The only way to influence people is to talk in terms of what the other person wants. – Dale Carnegie
I have a press release to write soon.
How would you go about writing one of these?
Let’s say you have a consulting business and you get an opportunity to submit a short piece to a local newspaper.
What should you do?
As always, there is much advice on the Internet and some of it is actually useful.
But to start with I’d suggest just putting down the first 300 words that come to mind.
That’s because a blank screen or piece of paper can be the most intimidating thing around.
Before you can get it perfect you have to get started.
Once you’ve done that what are the most likely mistakes you’ve made?
If you’re like me, your first draft is all me. me. me.
It’s about you and your product and how fabulous you are and how your journey is so interesting and different. And here’s a really special thing that happened to make you who you are now.
The first thing to remove, then, is the hyperbole.
Phrases like “this fantastic product” or “this amazing experience” fail the smell test. They smell like a sales pitch and make people turn away as quickly as possible.
Then the advice usually starts to address how you can benefit your reader and talk about the things they care about.
But I’m not sure that’s the place to go next.
And when I thought about this, the whole camel and the eye of a needle metaphor came to mind.
I think what you want to do is think hard about your needle.
A lot of people read the local paper: butchers, bakers and candlestick makers; homeowners, homewreckers and hopeful romantics.
But only a few people are right for you and what you’re offering to do for them.
That’s the real purpose of each line in your copy – to filter the people who don’t care about your stuff phrase by phrase.
Unsurprisingly, Amazon have a process for doing this sort of stuff.
A good press release, they write, is clear and to the point and gives you the product’s features and benefits. It’s what the world sees about the product.
So, lets say you have a consulting firm, you might write that you do lots of clever techy stuff.
But who is the kind of person that is likely to buy from you?
Is it a harassed small business owner, a manager in a large firm or another consultant that wants to be more efficient in how they deliver their services?
The headline you use will decide whether the right person reads your copy because they are planning to buy or whether someone skims it because it happens to be in front of them.
I think I’d probably go with the advice of someone like the late Gary Halbert and write down 20 or so headlines.
The headline, after all, is a one sentence pitch that should hold the essence of your message.
With this process so far, you’ve got a first draft, preferably one you’d be ashamed to show anybody, and a bunch of headlines.
Then it’s time for more attempts at writing copy.
Writing in chunks helps.
The perfect message is never going to be written in one sitting – tapping directly into divine inspiration.
Instead, it’s a process of writing and rewriting.
I read somewhere about writing being like construction, like assembly, and that makes a lot of sense.
We need to be able to add and rearrange and delete and move things around because that’s how we get our thoughts in order.
We may have a number of ideas and scramble to get them all down.
But then we need to look at each idea, compare it with the next one and ask which comes first.
Should you introduce your company first or write about what you do or muse about the problems you know your prospects face?
There is no right answer, but the process of writing and moving and thinking will get you closer to something you are happy to send off.
I think when it comes down to it getting people to pay attention to your message is less about the message itself and more about how hard you try and make it easy for your reader to get.
And that takes work. Hard work.
As William Zinsser, who wrote the classic book On Writing Well says A clear sentence is no accident.
And it should be hard work for you – because the harder you work the less you reader has to – and that’s going to help them like you.
Maybe they’ll then even like you enough to consider buying from you.