“My purpose is to make what I write entertaining enough to compete with beer.”
— Anonymous

Bring strategy stories down to earth

Make them more concrete, creative

It’s one thing to make a bio or profile creative. Breathing life into high-level strategy stories — like the company’s mission, vision, business objectives and annual goals — that’s another thing.

Action plan. Turn abstract strategy stories into down-to-earth people, places and things.

Action plan Turn abstract strategy stories into down-to-earth people, places and things.

The key: Turn abstract ideas and concepts into concrete, creative, down-to-earth things.

So how do you make strategy stories more creative? Here are six steps:

1. Start with a story.

Ask: “When did you realize we needed to solve this problem or take advantage of this opportunity?” You’re looking for the desk-pounding moment.

Answer: I once asked a facilities manager at a fast-growing company when she realized her group needed a new plan for housing all of the new hires. The story …

“When Karen Hand saw the ‘Dilbert’ cartoon that pictured employees hanging from the walls by Velcro, she laughed. Then she thought: ‘Hmmm … wonder if that would work?’”

When questions help subject-matter experts come up with stories. You can go for a personal story with a when question like this, from

Les Bendtsen, manager of Investment Relations at Thrivent Financial:

“When I ghostwrite, I sit down and say, ‘Here’s a topic we’re thinking of writing about. When have you, your family or your ancestors confronted a problem like this before?’ I try to get away from the facts of the situation to the implication.

“Not, ‘How will our company weather this rough market?’ but ‘What did your dad do when he lost money in a venture or started his own business and failed?’”

Where questions can also help you find stories. Try: “Where in the organization are you seeing this work?” If the R&D team is already implementing the CEO’s vision, you’ll want to showcase their accomplishments in a case study, anecdote or example.

2. Set the scene with description.

Do: Go to the scene and observe. Look for details that help illustrate your message.

Get: Details like this, for piece about the mission of R&D in a new tech company …

“Tony Tsoi pulls gadgets out of his pockets, from his drawers, off his shelves. He piles up personal digital assistants, voice memo machines, wireless pagers and phones and e-mail terminals.

“They make his point: The high-tech field is littered with losers.

“‘Over the last three years, there have been lots of attempts to develop products that go beyond mobile telephony and paging,’ says Tsoi, director of Product Innovation. ‘All have failed. Instead of making money, they’re embarrassing their companies. What makes us so confident that we can create the exception?’”

3. Introduce a poster person.

Ask: Who around here is already doing this?

Answer: You’re looking for a human-interest story to illustrate the big picture.

When communicator Brenda Zanin wanted to illustrate the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s eight core competencies, she sought employees who translated those principles into action.

  • To illustrate thinking skills, she profiled a forensic toxicologist who devised a new method of screening for drugs in blood samples.
  • To illustrate communication skills, she profiled the sergeant in charge of coordinating media response after the Swissair Flight 111 crash.
  • To illustrate personal effectiveness and flexibility, she profiled an officer who returned to work after losing her right leg in a shooting.

4. Work in some wordplay.

Use: PhraseFinder to come up with wordplay like this, for a story about a team’s big goal …

“Marvin Little’s team literally drove around in circles to make sure the Miami MTA could meet its goal of covering 82 percent of the region’s population by Thanksgiving.

“‘Our Radio Frequency engineers set up test drives,’ says Little, Miami’s Engineering and Operations director. ‘They’d put a simulated cell site transmitter on a building, then drive in concentric circles around the sites to see how far the monitoring equipment would take the signals.’”

5. Find concrete examples.

Do: Dig beneath abstract ideas (client names, for example) to uncover concrete details.

Get: Details like these, for a profile about a produce and seafood company …

“Next time you bite into a Vlasic pickle, order the shrimp platter at Red Lobster or squeeze a melon at the A&P, you’ll be enjoying the bounty of Chestnut Hill Farms.”

6. Add an analogy.

Ask: “If you were explaining our strategy to a class of third graders, what would you say it was like?”

Answer: I once asked a corporate lawyer this question about the legal department’s mission. He said:

“Lawyers are like beavers. They get in the stream of commerce and dam it up. Too many times, lawyers say no. Our goal is to try to figure out how to help our colleagues accomplish what they want — even if it needs to be done in a different way for legal reasons. We want to move the business forward, not hold it back. One of our goals is to never become a roadblock ourselves.”

How can you make all of your stories — even the big, broad, boring ones, like strategy — more creative?

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

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“This is the best writing class I’ve attended in my 25-year PR career.”
— Mark Alden, PR manager, National Semicdonductor

Catch Your Readers

Save $200 when you register by March 15

Would you like to learn to write better copy, faster? Reach more readers? Come up with more creative ideas?

