December 18, 2017

Here’s a tip

PR pros get attention with tipsheets

When PR pros at the U.S. Green Building Council needed to round up resources in their Green Apple Day of Service, they didn’t write stories telling volunteers to get donations.

How to write a tipsheet

A green apple a day Take a tip from the folks behind the Green Apple Day of Service and stop telling folks what to do. Instead, focus your story on how to do it. Image by Holly Mindrup

Instead, they produced a tipsheet called “Five tips for a successful Green Apple Day of Service.” That approach was so effective that it helped the council earn a Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil Award.

Explain “how to,” and watch reporters pick up your release — and readers dig into your piece.

How to write a tipsheet

Here are eight steps for making the most of your next tipsheet:

1. Draw readers in with how-to stories.

Tipsheets are popular because they deliver “news you can use to live your life better.” So explain how to do whatever it is your organization helps people do.

These tipsheet topics from other Silver Anvil Award winners might inspire you:

  • Cigna offered an interview opportunity on “how people can get more use out of their health coverage.”
  • Novartis Animal Health, makers of Deramaxx canine pain-control medicine, gives tips for how to know whether your dog is in pain.
  • Korbel Champagne Cellars outlined “Top Ten Signs He’s About to Pop the Question,” “Top Ten Tips to Secure a ‘Yes!’ During Proposal Season” and tips for avoiding the “Top Ten Proposal ‘Don’ts.”
  • Select Comfort, creator of the Sleep Number bed, offered tips for “making the most of your sleep schedule,” “Back-to-School Sleep Lessons for Parents” and “Secrets of Sleeping for Two: Sleep Tips for Pregnant Women.”
  • UPS developed a release on “10 tips for worry-free packing, shipping.”
  • VOX vodka created a tipsheet on how to “Infuse your party with style: Tips and trends for a spectacular summer soiree.”
  • Xerox published “10 signs that suggest you need to enter Xerox’s office makeover contest.”
  • MSA Safety Works released a tipsheet called “10 Easy Ways to Improve Safety During Home-Improvement Projects.”

2. Reach flippers and skimmers with a deck.

Add that one-sentence summary after the headline to deliver more details. Instead of:

Five tips for a successful Green Apple Day of Service

Make it:

Five tips for a successful Green Apple Day of Service
Draw volunteers, donations for your Martin Luther King Day event

3. Set up the story in the introduction.

Here’s the lead for the U.S. Green Building Council tipsheet:

With this year’s Green Apple Day of Service just two months away, it’s time to start thinking about how your project will come together. I’m asked all the time for ideas on where to get supplies and resources for events, so I pulled together five of my favorite tips for getting what you need to make your Day of Service a success.

It could be better. The best tipsheet intros:

Last year saw the biggest turnout ever for Green Apple Day of Service: In honor of Martin Luther King Day, 306,000 people volunteered to help the learning environments of more than 2 million students at more than 3,800 events in 43 countries.
This despite the fact that volunteering in America is at an all-time low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Last year, according to a Newsweek report, the volunteer rate was 25.4%, or 62.6 million people, down from 29% of the population in 2003.
  • Summarize your story in the nut graph. Now that you’ve grabbed reader attention by showing, it’s time to tell folks where you’re taking them. Here’s where you transition into the tips.
To make this year’s event even more successful, here are five tips for getting the people and supplies you need:

4. Organize tips logically.

Choose the right structure for the body of the story:

The U.S. Green Building Council used hierarchical structure, which makes sense for this piece.

  • Think locally: One of the greatest things about the Day of Service is that it provides an entire community with the opportunity to show their commitment to improving their local schools. Get local businesses in on the act by asking for donations of whatever they can offer — supplies and materials like dirt, paint, tools and more. Something maybe even easier for them to provide: gift cards or store credit for your group to use toward your Day of Service needs.
  • Potluck! With a large volunteer pool, you can often gather all the supplies (food or otherwise) you need by sending around a checklist and asking everyone to chip in. People have all kinds of things kicking around in their basements and garages, like shovels, hammers, rakes, ladders and extra tools. Use your event’s registration page on mygreenapple.org to ask volunteers and others to contribute the supplies you’ll need. Volunteers can RSVP for your event right on the site and let you know what they’ll contribute.
  • There is such a thing as a free lunch! Local delis, grocery stores or restaurants might provide free lunch (or coffee, waters, juice, etc.) for the Day of Service. Offer them the opportunity to post their own signage on site so they’ll get some good publicity for their good deed.
  • Get online: In addition to mygreenapple.org, community sites like Craigslist.com, Idealist.org and volunteermatch.org can help you publicize your event, recruit volunteers and search for free or cheap supplies and equipment.
  • Get creative: After the 2012 Day of Service, we heard from several creative project captains who went outside traditional giving circles for support of their projects. Companies such as Ernst & Young, Starbucks, Home Depot, Target and many others provided local projects with volunteer support and materials.

