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Photo: Newsstand, from New York Public Library. Photographer – Berenice Abbott, 1935. Via Flickr.

The secret to writing a great press release is simple: don’t.

Don’t set out to write a press release. Instead, create an article – one that will grab the attention of the readership you’re targeting.

If a journalist or editor picks up your press release, and immediately sees something which he knows will interest his readers, then you have a hit. If not, it will be discarded.

This means you’ll need to make the mental leap – to stop thinking about what you want to say and to focus instead on what will interest and engage the reader.

Once you’ve got a killer idea, you need to make life as easy as possible for the journalists and editors by giving them all the information they need, with none of fluff and blatant self-promotion they loathe.

You should also aim to write your press release in the style of the publication you’re targeting. If your copy is good enough that they can use it as it is, then they might just do so. That means you get your words going directly into their publication. And that’s a good thing.

What to include in a Press Release

Attention grabbing headline

Include a headline, one that sums up the story as a whole. Make it no more than five or six words if possible.

A first paragraph that sums it all up

Tell the whole story in the first paragraph. Of course, you can’t include everything. But give the major overview. If this was the only sentence you could include – what would it say?

Tell the story

Get as much narrative and story-telling elements into your press release as possible.

Back it up

Use facts and figures to back up your headline and first paragraph. Provide all the relevant facts.

Include quotes

Quote at least one person, preferably more. Make the quotes read like something someone would actually say. Make them conversational. Provide the name of the speaker, their job title, and any other relevant information. (You may even need to include their age – newspapers are obsessed with people’s ages – and even their marital status: is she a Miss, a Mrs or a Ms?)

Provide contact details

If the journalist wants extra information or additional quotes, they will need to able to get hold of someone, often in a hurry. They don’t want to hang around for days. They want to get if off their desk, one way or another. That means turning it into copy or putting it in the bin. So make sure they can get to speak to someone if and when they need to.

Notes to Editors

This is a place you can dump the more boring or background information, so that it won’t detract from the impact of the story.

Think of the reader, not yourself, and not the reporter

Most importantly of all, remember to include the information that will engage and interest the reader. Get to the heart of the story, the thing that will grab the attention of your target audience. That is the sure fire way to grab the attention of an editor or journalist.

five coins

5 step sales formula. (Image by Aotaro)

If you need to write compelling sales copy for any kind of marketing materials, the obvious thing to do is to turn to a professional copywriter.

But if you’re starting a new business, launching a new product or offering a new service, you may not have the budget available. You may need to write your own sales copy.

How hard is it? Not too hard, providing you can write a decent sentence or two – and follow a simple five step formula.

What follows is a basic template for producing sales copy for the internet. It’s not the final word in copywriting, but if you want to produce an effective sales page, this will get you started.

And where do you start? With your audience.

1. Hey, what’s your problem?

Your product or service has been designed to solve a particular problem, a pain or a predicament that your audience faces. They may not know they have this problem, in which case you’ll need to let them know that they do. Or they may need reminding how much pain the problem causes in their lives.

As the writer, you should jot down what these problems are. Your headline and opening paragraphs are going to address this problem.

2. Why hasn’t someone solved this already?

So, your audience has a problem. Hopefully, (for your sales and marketing efforts), there are lots of people who share this pain, this predicament. So why hasn’t someone done anything about it yet? Why have previous efforts to solve this fallen by the wayside?

What’s wrong with those previous efforts? Why does the problem persist? Why won’t it go away?

3. If only

The next step is to ask what life could be like for your audience if this problem could be solved. Could their teeth be whiter and their smile brighter? Could they become smarter, richer, happier? Generalisations are OK, but it’s better if you can be more specific.

As the copywriter, you should make notes about all the ways your audience could benefit from your product or service. Think broadly. Think visually. Picture how the person’s life or circumstances could change for the better. Are there ways you can paint that picture with your words, so they can see it too?

4. What’s new?

So… the audience has a problem and it won’t go away. But if it did go away, life could be so much better. What’s new? Your product or service. Now is the time to explain what is new and different about what you have to offer, how it can help them to finally overcome the problem and reap the benefits you set out in step three.

Make a note of what is truly different about your product, and why it changes the game as far as this particular problem is concerned.

