“[Press releases] offer no context, no understanding of the receiver, and no story. They are literally the laziest thing a company can do.”
John Biggs, East Coast editor, Tech Crunch
Silver Anvil winners get particular with their PR leads
Embeddable tooth implants. Zombie slayers. The Internet coffee pot.
Details like these grab attention. That’s why concrete details are the price of entry for a feature lead.
2014 Silver Anvil Award winners use two types of juicy details leads to get the word out:
1. Specific details lead
For this approach, choose a single detail to stand for your point. In other words, take a tip from William Carlos Williams and turn ideas into things.
That’s how Marie Hatter topped the Cisco blog post “Internet of Everything”:
Compare then to this: a coffee maker that tracks your usage, and wirelessly “phones home” to order refills when you’re close to using up all of your coffee pods. If you think this is unusual, then you better strap yourself in, because from here on, things will get faster. The next phase of the Internet is arriving sooner than you think with the Internet of Everything.
So choose an example to stand for the whole. Internet of Everything? Too big. Internet coffee pot? Just right.
For a specific details lead, choose a part — a tiny part — to illustrate the whole.
2. Compression of details
For this approach, you choose more than one (and, to be fair, almost always three) examples to make your broader point.
Marie Hatter does it again with the lead for the Cisco blog post “The Internet of Everything Hearts Your Health”:
A smart watch responds to touch to help ease the loneliness of long-distance relationships.
A bracelet records daily physical activity and caloric intake and provides recommendations to achieve health goals.
These capabilities may have seemed like a dream only a decade ago but are now a reality, thanks to the Internet of Everything.
Aside from the obvious coolness factor of the growing list of connected things, many of these wearable and mobile-enabled devices are helping save lives. In honor of Valentine’s Day and American Hearth Month, it’s a good time to ask: How is the Internet of Everything “hearting” our health?
— Marie Hatter, Silver Anvil award-winning Cisco blog post
Internet of Everything? That’s huge! The Internet in my tooth? Now we’re talkin’.
Lisa Gurry brings the world of gaming down to size with a compression of user details lead. Here is its Silver Anvil Award-winning promotion “Your Invitation Has Arrived: Xbox One Ready for Millions of Fans on Nov. 22”:
In a spectacular worldwide countdown, global launch celebrations will usher in a new generation of games and entertainment alongside Xbox fans around the world, who have been eagerly waiting more than eight years for the next generation of the most popular games console with 80 million Xbox 360 consoles sold worldwide.
Xbox One? Too big. Zombie slayers? I’m in.
That’s compression of details.
When does this approach not work? When the details aren’t really details.
In “Extra! Extra! New Cisco Brand Launches Today — Get the Details Here,” writers miss the mark by compressing generics:
TV? Newspaper? Internet? TOO BIG!
To get our attention, bring it down to size.
Stop writing PR 101 pieces
These days, PR pieces can do more than just get your story reported in news outlets. Online releases get posted on news portals and other websites and get seen directly by customers, clients and other stakeholders.
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 write PR pieces that take advantage of online distribution to accomplish all of those goals and more.
Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Choose a structure that increases readership, understanding and satisfaction with your message. (Hint: The structure you’re using now is probably doing the opposite.)
- Avoid PR 101 leads. Still stuffing all those W’s and the H into the first paragraph? Still writing “XYZ Company today announces that …”? It’s time to move on to a more effective approach.
- Transform lame-ass quotes into killer sound bites.
- Avoid the worst PR clichés. PR Newswire sees 1,284 of these in a single month. How can you make your PR messages stand out?
- Beat the boilerplate blues. Here’s one way to stay off The Bad Pitch Blog.
“I have been a journalist for 30 years, published more than 10,000 times, and I have learned more about writing in the past two days from Ann than I have in all that time.”
Jim Masters, internal communications specialist, Accenture
Learn the art and science of Catching Your Readers at this two-day Master Class in Washington, D.C.
If you want to Catch Your Readers, you need to think like a reader. Then you need to use the bait your reader likes, not the bait you like.
Problem is, many of the techniques we’ve institutionalized in PR and business communication writing are not the bait the reader likes. (You’re not still writing about “us and our stuff,” are you? You’re not still sucking the life out of your message by cramming it into the inverted pyramid — right?)
