Romance meets finance in this feature

Northern Trust goes beyond the pyramid

How do you organize a compelling feature?

Romance meets finance in this feature

Couples learn how to handle special financial challenges in this marketing magazine feature. Image by India Tupy

Model this piece, which Loring Leifer wrote for Northern Funds’ marketing magazine, Northern Update. In it, the Wylie Communications head writer and senior writing coach includes all of the elements you need to craft a compelling feature story.


Start with a feature head. A creative feature deserves a creative headline. Wordplay works beautifully for this one.

Bridge the gap


Summarize the story in your deck. Clever headlines grab attention, but they don’t fully explain the story. So write a summary deck in 14 words or less.

May-December marriage? Here’s how to span the age divide and retire together


Show instead of tell in a feature lead. Feature leads are concrete, creative and provocative. In this example, compression of details gets the piece off to a good start.

Long before Tim Robbins hooked up with Susan Sarandon, 12 years his senior, William Shakespeare, at 18, married 26-year-old Anne Hathaway.

New World settler John Rolfe wed Indian princess Pocahontas, 10 years his junior, in 1614. John Kennedy was 12 years older than Jacqueline Bouvier. John McCain is 17 years older than spouse Cindy.

Age disparity in marriage has been the subject of speculation throughout history. Mixed-aged couples endure raise eyebrows, ribbing and the occasional awkward situation. Imagine having a mother-in-law younger than you or a stepson who beats you to Social Security.


Broaden the story in the background section. Here, you explain why we’re covering this story now, give broader context for the piece and fill in the details readers need to understand the rest of the story.

These couples also face special financial challenges when they want to retire at the same time, according to Tiffany Irving, a Wealth Strategist for Northern Trust.

(Loring also included a sidebar, which explained in detail the special financial problems challenges confronting May-September couples.)

Nut graph

Put the story into a nutshell in the nut paragraph. Here, you tell people what you’re going to tell them.

If your spouse is much younger or older than you, here are some steps you can take today to span the financial divide in retirement.

Body: Section one

Avoid the muddle in the middle: Organize the body of your feature-style story into clear, complete parts. Then use subheads to label the parts for your readers.

Calculate the load

Age differences of 10 years or more change the math for couples who want to retire together.

See how Loring writes like a roller coaster. That is, she weaves metaphors, examples and concrete details throughout the piece to keep readers’ interest.

Imagine retirement as building a bridge to span your post-work life. Because a mixed-age retirement may have to last four or five decades instead of two or three, you’ll have to build the Golden Gate Bridge (almost 9,000 feet) while the Brooklyn Bridge (about 6,000 feet) might suffice for a same-age couple. The assumptions will differ; the calculations are more complex; and the tolerances are tighter.

“A longer period of retirement means your income has to last much longer,” Irving says. “And there are more opportunities to miscalculate.”

Plus, May-December marriages often come with complications, like ex-spouses or children from prior unions. The couple may face a wider range of lifestyle challenges, like toilet-training toddlers while caring for elderly parents.

So, if you want your retirement to lap those of same-age couples, you’ll need a head start. And, you may need to be more diligent in your financial planning efforts than a same-age couple, advises Irving.

Body: Section two

Although this is a linear feature, Loring uses subheads, bullets, bold-faced lead-ins and other display copy. These make scanning easier and lift ideas off of the page.

Span the divide with assets

You’ll want to allocate your portfolio to make sure it addresses the need to provide income now and growth to generate income in the future. Irving suggests that you:

  • Save expansively. Retirement may cost you more, so you’ll need more assets. Max out your IRAs, 401(k)s or pension plans to increase your retirement assets. The same million dollars that might be enough for two 65 year olds might not suffice for a 65-year-old married to someone who’s 40. They’ll have to make the money last twice as long.
  • Calculate cautiously. To cover more decades, use more conservative assumptions about the growth of your assets. While a same-age couple might assume 7% growth, a mixed-age couple might want to choose a more conservative 5% or 6%. The more aggressive your assumptions are, the less likely they’ll come to fruition.
  • Balance your risk profile. Where a same-age couple at retirement age might want to invest half their portfolios in equities, a mixed-age couple might move that up to 55% to support the longer life of the younger spouse — with perhaps a higher percentage in cash to offset the increased risk.
  • Revisit your assumptions regularly. This is important to all couples, but, as your marriage may span more generations, you’ll be more at risk for life changes, like weddings, births and funerals. So, you will want to make sure that your investments stay relevant to your circumstances.

Body: Section three

Notice how Loring has developed her bridge analogy in the display copy. One key to using an extended metaphor is to do so lightly. If Loring used a bridge reference in every paragraph, we’d soon grow weary of the analogy.

