Tips for Breakthrough PR Writing
The importance of writing well cannot be emphasized enough in public relations. For PR Pros, writing is a core competency that is a part of everything that we do – whether that’s a press release, a pitch, a blog post, or just an email to a client. Not only is your work being judged by those paying your salary, but your peers and clients also form impressions about you based on how well you communicate. How we write is a key part of our personal brand.
In listening to a recent PRWeek webinar, titled, “Tips for Breakthrough PR Writing,” I got some critical reminders about the importance of strong writing skills. Often, it’s the little things that count the most. These basic tips were great refreshers on how important it is to pay attention to detail and how be thorough in everything you write.
1. Frame the news
Hype is not news, as every editor will tell you. Words like “state-of-the-art, revolutionary, and first-of-its-kind,” should be thrown out of written vocabulary. Editors want you to get to the point, and fast. Think like the prospects you are pitching – what would make you interested in a story? The opening paragraph of any written piece should be as simple as possible and tell the most important elements to the story. If your first paragraph doesn’t do that, chances are, the reading will stop there. Make sure you know what is really newsworthy. Ask yourself, is it timely? Is there a reason to write about this now, or can it wait? Can you tie your story to anything happening in the world today? Making your writing relevant and keeping it simple are two key elements to PR success.
2. Master the 3 Cs…clear, concise & compelling
Tap into the power of simplicity, e.g. the Nike slogan “Just Do It”. If it can be said in three words instead of five, go with three. This avoids confusion and gets rid of unnecessary extras. After all, time is tight for those in media, so make it quick. Often we can’t just write how we talk, because our conversation is more casual than the written word. But think about how you would tell someone a story and, if you can, write it that way (taking grammar into account). Acronyms in emails to clients should be used sparingly, especially if they aren’t ones that are used regularly in their business. No one wants to have to send you a follow-up email just to ask you what you meant by your acronym shorthand. Finally, have you ever noticed that when you send emails to clients with multiple points and questions, it takes much longer for them to get back to you? Only include key points in emails. This will ensure that the important stuff gets read and answered.
3. Break on through… engaging subject lines & headlines
Always remember what the point of the subject line is in an email: to entice the prospect to open the email. If it’s wordy or takes more than a few seconds to comprehend, the email’s not getting opened. The subject line should help the editor or reporter picture the title of a potential article, so it should be just as short and punchy as the titles of the articles you are attracted to read.
4. Tone it for your audience
We can’t control how our tone sounds on the other end of emails. What might sound perfectly fine to us when we hit the send button can come across as angry, curt or blunt on the other end. Be mindful of how you “speak” in an email. One way to combat this issue is to have a peer read your email first before sending for tone. Getting an objective third party to review your email can help flag any possible misunderstandings before they are created. Never be condescending or presumptuous in an email to editors. If they made a mistake or missed something, there is a right way to ask them to correct it and a wrong way. Make sure that you know the difference!
5. Give grammar your best shot
It’s amazing how some of the smartest and most successful people still make common grammatical errors. No one is immune to these simple mistakes. Some of the most common errors include noun-pronoun agreement, subject-verb agreement, tense consistency, and sentence structure. Consider the image on the right – the first sentence sounds like we want to eat our grandmother, and the second sentence correctly states that we are telling our grandmother that we want to start eating, with her! Punctuation can truly save lives (or, at least, your latest pitch/memo/email, etc.!).
Post by Colleen DeVine, Director
Recently, the East Coast was hit by Superstorm Sandy. With 85 mph winds, rushing tides and overwhelming flooding, Sandy brought New York City’s power grid to a crashing halt. For nearly a week, major portions of the five boroughs were without power, including the entire southern third of Manhattan, with a stunning demarcation line at 39th street.
Naturally in a time of crisis, we all know the value of being “plugged in” to news reports and city press conferences for the current weather outlook, the state of the city, evacuation zones and what to do next. But what to do when the power goes out and you suddenly find your link to traditional news sources has been severed? You go mobile.