5. Do this

You’ve sold them by now. You’ve set out the problem, shown why other attempts to solve it went wrong, painted a picture for what life could be like if only it would go away, and demonstrated that your product is the true solution.

Now tell them to buy it. Really. Don’t be shy about this. Tell people exactly what you want them to do. Do you want them to sign up, give your their email address, press the buy button, ring you? Whatever it is, make it clear.

How to write sales copy… and structure an interview … and assess a product or service

If you’re writing sales copy for someone else and need to interview them to get at the information you need, then this five point plan can be a good way to structure an interview.

You can also use this as a way of testing the marketing viability of a product or service. For example, if your product doesn’t really solve a problem for someone, or doesn’t have anything new or different about it, then that’s a major obstacle. Maybe you have the wrong idea. Or you might need to change your product, adapt it to make sure it meets real needs and solves a problem that no one else is tackling.

And if writing your sales copy still sounds like too much work, or you’re not confident about your ability to execute it in the timescales available, or with the polished professionalism of a seasoned copywriter…. then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I can help – and my charges are surprisingly reasonable 🙂

Snake Oil, by the gallon

Snake Oil, by the gallon. (photo via clotho98 on Flickr)

On today’s internet, hype breeds faster than rabbits on Viagra. It’s tempting to join in the clamour – shout your claims from the rooftops in a desperate attempt to be heard. There’s just one problem: only fools buy from a huckster.

If you’re selling snake oil or get-rich-quick scams, you’ll likely find there are enough fools to go round. But if you have a legitimate business that delivers genuine value, then you need to avoid  unbelievable claims and false promises.

As a copywriter, I see a lot of people making a fundamental error in the way they pitch their products and services. It comes down to a simple rule:

If it sounds too good to be true…. then it probably is.

If someone’s offering you a way to make easy money then you’re right to be suspicious. If someone claims their online course will make you rich, or have you earning thousands of dollars a day in no time, then being wary of such claims is only natural.

If it sounds too good to be true…. then it probably is

There’s a simple rule I often use when shopping around, on the internet or out in the world in general. It’s a bit of an admission from someone who makes his living by writing stuff for the marketing departments of corporations, but here it is:

The slicker the marketing, the worse the product.

The reasoning behind this is fairly simple: some people invest time and money on creating something great. Other people skip this bit, and concentrate all the time and money on the marketing.

The slicker the marketing, the worse the product

Now, clearly there is a middle ground where sensible and legitimate businesses invest in their products and services and then promote it with balanced and generally true marketing messages. However, those with a great product are better placed to also rely on word of mouth, while those with garbage to sell focus all the attention on their big, fat ‘BUY’ button.

Even putting the morality aside, trying to sell garbage with false promises is a strategy with a short shelf life. It only  works consistently well when you’re selling impulse buys to people with more money than sense. It’s unlikely to work when selling business-to-business. And in the age of social media, word quickly gets out.

So, if you’re writing sales material remember not to over promise. Don’t make claims that people won’t believe. If you make people suspicious, you’ll lose their trust, and the sale. Focus on the real benefits, the real value.

The trick to copywriting is finding that true value, and highlighting it in a way that catches the attention of those who will genuinely benefit from it.

I’m not saying that’s easy, or that it leads to instant riches. But at least it’s honest, and in the long run, it’s better marketing.

Informative and intelligent articles that are also compelling for a wide audience, easy to understand and fascinating to read

Articles for the Met Office magazine

Articles for the Met Office magazine

The UK’s Met Office publishes magazines designed to inform and entertain an extraordinarily wide range of people. Some are ordinary citizens interested in the weather – and who indirectly, through taxation, support the Met Office. Others are more direct stakeholders – such as:

  • People who work in the many businesses and organisations that depend on the Met Office’s services
  • Government and Ministry of Defence officials
  • Academics and scientists
  • Professional meteorologists and colleagues from around the world.
The articles need to be informative and intelligent, but interesting and accessible to a wide audience

The articles need to be informative and intelligent, but interesting and accessible to a wide audience

Articles in Met Office publications such as the magazine Barometer need to inform and entertain this wide audience. The content needs to be intelligent, accurate and relevant. It also should be compelling and comprehensible to a lay audience while meeting the needs of professional users. [continue reading…]

Website text for Eliot Partnership

Website text for executive search firm

Website text for executive search firm

The Eliot Partnership is the global insurance industry’s leading executive search firm. The London-based firm provides a full range of recruitment services for the insurance sector – helping its clients find, attract, reward and retain the most talented individuals in the industry.

