One of my former agency colleagues, a veteran newspaper reporter, used to have a sign on his desk that said, “Put the Story on the Top.”
In other words, when writing a “hard new” story, state the facts up front and get to the main point right away.
Great advice, and something we all need to keep in mind as we write our news releases. Sure, it can be tempting to write two or three paragraphs of introduction before getting to the main topic, but it’s not the way to write a professional news story.
For one thing, it’s easier for people to remember the gist of the story if you first summarize it and then add details. If they only read the first paragraph, would they know the basic essentials? If not, you need to take a look at revising your release.
Another reason is that many people in fact don’t read much more than the first paragraph or two, so you want to make sure those folks read the most important thing you have to tell them in the first paragraph, followed by the next most important information in the second paragraph, the third most important in the third paragraph, and so forth.
That approach is known in journalism as the inverted pyramid style, and it’s what good reporters and PR pros do when writing a news article. They give you the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of a story at the very top. No fluff, puffery or promotional flair – just the facts, please. Otherwise, you’ll immediately lose credibility with the reporters and editors you’re trying to reach.
Feature stories are different, because they tend to focus on matters that are interesting and entertaining, but not the most pressing issues of the day. Examples include trends, human interest and unusual, off-beat topics. They, too, will contain some basic facts, but those facts are woven into the story. Features are generally more creative and less formal. The lead in a feature is designed to lure readers in, with the writer crafting a compelling narrative that keeps their attention to the very end.
Hard news and feature stories both have a place in telling your agency’s story. Knowing the difference between the two, and how to use each appropriately, is one of the keys to successful ad agency PR.