Without traditional information sources, such as television or wireless Internet, alternative media outlets and methods emerged throughout the storm and its aftermath. Fortunately, I own a smartphone and although I lost cable and Internet, cellular reception was spared in my neighborhood. So for information gathering, my first stop was a liveblog, a continuously updating blog generated by a local news site. The liveblog kept me up to date on various neighborhood flooding, fires and power failures, not to mention the status of the storm.
I also used Instagram, the ubiquitous mobile photo app for smartphones. Via its news feed and searchable Sandy tags, Instagram provided an amazing account of what thousands of eyes (and lenses) were witnessing firsthand across the city. Rising waters and candlelit apartments alike were given the vintage filter treatment for my consumption. Not only is Instagram updated in real-time, but it also allowed a unique and personal perspective beyond what an AP photographer or news crew might have provided.
Next was Facebook. While not typically the most trustworthy news source, it successfully acted as a community board for the status and wellbeing of friends, relatives and coworkers alike, when cellular reception faltered or failed. And to distract from storm-related stress, there was of course, the requisite chorus of complaints bemoaning Sandy.
During the later stages of Sandy and her aftermath, I took to Twitter for status updates and repair efforts. Though my cable and Internet had yet to be restored,@MTAInsider debunked premature rumors of reopening service and later announced that limited bus service would be available fare-free. Meanwhile,@ConEdison notified its followers about ongoing repairs and restored neighborhood networks.
So do these instances amid Sandy reflect a larger trend in the way we consume information? Are we really taking incremental steps away from traditional news sources or did desperate times call for desperate measures? It may be hard to say, but with Chetan Sharma Consulting recently reporting that half of Americans now own smartphones, alternative news-gathering may be the new normal, making diversified outreach options something every company needs to have at the ready.
Post by Sarah Fait
The days of hard copy press kits may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that the media no longer needs the information that these kits contained.
Management bios, corporate fact sheets, FAQs, the latest company news – how do you organize this information on a website so the media can access it easily?
Here are six must-haves for today’s online newsrooms:
1) Media contact: make sure your media contact is front and center. Provide email, phone and cell.
2) Press releases: make sure that the newsroom contains all the company’s press releases, organized chronologically from newest to oldest for the past 12 – 18 months. Archive older releases to reduce clutter.
3) Links to media coverage: For every article, include the title and link to the outlet where the article appeared. Keep coverage organized chronologically.
4) Upcoming events: Include the name of the event, booth number, speaking topics (if applicable), links to the event and a form to fill out to schedule an interview at the event.
5) Links to all the company’s social media profiles
6) Access to logos, product images or screen shots
Other potential assets for your online newsroom include topics that the company can speak to the media about, story ideas, industry metrics and areas of expertise for your executives. You can also add a resource area, where you aggregate information from the industry. Finally, if your company has video or b-roll, access to this makes it easier – and more appealing – for broadcast media looking for story content.
A few clever online newsrooms that have taken it to the next level are:
Regardless of the amount of news that your company distributes, make sure the content is well organized, accessible from the main navigation and searchable with a URL structure with “news” included.
Zer0 to 5ive Senior Strategist
Working in PR, you’re constantly tasked with getting your clients targeted, exciting and highly relevant media coverage. We work with a lot of print and online publications. But, one of the most exiting “hits” – for both the agency and the client – is the broadcast placement. Not only does broadcast itself garner tremendous visibility for your client, it often extends to online and sometimes print coverage.
How can you achieve this type of placement? There’s no doubt that airtime is competitive. Having a great, timely announcement or product launch will certainly help your chances, but there are also some best-kept secrets that go a long way in grabbing the attention of a show’s booking directors.
Here are the top 5 tips for pitching and landing a broadcast hit:
- Make sure your pitch is brief and to the point – no more than a paragraph.
- Include video. TV bookers want to know that the person coming to speak on the show is good at speaking in front of a camera. Take out the guesswork and include a link to a YouTube video or a video on your company’s website.
- Tie your pitch to a major event or trend. If you’re pitching a travel package, tie it in to upcoming Spring Break or summer vacation trends.
- Pitch 3-4 weeks in advance. If it’s a fit, the show will want to secure a relevant interview timeslot a week or two in advance.
