In addition to being a year (to date, anyway) many people would rather likely forget, 2020 has ushered in several new phrases into our daily vocabulary:
“Flattening the curve”
“Healthy at home”
“We’re all in this together”
Despite their relevancy to important world events, however, each of these phrases – much like “savage,” “lit,” “quid pro quo,” “living my best life,” “OK boomer” and others before them – are destined for the linguistic negative zone. What is the linguistic negative zone? It’s the place where simply reading or hearing an overused phrase causes you to mentally – and sometimes, physically – shudder, roll your eyes or become immediately disinterested in whatever follows next.
Even the best public relations professional can fall victim to the problem of using – as is the case with our 2020 candidates – important but worn-out phrases. If you’re tired of them, imagine how the assignment editor, reporter or even the most dedicated of your Twitter followers feels reading it. But when you have to use important-but-overused words, it takes a lot of effort to make your copy fresh, right?
Wrong. Channel your inner Allen Iverson and practice these four simple tips.
MAKE YOUR HEADLINES, HEADLINE-WORTHY
Given the era of information overload we find ourselves in, information specialists need clear, concise and interesting copy. Get your message across quickly and, if possible, use an action or attention-grabbing word like “free,” “debut,” “final,” etc., to draw someone’s attention. If something is happening for the first or last time, celebrate it! Have an event that happens every year? Lead with what’s new. If you read your headline and aren’t that interested in the information below, why would anyone else be?
Some information you can’t avoid in a press release because, well, it’s just got to be in there. How you present it, however, is up to you. Bullet points can make for a quick read to make the information stand out as can a section header or graphic (“About the Event,” “Quick Facts,” etc.) identifying the basics without being basic. This will help keep your release Google-friendly and editor friendly at the same time.
USE THE “SELL ME THIS PEN” APPROACH
If you’re unfamiliar with the “sell me this pen” line of marketing, you may want to watch The Wolf of Wall Street (just make sure you’re not doing it at work). The lesson, which you can find summarized here, is that you need to know your audience as well as (if not better than) your product to craft the perfect pitch. This should help you in creating a message that will make your copy more exciting and efficient.
For example, which of these examples sells a new youth program better:
(A) City council will be debuting a new program this Friday designed to engage local youths. The program will pair applicants up with a mentor from one of several top local companies where they will undergo a training program to help them develop business and leadership skills.
(B) City council, in partnership with several local industry leaders including Company X, Y and Z, will debut a unique youth program this Friday designed to develop tomorrow’s leaders through mentorship and guided, hands-on experience. The at-risk youths, nominated by community leaders, will then be given the opportunity to pitch a business idea to their mentors in a Shark Tank-like model before nominating a friend to join the program upon graduation.
The answer? (B). Why? By adding a few concise details this copy illustrates why the client’s story deserves to be told.
BE NOVEL – WITHOUT WRITING ONE
There will, unfortunately, be times where you will have to use old phrases … How you do it, however, doesn’t have to be. Don’t just say your client is “passionate” or “dedicated” (shouldn’t they be?… it’s their business you’re talking about); give an example instead. “Our company is donating x amount of dollars to illustrate the value we place on education” is much more descriptive than “This donation is dedicated to the local educators so they may continue their work.”
With a little bit of vocab rehab you can make what’s old feel new again.
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