Get the word out. Learn to reach more readers at Ann’s two-day workshop in Kansas City and Portland, Ore.

Get the word out Learn to reach more readers at Ann’s two-day workshop in Kansas City and Portland, Ore.

If so, please join me at Catch Your Readers, my two-day Master Class in Kansas City (April 29-30) and Portland, Ore. (July 23-24).

Rev Up Readership members save $100 on registration — $200 if you register by March 15. Plus, you’ll get a free, three-month extension to your Rev Up Readership membership (a $97 value) if you’re among the first 20 to register.

Another reason it pays to be fast …

Our training room — an absolutely perfect facility for learning — is comfortable and convenient. However, it’s not huge. So I’m afraid the Master Class is strictly limited to the first 60 people who register.

Unfortunately, if yours is the 61st registration we receive, we’ll have to tell you we’re sorry, but we’re full. Last time I presented a Master Class — five years ago — it sold out almost immediately. We expect this program to fill up quickly, too. And who knows when we’ll put on another one?

To avoid being disappointed, please register now.

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“Talk as yourself, not about yourself.”
— Dan Zarrella, viral marketing scientist, Hubspot

What goes viral?

Make messages positive, emotional

Nearly 6 out of 10 people frequently share online content (PDF). Every time someone shares a link on Facebook, an average of nine people click. Someone tweets a link to a New York Times story every four seconds.

Share and share alike. Want to boost likes, shares and retweets? Anger your friends or followers or awe them.

Share and share alike Want to boost likes, shares and retweets? Anger your friends or followers or awe them.

How can you make your article travel the world, while others just languish at home on the couch?

Make your piece positive and emotional, suggest Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman, two professors at the University of Pennsylvania.

Together, they reviewed some 7,000 articles that appeared in The New York Times in 2008 to determine what distinguished pieces that made the most-mailed list. After controlling for placement, timing, author popularity and gender, and story length and complexity, they found that two features determined an article’s success:

  • How positive its message was. Positive messages are more viral than negative ones.
  • How much emotion it incites. The more extreme the emotion, the more likely it is to move people to act. Messages that make people angry, for instance, are more likely to be shared than those that make people sad.

Articles that evoked emotion — “Baby Polar Bear’s Feeder Dies” — moved further and faster than those that did not, such as “Teams Prepare for the Courtship of LeBron James.” And happy emotions (“Wide-Eyed New Arrivals Falling in Love with the City”) outperformed sad ones (“Maimed on 9/11, Trying to Be Whole Again.”)

What makes messages move?

So what makes messages go viral?

Spread the word

What characteristics make online messages go viral?

Bent out of shape Increase the amount of anger an article evokes by just one standard deviation, and you’ll increase the odds that it will make the most emailed list by 34%. That’s equivalent to spending an additional 2.9 hours as the lead story on NYTimes.com. And that’s nearly four times the average number of hours articles spend in that position.

Bent out of shape Increase the amount of anger an article evokes by just one standard deviation, and you’ll increase the odds that it will make the most emailed list by 34%. That’s equivalent to spending an additional 2.9 hours as the lead story on NYTimes.com. And that’s nearly four times the average number of hours articles spend in that position.

Increase these characteristics by one standard deviation above the mean, and they’ll increase your chances of going viral by:

  • Anger: 34%. Sample headlines: “What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses” and “Loan Titans Paid McCain Adviser Nearly $2 Million”
  • Awe: 30%. Sample headlines: “Rare Treatment Is Reported to Cure AIDS Patient” and “The Promise and Power of RNA”
  • Practical value: 30%. Sample headlines: “Voter Resources” and “It Comes in Beige or Black, but You Make It Green” (a story about being environmentally friendly when disposing of old computers)
  • Interest: 25%. Sample headlines: “Love, Sex and the Changing Landscape of Infidelity” and “Teams Prepare for the Courtship of LeBron James”
  • Anxiety: 21%. Sample headlines: “For Stocks, Worst Single-Day Drop in Two Decades” and “Home Prices Seem Far from Bottom”
  • Emotionality: 18%. Sample headlines: “Redefining Depression as Mere Sadness” and “When All Else Fails, Blaming the Patient Often Comes Next”
  • Surprise: 14%. Sample headlines: “Passion for Food Adjusts to Fit Passion for Running” (a story about a restaurateur who runs marathons) and “Pecking, but No Order, on Streets of East Harlem” (a story about chickens in Harlem)
  • Positivity: 13%. Sample high-scoring headlines: “Wide-Eyed New Arrivals Falling in Love with the City” and “Tony Award for Philanthropy.” Sample low-scoring headlines: “Web Rumors Tied to Korean Actress’s Suicide” and “Germany: Baby Polar Bear’s Feeder Dies”
  • Sadness: -16%. Sample headlines: “Maimed on 9/11, Trying to Be Whole Again” and “Obama Pays Tribute to His Grandmother After She Dies”

How can you use anger, awe and other powerful emotions to move your readers to share?


