Dog bites man
Published on October 17th, 2012 by Renee Sylvestre-Williams
Journalists are well aware of the Man Bites Dog phenomenon in public relations and journalistic writing. No one reports that all things are flowing smoothly and going as planned; all news is news because it is unusual and interesting. Just be careful — this technique tends to put journalists on their guard. It’s fine to report the news in an arresting manner, but be aware that the more inflammatory the copy, the more care your company will need to take in order to keep the reader at ease with the information. Using too much bait-and-switch verbiage will easily become confusing and repulse interest in your news.
Here are a few tips to eliminate confusing text and help keep the focus of a press release on the news announcement:
1. Avoid dog bites man: While this is a cute and mind-boggling reportage of information, keep in mind that very often most readers just want to get the information straight right from the top (who, what, where, when and why) without too much confusion. By keeping the focus of the text on the information at hand, you can ensure that readers will truly know what is being announced. Use the salacious details of how the dog bit the man running through the park dressed as a shark to reel them in and not a headline switcheroo as your hook.
2. Skip the conspicuous wordplay: There are a million ways to write an attention grabbing headline, and just as many ways to disappoint your reader. Think of your headline as an agreement that you’ve made with the reader, and the text that follows needs to deliver on that promise. With too many head scratchers to ponder (Harvard Beats Yale 29-29) you risk ending the conversation too soon. It might seem striking to use extensive puns and word play but if so, the text may end up saying something that you didn’t intend or it may be cheapened by association with hack journalism.
3. Too many adjectives can equal too little substance: Descriptive text is necessary to even the simplest sentence; the dog doesn’t just run, he runs fast. However, if all sentences are phrased with more than one or two adjectives, you might be exceeding the patience of even the most willing editor. For example: “XYZComputer, Inc., the foremost leader in remotely managed SaaS, announces their newest fantastic, great, stupendous version of ABC software available today.” Sure, the XYZComputer software offering will solve a problem for clients, but too many modifiers will obfuscate the purpose of your announcement. Use the easiest writing rule around — “show the reader, don’t tell the reader” — and journalists and clients will thank you for it.
After all this though, you want to keep it interesting! We all know why the chicken crossed the road, but it’s the why and the how that keeps us asking the same question. You want your press release to distinguish itself just enough so that journalists click on your headline to find out who the man was that bit that dog.