Public Relations Tactics

5 Tips for Tip Sheets: How to Make the Most of Your How-To Stories

July 1, 2014

By Ann Wylie

When the folks at Topolobampo, Chicago’s cathedral to Mexican cuisine, wanted to sell more Syrah, they didn’t put signs on the tables saying “Buy wine!”

Instead, they provided nifty little tabletop tip sheets on how to pair wine with Mexican food.

Take a tip from Topolobampo: Instead of pushing your products, offer your customers information they can use to live their lives better. Tip sheets position your organization as an expert in the field and may drive more sales than purely promotional pieces.

Why tip sheets?

Journalists and bloggers love tip sheets because they can be used as ready-made, how-to stories, sidebars and USA Today-style tips boxes.

Social media channels run on “Top 10 ways to …” listicles. In fact, how-to stories are among the most likely types to go viral, according to 2010 research by viral marketing scientist Dan Zarrella.

Customers and clients will read the tip sheet you write today for years to come, which makes it an ultimate evergreen with an almost limitless shelf life.

Here are five ways to make the most of your next tip sheet:

1. Use the language of service stories.

How-to language — like “top,”  “10,”  “you,”  “most,”  “best” and, of course, “how to” — has been a mainstay of service journalism for years. This language tops the list of most-shared words and phrases on Facebook and Twitter, according to Zarrella’s research.

2. Put a number in the headline.

Numbers sell stories. Just look at the cover lines on best-selling magazines, from “Six Steps to Six-Pack Abs” to “101 Best Cheap Eats.” People are more likely to share and open blog post headlines and subject lines with numerals, too.

But be careful: It’s not enough just to slap a 10 onto the headline.

Odd numbers tend to outperform even numbers; specific numbers (99) are better than round ones (100); and 101 of anything is too many, unless you’re offering chocolate chip cookies or cute kitten videos.

3. Write in the imperative voice.

Speak directly to “you” using the second person, and start each item with a verb, like “put” or  “write.” That will also help you make your list of tips parallel, which your third-grade English teacher and I will appreciate.

4. Excavate your tips.

Too many PR pros bury tips at the bottom of a press release. Instead, make the tip sheet the release.

5. Provide real value.

Tip sheets offering “Five reasons to work with Ann Wylie” will never gain traction. “10 Tips for choosing an XYZ vendor” won’t change anyone’s life either.

Instead of offering self-serving tips, remember this content marketing formula: “Give, give, give, give, give, give, give, give, ask.”

Deliver news you can use

“News you can use to live your life better” is the currency of most successful content marketing and PR writers.

Investor’s Business Daily’s motto is, “Don’t read it. Use it.” Shouldn’t that be your motto too?

Copyright © 2014 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services at Get more tips at Email: ann at


Tammy Stankey says:

Good, concise and precise tips to help communicate in a succinct manner. I intend to try some of these ideas on internal communications.

Aug. 24, 2016

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