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At first glance, a line like that seems ridiculous and unbelievable. So why do we, as PR professionals, continue to try to sell both journalists and audiences with the same clichés over and over?
I recently attended a writing workshop for PR and marketing professionals moderated by industry expert Janet Reed, who offered fundamental tips to avoid the repetitive, overinflated writing traps that, as much as we try to avoid, we tend to fall into. According to Reed, writers get in trouble by adding too many details when selling a reporter on a pitch or a consumer on a product and lose the message in the process. Most times, short, sweet and to the point does much better than an abundance of detail.
In honor of the holiday season, here are a few basic practices to ensure your next press release or byline is sharp, concise and captivating. In other words, make sure your write plate is not “stuffed.”
Cut Your Calories
When sitting with your loved ones at the Thanksgiving table, would you ever say, “Can you please circulate the tryptophan-laced, bi-colored poultry that is adhered to its porcelain mechanism?” when “Pass the turkey” will get the message across with less effort?
We’re all guilty of adding inflated, convoluted terms to sentences, convinced that some fancy words will give our writing more conviction and pop. In reality, this expansion gets confusing and buries the message rather than highlighting it.
Reed mentioned that sentences grow dangerous when longer than 14-16 words. Using this practice can help us reach the message faster. Try to write your release or pitch as if you are selling a 10-year old, or your grandmother. Avoiding highly technical speak can get your message across faster, too.
Also, keep the smartphone culture in mind when writing. A reporter or reader is not going to scroll through lengthy, seemingly endless paragraphs when checking email on a mobile phone. Get your most important details across early and use bullets and subheads as support rather than additional lines.
Try a New Recipe…
Every Thanksgiving dinner has its staples – turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and “whatever’s in that bowl over there.” While we all love the traditional items, how many times has the most memorable dish on the table been something new that your family has never had before? Maybe a fresh marinade for the turkey? Or spice for the potatoes?
Along those same lines, we should challenge ourselves to add some seasoning to our writing. According to Reed, there’s a fine line between “killer words” and “words that kill” – while “killer words” can make your audiences want to read more, “words that kill” (like the ones in the opening line of this blog) will do just that to any possible interest.
Maintaining an active voice and relying on strong, exciting verbs add refreshing flavor to your writing. Choose your words wisely, but don’t be afraid to add in a phrase or term you have never used before. Every so often, I’ll hear a term or phrase on a television show and think, “I like that. I’m going to use that in my next case study.” If it was memorable once, it may be equally memorable to your readers.
…But Don’t Forget the Basics
The growth in social media and text messages made “the casual” acceptable in most PR circles. And, with surmounting deadlines across several clients, we don’t have as much time as we would like to check the AP style guide for every single word in our writing. As a result, we tend to stray from the basic principles.
Being lazy can weaken any attempt at strong writing. For starters, make sure your subjects, verbs and pronouns all agree (hint: someone, each and everybody are all singular!) If you would use it in a text message, even though your audience will understand it, it should not go in your press release. And while we are all scrapped for time, even 15 minutes of proofreading can make the difference between an effective piece and a mistake that could harm the reputations of both your client and yourself.
Enjoy the Leftovers
While the amount of effort that goes into preparing the perfect Thanksgiving meal can be troublesome, we do it because we want to provide something memorable for our guests. Much in that way, PR professionals put a great deal of effort into writing in hopes of not only generating “delicious” results for their clients, but also to challenge themselves to make every authored piece better than the one before.
Returning to basics can add that memorable zing to your writing. Removing a few of the “excess ingredients” will better highlight what’s really at the core of your message in a clear, concise and complete fashion – and make your audience want to go back for seconds!