“PR writing is so horribly consistent — or consistently horrible — that agencies even have a template for it.”
Mark Ragan, president, Ragan Communications
Toyota takes on feature releases
When PR pros at Toyota American Motor Sales needed to announce record-level production recently, they started with a traditional announcement release:
Toyota’s North American vehicle production
at record levels in 2013
Toyota announced record level North American vehicle production for 2013 surpassing last year’s output. TEMA built 1,857,696 vehicles, a 5 percent increase and 1,715,709 engines, a 3 percent increase from 2012.
But after a writing workshop with yours truly, those same PR pros came up with this feature approach:
Did you park a new Toyota in your garage last year?
Toyota’s 2013 North American vehicle production
sets historic record
There’s a reason you might be seeing more Toyotas on the road. The automaker of the best-selling car in America, the Toyota Camry, produced at record levels in 2013 surpassing 2012 production volumes. Toyota built 1,857,695 vehicles, a 5 percent increase and 1,715,709 engines, a 3 percent increase from 2012 at its 14 manufacturing facilities in North America.
Why feature releases?
- Features increase reading and satisfaction, according to recent studies.
- On the other hand, research shows that inverted pyramids “do not work well with readers.”
- More than half of business-to-business editors seek more feature releases, including case studies and how-to stories, according to a survey by Thomas Rankin Associates.
- No wonder the Associated Press now offers feature leads with all the stories it sends across the wire.
Features at Toyota
Features have been generating results at Toyota, too. Take a package of feature releases about Yellowstone (“Buffalo and Bears and Batteries – Oh My!” and “Yellowstone … Where the Deer and the Antelope and the Prius Play“).
“Time spent on both was longer than average for our site, and the battery story was picked up by Motor Trend, Popular Science, Autoblog Green, Daily News and Automobile magazine, along with many ‘green’ outlets.”
Ready to take on a feature release yourself? Here are six ways to gain inspiration from some of Toyota’s recent feature releases.
1. Tell a story. “When you have news, report it. When you have a story, tell it.” Or so advises Poynter Institute senior scholar Roy Peter Clark. Instead of just reporting this news, Toyota PR pros told a story in this release.
New York City Police Officer
Gets Big Surprise at Family Barbecue
Toyota Pays off Car Loan and Gives SUV
to 50 Millionth Customer
Imagine a stranger wearing a suit strolling into your backyard during a family barbecue. He’s carrying balloons, the title to your car and the keys to another car. Sound too good to be true? That’s exactly what happened to NYPD veteran Michael Dee.
Dee became Toyota’s 50 millionth customer when he bought a Camry earlier this year from Millennium Toyota in Hempstead, NY. To celebrate the milestone sale, the company worked with his family to surprise him during a family barbecue in Levittown, N.Y.
Dee, who will soon celebrate his 20th year of service with the NYPD, was speechless… at first. “I don’t know what to say!” he exclaimed. “This is phenomenal. I can’t explain how much this means to my family and how grateful we are to Toyota! The whole ‘thank you’ thing just doesn’t seem to cut it. It’s a day I’ll never forget.”
2. Show drama. Is there conflict in your news? Make that the story, as Toyota PR pros did in this release:
Happy Trails, FJ Cruiser
Toyota Bids Farewell to an Off-Road Icon
with Ultimate Edition
It’s finally here … and then it’s gone. Toyota today unveiled the 2014 FJ Cruiser Trail Teams Ultimate Edition at a press conference held at the 2013 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show.
The 2014 Trail Teams Ultimate Edition is a commemorative final special edition of the FJ Cruiser. It is the toughest and most capable FJ ever and pays tribute to the iconic vehicle that will end its production run at the conclusion of the 2014 model year. With limited production, only 2,500 will be built.
3. Try human interest. Stumped for a lead? Look for the people behind the news, as Toyota PR pros did in this release:
If Your Hybrid
is Even More Efficient in the Future,
Thank This Guy
Eric Dede’s innovative spirit may
help increase hybrid efficiency by 10%
Eric Dede has always been interested in the future. Futuristic concepts such as space and astronautics have always consumed Eric’s attention. That’s how he ended up as a senior engineer for the University of Michigan’s Space Physics Research laboratory. It’s also why he is now a Manager of the Electronics Research Department (ERD) at Toyota Technical Center (TTC), where his main responsibilities are the development of elemental technologies for future hybrid vehicle power electronic systems. TTC, Toyota’s North American R&D center, is a division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, North America, Inc. (TEMA).
Gone in Sixty Seconds:
Americans Take Home a Camry
Every Minute in May
May Sales Reflect Americans’ Trust in Best-Selling Car
On average, Americans drove away in a new Camry every minute in the month of May. Nearly 50,000 owners placed their trust in Camry’s safety, reliability and long-term value.
