Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Writing With Style - Part 1 of 3 - Start Strong

A powerful beginning and end with stick with your listeners
- Oprah Winfrey

It’s well talked about in the PR industry that journalists receive between 50 and 100 press releases a day and use about one a day.

You would have a 1 in 50 or a 1 in 100 chance of getting your story picked up if this was down to chance. Luckily it isn’t. There is a way to beat the odds and get picked up every time.

In Selling the Invisible, marketing expert Harry Beckwith writes about the study of an apple and the pomegranate. When people are shown a series of objects for a few seconds, say a group of fruits like an apple, pear, peach, plum, and a pomegranate, what are they most likely to remember? The first and the last item in the list – the apple and the pomegranate.

The same is true for you PR copy writing. Grab the journalists attention and you’ll get them to actually carry on reading your piece. And this is the first stage of getting picked up.

In journalism, when a headline of a story is buried somewhere in the middle of it, it’s called ‘burying the lead’. It not good journalism.

In broadcasting media ‘The Lead’ is when journalists introduce a story. In television this is typically fifteen to thirty seconds. It’s meant to be so intriguing that you’ll want to hear the rest of the story. If all the leads are good then you’ll watch the entire newscast.

A strong start is relevant for all writing you work on and all tools you produce. For a press release this is really simple. You get a headline – use it wisely. This is not the headline you’d like to see the journalist use – this is your number one pitch to the journalist to get them to carry on reading.

It is normal convention to get into your release – geographical location, date and companies positioning statement. Boring! Let’s break convention. At NettResults our agency standard it to add three bullet points after the heading. Be bold, be provocative, and above all sell the story so the journalist will read on.

How to end? Use the last paragraph of your press release to quote the client in some provocative or newsworthy way. Use the end of your press release format to include a call to action for the journalist, so they can reach you and get further information, images or an interview.

Start strong. End Strong. Be strong.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Patty's Hierarchy of Needs

If you know SCORE then you may have a perception of retired grey tops with some outdated business acumen. Well after a few months of personal coaching I can tell you it’s anything but. In fact the Score Orange County, CA chapter has amazing members.

This week I attended a session presented by Tom Patty (Tom was part owner and manager of a highly successful ad agency before selling it – some of his best work includes being integral in the Apple 1984 Super Bowl TV advert). All of the presentation was fantastic – more on that another time.

He presented such a clear and concise picture of agency (PR, but could be any retainer based service industry) workings in regards to the client purchasing process that I wanted to share. Tom’s too modest, but I’ll call it the Patty Hierarchy of Needs.

1 – Client fires exiting agency (or is new out of the blocks and didn’t have one)
2 – Searches for the right agency
3 – Shortlist a handful of hopefuls
4 – Pitch (agency side just love this part!)
5 – Account is awarded
6 – LOVE has to be transmitted

Inevitably, the account is lost and the process continues it’s loop. The real question, as Patty puts it, is how long the LOVE can continue.

There are plenty of great examples of agencies hanging onto accounts for multiple years. At NettResults we have accounts for eight plus years, but what is the success of longevity?

For me that question is simply answered. The agency has to ONLY do two things well, consistently month on month:
1 – deliver measurable results with a positive ROI
2 – a positive, mutually respectful personal relationship with the client

I’ve seen many accounts that have one or the other, but not both, and these are not the ones that survive. The few that have both gain longevity.

Continue the LOVE.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Art of Persuasion… “Social Proof”

The Background: As we repeatedly point out on this blog, you have to be good at persuasion if you want to be good at PR.

The Find: It’s not news that popularity breeds popularity and people follow the herd, but social psychology research points out that this principle, known as “social proof,” can radically improve results and is often underutilized.

The Source: Tips on polishing your persuasion skills from, ‘Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive’ - by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini.

The Takeaway: What’s social proof? It’s the psychological term for looking for confirmation from the crowd when you’re unsure whether to act. When I was a student my friends and I would start lines outside of closed doors and see how many people would join the lines. Often we’d get 20+ joining our queue. Why? Social proof.

Business leaders can harness the same principle. A classic example is a recent program written by Colleen Szot that shattered a nearly twenty-year sales record for a home-shopping channel. Szot simply replaced the classic call to action– “Operators are waiting, please call now”– with “If operators are busy, please call again.” Rather than imagining bored operators filing their nails, home shoppers pictured phones ringing off the hook. The implicit message: others must be buying, so should you.

The researchers behind Yes! set out to see if this principle could work for hotels too. Along with the usual environmental message and images of crystal clear water and rolling green fields on the cards asking patrons to reuse towels, the researchers placed a message indicating that the majority of guests already chose to reuse their towels. Guests whose cards subtly employed the principle of social proof were 26% more likely to recycle their towels than those who saw only the basic environmental protection message. That’s a big improvement at no additional cost to the hotel.

The Question: Are there unused opportunities to put the principle of social proof to work in PR?

And the Obvious Answer: Of course there are. Suggesting to one media that your story has already got a good reception from other media may well be useful.