But at Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Oct. 27-28 in Washington, D.C. — you’ll discover the art and science of casting for readers and reeling them in.
And if you act by Aug. 27, you can save up to $300 on registration.
Fill your tackle box with tricks.
In two days, you’ll have time to cram your tackle bag with tricks — hard-to-find but easy-to-implement techniques that will help you:
- Think Like a Reader. Move people to act: Use the bait your fish like.
- Tear Down the Inverted Pyramid. Put the most delicious bait where it will do you the most good: Master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to reach more readers than the traditional news story.
- Cut Through the Clutter. Cut the bait into bite-sized chunks: Make every piece you write measurably easier to read and understand when you learn to.
- Lift Your Ideas Off the Page Or Screen. Don’t expect the fish to jump into your boat to find the bait. Instead, dangle the bait overboard, and you’ll reach skimmers and increase readership.
- Transform Your Message From “Meh” to Masterpiece. Bring your laptop and a story to work on, write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a piece that pulls readers in.
Meet me in D.C.
John F. Kennedy once called Washington, D.C., “a city of Northern charm and Southern efficiency.”
If Kennedy was right, a lot’s changed since then. D.C. is one of my favorite destinations: Easy enough to navigate that even I can get around (Northern efficiency). And it offers deep wells of Southern charm.
Best of all, the city is packed with spectacular art, theater and music — much of it free. Which is great, because you’ll want to conserve your budget for dinner at one of José Andrés’ cathedrals to molecular gastronomy.
Why not make a long weekend of it?
I, for one, will be winding down from our fall writing workshop by immersing myself in five centuries of news history at the Newseum; visiting one of just 10 da Vinci paintings in the world at the National Gallery of Art; dining at Zaytinya; and catching “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Maybe we’ll run into each other!
Save up to $300 when you register by Aug. 27
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 Aug. 27. Save even more when you bring a friend, refer a friend or belong to RevUpReadership.com or PRSA.
You’ll find out why Rochelle Juette, a communications specialist at Washington Closure Hanford, said she gained from Ann’s Master Class: “a semester’s worth of knowledge in a few hours.”
“IAMS: It’s About Me Stupid.”
Lead with benefits, substantiate with features
Quick! Which would you rather have: a 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor with a Turbo Boost of up to 3.2GHz? Or the ability to create 3D molecular models on your laptop?
And that’s the problem.
Your readers don’t care about your organization and its stuff. They care about themselves and their needs.
So to sell your products, services and ideas, you need to show how your organization and its stuff can fill your readers’ needs. One way to do that: Translate your message from features into advantages into benefits.
Start with the feature.
The feature is what it is — an attribute of your product, service, program or idea. “The new MacBook Pro features 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 or 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor with a Turbo Boost of up to 3.2GHz,” for instance.
Problem is, people don’t buy features — not in products and services or in information.
Translate into the advantage.
The advantage is what it does — the reason the feature is important. “That’s important because it makes computing faster and more powerful,” for instance.
Problem is, people don’t buy advantages, either.
Land on the benefit.
The benefit is why I care — what the feature will do for you. “That means you can do things that once were possible only on a desktop computer — from creating 3D molecular models and DNA images to rendering architectural drawings and structural analysis — anywhere the job takes you,” for example.
People do “buy” benefits, in products, services and information.
The problem is, most readers can’t get from “2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor” to “do things you’ve never done on a laptop” by themselves. In fact, sales research tells us that some 70% of our readers can’t translate from advantages to benefits without help, says Linda Miller, president of The Marketing Coach.
So don’t rely on your readers to translate. That’s your job.
Lead with the benefits.
Once you’ve identified your features, advantages and benefits, you’ll want to lead with the benefits and substantiate with the features. That means you’ll focus on your reader’s needs first, then follow up with your organization and its stuff.
How can you sell your organization and its stuff by focusing first on your readers and their needs?
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.)
But you’ll leave Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on Oct. 27-28 in Washington, D.C. — with a four-step process for making your message 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 three-letter word to use to make your message more relevant to your audience
“A semester’s worth of knowledge in a few hours.”
Amy Kappler, communications specialist, Burgess and Niple
Polish your skills in these two-day Master Classes
Do you need to reach readers online? Write copy that moves people to act? Master the art of the corporate storyteller? Make every piece you write measurably easier to read and understand?