- Do your research and pitch the right person! Pitching the person who actually assigns the stories can make all the difference. If your pitch winds up in an inbox of someone who doesn’t assign stories, it will go unnoticed – and most likely be deleted.
Zer0 to 5ive Strategist
The article discusses the newfound importance of social media integration to a website’s success, but warns that the use of social media should be carefully strategized and maintained.
“Companies should use social media [in a way] that makes sense for the goals of their websites,” said Marcello Figallo, principal-creative director at Zer0 to 5ive Media. “When you’re setting out to build a site, you must have a perspective of what visitors are going to get out of visiting it.” For example, Figallo said, if the company’s goal is to get people to spend more time on its website, then its social strategy should focus on keeping them there as opposed to a plan that might send them to other sites via social media links.
“The potential for integrating social media into a website is enormous, particularly when a company sets up a really great social media program and follows through with it,” said Marybeth Sheppard, principal at Zer0 to 5ive Media. “A website is definitely not a “set-it-and-forget-it’ kind of medium. That’s really critical with social media; it’s not short-term. Don’t [start a social media program] just because some execs thought it was a good idea. It needs to be maintained.”
Check out the full article, featuring advice from industry experts, here. What do you think companies should consider when implementing social media tools on their websites?
Zer0 to 5ive was tapped by GENCO, a global Top 25 third party logistics (3PL) company, to create an awareness campaign for its website NoBetterDeal.com, a site a secondary market site that sells retail merchandise below wholesale prices. As a result of Zer0 to 5ive’s outreach, coverage was garnered in outlets including Fox News, NBC Atlanta, and Men’s Fitness. GENCO reported that overall NoBetterDeal.com revenue increased 83%; new customer revenue was up 130%; and site visits jumped 50%. Read more about the campaign in PR Week.
Each year, Crain’s BtoB Magazine, the industry-leading marketing publication, compiles a list of the “10 Great Websites”. This year, we’re proud to be a part of that list with Airclic.com. The site was recognized along with industry leaders Accenture, iStockphoto, SAS and Tyco for its clean design, seamless interactivity and ability to engage visitors with social media, blogs, live chat and live call functionalities. Here’s what BtoB Magazine’s experts had to say: “The execution of the design is clean and the interactivity is seamless. The site’s vast content is organized by industry to help simplify meeting the users’ needs. The site actively uses social media and technology to engage users on various levels. Not only does it offer a blog, RSS feed, site search and LinkedIn group, but it also offers both live chat and live call to allow users to interact with the site on multiple levels.”
As more and more magazines, newspapers and trade publications move into the digital space, public relation firms can leverage SEO tactics to gain greater exposure for their clients.
Journalists and bloggers are using search engines and tweeting and blogging today’s hottest topics. The majority of online content is redistributed content; bloggers and online writers find content and re-post or rehash it. This means that making your PR materials SEO friendly can help you generate continued pick-up online and gain your clients further exposure.
For many traditional public relation firms, SEO may be a new challenge. However, it’s one that must be adopted for greatest success. Here is broad overview of the components that make a press release SEO friendly. Look for future blog posts that dive deeper into each of these areas and download our free SEO Guide to maximize your search presence.
Select Smart Keywords: What are the key search terms that are relevant to your content or your client? Choose 3 or 4 terms that are most relevant to the piece. Keywords with higher search volume are more competitive and harder to rank for, so be selective of the keywords you want to target. Including geo-specific terms can help you eliminate competition. For example, “Philadelphia PR Firm”, “Philadelphia Online Marketing”, or “PA Integrated Marketing” would be targeted terms that Zer0 to 5ive would like to have visibility for. The term “Public Relations” has a far larger scope but may be too competitive to rank for.
Include Keywords: Once you select the best search terms for your content, include them in the piece as much as possible without detracting from the piece’s clarity. Including the phrase verbatim in the title is key, as this title will often have an H1 Tag (an html component in the copy of a webpage) and be included in the Title Tag (html code that displays at the top of a webpage)once brought onto other website domains.
