Lead on: Write better release openers

December 6, 2012

Are you still cramming who, what, when, where, why and how into the first paragraph of your news release? Are you still married to the dated “XYZ Company today announced …” approach?

These conventional methods to release leads are formulaic, old-fashioned and — let’s face it — dull.  They slow the story down, appear unsophisticated and are too stereotypical to stand out from the competition. Instead, consider these three more effective approaches.

1. Benefits leads

Launching a new product or service? Focus on how it solves your customer’s problems instead of on the product or service itself:

X (users) who have struggled with Y (problem) will now be able to Z (benefit), thanks to A (product or service).

Here’s how it looks in action:

Commuters who now spend an hour each day driving from Sunrise Beach to Osage Beach will soon be able to make the trip in 15 minutes, thanks to a new bridge that ABC Company will build this summer.

2. News leads

Do you have news to report? Appeal to reader interest by leading with the two most interesting elements to readers:

  • What — as in “What happened?”
  • Why — as in “Why should I care?”

Here’s how it works:

XYZ Corp. volunteers will plant 77 trees at Encore Park on Sunday.  That means the park, located in an area hit hard by drought, will have trees that help reduce runoff, absorb rainfall and retain water.

3. Feature leads

Feature leads attract readers by illustrating your key message instead of just stating it. Feature lead approaches include:

  • Description: This lead helped win support for the nation’s first statewide menu labeling law, in a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy:

    In a Capitol room thick with the smell of fast food and breakfast entrees, proponents of Senate Bill 120 (Padilla-D Los Angeles), the proposed nutrition menu labeling law, dramatically illustrated why this legislation needs to be signed by the Governor.
  • Startling statistics:  Visa uses this tactic in a Silver Anvil Award-winning campaign:

    “Today, more than 40 percent of fourth-grade children read below the basic level for their grade.  That’s one reason Visa is asking you to join the company    in its effort to help   children learn to  read …”
  • Compression of details: As demonstrated in this lead for an H&R Block survey story by Fleishman Hillard’s John Armato:

    Most 8- to 11-year-olds would rather go to school year-round than pay a nickel of ‘allowance tax.’ But pit that nickel against Nickelodeon, and they’d gladly fork it over to protect their tube time.  They also imagine Batman would pay more income tax than either Superman or Spiderman.

Whichever method you use, write a lead that appeals to readers’ self interest or that makes your story interesting.

Copyright © 2012 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.


Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie (WylieComm.com) works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at ann@WylieComm.com.


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