“There’s a reason Americans choose Camry, and it shows in sales month after month,” said Bob Carter, vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. “It’s America’s best-selling car, but more important is the one Camry in the customer’s driveway. The one Camry that gets you and your family to work, school, vacation, the Camry that works in a business enterprise, the one Camry you trust to be reliable and help keep your family safe.”
5. Use concrete details. Concrete details — the 42-pound CRT from 1997, the after-college futon — make this release lead creative. And turn numbers into things, as the PR pros at Toyota do in the last paragraph here.
Toyota Helps Haul
130 Elephants Worth of Stuff
We’ve all been there – the dreaded garage clean-out. The lovely time when you dredge up a 42-pound CRT from 1997, the after-college futon you thought you donated two years ago and some crusted paint cans you (responsibly) did not throw away but never quite made it to the hazardous waste center.
Over the last twenty years, Toyota has helped associates, team members and surrounding communities avoid this drama by hosting regular e-waste, hazardous waste and household good collections.
How much waste didn’t land in landfills? Since 1994, Toyota has collected 1,580,519 pounds or 790 short tons.
That’s equal to 519 Prius vehicles or 130 elephants or 10 space shuttles. Talk about tons of stuff!
And what became of the nearly 1.6 million pounds of materials pulled out of the garage and kept out of the garbage? All reusable items were donated and the rest recycled or disposed of, in the case of hazardous waste, properly.
Buffalo and Bears and Batteries –
Toyota Brings Power to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone … Where the Deer and the Antelope
and the Prius Play
The nation’s oldest National Park is ready for some new power. Toyota Camry hybrid batteries will soon power the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus in Yellowstone National Park. It’s a new lease on life for the batteries and new, zero emission, energy option for the Park. Now that’s a “bear-able” solution!
Focus on features.
“What really helps get [releases] picked up is a great story,” says Toyota’s Wall. And a feature release can help you put your great story in the best light.
Take a tip from Toyota: Tackle a feature release.
These days, releases can do more than just get your story reported in news outlets. Online releases can get posted on news portals and other websites; be seen directly by customers, clients, and other stakeholders; even boost your search engine rankings.
In this workshop, you will learn how to write a news release that takes advantage of online distribution to accomplish all of those goals and more. Specifically, you’ll learn:
- How to optimize releases for search engines as well as for readers
- Why jargon, buzzwords and other gobbledygook hurts communication worse online than in print
- How to craft links that help Google find your website and that work for most news portals
- How long your online release should be
- Where to put links — and what to link to — to make the most of your SEO opportunities
“One must take the Twitter with the tweet.”
Karen Lyons Kalmenson
Increase retweets with the help of a new algorithm
Quick! Which of these two @RadiNabulsi tweets do you think would move further and faster on Twitter?
“Four Alabama players arrested: Calloway, E. Williams, Pettway and Hayes. Pictures and charges here: bit.ly/12ILdN2“
If you guessed the first tweet, you’re right. It got 32 retweets, vs. two for the second one.
So what made the first tweet go viral, while the second one just stayed home on the couch?
How to write for Twitter
Researchers have studied that question and learned that these ingredients make the biggest difference in Twitter success:
- The tweeter: Is the tweeter a verified Twitter user? How successful have the author’s previous tweets been?
- The tweeter’s social network: The more followers, the better.
- Message timing: Distribution makes a difference.
- Message content or topic: Do you have a good story?
Together, these elements help explain why one of the most retweeted tweets of all time came from @BarackObama, with 40 million followers, on Nov. 6, 2012: “Four more years!”
But you’re not Barack Obama. You don’t have 40 million followers. You’re stuck with the story you’ve been assigned. So what, besides timing your tweet right, can you do to get retweeted?
That’s what three computer scientists from Cornell University and Google Inc. set out to learn.
How to write tweets
The three scientists — Chenhao Tan, Lillian Lee and Bo Pang — wanted to find out how to craft a tweet to increase retweets.
To control for the tweeter and the tweeter’s social network, the trio studied paired tweets, or two tweets about the same link sent by the same person. They looked for word patterns that correlated with retweets, then built an algorithm that predicts which tweet will get retweeted most often. Read the full study (PDF).
The algorithm correctly guesses which tweet will get shared most 67% of the time. That beats humans, who on average get it right only 61% of the time. Try your hand at beating the algorithm.
How to get retweeted
So how can you write tweets that get retweeted? According to the research:
- Ask for a retweet. These terms are correlated with more retweets: rt, retweet, spread, please, pls, and plz.
- Make it informative. In this study, longer tweets performed better than shorter ones. (Another study suggests that shorter is better (PDF).) Tan, Lee and Pang correlate length with content richness.