Source: Jonah Berger and Katherine l. Milkman, “What Makes Online Content Viral?” (PDF) Journal of Marketing Research, April 2012, pp. 192-205

Social Media Writing Boot Camp

Want to learn more ways to write blog posts, tweets and other status updates go viral? Bring Ann in for a Social Media Writing Boot Camp.

In this writing workshop, you’ll learn how to:

  • Use the 70-20-10 rule for engaging your followers, plus other tips for making sure your status updates are welcome guests, not intrusive pests.
  • Pass the “who cares?” test and four other techniques for becoming a resource, not a bore, on social media.
  • Get retweeted. Five steps for expanding your influence and reach on Twitter.
  • Tweet like the FBI. Write dramatic, compelling status updates that draw followers and get clicks.
  • Make your posts personable. There’s a reason they call it “social” media.
  • Tweak your tweets. Get your message across in 140 characters or less. Plus, learn how to make 140 characters go further — and when you must come in under the character limit.

Interested? Contact me to schedule your on-site writing workshop.

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“If an adverb became a character in one of my books, I’d have it shot. Immediately.”
— Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty

‘Killing me softly’

Use adverbs to change, not intensify, meaning

Beware adverbs, counsels The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark.

Uneasy listening. Use adverbs to change meaning, not to intensify it.

Uneasy listening Use adverbs to change meaning, not to intensify it.

Too often, they dilute the meaning of the verb or repeat it: “The building was completely destroyed.”

Instead, of using adverbs to intensify meaning, Clark suggests, use them to change meaning.

“‘Killing Me Softly’?” he writes. “Good adverb. “‘Killing Me Fiercely’? Bad adverb.

Good adverbs:

“Josef studied it, feeling as he sailed toward freedom as if he weighed nothing at all, as if every precious burden had been lifted from him.”

— Michael Chabon, author,
in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

“The combination of a hard-won cynicism, low overhead, an unstintingly shoddy product line, and the American boy’s unassuageable hunger for midget radios, X-ray spectacles, and joy buzzers had enabled Anapol not only to survive the Depression but to keep his two daughters in private school …”

— Michael Chabon, author, in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

“After the coffee he recrossed the room and remained standing, stooped over the keyboard in his overcoat, while he played with both hands by the exhausted afternoon light the notes as he had written them.”

— Ian McEwan, author, in Amsterdam

How can you use adverbs to change, not intensify, meaning?


Source: Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, Little, Brown and Company (September 1, 2006)

March writing contest: Write a sentence using an adverb to change, rather than intensify, meaning and send it to me by April 1. Please include your name, title and organization. If yours is the best entry, I’ll send you my favorite wordplay-themed gift.

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“It is very difficult to make people out of words.”
— Larry Leonard, Oregon writer, quoted by Jack Hart in A Writer’s Coach

More pocket profiles

Use ‘narrative shorthand’

In a recent issue, I introduced “pocket profiles.” That’s squeezing a big life into a small space — without compressing all of the life out of a person — by using “narrative shorthand.”

Short story. Can you tell your subject’s life in a paragraph?

Short story Can you tell your subject’s life in a paragraph?

Then I asked you to do it. Eight of you took me up on the challenge. Here are the best of the bunch:

Christa Evans, Presentation Specialist, Santander Consumer USA, paid tribute to a mentor:

A quarter American Indian, whose genuine thoughtfulness inspired many to pay it forward. A half-blind soldier of his country and who battled his own demons, leaving him with a crippling handicap. A whole-hearted innercepter and fighter for others, when he couldn’t find the courage to fight for himself. But now, fully at peace in the heavens.

Gina Flores, Senior Advisor for Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, took on Ronald Steven Flores:

Bay Meadows. Santa Anita. Del Mar. Three of his beloved settings. Each was his temporary home away from home. With a pensive peacefulness, he would sit in the stands and calculate his strategy for each race. He studied the racing form, marker in-hand, circling the horse’s statistics here and then there. All part of his systematic preparation. Then the bugle call would catapult him from his seat toward the ticket window. His wagers were meticulous and he was fluent in the language — quinella, trifecta, perfecta. He craved this pattern, this pastime, this habit. And while betting the ponies did not provide him with life-altering payoffs, he was rewarded handsomely in other areas. Well, at least one area: children. With some luck, but mostly his charm, he won three loving wives, three fairly brief marriages, and 7 (yes, his lucky number) beautiful daughters. Several of the girls have his intriguing hazel eyes, a couple his fuller bottom lip and unfortunate nose, and all his sense of adventure and good humor. A couple of his daughters (the three most stubborn to be exact) keep his legacy and their memories of him alive with a sentimental wager here and there. He was certainly not Dad of the Year, but for what he lacked in stability, he made up for in warmth, genuine love, and a zest for the good life. You can bet on that!

