October 29, 2014

“I don’t believe in email. I’m an old-fashioned girl. I prefer calling and hanging up.”
— Sarah Jessica Parker, actress and producer of “Sex and the City”

Inside the inbox

To reduce unsubscribe rates, send more email

Last time I visited Laura Wylie — aka the most adorable 5-year-old on the planet — she said, “Aunt Ann, if I don’t see you more often, I might forget to miss you.”

Turns out your email subscribers feel the same way. Consider these numbers, from viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella’s recent email marketing study:

  • Send your audience members one email a month, and you’ll see a click-through rate of, on average, about 6 percent.
  • Increase that number to three emails a month, and the average click-through rate drops to about 4 percent.
  • Make it 29 emails a month, and what do you think happens? Nothing. That’s right, the average click-through rate stays at about 4 percent.

HIT SEND The more links you have, the higher your click-through rate, according to a study of nearly 10 billion emails.

So why not send more emails? Zarrella asks.

Sending more email probably won’t hurt and probably will help, Zarrella learned in his study. In fact, unsubscribe rates actually go up if you send only one or two emails a month.

“People’s favorite email is the one they’ve been waiting for,” he says. Increase that expectation, he suggests, by sending more emails.

So much for “How can I miss you if you don’t go away?”

About the study

For his email marketing study, Zarrella:

  • Analyzed more than 9.5 billion — yes, with a “b” — emails from Mail Chimp, covering every language and time zone.
  • Asked people how they used email in three focus groups.
  • Surveyed several hundred people about their email habits.

Learn more:

Reach readers online

Want to get the word out via email and other online vehicles?

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“God is in the structure.”
— Richard Preston, author, The Demon in the Freezer

Boxes and arrows

Hybrid story forms go beyond news and features

“When you have news, report it,” advises Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute senior scholar. “When you have a story, tell it.”

But what if you have both?

Some stories don’t fit into the traditional boxes and triangles of the inverted pyramid news structure or the feature-style story structure. That’s where hybrid story structures come in.

Feature-news release hybrid

I’ve noticed one new structure in press releases recently. It has a feature head and an inverted pyramid tail. The beauty of this beast is that it brings the story to life at the top with a feature leadnut graph and background section. Then, once it’s attracted the reader’s attention and established the story, it delivers the details in a hierarchical, most-important-to-least-important body.

Use it when you have a story that would benefit from a feature lead but that needs a just-the-facts-ma’am resolution.

DRIVE A HYBRID When the inverted pyramid's not enough, try this news-feature release structure.

Anatomy of a news release 2.0

It’s not your father’s news release. Today’s releases look different from the way they did 30 years ago — 30 months ago, for that matter.

Want to make sure your releases aren’t stuck in the ’70s ? If so, please join me at PRSA’s March 10 webinar, “Anatomy of a 2.0 Release: Write releases that get posted on portals, help Google find your site and reach readers online.” In this program, you’ll learn how to:

  • Write headlines and leads that don’t get rejected by Google News
  • Explain to management why getting the gobbledygook out is even more important for online releases than print
  • Know when your release is too long
  • Craft links that help Google find your website
  • Optimize your releases for search engines and human readers

Find out about Ann’s other webinars and workshops.

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“If you would rule the world quietly,
you must keep it amused.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson,
American philosopher, lecturer, essayist and poet

Monkey business

Don’t take serious stories so seriously

If you were trying to convince employees to follow brand guidelines, you could deliver stern do’s and don’ts about how to handle the company logo or warn employees not to use people’s personal photos in campaigns.

Or you could illustrate your message by mocking up an employee’s photo in an ad like this:

THE OTHER OTHER WHITE MEAT You can lecture employees about using people's photos without their permission, or you can make your point with humor.

That’s how Chatter Monkey (aka senior publications designer Kelley Moore) handles brand education at MD Anderson — by writing hilarious stories to illustrate brand missteps, not by haranguing folks to use the right red in the logo.

An old joke in the speaking business asks, “When should you use humor in speeches?” The answer, “Only when you want to get paid.”

So when should you use humor in brand messaging? Only when you want to get heard.

Make fun

Want to make your copy more amusing?

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“Language is the dress of thought;
every time you talk your mind is on parade.”
— Samuel Johnson, English writer, critic and conversationalist

The emperor of etymology

Siddhartha Mukherjee explains ideas through language

“The names of ancient illnesses are condensed stories in their own right. Typhus, a stormy disease, with erratic, vaporous fevers, arose from the Greek tuphon, the father of winds — a word that also gives rise to the modern typhoon. Influenza emerged from the Latin influentia because medieval doctors imagined that the cyclical epidemics of flu were influenced by stars and planets revolving toward and away from the earth. Tuberculosis coagulated out of the Latin tuber, referring to the swollen lumps of glands that looked like small vegetables. Lymphatic tuberculosis, TB of the lymph glands, was called scrofula, from the Latin word for ‘piglet,’ evoking the rather morbid image of a chain of swollen glands arranged in a line like a group of suckling pigs.”

— Siddhartha Mukherjee, author, The Emperor of All Maladies

The history of ideas is reflected in language. So if you aim to explain ideas, one way is to explain language. That’s why etymology — the study of the origins of words — is such an effective form of wordplay.

EAT YOUR WORDS 'Cancer' comes from the Greek karkinos, or crab. What can etymology explain about your topic?

Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer is packed with etymological explanations. Immerse yourself in his examples to find inspiration for your own exploration of word origins. Here are three examples to get you started:

“It was in the time of Hippocrates, around 400 BC, that a word for cancer first appeared in the medical literature: karkinos, from the Greek word for ‘crab.’ The tumor, with its clutch of swollen blood vessels around it, reminded Hippocrates of a crab dug in the sand with its legs spread in a circle. The image was peculiar (few cancers truly resemble crabs), but also vivid. Later writers, both doctors and patients, added embellishments. For some, the hardened, matted surface of the tumor was reminiscent of the tough carapace of a crab’s body. Others felt a crab moving under the flesh as the disease spread stealthily throughout the body. For yet others, the sudden stab of pain produced by the disease was like being caught in the grip of a crab’s pincers.”

“Palliative care, the branch of medicine that focuses on symptom relief and comfort, had been perceived as the antimatter of cancer therapy, the negative to its positive, an admission of failure to its rhetoric of success. The word palliate comes from the Latin palliare, ‘to cloak’ — and providing pain relief was perceived as cloaking the essence of the illness, smothering symptoms rather than attacking disease.”

“Freireich and Frei were now ready to take their pivotal and intuitive leap into the abyss. The next regimen they would try would be a combination of all four drugs: vincristine, amethopterin, mercaptopurine, and prednisone. The regimen would be known by a new acronym, with each letter standing for one of the drugs: VAMP. The name had many intended and unintended resonances. Vamp is a word that means to improvise or patch up, to cobble something together from bits and pieces that might crumble apart any second. It can mean a seductress — one who promises but does not deliver. It also refers to the front of a boot, the part that carries the full brunt of force during a kick.”

Use etymology to explain your ideas

Etymology, by the way, is derived from the Greek word “etymon,” meaning “a sense” and “logos,” meaning “word.” Etymology, in other words, is the study of the origins, development and meaning of a word.

How could you take a tip from Mukherjee and use etymology to explain your complex concepts?

Learn how to conduct etymological research.

Play with your words

Want to master the art of making your copy more creative and engaging through wordplay?

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“People fall in love with people, not statistics. … Stories with people in them tend to attract more than those without.”
— Peter Jacobi,
professor emeritus and Adjunct Riley Lecturer
at the Indiana University School of Journalism

People Power

Bring your ideas to life with human interest

Human interest — using a person to stand for your point — can make your ideas more interesting, understandable and credible.

PERSON OF INTEREST "It is very difficult to make people out of words," says Oregon writer Larry Leonard.

But too often, communicators reduce the most compelling, human stories to the most boring, abstract, ineffectual level.

Don’t let that happen to you. In Ann’s manual, “People Power: Bring your ideas to life with human interest,” you’ll learn how to:

  • Tap the most credible source of information — “a person like me” — to sell your ideas
  • Showcase employees to show “what’s important around here,” breathe life into your guiding principles, illustrate employee guidelines, market your expertise and recruit new staffers
  • Profile clients to demonstrate the benefits of your products, show how bad life can be without your goods and services and illustrate your values
  • Convince reluctant managers and approvers to use human interest copy
  • Find people to stand for your point
  • Create templates for profiles that almost write themselves
  • Perfect your profiles, build better bios and make moves and milestones releases more meaningful

You’ll also learn how 37 organizations — including American Century, Dove, Eastman Chemical, Eli Lilly, Embassy Suites, Ernst & Young, Fleishman-Hillard, Hallmark, Kellogg, Mayo, Nike, PETsMART, Qualcomm, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Select Comfort, Walgreens and Wyeth — use human interest to bring their messages to life.

Plus, you’ll get inspired by dozens of examples and images of successful human interest pieces.

Order now.

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“The techniques I learned in this workshop will help me increase the relevance of our messages and reduce the efforts to read them.”
— Monica Alves, Latin America Brand Marketing Manager, Sabre

Ann’s touring schedule

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:

  • Asheville, N.C., on May 5.Think Like a Reader,” a half-day workshop for the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association
  • Chicago on June 7. “Put Your Copy On a Diet” and “HEY! Grab Attention In the Age of Information Overload,”  two breakout sessions for Ragan’s Corporate Communicators Conference
  • New Orleans on July 24.Make Your Copy More Creative,” a series of breakout sessions for the Agricultural  Media Summit
  • Portland, Ore., on March 17. Writing for the Web,” a full-day workshop for the Oregon School PR Association (OSPRA) and the Washington School PR Association (WSPRA)
  • San Francisco on March 25.Web Writing Boot Camp,” a full-day workshop for the Public Relations Society of America
  • Washington, D.C., on May 13. “Writing That Sells,”  a full-day workshop 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.

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Where in the world is Ann?

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:

  • Asheville, N.C.: May 5
  • Boston: June 23
  • Chicago: June 7
  • Istanbul: Sept. 17-Oct. 2
  • New Orleans: July 24
  • Portland, Ore.: March 17; Aug. 4-Sept. 5
  • Rancho Cordova, Calif.: March 23
  • San Diego: March 29
  • San Francisco: March 25
  • Washington, D.C.: May 13, Nov. 15-16

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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Keep up with my calendar

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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Let’s connect

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For more info

… about my seminars, publication consulting or writing and editing services, please contact me or visit my website.

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Please share this issue

… with two of your colleagues by directing them to our current issue. Better yet, invite them to subscribe to Wylie’s Writing Tips. They’ll thank you — and so will I!

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