Into the deep end in PR

Phillips 66 communicator makes a splash with feature release

Talk about diving into the work.

It was a good story: More than 1,000 New Englanders would soon have safe, decent, affordable places to live, thanks to the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston’s Affordable Housing Program.
Phillips 66 communicator makes a splash with feature release

This ain’t the kiddie pool! Take a tip from Phillip 66’s Shannon Vogt, and dive in to the feature-style story structure. Image by Thomas Hawk

During a recent NOT Your Father’s News Release Master Class, Phillips 66 communicator Shannon Vogt wrote and rewrote, asked for group feedback every chance she got, and left with a totally rewritten piece.

I’d love to show you each of Shannon’s drafts to demonstrate how she:

  • Tweaked the media advisory to focus on the readers’ needs instead of on Phillips 66’s program
  • Used the feature-style story structure to make the piece more creative and engaging
  • Snipped sentences, paragraphs and words to increase readability by 83%
  • Added display copy to lift her ideas off the page to reach nonreaders in a hurry

But that might take all day. So instead, I’ll share her before-the-workshop version and her ultimate revision, along with some notes about how you can take your message from “meh” to masterpiece, too.
Get a refresher on the feature-style structure.

Headline and deck

The original headline is just 14 words long:

Media advisory: USA Swimming Olympic Gold Medalists coming to Freeport to promote water safety

But note how much crisper the headline elements are when you break them into a headline and deck:

Olympian Teaches Local Children to Swim
USA Swimming gold medalists will visit Freeport to share the importance of water safety

The focus on local children also makes the message in the revised head and deck more relevant to readers.

Lead

It’s tempting to put all the elements in the first paragraph:

Phillips 66 and the USA Swimming Foundation will host a swim clinic and community town hall on Thursday, June 4, to share the importance of swimming safety and learning to swim with Freeport residents. Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones will conduct a swim clinic for selected children from the Freeport community on Thursday Afternoon. Thursday evening’s town hall will include a panel and presentation from Phillips 66 and USA Swimming representatives, followed by a Q&A with the audience. Olympic gold medalists Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines will be on hand for photos and autographs. Media are invited to attend both events.

But you run the risk of drowning your readers in words. Plus, just-the-facts-ma’am leads are dry and dull.
Shannon had the irresistible anecdote in the second version at hand — a sign of superior background research:

Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones almost had a much different fate with swimming. At age seven and unable to swim, Jones was with his family at a water park when he nearly drowned. The experience ignited a passion for swimming and water safety in Jones, one that he works to pass on to children across the country.

What a compelling way to set up a story about water safety.

Nut graph.

Once you grab attention in the lead, you want to tell readers what you’re going to tell them in the nut graph.

There’s no nut graph in Shannon’s original, because inverted pyramids don’t have nut graphs. But in the revision, Shannon elegantly summarizes the story into a 34-word paragraph:

Freeport residents can attend a town hall where Jones and fellow Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines will share the value of swim safety. Jones will also host a private swim clinic for area children.

And note the focus on Freeport residents here. Shannon knows how to Think Like a Reader.

Background section.

The information is mostly the same here…

Phillips 66 and the USA Swimming Foundation want to educate parents, communities and civic leaders about the importance of learning to swim. Information will be provided on swimming and water safety resources available to area residents.

Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines will take photos and sign autographs after the town hall. We invite you to join us for the town hall and meet these Olympic heroes.

Swim Clinic with Cullen Jones

When: Thursday, June 4, 4 p.m.
Where: Freeport Recreational Center – City Pool
803 N. Front St. Freeport, TX 77541

Community Town Hall

When: Thursday, June 4, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Freeport Recreational Center – RiverPlace
803 N. Front St. Freeport, TX 77541

But the extra display copy and formatting make the revision easier to skim:

Olympic gold medalist teaches kids to swimPhillips 66 and USA Swimming want to teach people about the value of learning to swim. Area residents can learn about swimming and water safety resources in their area.

Cullen Jones and Rowdy Gaines will take photos and sign autographs after the town hall. We invite you to join us for the town hall and meet these Olympic heroes.

Swim Clinic with Cullen Jones

When: Thursday, June 4, 4 p.m.
Where: Freeport Recreational Center – City Pool
803 N. Front St., Freeport, TX 77541

Community Town Hall

When: Thursday, June 4, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Freeport Recreational Center – RiverPlace
803 N. Front St., Freeport, TX 77541

Great job, Shannon, and thank you for sharing.

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