Paying the tolls

Before you both quit your jobs, figure out how much money you’ll need to support your retirement habit. Will you maintain your current level of expenses or add to them with a second home or sailboat?

“You’ll need to plan your cash-flow needs more carefully than those who married their high-school sweethearts,” Irving says. She cautions couples to:

  • Avoid early overspending. New retirees are the ones most likely to blow their budgets. You’ll need to stretch your resources over a longer period of time. That means mistakes can have more dramatic consequences.
  • Take care of health care. A younger spouse who retires will not be eligible for Medicare, so you’ll likely have to pay out of pocket for health insurance or health care for many years. And have a plan for how you will manage if one of you needs long-term care.
  • Let your budget decide when it’s time to retire. Maybe you can’t retire at the same time or you’ll both have to postpone retirement for another five years

“By being realistic upfront about what is possible for the future, you can ward off putting your younger spouse in a detrimental situation… and alone,” she says.


Finally, draw to a close in the conclusion. The conclusion has two parts:

1. The wrap up, where you tell readers what you’ve told them. Again, note the concrete details here and throughout the piece.

The other side

May-December retirements may have their financial challenges, but they have perks as well. Having a younger spouse means you’re more likely to have someone with more pep to take care of you as you age, who will keep you up on the latest computer tricks and add some Mos Def to your Mozart.

By marrying a younger woman and fathering children, you may even be helping future generations live longer. A study published in PLoS ONE found that when older men father children with younger women, their offspring tend to live longer.

2. The kicker, where you leave a lasting impression with concrete, creative, provocative information. Here, Loring returns to and spins her bridge analogy for a satisfying final note.

So you may be part of a bridge to a longer life for the next generation.

How can you craft a feature-style story like Loring’s?

Get the word out with clear, compelling copy

Each day, your readers are bombarded with 5,000 attempts to get their attention. That’s nearly 2 million messages a year. Is your copy getting through to your tired, busy, distracted audience?

These days — when people are more inclined to discard information than to read it — you need copy that captures attention, cuts through the clutter and leaves a lasting impression.

Wylie Communications can help. With Wylie Communications on your team, you can:

  • Deliver copy that sells. When Ann’s not writing or editing, she’s training other writers. Or helping companies get the word out to their audiences. She applies the best practices she develops for her training and consulting business to her writing and editing projects. So your project will cut through the clutter, lift your ideas off the page or screen and deliver copy that sells products, services and ideas.
  • Bring award-winning talent to your project. Ann’s work has earned nearly 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills. Let us help you produce world-class business communications, as well.
  • Get writers who get business. Ann has interviewed George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. But she really enjoys chatting with economists, engineers and surgeons. At Wylie Communications, we’ve written about communication technology for Sprint, about personal finance for Northern Trust and — despite the fact that Ann’s preferred form of exercise is the hike from recliner to refrigerator — about fitness medicine for the Mayo Clinic. We’ll get up to speed on your industry, quickly and thoroughly.
  • Stop working weekends. Our team provides a virtual staff to write and edit newsletters and magazines for Saint Luke’s, Northern Trust, State Street/Kansas City and Sprint. Let us pick up the slack in your department, too.

Now let’s see yours! Please post or link to your original inverted pyramid and revised feature in the comments section.

  • Go Beyond the Pyramid

    Master a story structure that’s been proven in the lab to reach more readers

    Writers say, “We use the inverted pyramid because readers stop reading after the first paragraph.” But in new research, readers say, “We stop reading after the first paragraph because you use the inverted pyramid.”

    Go Beyond the Pyramid in Dallas

    Indeed, our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent studies. Studies by the Poynter Institute, Reuters Institute and the American Society of News Editors show that the traditional news structure reduces readership, understanding, sharing, engagement and more.

    Grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression.

    The pyramid doesn’t work well, these researchers say, with a little subset of your audience we call “humans.”

    At Catch Your Readers — our two-day hands-on persuasive-writing master class on Oct. 2-3 in Dallas — you’ll master a structure that’s been proven in the lab to grab readers’ attention, pull them through the piece and leave a lasting impression. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

    • Grab reader attention with a lead that’s concrete, creative and provocative — and avoid making readers’ eyes glaze over by using one of the seven deadly leads.
    • Stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget this entirely.)
    • Avoid the “muddle in the middle” by choosing one of five structural techniques from a rubric created by the founder of TED Talks.
    • Draw to a satisfying conclusion in the penultimate paragraph.
    • End with a bang, not a whimper by using our three-step test.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

Free writing tips
  • Get tips, tricks & trends for Catching Your Readers
  • Learn to write better, easier & faster
  • Discover proven-in-the-lab writing techniques