And 5 more tips for writing right now
1. Get out of your own backyard.
When it comes to creativity, the further afield you seek inspiration, the bigger your ideas will be.
So get out of your own backyard. Forage for ideas and inspiration more widely.
Beware the “but-that’s-not-like-our-project/company/style/industry/
If you’re only willing to steal ideas from organizations and channels just like yours — say, the websites of Iowa insurance companies that specialize in agricultural coverage — your ideas will be as limited as your foraging.
Marketing guru Dan Kennedy calls that approach “creative incest.”
“As with actual incest,” he says, “the product of creative incest just keeps getting dumber and dumber and dumber with each generation.”
Are you committing creative incest? Are your messages getting dumber and dumber and dumber with each generation?
Learn to rethink your same-old story at our How to Write Better, Easier & Faster Master Class.
2. Stop writing PR 101 leads.
“Quest Diagnostics (NYSE: DGX), the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, today announced that it has begun to perform antibody testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) using blood samples. With the new service, Quest Diagnostics now provides healthcare providers in the United States access to COVID-19 antibody as well as molecular diagnostic laboratory testing.”
If so, stop writing PR 101 leads like XYZ Company today announces that … and fact packs, where you stuff all of the W’s and the H into the first paragraph.
What to write instead?
- Surprise and delight readers with feature leads
- Share stakeholder benefits with WIIFM leads
- Break the news with snappy synthesis leads (And no, your widget 3.0 is not breaking news!)
For the Quest release, I’d lead with stakeholder benefits:
U.S. health care providers can now help identify people who have been exposed to Covid-19 — and possibly move one step closer to finding a cure — with Quest Diagnostics’ new coronavirus antibody testing.
Are you still making journalists yawn with off-the-shelf PR 101 leads? Learn to write PR leads that get the word out at our PR-writing workshop.
3. Pass the 1-2-3-4-5 test.
Readers skip long paragraphs. They look too thick and mucky, and people don’t want to dive in.
So you can imagine what happened when United sent out this 178-word clunker in a Covid-19 message: Eyes. Glaze. Over.
To make sure your paragraphs get read — not skipped — do the math. That is, pass the 1-2-3-4-5 test, a creation of Jon Ziomek at the Medill School of Journalism.
First, email your message to yourself, and check it out on your smartphone. (After all, that’s where more than half of your readers see your web pages, emails and social channels.)
Then make sure your paragraphs:
Cover 1 idea
in 2-3 sentences,
taking up no more than 4-5 lines on a screen.
This whopper weighs in at 26 lines — a little over five times as long as would be readable:
Want to write messages that get read — not skipped? Find out how at our Catch Your Readers Master Class.
4. Lead with the benefit, not with the task.
People don’t want to register, download, chat or watch. They want to learn, save time, get quick answers and increase their Wi-Fi speed.
My friends at Comcast nailed the parallel, verb-based list in this Covid-19 update. But they led with the task and followed up with the benefit.
Do the reverse, and your list will be more compelling. You’ll see my strikeouts and rewrites in red:
- Get support: Download the Xfinity My Account app for support, including changing to change your Wi-Fi name and password, changing and your internet speed, checking for service outages, exploreing your TV channel lineup or troubleshooting your Xfinity equipment.
- Optimize your in-home Wi-Fi: Watch our online help videos to optimize your in-home WiFi for tips.
- Get your service questions answered: Chat with the Xfinity Assistant, available in the My Account app, Facebook Messenger (through the Xfinity Facebook page) and the xFi app, for answers to a range of service questions.
- Get troubleshooting, help and support: Say “Help” into your X1 Voice Remote for help and support including troubleshooting.
Bonus points for bold-facing the lead-ins to your bullets so people can see the parts of your list.
Learn more techniques for writing lists, links and other display copy for the screen at our Reach Readers Online Master Class.
5. Need a break?
Check out The New Yorker’s “Corporate Jargon Adjusted for Quarantine”:
Think at least six feet outside the box.
Don’t touch base until we understand more about how this virus is transmitted.
If you ever need to talk, my door is never open — but my Zoom camera is always on, even when it’s off.
Let’s unpack that idea, wipe it down, and burn the box it came in.
Why don’t we hit the ground running before sunrise, when fewer people are out.
6. Check out these Covid-19 communication tools.
Here are more places to score Covid-19 communications resources:
- NEXT WEEK! “How to Write During the Pandemic: Make Messages Compassionate, Confident and Clear,” a June 18 webinar by me, with IABC. (This is substantially revised from my previous C-19 webinar.)
- Dr. Craig Smith’s Covid-19 messages to colleagues at the Columbia University Department of Surgery
- Siddhartha Mukherjee’s “How Does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient?” essay for The New Yorker — speaking of brilliant doctors who are also brilliant writers
- Covid-19 resources from IABC
- Crisis communications resources from PRSA
- Daily coronavirus updates from PR News
- How to Write During Covid-19. Watch this webinar from PRSA and me free with coupon code WYLIE420.
- How to write during Covid-19. Crisis communication guru Molly McPherson interviews me for her podcast.
- Upskill during your downtime with our online Master Classes.
Please hit reply and let me know your favorite Covid-19 resources.
What do you need from me during the pandemic? Please hit reply to email me your questions, examples and ideas, I’ll try to address them in the next issue.
See you next week!