Writing a magnificent lead … Hacked, whacked and whoa, what happened?

Let’s face it. Writers are temperamental. Well, not as much as graphic designers or shoppers at Neiman’s, but we do have our moments. I recall a time when I literally stormed my way from my cubicle straight to the CEO’s office. I simply needed to share with him how completely wrong he was in editing the news release I’d written. He’d ruined the lead and the quotes. At the last minute, I was intercepted. My boss headed me off at the pass. He saved my proverbial ass. In hindsight, I still get a queasy feeling. Later on, I found out the CEO had a bachelor’s in journalism. Oh…

Yes, I was twenty-something, cocky and damn sure I’d written some masterpiece intended for the Business Writing Hall of Fame. It was artistically written and carefully crafted to awaken dead readers to life. It was youthful idiocy. Yet, let’s admit, shall we? Even now, when I think about more than two decades of communications, I get a bit of a twitch — maybe an itch — when submitting a release for review by a CEO or CFO who don’t know a noun from a verb. At age 47, there are no more hallway marches, screams or fits of rage, or days of grumbling and pouting. It is what it is.

The News Release Lead Paragraph.

Paragraph #1: The Lead. It must concisely use words that share facts, glean interest and tease readers to continue on. It must apply crisp, active visuals and verbs that tell the complete story. In 40 words–not 400 words, friends–or less.  Frankly, I have no problem extending that to 50, if necessary. Accomplishing all of this is like Indy Jones finding a way out of a snake-filled tomb. In the dark. Improbable but not impossible.

Stay strong when it comes to the lead paragraph. Keep up the mantra to CEOs, CFOs, product marketing managers, secretaries who edit for their c-level bosses, engineers, scientists and others who don’t quite “get” why it has to be 40 words (They also ask why their titles can’t be title case, but that’s for another time). A good strategy: Tell them 40, they’ll write 75; compromise around 50. As long as it says something and avoids words such as “excited,” “proud,” “paradigm shifts” or “world’s leader.” Seriously.

OK, enough Writer-Centered Whining. Here are some PRactical Ways to keep your lead paragraph crisp, tight, short and focused on the news.


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