It comes up less frequently nowadays, since I emphasize the point so much when meeting an individual from an organization that becomes a client. But it still pops up as the person reads the first news release that I have created for them. The following give-and-take ensues:
"This reads like a story in the newspaper," says the client. "I mean, it's well written and it includes the key points that we talked about getting out there, but still....well, I was thinking it would be more like a news release."
Through a chuckle, I remind them that the point isn't to create a news release--it's to gain media coverage. And the best way to do that, by and large, is to offer up a story that covers the bases that any good journalist would cover while writing it in a style that resembles a finished-product newspaper story.
Of course, most publicists don't have the ability to write like a professional journalist because they weren't one for very long, if at all. Or they weren't a very good one, and beat a quick retreat from the crush of relentless deadlines and sharp-tongued editors to the calmer waters of PR-Land.
Previously, I have dubbed the typical news release as "yawning cats and dogs." It encapsulates the lifeless, bland collections of words that do a disservice to the word "news" and give the term "news release" a really bad name.
A few years ago, a longtime friend asked for counsel on creating a news release for an art exhibit that would feature his work. He also sent a release that he had employed, to no effect, a few years earlier.
Reviewing it in a few minutes was enough for me to see that it was like so many other so-called news releases--written without any creativity, imagination or sense of story-telling. For this artist, sadly, there had been no attempt at artistry with words that would do his work justice.
An indispensable part of compelling story-telling is the art of asking interesting and engaging questions. It comes by practice, and by being willing to seem like you're a little "off" in terms of the breadth, and seeming randomness, to the queries that you raise. That willingness to veer off the beaten path paves the way for fascinating stories that have never been told before, and will never be told again.
To communicate facts about who you are--where you are from, what you do for a living, what you aspire to achieve in the years to come--is a start. But it's only a start. You will enjoy greater success in any pursuit that calls for guiding and influencing others when you administer a steady dose of "Vitamin Why" in your interactions.
It's one of the most emphasized aspects of teachings conveyed by the likes of former NFL player Tracey Eaton and Bob Kummer, both leaders with World Wide DreamBuilders (WWG), an organization dedicated to helping people grow their Amway businesses.
"Why do you do what you do?" is a refrain that they, among other effective leaders, urge people to address. By tapping into those motivational plug-ins, you can glean loads of insight and discover fascinating back stories that explain what makes someone tick today, as well as into the future.
For those looking to develop as a publicist, or in some way seeking to draw media attention as well as notice from your target audience, this response to my friend (prepping for his art exhibit) should be helpful:
What you sent is a very common style of release. What, who, when, where. What it lacks is “why.” And that’s the heart of great story-telling.
Why do you paint? Why did you paint the pieces that are on exhibit in July? Why should people care? Why is it different from others in your genre?
Here are some questions I’d ask you, to elicit a story that the media would gravitate to more often:
What your earliest memories of painting? As a 1st grader? When was it, and what parallels between then and now? What’s different?
What other hats have you worn in life—professionally and personally, and how do those roles play a part in your art?
Who are your biggest influences—in life, in your art?
What are the adjectives that you would ascribe to your work? What have others said? Where are you headed with your art? What do you want to spark in those who view your art?
Tell me about a recent piece that you finished and that will be part of your show in July--what was the journey you took with it? What inspired you to do it? How did it change as you created it? How did YOU change as a result of having created it?
The key is to have a story that weaves in the facts of your show, but it does not make the show “the thing.”
You, and your journey and your impact on those around you via your art—that is the real thing. The show is simply a vehicle to tell the broader story.