A client called yesterday in a bit of a panic, wondering if I could revise a news release for her by end of day. This is the kind of thing I often refer to as “pulling a rabbit out of a hat.”
I was already juggling a number of projects, but this is a long-time, valued client and I thought it could be done relatively quickly. So I met my other deadlines and then worked late on the “rabbit.”
The very first thing I did was change the lead sentence. By remarkable coincidence, Ragan.com CEO Mark Ragan today posted a link on Twitter on this very topic, pointing to a classic Steve Crescenzo column called “Dumping C.R.A.P. on reporters.”
In it, Steve rants that the “trained monkeys” who write most news releases follow this formula for the lead sentence:
Name of company + everything great about this company that nobody really cares about + bad verb + bad quote by a guy with too many titles.
My client’s release originally began with “Name of company + something great about this company that nobody really cares about” plus that other classic: “today announced” (as if the “announcing” is the news). And took 42 words to say it. The actual news event was in paragraph two.
I rewrote the lead to start with “Employees of [Company]” and link to their involvement in the event that was the “news.” It took only 18 words, and I was able to work in “polar bears,” which you have to admit is pretty awesome. I pushed the “something great about the company” to paragraph three, and included some facts that were relevant to the event.
My client was happy with the result, but I was worried some of the executives might have changed it back. She just called, however, and said they went with the revision. And she appreciated the link to Steve’s column, which gave her a laugh.
The bottom line: With news releases, as with newsletter articles, look for the news and put it up front. Your readers will be more likely to read it, whether they are employees or journalists.