5. Add bold-faced lead-ins to each item on the list.

Lift ideas off the screen: Show scanners the items on the list with bold-faced lead-ins.

Then make sure those bold-faced lead-ins are parallel and action-oriented. You should be able to begin each bullet with the same phrase, “To make your event successful …”

Try it:

  • To make your event successful, think locally. Check!
  • To make your event successful, potluck! Hmmm … that doesn’t work. Instead, use the imperative voice: Host a potluck.
  • To make your event successful, there is such a thing as a free lunch! Nope; doesn’t work. You need the imperative again: Offer a free lunch.
  • To make your event successful, get online. Check!
  • To make your event successful, get creative. Check!

6. Number your list.

If you promise five items in the headline, demonstrate that you’ve met that promise in the list itself. So:

  1. Think locally.
  2. Host a potluck.
  3. Offer a free lunch.
  4. Get online.
  5. Get creative.

7. Break up paragraphs.

Aim for an average of 42 words or less. Go too much longer, and people will skip your paragraphs.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s paragraphs weigh in at an average of 67 words each — 60% longer than recommended. But was easy to wrestle them down into these crisper chunks, averaging 38 words:

  1. Think locally. The Day of Service gives communities the chance to help improve neighborhood schools. Get local businesses in on the act by asking them to donate supplies like dirt, paint and tools — or even gift cards or store credit.
  2. Host a potluck. Your volunteers may well have shovels, hammers, rakes, ladders and extra tools kicking around in their basements and garages. Use your event’s registration page to ask them to RSVP to bring the supplies you’ll need.
  3. Offer a free lunch. Ask local delis, grocery stores or restaurants to provide breakfast, lunch, coffee, water and juice for the Day of Service. Invite them to post their own signage on site so they’ll get publicity for their good deed.
  4. Get online. Publicize your event, recruit volunteers and search for free or cheap supplies on community sites like Craigslist.com, Idealist.org and volunteermatch.org, as well as mygreenapple.org.
  5. Get creative. Companies such as Ernst & Young, Starbucks, Home Depot, Target and many others delivered volunteer support and materials to our 2012 Day of Service projects. Don’t be afraid to outside traditional giving circles to get support for your project.

8. End with a bang.

Draw to a conclusion with a:

  • Wrapup that includes a call-to-action. Restate your key message in the penultimate paragraph.
  • Kicker that leaves a lasting impression.

Instead of:

These are only a few ideas to get you started, but the common theme is “don’t be afraid to ask.” Share your own ideas with us on Twitter using #greenapple, and register your project today at mygreenapple.org/dayofservice. Good luck!

Make it:

If you haven’t already, register your project today. Then try these techniques — and share your own ideas for rounding up resources on Twitter using #greenapple.

And remember: The common theme for a successful Green Apple Day of Service is, “Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Need more inspiration?

Check out some of Ann’s tipsheets.

Learn why tipsheets are valuable communication tools.

Get more tips on tipsheets.

  • Create Content Marketing Pieces That Almost Write Themselves

    Here’s the bad news: The story structure you’re using now probably isn’t helping you reach readers online. But there’s another structure that does draw readers into your message, pull them further through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Not only does it delight readers, but it makes the job of organizing webpages, blog posts and content marketing pieces a breeze.

    Get Clicked, Read, Shared & Liked - Ann Wylie’s Social media-writing workshop on Feb. 6-7, 2018 in Los AngelesAt Get Clicked, Read, Liked and Shared — a two-day social media-writing Master Class on Feb. 6-7, 2018 in Los Angeles — you’ll learn a six-step structure that reaches readers online and in print. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Fill in the blanks to craft the best survey story you’ve ever written.
    • Use a simple template for crafting a tipsheet that almost writes itself.
    • Model the masters to a great listicle: It’s easy with our annotated example.
    • Three elements of a great lead — and five leads to avoid.
    • Five ways to avoid the “muddle in the middle”.
    • A three-step test for ending with a bang.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Get Clicked, Read, Shared & Liked - Ann Wylie’s Social media-writing workshop on Feb. 6-7, 2018 in Los Angeles


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

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