Stuart Pearcey
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Words and Spaces Ltd
Mon,21st July, 2014

The old adage says that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. When it comes to writing a release for the media, the reverse is true.

Anyone charged with writing a release that will capture attention, and therefore column centimetres or airtime, needs to sort wheat from chaff and get to the meat of the story in the first line. A release that starts: "Back in April...." or "When Jim Spriggs started his hardware business from a terraced house in 1983..." is likely to go straight into the bin, because you're forcing the journalist reading the story to pan for the nugget of news, and these days they just don't have the time.

Trouble is, you probably know too much about the story to make it succinct. So how do you find the nugget of news amongst all the facts competing for attention? It could hardly be simpler. I used to suggest the 'pub test', though now it might be more appropriate to call it the 'Costa test'.* It works like this. Imagine you walk into a coffee shop with all the facts about your media release fighting each other for your attention. Suddenly you see a close friend, and you go over to them to tell them the story. What's the first thing you say? Bingo. 99 times in 100, the sentence you come out with will be the one you need to start the release. Your subconscious has sorted out the most important fact for you.

Instead of the 30-year resume, you're straight into writing about the future, with a phrase like: "Jim Spriggs is looking for 120 people to take on his hardware chain franchise throughout the UK." Stuff more facts in if you can: "Former olympic gold medal hammer thrower Jim Spriggs is investing £250,000 to make his hardware chain a nationwide franchise business, and needs 120 potential entrepreneurs to make it happen."

All at once you've started writing, and can go on to tell the rest of the story. But crucially, once you've hooked the reader with the first paragraph, they're far more likely to hang on everything else to have to say – though resist the temptation to over-write; 300 words or so is ample. Any more is unlikely to get read anyway. There's no doubt the Jim Spriggs example is far-fetched, but it serves to illustrate the point. What you need to be writing about is why tomorrow will be different from today.

*Other coffee shops are available, naturally...

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