper over a shortage of facts,” writes Mark Duvoisin, reporter and editor for the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call. He says:
“A ‘troubling number’ — how many is that? And who was troubled by it? Better to let the facts speak. Did half the workers fail to show? Ten percent? One percent? Give the reader the info and let her judge whether it’s troubling or not.”
2. Weaken meaning
Modifiers usually dilute, rather than intensify, your point.
“‘Very angry’ [is] always less than ‘angry,’” wrote the late Donald M. Murray, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, in Writing to Deadline: The Journalist at Work.
And casino and resort developer Steve Wynn says: “Have you seen any resort built in the last twenty years that isn’t world class? Those words have been drained of all their blood.”
Some adjectives and adverbs combine with nouns and verbs to create formulaic language.
“Knee-jerk modifiers … automatically attach themselves to some nouns,” writes Jack Hart, managing editor of the Oregonian, in A Writer’s Coach. “Who needs to hear about one more ‘spirited chase’? Or another ‘troubled teenager’? And haven’t we all had enough of ‘angry mobs,’ ‘nasty cuts,’ and ‘trying times’?”
3. Add bulk without meaning
Cut Through the Clutter
Too often, writers smother their copy in adjectives, hype and puffery. So how can you clear away the blather and let your message come through?
In Cut Through the Clutter — our tight-writing Master Class on May 11-12 in Chicago — you’ll learn how to make every piece they write easier to read and understand. You’ll walk away with secrets you can use to reach more readers, measurably improve readability, sell tight writing to management — even help your company save time and money with tight writing.
Specifically, you’ll learn to how to:
- Write for Readability: Craft messages that get read & remembered
- Cut Through the Clutter: Make every piece you write easier to read & understand
- Start Making Sense: Get the gobbledygook, jargon and gibberish out of your copy
- Take the ‘Numb’ Out of Numbers: Make statistics interesting and accessible
- Boost reading ease up to 300% in our Readability Smackdown: Bring your laptop and a story to work on, write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a totally rewritten piece. (Participants in our most recent Readability Smackdown boosted reading ease by up to 300%!)
Get best practices down on paper
“Ann is one of the few people who can actually teach something substantial about writing.”
— George Stenitzer, former vice president of corporate communications, Tellabs
Ever wish you had a reference tool you could hand off to new team members to answer the question, “How do we write around here?”How about a resource you could use to show serial offenders how to fix label heads, passive voice or leads that are more likely to convince readers to take a nap than to take action?
Wouldn’t you love to present a document that helps you tell your approvers, “While I personally would love to press ‘Send’ on your engineering dissertation, our writing guidelines demand that we hit 60 or higher on the Flesch Reading Ease test. We’ll need to make this simpler for our customers”?
Enter Wylie’s Writing Guidelines. With this service, you’ll get dozens of guidelines — all based on proven-in-the-lab best practices and illustrated with before-and-after versions of your own writing samples — to help you:
- Catch Your Readers by creating story angles focused on the readers’ best interest, not on the organization’s best interest
- Draw Readers In with leads that grab attention and pull people into the story
- Cut Through the Clutter to make every piece you write measurably easier to read and understand
- Lift Ideas Off the Screen with display copy that communicates even to nonreaders
Want to multiply your ROI? Add writer’s guidelines to your next in-house Master Class.
We’ll roll out the new guidelines in the training session, give your team members a chance to practice and get feedback and show folks how Ann would have handled their messages. Then your team members will walk out with a reference they can use to improve their writing for years.
Ready to get started? Contact Ann to discuss your in-house writing workshop + writing guidelines.
“Simply life changing.”
Jose Romero, product manager, Online Experience, Freescale Semiconductor
Polish your skills at one of these events
Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.
But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:
- Atlanta on Nov. 9: Ann presents Make Your Copy More Creative, a breakout session at the PRSA World Conference at 11:45 a.m. and an Expert Express session at 3:45 p.m.
- Chicago on May 11-12: Cut Through the Clutter, a two-day tight writing Master Class
- New York on Dec. 9-10: NOT Your Father’s News Release, a two-day PR writing Master Class
- New York on Sept. 28-29, 2016: Get Clicked, Read, Shared & Liked, a two-day Web and social media writing Master Class
- Phoenix on Feb. 23-24: Make Your Copy More Creative, a two-day creative writing Master Class
- Washington, D.C. on Oct. 27-28: Catch Your Readers, a two-day Master Class
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Want to polish your skills? Keep up with Ann’s latest two-day Master Classes.
Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program
Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.
Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:
- Atlanta: Nov. 9 & April 20-21
- Chicago: May 11-12
- Englewood, Colorado: March 16-17
- Falls Church, Virginia: Dec. 2
- Houston: Nov. 2-3, 2016
- New York: Dec. 9-10, & Sept. 28-29, 2016
- Phoenix: Feb. 23-24
- Portland: July 27-28
- Raleigh, North Carolina: Oct. 6-7 & Nov. 3-4
- San Antonio: Jan. 14
- San Diego: June 28-29
- Washington, D.C.: Oct. 27-28
Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
Want to polish your skills? Bring me in for a workshop at your organization.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:
- Presenting workshops for Freescale Semiconductor, Con Ed, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, State Fund and IABC New Jersey
- Presenting a webinar for PRSA
Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.
Keep in touch via:
- LinkedIn group
- LinkedIn page
- Wylie Communications feed
- Wylie’s Writing Tips