Mary Richter-Zeunik, Customer Experience Insights, State Farm Insurance Company, wrote this piece:

This petite, small-boned woman — who had once been the envy of girls in her high school, and the darling of many a young man, who long ago left her native city of Chicago to follow a man for country life in N.H. and rural IL, who at one time worked three jobs to support herself, and put herself through college when she was in her 30s not stopping until she had her master’s degree, who overcame infertility and adopted two fabulous sons, who survived cancer twice, who loved learning and wasn’t afraid to try new skills including leaving health care after 30 years to start a new job in insurance, who loved working with her hands and sewing beautiful quilts — is ready to retire and start a new life.

Hillary Dobbs, Senior Communications Coordinator, Black Hills Corp., wrote about her 92-year-old father-in law:

Les Snyder managed to make it from Boston to the Black Hills in 92 years. The stops along the way, in no particular order, included Kodiak to Korea as well as Pittsburgh to the South Pacific. Everything came in pairs. Two world wars. Two distinguished flying crosses. Two wives, though not at the same time. And two careers, from pilot to professor. Now the pair is just him and his ancient Scottish Terrier, making their one-mile walk along West Boulevard, twice a day.

Frances Squire, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, West Hills Community College District, profiled her brother:

A diving accident at 18 stopped star athlete and top student Lennis Jones’ body from working. Years later, a degree from UC Berkeley, then master’s and Ph.D. provided credentials to become probably the only clinical psychologist who worked in nursing homes after living in them. Technology was his tool. Productivity was his dream. Began his final rest at 61. His life celebrated for inspiration to family, friends and clients.

And the winner is …

Amanda Prischak, Sr. Content Development Specialist, Erie Insurance, wrote about her father:

A blue-collar son with dreams from the other side of the track. Grade school failures spun into medical school acceptances. Last in his class, first among his patients. A millionaire in a used Honda and a pocket full of grocery store coupons. Happy in private clubs, happier in corner bars. A friend, a doctor, a contradiction. Most of all, a dad.

Amanda, I love the way you used balance to show the contradiction. Well done! Watch your mailbox for a little writing gift from me.

And thank you all for playing!

Make Your Copy More Creative writing workshop

It’s not fluff. Creative material communicates more clearly, builds reader loyalty, creates a “buzz” for your topic — even enhances credibility.

In this workshop, you’ll learn how to bring your messages to life with storytelling, wordplay and metaphor. Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • Where to find online tools that virtually twist phrases for you
  • The question that will help your subject matter experts recall a story
  • A simple structure to use for crafting an effective anecdote
  • How to get a fresh spin on clichés
  • A four-step process for coming up with a creative metaphor
  • A fill-in-the-blanks template you can use to write your next metaphor.

Interested? Contact me to schedule your on-site writing workshop.

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“Great session for experienced communications and novices alike. A solid mix of anecdotal information with the statistical data and industry resources needed to help me improve my writing and counsel executive to improve their communication.”
— Courtney Williams, senior manager, Internal Communications, Exelon

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:

  • Anchorage on Aug. 6: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Alaska
  • Lincoln, Neb., on April 17: Catch Your Readers, a full-day workshop for IABC Lincoln
  • New York City on Dec. 8: Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA
  • Overland Park, Kan., on April 29-30: Catch Your Readers, a two-day master class, open to the public
  • Portland, Ore., on July 23-24: Catch Your Readers, a two-day master class, open to the public
  • Salt Lake City on May 15: Think Like a Reader, a 90-minute preconference session, and Cut Through the Clutter, a 90-minute keynote, for the Salt Lake City PRSA chapter’s Spring Conference
  • Tacoma on Aug. 20: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
  • Toronto on June 8-11: Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid, a breakout session for the IABC World Conference
  • Your own home or office on April 15: Write for Social Media, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
  • Your own home or office on June 3: Content Marketing Writing, 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.

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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:

  • Anchorage: Aug. 6
  • Glen Rock, N.J.: Mar. 20
  • Lincoln, Neb.: April 17
  • Los Angeles: Mar. 26
  • Naperville, Ill.: April 22
  • New York City: Mar. 21 & Dec. 8
  • Overland Park, Kan.: April 29-30
  • Portland, Ore.: Mar. 13, July 23-24
  • Seattle: June 17-18
  • Salt Lake City: May 15
  • Tacoma: Aug. 20
  • Toronto: June 8-11

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 …

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

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