“Organizations write press releases for themselves, not for readers.”
— A frustrated PR pro

Lead on

Write better release openers

Are you still using the fact pack — cramming who, what, when, where, why and how into the first paragraph of your news release? Are you still married to the dated “XYZ Company today announced …” approach?

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? Avoid boring PR 101 leads. Reach readers with strong benefits, news and feature leads.

These conventional formulas to release leads are formulaic, old-fashioned and — let’s face it — dull. Both approaches slow the story down, appear unsophisticated and are too stereotypical to stand out from the competition.

Instead, choose from these three more effective approaches.

1. Benefits leads

Launching a new product or service? Focus on how it solves customer problems instead of on the product or service itself with this model, which I developed for my clients:

X (users) who have struggled with Y (problem) will now be able to Z (benefit), thanks to A (product or service).

Here’s how it looks in action:

Commuters who now spend an hour each day driving from Sunrise Beach to Osage Beach will soon be able to make the trip in 15 minutes, thanks to a new bridge that ABC Company will build this summer.

2. News leads

Do you have news to report? Instead of covering the five W’s and the H, appeal to reader interest by leading with the two most interesting elements to readers:

  • What — as in “What happened?”
  • Why — as in “Why should I care?”

Here’s how it works:

XYZ Corp. volunteers will plant 77 trees at Encore Park on Sunday. That means the park, located in area hit hard by drought, will have trees that help reduce runoff, absorb rainfall and retain water.

3. Feature leads

Feature leads show instead of tell. They attract readers by illustrating your key message instead of just stating it. Feature lead approaches include:

Description. This lead helped win support for the nation’s first statewide menu labeling law, in a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy:

“In a Capitol room thick with the smell of fast food and breakfast entrees, proponents of Senate Bill 120 (Padilla-D Los Angeles), the proposed nutrition menu labeling law, dramatically illustrated why this legislation needs to be signed by the Governor.”

Startling statistics, like this lead from a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign by Visa:

“Today, more than 40 percent of fourth-grade children read below the basic level for their grade. That’s one reason Visa is asking you to join the company in its effort to help children learn to read …”

Compression of details, as in this lead for an H&R Block survey story by Fleishman Hillard’s John Armato:

“Most 8- to 11-year-olds would rather go to school year-round than pay a nickel of ‘allowance tax.’ But pit that nickel against Nickelodeon, and they’d gladly fork it over to protect their tube time. They also imagine Batman would pay more income tax than either Superman or Spiderman.”

Other feature lead approaches include anecdote, analogy, wordplay, concrete details, human interest and examples.

Surprise and delight your readers.

Whichever approach you use, write a lead that appeals to your readers’ self-interest or that makes your story interesting.

Can’t do that with a fact pack.

Reach bloggers, journalists and readers

Want to master the art of writing successful media relations materials?

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“‘Your relentless political Facebook posts finally turned me around to your way of thinking,’ said nobody, ever.”
— Quote circulating on Facebook

Why, oh why aren’t they answering?

Question posts don’t increase interactions

Do questions increase likes and comments on Facebook?

No … and yes, according to 2011 research by Momentus Media.

Momentus looked at more than 10,000 status updates, dividing them into those that contained a question mark and those that did not. Then they compared those to interaction rates, or likes and comments per post divided by total page followers.

What did they find?

1. Questions garnered 23% fewer interactions.

WHAT?! Posts without questions garnered more interactions — likes and comments — than those with questions. Chart by Momentus Media.

That’s right: Asking questions didn’t increase interactions, but lowered them.

Momentus researchers were so surprised by this result that they dug deeper. They:

  • Pulled out posts asking people to like or comment. Posts without questions still outperformed those with questions.
  • Looked at the “like” rate alone. Still question posts came in dead last.
  • Studies comments alone. Finally, question posts outperformed those without questions.

2. Questions increase comments.

COMMENTS, PLEASE Want people to comment on your Facebook post? Your best bet is to 1) ask them to comment, 2) ask a question or 3) post an update without a question. Asking for likes generated the fewest comments. Chart by Momentus Media.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for comments, ask for them. But asking questions also helps.

Why don’t questions perform better?

Turns out, some questions work better than others.

In another study, this one by Buddy Media, researchers found that fans are more likely to comment when asked a question. But not just any question.

Questions that work best begin with:

  • Where
  • When
  • Would
  • Should
  • Could

Other interrogatory words don’t work as well.

Avoid asking ‘why’ questions,” advise the Buddy Media researchers. “‘Why’ has both the lowest like and comment rates and may be seen as intrusive and/or challenging.”