If so, please join us at these upcoming public writing workshops. You’ll walk away with tips, tricks and techniques for getting people to pay attention to your messages, understand them faster and remember them longer.
“Example isn’t the main thing influencing others. It’s the only thing.”
Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize-winning theologian, philosopher and medical missionary to Africa
Little things mean a lot
New Journalism pioneer Tom Wolfe gave us “The Me Decade,” “The Right Stuff,” “Masters Of the Universe” and other enduring tag lines. He also revived the idea of cose piccolo — the “little things” — which Wolfe called status details, the symbols of a person’s position in life.
“The attention to status detail and dress is absolutely fascinating,” Wolfe told an interviewer for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
“I forget the French nobleman who was found guilty of a capital crime, who insisted on arriving in his full regalia — an ermine-trimmed coat and the works — for his beheading. He just wasn’t going to show up looking like a common, vulgar victim. … Style is always a window into what a person thinks of his place in the world or what he wants his place to be in the world.”
And that’s the power of concrete writing: The “little things” — gestures, manners, habits, ermine-trimmed coats worn to your own beheading or foppish white suits tailored on Saville Row — reveal the whole.
Those little things, decades of research now show us, also make readers more likely to understand and remember our messages.
Concrete details are more understandable.
We say I see to mean I understand.
“Cecil, the black-maned lion” is easy to see. “Leveraging our industry-leading synergies”? Not so easy.
Nearly 45 years of research prove it: Concrete details help readers “get” your message; abstract concepts aren’t so helpful. For instance:
- Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students were more likely to remember a story when they could picture its climax. Those with images in their heads also understood the story more deeply and were more likely to be able to identify the story’s theme, among other things. (Sadoski, 1983, 1985)
- The entire incoming first-year class of a college participated in a study where researchers rewrote passages from American history textbooks to make them more concrete. Students understood the revised, concrete passages much better than the original ones. They also rated the revised passages significantly more interesting. (Wharton, 1980)
- In another study, students understood and remembered concrete words (PDF) like aisle, ceremony, scene and pile better than abstract ones, like pride, theory, time and truth. (Sadoski, Goetz, Stricker and Burdenski, 2003)
Marry the concrete with the abstract.
So why are concrete passages so much easier to remember and understand?
It may come down to our old friend dual-coding theory, created by Allan Paivio of the University of Western Ontario in 1971. You’ll remember from Communication 101 that this theory says we have two separate but interconnected ways to process information: one verbal and the other visual.
Use both instead of either, and watch comprehension and retention soar.
For instance, one study showed that placing a concrete sentence before an abstract sentence about the same topic increased recall of the abstract sentence by 70%. (Sadoski, Goetz and Fritz, 1993)
So show and tell. Marrying meaning with example is one mark of a master communicator.
Make Your Copy More Creative
My husband likes to quote Anonymous, who said: “If a man speaks in the forest, and no woman is there to hear him, is he still wrong?”
The corporate communication writer’s corollary: If you cover your terribly serious and important stories, and nobody pays attention, does your message still make a sound?
In Make Your Copy More Creative — a two-day creative writing master class on Feb. 23-24 in Phoenix — you’ll learn how to write copy that grabs attention, keeps it longer, communicates more clearly, enhances credibility and is more likely to go viral. You’ll walk away with techniques — not just what to do, but how — for painting pictures in your audience members’ minds so they understand your points faster, enjoy your information more and remember it longer.
Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Grab Attention With Feature Stories: Craft creative leads and kickers
- Make Your Copy More Colorful: Engage readers with fun facts, juicy details
- Play With Your Words: Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay
- Master the Art of the Storyteller: Tap ‘the most powerful form of human communication’
- Add Meaning With Metaphor: Clarify complex concepts with analogies
- Take 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.
“Writing long sentences is like adding water to tea; the more words, the weaker the message.”
Dianna Booher, author and writing expert
Cut a word, increase comprehension
Here’s the problem with long sentences: Every time you add a word, you reduce comprehension.Let your sentences sprawl, and the subject, verb and object get too far away from each other. Your readers have to fly to JFK to pick up the subject, Uber to Chelsea to grab the verb and hightail it to the Upper East Side to find the object. Then comes the job of restringing these elements together so readers can finally figure out who’s doing what to whom.