- Choose the right kinds of words. Verbs and nouns outperform adjectives, adverbs and proper nouns. Numerals help a lot. Hashtags help a little. And @ mentions significantly reduce sharing.
- Write headlines. News headlines are more likely to go viral. Use the subject, verb, object sentence structure.
- Be positive. Or negative. Or both. Positive, negative and contrasting messages were more likely to be retweeted than neutral ones.
- Use the third person. Third-person singular (he, she, it, one) outperformed third-person plural (they). Both outperformed first-person singular (I), first-person plural (we) and second-person plural (you). (Another study suggests that you is the most retweeted word in the English language.)
- Select indefinite articles. Indefinite articles (a, an) outperformed definite ones (the).
- Make it easier to read. The easier the tweet scored on the Flesch reading ease and Flesch-Kincaid grade level tests, the better they performed. (Dan Zarrella’s research also shows that simpler is better.)
Get a list of the best and worst words, phrases and approaches for Twitter.
Twitter writing tips
Sound like a lot of work? You can skip the analysis, and let the algorithm do the work for you: Test two tweets on the same topic, and let the algorithm suggest which is best.
How to write for the Web & social media
Want to write copy that gets clicked, read, liked and shared?
In Catch Your Readers, my two-day Master Class in New York, on October 28-29, you’ll discover how to make your Web pages, intranet articles, blog postings, tweets and status updates more relevant, valuable and interesting to your readers. And you’ll learn a six-step process for writing copy that overcomes the obstacles of online reading. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Increase usability by 124% with three simple copywriting steps
- Determine how long your Web page should be. (Beware: Many page-length recommendations are based on outdated research)
- Apply the 30-3-30-3 rule to give online readers what they’re looking for
- Use the 70-20-10 rule to make sure your status updates are welcome guests, not intrusive pests
- Steal from the FBI. Write dramatic, compelling status updates that draw followers and get clicks
“IAMS: It’s About Me Stupid.”
How do top organizations communicate?
Seventy-one percent of high-performing organizations focus their messaging on audience’s point of view. Just 45% of average organizations do.Or so says Stephen Welch, president of IABC UK and an independent consultant.
Welch worked with Michael Ambjorn, director-at-large at NearDesk, to develop a benchmarking database that correlates communication practices with organizational performance. They looked at 81 organizations with some 390,000 employees across 10 countries.
High-performing organizations communicate better.
In the study, Welch and Ambjorn learned that high-performing organizations are:
- 60% more likely to think about communication from the audience perspective. Five in eight high-performing organizations say they like to talk about themselves; seven in eight average organizations do.
- Twice as likely to make emotional connections to their audiences.
- 40% more likely to limit the number of messages in their communications. Average organizations are more likely to pack a lot of messages into their pieces.
- Twice as likely to keep language simple and jargon-free. Only 21% of average organizations say they keep their language simple and jargon-free, compared to half of high-performing organizations.
- 80% more likely to have a process for creating great corporate stories.
Are you on an SOS team?
Half of organizations say that senior executives generally devise corporate messages. However, only 20% of benchmarked organizations think their leaders are good at communicating.
This approach turns some communications departments into SOS — “Send Out Stuff” — teams. But perhaps that’s best.
Only half of communicators surveyed said they align their work to corporate strategy and goals. And only a third ranked their level of business know-how and understanding high.
“Two-thirds of communicators,” Welch writes, “need to improve their business understanding if they want to advise business people.”
Think Like a Reader
The secret to writing to persuade is to position your messages in your audience’s best interests. (Most communicators position their messages in their organization’s best interests.)
In Catch Your Readers, my two-day Master Class in New York, on October 28-29, you’ll learn a four-step process for making your message — and your organization — more relevant, valuable and rewarding to your audience.
Specifically, you’ll learn:
- The formula people use to determine which messages to pay attention to
- Two rewards you can use to boost audience interest in your message
- The No. 1 question to answer on your reader’s behalf
- A two-minute perspective shift that focuses your message on the value to the audience
- A simple translation process that pushes audience benefits to the top of your message
- A three-letter word to use to make your message more relevant to your audience
“In the past, if we were trying to sell sushi, we would market it as cold, dead fish.”
Bojana Fazarinc, former marketing director, Hewlett-Packard
Fill in the blanks to a great benefits lead
Want to write a release that grabs reader attention?
Lead with the reader.
Here’s how to do it, modeling the lead from a Silver Anvil Award-winning release by the California Milk Advisory Board:
“Dairy farmers throughout California — the nation’s No. 1 milk-producing state — will have an opportunity to learn the basics of cheese making in a comprehensive, one-day seminar being offered during February and March throughout the state. Sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board …”
Note that this release:
- Starts with the reader. “Dairy farmers throughout California …” See what happens when you begin your lead with the stakeholder, instead of with your organization’s or product’s name? You push the benefits toward the front of the lead.
