The Trick to Writing Effective Leads

September 4, 2018

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[lance erickcon]

Let’s play a game. I’m going to show you two leads and you tell me which one is more effective.

One of them reads, “UnumProvident Corporation’s (NYSE: UNM) today announced the expansion of its online Comparative Reporting & Analysis (CR&A) information services, designed to help employers track employee absences.”

The other says, “Employers now have a better way to measure, monitor and manage employee absences thanks to UnumProvident Corporation’s (NYSE: UNM) expanded online Comparative Reporting & Analysis (CR&A) information services.”

You’d pick the second one, right? Me too. In the first, more conventional release lead, I’m not going to make it to the second acronym. But I’ll pay attention to the company and product name in the second — a PRSA Silver Anvil Award winner — because the writer focuses on reader benefits first and the “us and our stuff” second.

The takeaway from our exercise is that releases should always lead with the benefits and substantiate with the features. Focus on your reader’s needs first, then follow up with your organization and its products, services and ideas.

“Editors don’t care that ‘Amalgamated Technologies Has Released the New XYZ-2000 Coated Cable Bushing,’” writes Stinson Liles, principal and co-founder at Red Deluxe. “They are much more likely to be interested in ‘Phone Companies Use New Coated Cable Bushing for Difficult Underground Connections.’”

Lead with the benefits.

As I mentioned before, it’s important for releases to always lead with the benefits and then substantiate with the features.

Here’s another lead: “Do you dread shopping for new appliances? Are you tired of being bumped in narrow aisles, searching for customer assistance and even purchasing appliances that don’t fit your needs? If so, the new Northridge-area Maytag store was designed just for you.

This is effective because it introduces a personalized reason why readers would care (the benefits) and then follows it up with the news itself (the features).

Make the switch.

Sometimes, a small switch is all you need to put the benefits first.

Here’s an ineffective lead: “XYZ’s Workbench Sensor Designer tool enables engineers to quickly move from concept to simulation to prototype in a few keystrokes.”

Instead, it should read: “Engineers who typically take weeks to design sensor systems can now complete their designs in minutes, thanks to a new, online design tool.”

Next time you write a message, put the reader benefits first. As Stephany Romanow-Garcia, senior process editor of Hydrocarbon Processing, says “There’s nothing wrong with a story about a new product, but readers want to know, ‘How am I going to use it?’”

Copyright © 2018 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( 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


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