March 30, 2017

Make sure every picture tells a story

How to write compelling captions

Too often, editors crank out captions (aka cutlines) in the 15 minutes before happy hour on a Friday night.

How to write compelling captions

Reach ’em where their eyes are Captions can be workhorses of communications — but only if you use them and use them well. Image by Jay Wennington

Their loss.

“No task involved in producing a newspaper has a greater disparity between its importance to the reader and its attention from most newsrooms than writing cutlines,” writes Steve Buttry, American Press Institute’s director of tailored programs.… Read the full article

Keep captions short

How to sell crisp cutlines to clients who want to include too much

“Help us with captions,” wrote Sue Grabowski, president of Grabowski & Co., in our recent member survey. “Our clients luuuuvvvvv to include long names, titles, etc. How can we make the caption shorter but keep the clients happy?”

Keep captions short

Small packages Use your captions to communicate a key message. Image by Tamara Bellis

Sue, I’d start by reminding clients that the real opportunity with a caption is to communicate a key message, not to identify who’s in the picture.… Read the full article

Colorful numbers

Startling statistics make compelling leads

Research shows … that nearly half of commuters text and drive … that one in three patients enters the hospital malnourished … and that 66% of women won’t kiss men with moustaches.

Startling statistics make compelling leads

By the numbers Surprise readers with startling statistics. Image by Stephen Coles

Statistics like these grab attention and make your point.

But you don’t have to tell PRSA’s Silver Anvil Award winners. They use statistics to sell their ideas:

From the sad …

AT&T uses startling stats in its release “Nearly Half of Commuters Admit to Texting While Driving”:

Nearly half of commuters self-reported texting while driving in a recent poll, and 43% of those who did called it a “habit.”

Commuters are texting and driving even more than teens — 49%, compared to 43%.

Read the full article

Start with a story

Anecdote makes a great lead

Anecdotes make your messages easier to believe, understand and remember. So use an anecdotal lead whenever possible to illustrate your key idea.

Anecdote makes a great lead

Once upon a time Take a tip from these Silver Anvil winners and tell me a story in your news release lead. Image by Clarisse Meyer

These leads from Silver Anvil Award-winning campaigns demonstrate the power of storytelling:

"Have you heard about the guy who mowed ‘Will You Marry Me?’ into his lawn?… Read the full article

Squeeze juicy details

Compress fascinating facts into a creative passage

One of my favorite literary devices is compression of details.

Compress fascinating facts into a creative passage

Fresh squeezed A day without wordplay is like a day without sunshine. Image by Paul Downey

Like squeezing together a lump of coal to make a diamond, compression of details condenses fascinating facts into a passage that’s more than the sum of its parts.

One writer used that approach for this lead for a press release for H&R Block by Fleishman-Hillard/Kansas City:

“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.
Read the full article

Turn Strunk & White upside down

Three new ways to approach classic writing wisdom

After 50 years on writers’ bookshelves, The Elements of Style — aka “Strunk and White” — still offers perhaps the best collection of techniques for compressing copy:

  • Use the active voice.
  • Put statements in positive form.
  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  • Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
  • Keep related words together.
  • In summaries, keep to one tense.
Turn Strunk & White upside down

See Strunk & White from a new perspective Instead of omitting needless words, try highlighting needed words.

Read the full article

Write with your eraser

Newspaper + marker = poetry for Austin Kleon

“Instead of starting with a blank page, poet Austin Kleon grabs a newspaper and a permanent marker and eliminates the words he doesn’t need.”
— NPR’s “Morning Edition”

Talk about writing with an eraser.

Austin Kleon is a writer, cartoonist and designer living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Newspaper Blackout, a book of poetry he created by blacking words out of pages of The New York Times with a Sharpie.… Read the full article

You’re one in a million

Messages a year, that is

Information, these days, is hard to escape. Even formerly message-free spaces now bombard us with data.

You’re one in a million

Feed one’s mind With so many communications every day, are you getting your message across? Image by Leo Hidalgo

Our audience members see messages printed on water cooler cups, embossed into their pizza’s cheese — even tattooed onto human skin.

Recently, a 20-year-old in Omaha, Neb., auctioned off his forehead on eBay.… Read the full article

Add words, paralyze readers

More information = poorer decisions

“More information doesn’t always improve decision-making; in fact, it can undermine it.”
— Judith H. Hibbard and Ellen Peters, researchers

One of the most complex decisions we ask consumers to make is to choose among health insurance plans.

Add words, paralyze readers

Read between the lines When people have too much information, they opt out of the decision-making process. Image by Pai Shih

It’s not uncommon for consumers to have to compare more than 15 plans on each of 10 to 12 factors.… Read the full article

Info overload creates “ostrich complex”

Ignorance may really be bliss

What happens when readers are overloaded with information?

Info overload creates “ostrich complex”

Head in the sand Don’t let your readers get overwhelmed by information Image by Sven-Kåre Evenseth

Ralph L. Lowenstein and John C. Merrill, authors of Macromedia: Mission, Message and Morality, write:

“(T)he more communications we receive, the less each is taken seriously. In a sense, we are experiencing a period of communication inflation in which messages become ‘cheaper’ (of less value) as they become more numerous.
Read the full article

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