How many times are they going to do that?!
To craft messages that communicate, rather than discombobulate, here are three ways to streamline sentences:
1. Hit period more often.
Two Chicago academics — William S. Gray and Bernice Leary — set out to learn what makes messages readable, in 1935. The result: a landmark study that identified 64 variables that made copy harder (or easier) to read.
The No. 1 thing you can do to improve readability, according to Gray and Leary’s research: Reduce the average number of words per sentence. Average sentence length had a -52% correlation in Gray and Leary’s study. This negative correlation means that the longer the sentence, the harder it is to read.
How short? To achieve 90% comprehension, aim for sentences of 14 words on average, according to the American Press Institute’s research.
2. Reduce the number of syllables per sentence.
“Average sentence length in syllables” saw a -47% correlation in the Gray and Leary study. That means the fewer syllables per sentence, the better.
This is an argument for either shorter words or shorter sentences or both. If you must use long words, write even shorter sentences.
3. Write explicit sentences.
Gray and Leary found a 48% correlation between the number of explicit sentences and ease of reading.
Explicit sentences are those with precise subjects, like Sharon or You. The higher your percentage of explicit sentences, the easier your message is to read.
[Explicit] “Students enjoyed taking the course” is an explicit sentence because it has a precise subject: students.
[Inexplicit] “Taking the course was a great idea” is inexplicit, because “Taking the course” is the subject, and we don’t know who did it.
More than 40% of the top variables in the Gray and Leary study — those with correlations of 35% or higher — related to sentences. That makes sentence length and structure one of the Top 2 predictors of readability, along with word length and familiarity.
The ROI on simplifying sentences is enormous: When you make your sentences shorter and easier to read, you increase the chances that readers will understand your message.
So get to it.
Cut Through the Clutter
Read it and weep: More than half of all Americans have basic or below basic reading skills, according to the Department of Education’s latest adult literacy test.
That means they can sign forms, compare ticket prices for two events and look up shows in a TV guide. But they have trouble finding places on a map, calculating the cost of office supplies from a catalog and comparing viewpoints in two editorials. How well are we reaching these folks with our messages?
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
- 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%!)
“Ann’s workshops are always both entertaining and filled with useful, practical information.”
Annette Frahm, managing director, Frahm Communication
2015 training dates sold out
What a year 2015 has been! I typically sell out of training dates by October or so. This year, they were gone in July.
So, if you’ve been hoping to bring me in for an in-house workshop this year: I’m sorry. If I’ll be in your neighborhood in 2015, I’ll do my best to squeeze you in while I’m there. Otherwise, you may be able to find a 2015 Master Class that fits the bill for you and your team.
It pays to act fast.
If you’re looking to bring me in for a 2016 workshop, please act fast. I’m already booked through February, and the rest of my 2016 calendar is filling up fast.
And here’s another reason it pays to act fast: My fees will be going up significantly in 2016. But I’d be happy to honor my 2015 fee for your 2016 workshop if you complete booking (get a contract and deposit to me) by Sept. 30. My new fees will apply for if you book your workshop on or after Oct. 1.
I would love to work with you next year! Please contact me today to schedule your 2016 workshop.
“Excellent, kick-you-in-the-butt skills that I can use forever.”
Patti Monsoor, public relations and marketing, Utah Valley University Woodbury School of Business
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 Jersey on Sept. 21: Catch Your Readers, a one-day writing workshop for IABC New Jersey
- 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:
- Ann Arbor, Michigan: Sept. 29
- Atlanta: Nov. 9 & April 20-21
- Austin, Texas: Sept. 1-2
- Chicago: May 11-12
- Englewood, Colorado: March 16-17
- Falls Church, Virginia: Dec. 2
- Houston: Nov. 2-3, 2016
- New Jersey: Sept. 21
- New York: Sept. 24, 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
- Vacaville, California: Sept. 17
- 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 Boeing, Kaiser Permanente and PRSA Puget Sound
- Presenting a webinar for PRSA
- Providing advice on blog posts to Delta Dental of Denver
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
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- Wylie Communications feed
- Wylie’s Writing Tips