When it came time to launch a new website, the company asked me to help write, edit and refine the wording. The site is a crucial element in the firm’s branding and marketing strategy, and it was essential that the copy reflect the company’s exceptionally high standards of knowledge, expertise and professionalism. [continue reading…]

Press advert for data centre 2bm

Press advert for data centre

Press advert for data centre

The essential thing with advertising is not to get too clever. Or obscure. Sometimes the best approach is to simply get the core benefits into the headline, then repeat them with some elaboration in the first sentence. Then build on that, focusing all the time on what’s in it for the reader. Because the moment they lose sight of how they benefit, they’ll stop reading and move on.

This is the approach I took when creating a press advert for 2bm. The company was planning to be at a major exhibition where it knew there would be many important business clients and prospects. The event was a chance to get to meet these customers in person. The aim of the advert was to position the company’s name and offering in the minds of prospects by convincing them of those core benefits. There was no room in the ad for getting clever or beating around the bush. But that didn’t matter – because stating the benefits clearly is really all an advert ever needs to do.

It’s not necessarily easy to achieve. But it’s nearly always the right approach.

Helping telecoms company connect with business clients

Business -to-business copywriter for major telecoms company

Business -to-business copywriting for major telecoms company

I’ve worked on many projects over the years for telecoms clients, many of them mobile phone operators who want to improve communications with customers. For Vodafone, for example, I’ve written marketing materials aimed at both consumers and business clients.

One example was a brochure designed to win new business customers for Vodafone by helping position the company as a mobile operator that truly understands the needs of professional users. [continue reading…]

Helping patients make the right choices

Audiology specialists Pindrop Hearing wanted to communicate the benefits of good hearing and the options available to clients who are suffering from hearing loss. The Harley Street specialists wanted to position themselves as a leading specialist hearing aid consultant, showing that they understood the issues and could provide independent, expert advice. [continue reading…]

Copywriting for design agency's own brochure

Copywriting for design and branding agency’s own brochure

The right words prove a vital ingredient for food service specialists

Atlantic Creative are specialists in graphic design and branding for the food service industries. They provide marketing expertise to some of the biggest and best known brands in the world.

Clearly, getting branding and messaging right is something that matters deeply to Atlantic and to its clients. [continue reading…]

Marketing and branding text for ebusiness consultancy

Marketing and branding text for consultancy

Creating a well-rounded sales pitch

Cube Consult asked me to help with their marketing by writing some compelling and clear text for a sales leaflet to be distributed to potential clients.

As is standard practice in marketing materials, I began by setting out the problem or challenge the prospect faces – in this case looking at how taking the first steps into ebusiness can be daunting and confusing. There are myriad consultancies offering help – but will they be the right people, there for the long-haul?

Having set the scene, the copy moved on to presenting what my client, Cube Consult, could offer.

But I wanted to bring it all to life. I wanted to make Cube appear friendly, approachable and human. So I indulged in a little word play, designed to reinforce the branding and make it more memorable:

Wording that enhances the branding.

Wording that enhances the branding.

Stop going round in circles
Cube is a new kind of eBusiness consultancy – one that can square these circles for you. Cube goes beyond the advice and planning stage to offer a complete implementation strategy and end-to-end project management.

We use only leading industry professionals with proven track records and the solutions we deliver are proven to work.

Refreshingly, perhaps uniquely, you’ll also find that Cube won’t encircle you with jargon. It’s eBusiness delivered by approachable professionals who’ll explain things clearly and always put you in the picture.

[blockquote-right]”I’m lost for words! This is genius.”[/blockquote-right]

When I sent him the copy, Chris Currie of Cube Consult contacted me to say: “I’m lost for words! This is genius. As soon as I started reading it I broke into a smile that is still on my face. Thank you so much – I’m quite simply delighted!”