It’s Monday! I hope you wonderful PR folks are at your desks and beaming with delight. Ok, I hope you’re grimacing through the pain. “Beaming with delight” would mean you’ve been playing Hoover the SnowBlower with a piece of straw and an eight ball, and this is NOT what we do on a Monday. Not on a Monday morning, at least.
I’m sleeping right now, but if I were awake, I’d be seeing your press releases trickling steadily into my inbox like obedient school children. By the time I rise, I will probably have more than 100 new messages from you guys. That’s what Mondays are for me. I wish to goodness y’all would throw me a bone on a Sunday sometimes, but that’s another post for another day.
Today, I want to tell you how learning a little journo trick can make your press release easier for us to read and thus more likely to receive press coverage.
It’s called the lede.
The lede is the first sentence of a news article, and it’s what we’re now going to call the first sentence of your press release. In fact, it’s the first paragraph of the release, too, because (IMPORTANT) the first paragraph of your press release should be one sentence.
Back in J school, we were coached to and even competed to write the shortest, most informative ledes possible. The lede must contain the who, what, how, where, and why (or whichever of those elements is most important or interesting) and must do so within about 25 words.
What this boot camp-like J school training means for you, the PR pro, is that you have 25 words to 1) tell me about the product/client, 2) convince me it’s newsworthy, and 3) show me you care about my time and know how to do your job.
As a journalist, when I encounter a press release, I instinctively begin to read it as though it’s a news article. I don’t read the salutation. Unless I know you personally (and sometimes, even if I do) , I don’t read any introductory information or questions about my personal well-being. I go straight for the jugular because I have eight hours to find, research, write, edit, fact-check, and illustrate three stories.
Here’s the first paragraph of a typical press release:
“[Redacted], Calif. (May 29, 2009) – [Redacted], Inc., a leader in next-generation office productivity solutions, today announced [Redacted] for Android, the first complete office productivity suite offering for Android-based mobile devices. A demo can be seen at the upcoming COMPUTEX trade show taking place June 2-6 in Taipei, Taiwan where [Redacted] will be showing its mobile office product line-up with ARM.”
Taipei? I appreciate the location-based info, but this is a press release, in English, sent from the Valley, to a journalist for an English-speaking-country-based blog.
Also, I don’t need to know about next-generation office productivity solutions or the like. Between repetition and buzz words, this lede is sinking fast! Let’s fix it up!
Ok. Forget what the CEO thinks is cool and important. Pretend you don’t give a crap about the product. Pretend you’re some retarded, hungover hipster. Now, look at your release. What about this news item really grabs you as interesting?
Well, after going over the [Redacted] release, I can tell you it’s pretty groovy to get a Microsoft file to work and be editable on a Google OS. And it’s rad to have an MS Office-like group of apps like available on a mobile phone.
Here are the things I don’t care about (for the purposes of lede-reading): The date. The place (unless it’s a conference I’m attending; see conference mailing list for my contact info). The company or product names (Unless it’s Google, MS, Intel, IBM, etc., it’s true! Work with me here!). The company or product marketing-speak taglines.
All I care about is what it does and why it’s different from every dad-blamed product like it.
Let’s get down to the 5 W’s (who, what, when, where, why, how – the “how” is silent) for this release. A company I don’t care about (let’s be realistic) is giving Android device-users the ability to access MS Office files from their phones. The apps can even handle PowerPoint presentations. That is god-awesome.
Here’s the new lede:
Starting today, Android device users can access and edit Microsoft Office documents and files anytime, anywhere.
Sixteen bloody words, and you’ve got a journalist’s interest. Your no-name company slips down a couple ‘graphs as you allow the name-dropped companies to grab my attention. You told me it’s launching today, which means if I hustle, I might break the news first. And you told me the soul of the news itself: I can edit the docs on a phone. Rad.
If you feel a bit saucy, try a dash:
Starting today, Android device users can access and edit Microsoft Office documents and files – even PowerPoint presentations – from their mobiles.
Oh my god, the app practically walks on water when you put it like that! And in just 20 words!
Word to My PR Homies #2: Learn to write a hot lede.
Ledes in your releases will do wonders. Go ahead. Ask me how I know.
Only about 25% of readers who skim the first ‘graph of a news article will read it to the end. That was a 2001-era J school stat, so it’s probably totally screwed by now. As journalists, we have an attention problem because our readers do. Like you, we’re writing for an audience that doesn’t care and that has no time to read. Like us, they’re just out there, scanning for information that’s relevant to them.
A good, interesting, short, informative, exciting lede will help us figure out if and why we should read your release and cover it. You can do it!
I love you guys! Have an awesome rest of the day, and I truly look forward to reading the items you’re sending me today! Without you, I could never do my job. =)