There’s your answer!

Ask better questions.

Public speaker Ian Perry responds to this research with an interesting idea:

“[Start] your question with a provocative premise (to show you’ve been thinking) and then engage people in exploring it,” he writes.

“’What do you think is the future of speaking?’ is vague and vacuous. Try something like: ‘If micro-biologists are right and every cell has its own mind capable of receiving messages through the transfer of energy regardless of time and space, could there come a day where we too communicate our message without audibly speaking?'”

Reach readers online.

Want to get the word out on the Web?

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“Comprehension and composition bear a reciprocal relation to each other.”
— Robert C. Calfee, Ph.D., professor of Education and Psychology at Stanford University

Bottoms up

List most-used choices at the end of the drop-down menu

When searching on a drop-down menu, Web visitors should either:

  • Start at the top and move linearly down to the bottom of the menu (EPIC model)
  • Randomly search the menu (ACT-R model)

Or so say classic models of cognitive processing.

How visitors view drop-down menus

In reality, Web visitors do neither. Instead, they take four steps when looking at drop-down menus:

  1. Visually “sweep” the menu (Altonen, Hyrskyvari, and Raiha 1998, 137)
  2. View the first menu item or two
  3. Glance at items on the bottom of the menu
  4. Look at the middle of the menu (Byrne and colleagues 1999)

How to organize drop-down menus

How can you take advantage of this research?

  1. Put the most-used items at the top of the menu.
  2. Place the second most-used items at the bottom of the menu.
  3. Sandwich lesser used items in the middle.


Sources: Lynne Cooke, “Eye Tracking: How It Works and How It Relates to Usability,” Technical Communication, Vol. 52, No. 4, Nov. 2005, pp. 456-463

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“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a metaphor is worth a thousand pictures.”
— Daniel Pink, author, A Whole New Mind

It’s like …

Get great metaphors from GistOut

Find analogies, metaphors and similes at GistOut. This site uses Google Custom Search to find metaphors for your topic that have appeared online.

For instance, when I type in insulin, I get:

  • “Insulin is like a key that opens the doors to the cells of the body.”
  • “Trying to burn glucose without insulin is like trying to cook food without heat. It can’t be done.”
  • “Insulin is the key that lets the sugar into the cell where it can be used. Sometimes the door gets stuck and other medicines help unstick the door.”
  • “To imagine how glucose, insulin, and cell receptors work, think of your car. To park in your garage, you need a garage door and a garage door …”

How can you use this free tool to make more of your metaphors?

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

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“Ann’s brisk, clever, precise writing helped Healthquest earn the Gold Award from the National Wellness Institute for publishing the best health information in the country.”
— Jim Felkner, director, Mayo Healthquest

Reach more readers

Get the word out with Wylie’s writing team

I’ve interviewed George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. But what I really enjoy is chatting with economists, engineers and surgeons.

At Wylie Communications, we write about communication technology for Sprint, about personal finance for Northern Trust and — despite the fact that my preferred form of exercise is the hike from recliner to refrigerator — about fitness medicine for the Mayo Clinic.

We’d love to write for you, too.

Deliver copy that sells.

When I’m not writing or editing, I’m training other writers. Or helping companies get the word out to their audiences. My writing team applies the best practices I develop for my training and consulting business to your writing and editing projects. So your project will Cut Through the Clutter, Lift Your Ideas Off the Page or Screen and Sell Products, Services and Ideas.

Bring award-winning talent to your project.

Our work has earned nearly 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills. Let us help you produce world-class business communications, as well.

Stop working weekends.

We’ve provided a virtual staff to write and edit newsletters and magazines for Saint Luke’s, Northern Trust, State Street/Kansas City and Sprint. Let us pick up the slack in your department, too.

We’ve written everything from annual reports to websites, for companies ranging from Armstrong World Industries to State Street/Kansas City.

How may we help you?

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“Just one thing? It was all so valuable. I appreciate the specificity and detail and actual, usable info. Can’t wait to go back to the office and start writing.”
— Allison Burch, content creator and administrator, Whole Foods

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.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

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:

  • Atlanta: Feb. 12-13
  • Bloomington, Il.: March 26
  • Chicago: March 5
  • Denver: Jan. 30
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Ontario: Jan. 8
  • Honolulu and Kauai, Hawaii: Feb. 20-26
  • Kansas City, Mo.: Christmas week, March 6-9
  • Memphis: Dec. 11
  • Miami: Dec. 7
  • Phoenix: Jan 15, May 15
  • Portland, Ore.: May 9
  • San Diego: Feb. 6-7
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 14

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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For more info …

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