If your client posts the release to their website, be sure to tell their IT team to include the keyword phrases in their Title Tags, Description Tags, and Keyword Tags. Also tell the programmer to use header tags in the copy when the phrase is used. Provide the piece in plain html; do not use it as a PDF or image. This will help search engines see what words you are relevant for.
Use Links: Including links in your materials can be a savvy SEO practice. When you use a keyword in the body of the press release, hyperlink it back to the client’s website. When the content is picked up on a new URL, this link will help boost the SEO of your client’s website.
You can even link the article to itself if it is hosted on the client’s website. Again it is important to be selective. Covering your materials with links can detract from the flow of the piece and make it look spammy. Linking in a boiler plate or author bio section is a good technique for maintaining your credibility and gaining an SEO edge.
Utilize Linking Resources: If you have a Facebook page, Twitter account or blog, include a keyword rich link to the article once it is hosted on the client’s website. For example: Zer0 to 5ive PR Firm Tackles SEO. Remember to use keywords in the anchor text.
All of these tactics can help your piece make its way onto search engine result pages. Use the checklist below and look out for future posts that explain these components in full-detail. Keep all of these tips and the checklist below in mind for your next release and let Google do some pitching for you!
- Research keywords for your target audience/subject matter
- Select 3-4 keywords or phrases to target in the release
- Add these keywords to your release title and sub-titles (Header tags if possible)
- Add keywords strategically within the body of your release
- Add 3-4 links that point to the client’s website, by hyper linking a targeted keyword (this can be done in the body of the release or in the boilerplates)
- Have links pointing to the content from any blog or social media outlet available
Post by Zer0 to 5ive’s SEO Strategist Ryan Purtill
The start of every year brims with opportunities for great marketing and results. Here are some key take-aways from 2009 as we move into 2010.
Key Marketing Take-Aways From 2009
1. Your message and brand fundamentals are as critical as ever
2. The addition of a multitude of new channels via social media only means that it is more important than ever to understand who your audience is and where they get their information
3. The press release is not dead – in fact it is more versatile and useful than ever before
4. SEO is critical, but it must be aligned with traditional marketing strategies
5. Customers and prospects still love – and react to – great creative in all its forms
6. Customers will tell you what you want to know if you ask the right questions
7. In an age of electronic communications, a phone call or hand-written note goes a long way. Along those lines, bulky direct mail gets opened
8. Despite the decline of print media, nothing makes a client more excited than seeing their name in print
9. A great customer reference is invaluable
10. Measurement in all its forms continues to be a challenge – but it can be done and with the growth of web analytic, instant metrics are becoming an industry standard.
And, as always, an integrated strategic communications plan that takes into account all facets of marketing and public relations always delivers the best results! Begin 2010 with a resolution to make your marketing count.
Post by Zer0 to 5ive CEO Michelle Pujadas
Thursday night, I was at the PRSA’s Silver Anvil awards and we won in the Integrated Communications: Business to Business category for our work with the School Systems group of Pearson. As I watched the highlights of the winning campaigns, one thing became apparent. Not only was it about the results — the awareness and brand building — it was about the research, strategy and subsequent “big idea” that held all of these campaigns together to get the results. Big ideas are important — they are the breakthroughs that help engage your audiences. For me, it’s the excitement of marrying strategy with creativity. Even with the onslaught of social media, the big idea hasn’t gone away, it’s just found additional outlets to engage.
Key elements of the integrated Powering Performance marketing and communications program centered on the Powering Performance theme and engaging and informing all of Pearson’s key audiences. The campaign also included a major customer migration program, a new web site, ongoing education-leadership initiatives, industry research, consumer surveys and top-tier media coverage.
This Silver Anvil represents work from all four Zer0 to 5ive offices and encompasses research, branding, creative, public relations, writing, marketing and social media. Nine 0to5ers touched at least one part of the overall campaign!
This was my second Silver Anvil, and it was as much of a high as the first time around. We also won the Silver Anvil Award of Excellence in 2004. If you would like a copy of our Anvil submission, send me an email or give me a call. In our world, all companies, large and small, deserve award-winning work and we’re happy to share our approach.
(posted by Michelle Pujadas)