- Follows up with the benefit. “… will have an opportunity to learn the basics of cheese making …” We still haven’t mentioned the organization or offering. Why? Because the reader benefit is more important.
- Only then introduces the product or service. “… a comprehensive, one-day seminar …” The product or service is best placed, as in this release, after the end-user and benefit. In fact, the second paragraph is high enough for the product name.
- Ends with the organization’s name. “Sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board …” Trust me, if someone cares about your release, they’ll get to your organization’s name. And journalists, bloggers and others are more likely to read or run the release when you focus on their audience members instead of on your organization and its stuff.
Notice how much more newsworthy and interesting this approach is than the traditional product announcement release, which is dated, formulaic and — let’s face it — dull.
Now you do it:
________________________________________ (Stakeholder) will soon be able to
________________________________________ (benefit) thanks to
________________________________________ (product or service) by
Move your audience to act
Want to deliver copy that gets read?
- Get it off your desk: Invite Ann’s team to handle a persuasive writing or editing project.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Think Like a Reader workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to Think Like a Reader in one-on-one writing coaching. Or find out about Ann’s next Think Like a Reader webinar.
- Learn more: Read Ann’s Think Like a Reader toolkit. And get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
- Join the club: Find dozens of persuasive writing tipsheets at RevUpReadership.com.
“Since Ann Wylie became editorial consultant of Northern Update, our client magazine has skyrocketed from a mediocre publication to one that is emulated throughout the industry.”
Roberta J. Laughlin, vice president, Mutual Funds Marketing, Northern Trust
Run your piece past another pair of eyes
“Since Ann Wylie became editorial consultant of Northern Update, our client magazine has skyrocketed from a mediocre publication to one that is emulated throughout the industry.”
— Roberta J. Laughlin, vice president, Mutual Funds Marketing, Northern Trust
Find out what others say about Ann Wylie’s consulting services
Too often, the job of producing communications leaves little time for considering what you’re doing well and what opportunities you have for improvement.
Our communication reviews can help. You’ll get quick tips for:
- Positioning your information in the reader’s best interest
- Drawing readers in with compelling leads
- Cutting clutter and boosting readability
- Lifting your ideas off the page or screen with scannable copy
- Polishing your headlines, links and other display copy
- Otherwise improving your piece
How it works
Send us a PDF of your work, and we’ll mark it up with suggestions for improvement. (Seeking more context and a deeper study? You may prefer our communication vehicle analysis.)
Why Wylie Communications?
Ann and her team have:
- Earned more than 60 awards for effective communications, including two IABC Gold Quills — the Pulitzer Prizes of business communications.
- Trained thousands of communicators in hundreds of organizations, including NASA, Nike and Nokia, to catch their readers.
- Conducted communication reviews for organizations including The Principal, Sprint, State Farm, VSP and Walgreens.
How may we help you?
Contact Ann for a quick fix.
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Weslynn Martin, Long Branch Communication; Professor Emeritus, Rockhurst University
Join us on our new social media channels
If you like Wylie’s Writing Tips, you’ll love our new social media channels. There, you can:
- Dig deeper into the topics we explore in the e-zine
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Interested? If so, join us on one or more of Wylie Communications’ new social media channels:
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“Ann Wylie provided a top-notch course worthy of a graduate-level seminar.”
Michael Close, associate director, Global Communications, Merck
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:
- Anchorage on Aug. 6: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Alaska
- Kansas City on Oct. 1: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners PIO Forum
- Lincoln on May 16: Make Your Copy More Creative, a full-day workshop for PRSA Nebraska
- New York City on Oct. 28-29: Catch Your Readers, a two-day Master Class open to the public
- New York City on Dec. 8: Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA
- Tacoma on Aug. 20: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
- Washington, D.C., on Oct. 12: Catch Your Readers, a half-day pre-conference session at the PRSA 2014 International Conference.
- Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13: Lift Your ideas Off the Screen, a breakout session at the PRSA 2014 International Conference
- Washington, D.C., on Oct. 13: Meet Ann and get more writing tips at Expert Express, a 20-minute learning session in the exhibit hall at the PRSA 2014 International Conference
- Your own home or office on Aug. 21: Content Marketing Writing, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
- Your own home or office on Sept. 23: Anatomy of a News Release, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.
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:
- Anchorage: Aug. 6
- Dallas: Nov. 19-20
- Kansas City: Oct. 1 & Nov. 11
- Lincoln: May 16
- New York City: Oct. 28-29 & Dec. 8
- Portland: Nov. 11
- Tacoma: Aug. 20
- Washington, D.C.: Oct 12-13
Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying presenting a writing workshop for Merck.
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.
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- ComPRehension, PRSA’s blog of public relations strategies and tactics
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