Tag Archives: writing

Use Storytelling Skills to Transform Your Web Content

Courtesy of PR NEWS.

By Stephen Terlizzi

Traditional PR approaches relied mostly on a well-defined network of contacts to whom you pitched news or an idea and some facts, and the reporter created a story. However, like that famous book about the moving cheese, many PR professionals are asking lately, “Who moved my reporter?”

As the economics of the information age have taken their full toll on the publishing industry, the “well-defined network of contacts” is looking more like a ghost town than a thriving metropolis. What’s key to remember is that these folks didn’t just disappear into thin air. Instead, many of the old school journalists have shifted and are now independent consultants who are writing for their own blogs and the Web sites of others.

The tables also have turned on traditional publications during the past 10 years, and they are now syndicating more content from major online sites. In today’s new ecosystem, a well-placed story in TechCrunch or GigaOM can have significantly more impact than any single article in a major local paper.

This means that if your company isn’t a major industry player, you shouldn’t expect to get much share of mind in a fast-paced digital world where everyone is competing for eyeballs—unless you have an exceptional story to tell.

Becoming the person who knows how to mesh “what will be published” with “writing what will be published” puts you in the perfect position to develop ready-to-go stories that will stand out from the digital noise bombarding online reporters, editors and bloggers. Let’s examine what makes a compelling story and how it translates to digital public relations.

Meet Both Needs
Regardless of the type of story, there are always two people in every story: the author and the reader. The author, or client, has a point to make while the reader wants to learn, be informed, entertained, amused, etc. An effective story meets the desires of both parties, whether it is written for an online audience or traditional media.

In the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, the author talks about three types of people that are critical to the success of any word-of-mouth initiative: connectors, mavens and salesmen. As you can image, the connectors connect, the mavens inform and the salesmen convince. I think it is an excellent analogy for the purpose of writing a PR story for a client—a story to promote, a story to envision or a story to validate.

Note the use of the word “or” in the last paragraph. You must write stories that have a single, simple objective and have simple elements, as online writing must be more direct and shorter. So focus on doing one of the three points well as opposed to doing none of them well. In today’s time crunched society, deliver the point succinctly and close the story. We are not writing Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Stephen Terlizzi is the managing partner and head of the social media practice for Tanis Communications.

This article was adapted from PR News’ Digital PR Guidebook, Volume 4. This and other guidebooks can be ordered at the PR News Press online store.


Fuzzy Language Hides the Problem

ahole-button1Passive voice and sentence structure that diffuses responsibility just infuriate me. I’m sure we’ve all sat at an airport, waiting for a delayed flight, and heard a customer service representative announce that the airline apologizes for the delay but “the incoming equipment has arrived late.” As though the airplane itself decided to take off and arrive late. Today’s example: an advertisement for a Wall Street Journal conference on the financial crisis that claims “the world’s financial system has broken down. Credit remains constrained, markets and regulatory regimes have failed.”

The world’s financial system hasn’t “broken down,” someone — or some set of someones — broke it. Credit isn’t “constrained,” as though some mysterious force field is at work. Financial institutions and their leaders are not making loans, and banks that have received billions of dollars of governmental aid are buying distressed financial assets at fire sale prices instead of renegotiating loans and making new ones.

The last assertion really irritates me. Regulatory regimes haven’t failed. Instead, deregulation triumphed, pushed by many of the same business executives who now complain about economic conditions and advocated by the very same newspaper that now wants to hold a conference to profit from the troubles it helped produce. As a consequence, there weren’t enough regulatory staff overseeing the U.S. economy — which is why we now have not only a financial meltdown but issues of toy safety and food contamination in products ranging from spinach to hamburger meat to peanut butter. Between 1990 and 2006, the total dollars in the U.S. budget spent for overseeing finance and banking increased just 25 percent. And here’s an even more dramatic statistic: Between 1980 and 2006, a period covering more than a quarter-century of rapid expansion of the financial sector, the number of full-time equivalent Federal employees regulating finance and banking went up by less than 2,300.

What goes on in public discourse happens inside companies and nonprofit organizations as well. A phrase like “customer service has decreased” leaves those responsible for the decisions that resulted in poorer customer service mysteriously unidentified.

George Orwell, in his wonderful 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” noted that language can corrupt thought. We apprehend the world based on the language we use, which is why Confucius said that the first thing he’d do if he were appointed to rule a country would be to fix the language. That is to say, if we actually want accountability and responsibility in the public and private sector, we need to fix our language. We should name those who make decisions and implement policies and then not forget either the people or the decisions when those choices fail.

DaVita is a large kidney dialysis company that has among the best clinical outcomes in the industry. I wrote a case on the company and have spent a lot time studying its culture. One of its core values is accountability; DaVita believes it produces service excellence. Accountability means that when the CEO has failed to remedy a problem, he stands in front of hundreds of employees and admits it. In doing so, he also admits that the situation is unacceptable. When he doesn’t know something, he admits that, too, instead of making stuff up and hoping for the best. No language of “the machine was not repaired,” but instead acknowledgement of who and what failed and why.

Accountability is the first step toward learning and improvement. If “the regulatory regime failed,” we don’t know why or how. If, instead, we note that specific people pushed for specific policies that resulted in insufficient staff to do the jobs they had, we are on the way to understanding and fixing the problem, as well as preventing its recurrence.

In both companies and society, we would be well served to speak the truth. It may be unpopular or difficult, but as DaVita’s CEO Kent Thiry  told me, you can’t fix a problem if you don’t acknowledge and understand its cause — or even its existence.

Courtesy of BNET.

21 Persuasive Words

book-words-that-workInnovators know how to “communicate-to-innovate” by using persuasive language that engages people to support their ideas. Presidential speech-writer Frank Luntz wrote Words That Work, a book that contains his recommended list of persuasive words. Consider using his recommended words when preparing your next presentation or communication.

21 Persuasive Words for 21st Century Communicators

1. Imagine
2. Hassle-free
3. Lifestyle
4. Accountability
5. Results / Can-Do Spirit
6. Innovation
7. Renew, Revitalize, Rejuvenate, Restore,
Rekindle, Reinvent
8. Efficient, Efficiency
9. The Right to
10. Patient-Centered
11. Investment
12. Casual Elegance
13. Independent
14. Peace of Mind
15. Certified
16. All-American
17. Prosperity
18. Spirituality
19. Financial Security
20. Balanced Approach
21. Culture of

Notice that “imagine” is first, “innovation” is number sixth, and the six “R” words came raml as number seven on the list. If you are looking for more words that may be especially appealing to some people, check out Solutionman’s Politicator List and Worksheet that was inspired by the persuasive language of American presidential candidates.

Courtesy of The Innovator’s Digest.