Get to the point faster
“‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ The creation of the universe has a 10-word lead!” writes John McIntyre, copy desk chief of the Baltimore Sun.
“So why do you need 40 words to say that your chief accountant has just completed the necessary certification? The answer, of course, is you don’t.”
Yet PR pros keep cranking out leads like this 99-word one from an Amazon release:
How long should PR leads be?
Keep your release and pitch lead to 25 words — a couple of sentences — or so.
Longer, and it starts looking too thick to encourage readership.
Shorter, and news portals might not recognize it as a lead paragraph — or your release as a release. Google News, for instance, rejects releases that are nothing but bullet points and one-sentence paragraphs. Advisory releases often get rejected for this reason.
To avoid this, start with a “real” paragraph that includes at least two sentences.
Limit the background in the lead.
One way to take the lead out of the lead: Limit the background to no more than 6 words.
Background information is any parenthetical information — information that appears between commas, parentheses or dashes, like this phrase — including:
- People’s titles or ages after their names (“Chris Smith, 29, proofreading guru, says …”)
- Boilerplate descriptions of your company or products (“RevUpReadership.com, a toolbox for writers, is now available …”)
- Stock exchange symbols (“Sprint Corporation (FON) today announced that …”)
That doesn’t mean that these things aren’t important or that you won’t include them in your piece. Just be selective with what and how much you put in the lead. Then move the rest down.
You want your lead to clip along quickly. But background information slows the top of the story down.
If the verb is the story in news releases (and it is), the story (weak though it may be) in this Guardian release got buried under 28 words, 20 of them background information:
Now, that story is a far cry from the creation of the universe. But that lead is nearly 6 times as long.
Start with a bang.
And make the most of those first few words. Otherwise, you’ll lose journalists.
“If the copy doesn’t excite me within 20 words, I won’t read the rest of it,” says one editor quoted by Jack Appleman, president of SG Communications.
Here, by the way, are the first 20 words of that Amazon release: