Telling a good story is the secret of effective communication. The best stories communicate complicated abstract concepts in terms that the audience can relate to. Often a person or particular instance is used as a case-study to illustrate a wider truth and create a human angle for the story.
We have the benefit of a wide range of communications channels – direct, print, online, broadcast and social media – but the basic principles are the same whichever mechanism you choose.
1. What do you want to happen?
Before you start to write anything, consider what you want to achieve. What is the business or organisational objective and who do you want to reach? What is the message you want to communicate and what is the desired outcome?
By thinking this through you will ensure that you cover all the key points and that the tone is right for the audience.
2. How are you going to tell your story?
Having decided who you want to reach and what you want them to do, you need to consider the best way to reach them. What is your target media and what sort of stories do they cover? A woman’s consumer journal has a different editorial style to a business trade journal. It is good to read the publication to get a feel for the sort of stories they cover and where best to pitch your story.
Then decide on the format. A press release is aimed at the journalist and should contain all the information needed for them to draft a story. It should be written objectively – ‘the company’ not ‘our company’ – reference any statistics you have quoted and include quotes from key people.
Alternatively you might consider writing an opinion piece or a blog. This can be a first person piece and may be chatty in style as though you were explaining something directly to a friend or colleague. But remember to attribute it to a named individual!
3. Find a news hook
A bit of background research will often reveal an angle that brings the story to life. Try and create a reason why this announcement is being made now. Has there been a change in legislation? Is there an event coming up? This will create a news hook for the story and sense of urgency.
Where possible interview a key person and get the story in their own words. A quote in a press release immediately makes the story more interesting, but make sure it is something that a person would say in real life. Ask questions such as: ‘What difference will this development make?’ ‘Who will benefit?’ ‘Why is it important?’ ‘What issue does it overcome?’
4. Make it interesting
Don’t be boring. The title should grab attention, and the first sentence should hook the reader into reading more and set the scene for the story. The entire story should be encapsulated in the first paragraph so that if that is all the editor has space for, you will have made your point. The subsequent paragraphs should expand the points made in the first paragraph.
For example compare these two introductions:
Version 1 – Cambridge Innovations Ltd, leading developer of design solutions, is pleased to announce the successful completion of its contract with ceramics manufacturers Tetley & Tetley. Its award winning fluid delivery methodology has revolutionised the design of the company’s new range of products.
Version 2 – It is now easier to pour tea directly into the cup without spills following a radical rethink of teapot design, says Joe Bloggs of design company Cambridge Innovations Ltd. The new spout developed for Tetley & Tetley’s new ‘Be Mother’ range, ensures that hot liquids can be delivered with much greater precision.
Joe explains: “Most people have experienced the embarrassment of a teapot with a faulty spout that spills tea all over the table…
Make your story original and cut repetition. Once you have written it go back and cut out any surplus words. Less is more.
5. Check your facts
The press release should contain all the key information. A quick way to check is to ask yourself if it answers the questions why, when, where, what, how. Events need a location, date, venue, time and contact details for more information. Put ‘End’ at the bottom and include your contact details: telephone, email, Twitter and Facebook and web address to make it easy for journalists who want more information.
Where possible include a photograph. It is true, a good picture says 1,000 words – but that reminds me of another story…