Just Because It’s Steak, Doesn’t Mean It Sizzles

I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl. I don’t like to waste calories on fancy schmancy fillers like the bread basket, soup and relish tray when a petite filet and a baked potato (butter and sour cream, yes please) will fill me up. A good piece of steak creates its own sizzle. But sadly, the same does not apply to writing. The written word can be boring and needs something to capture, and keep, the reader’s attention.

There are two ways to describe sizzle. The first is through content. The second is with images.

The old expression, “All sizzle and no steak,” is often used in sales–tell what a product will do for you (the sizzle/benefit) not what it is (the steak/product). In other words, sell the benefits, not the features. For example, when choosing an airline to take me to my vacation destination, I have several airline choices. They have all the same features—three-across seating, complimentary beverage and peanuts or pretzels. What benefit sets them apart? My favorite offers all of the above, plus happy, friendly staff. That is the sizzle that helps take the hassle out of flying.

When describing your product or service, make a list of all the features, then put a benefit to it. It’s the benefits, the sizzle, which will make the sale. The same applies for writing. If you’re writing copy for a brochure, keep in mind your audience and describe the benefits. Let the reader imagine how much easier their life would be if they used your product or service.

When writing proposals to sell your services, include lots of sizzle. Let the purchaser know that you’ll take care of them by describing how what you provide helps them operate a bit easier. Keep your writing simple. Don’t clutter it with big words or lots of them. Simple is better, less is more.

Another way of looking at sizzle is what makes it flashy or fancy? You’ve written copy for a client brochure, but it lacks the sizzle. Work with a graphic designer to create an eye-catching look. Heavy copy doesn’t get read. Instead, use an infographic, chart or pictures to tell your story. People remember visuals.

Think of USA Today. There’s more sizzle and less steak in the popular newspaper. Today’s audiences are used to flash and sizzle. They’ve grown up with the latest gadgets and gizmos and tend to figure out how something works just by playing with it. Gone are the days of reading the owner’s manual first. Instead, cut to the chase and figure it out.

You’ve got all the steak in place. Just remember to bring on some sizzle to get your audience’s attention.

Taking Editing Advice

There’s nothing quite like investing yourself in writing. Whether it’s a report, a marketing piece, a legal brief, a news release, a business letter, or even something personal, you’ve given it your best shot and you’ve become fond of those words, in that order. When an editor’s pen swoops in (even if you invited it), it hurts.

Those of us who routinely edit and get edited have developed a few traits of heart and mind that lessen the pain. Maybe there’s something here that will help you, too.

  • Consider your editor. It’s hard to respect edits from someone whose writing skills you question. If that person happens to be your boss or a client whose expertise lies elsewhere – well, swallow hard, then negotiate and navigate as best you can. If your editor has bona fide writing credentials, or is a subject matter expert on your topic, you’ve just been given a chance to learn and grow. Take advantage of it.
  • Look for opportunity. Often, suggested edits result in additional changes. Rather than clinging to what was there originally, play with options. Maybe that list of ideas could be bulleted. Perhaps making two sentences from one clarifies your point. Could be a different opening adds zip to the story or creates a better set-up. Try it. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Editing fosters better writing.
  • Develop a thick skin. Talk about what’s essential! This is key. Writers of all kinds do well to learn how to accept criticism and not take edits personally. Being offended or upset adds an unhelpful layer of emotion to the process. It’s about the final product, not you.

Yes, editors pick and poke, revise and rewrite, cut and clip. They sometimes frustrate, sometimes challenge, sometimes annoy. Yet, every piece of good writing you’ve ever appreciated has been scrutinized by an editor – probably more than once. You’ll be happier and more satisfied with the outcome if you engage in the process. It’s all in your attitude. 

- Beth Fredrickson, Senior PR Counselor

How to Jump Over that Writer’s Block Hurdle

Every writer, at some point or another, has stared blankly at the computer screen or a blank piece of paper in a typewriter like it’s an autostereogram. (Yes, a typewriter. I wrote many papers in my early school days on one. This generation will never know the struggle of waiting for white-out to dry.) You stare and stare. Hoping, praying that your brain kick starts and you can start churning out copy. But just staring at the computer screen is not going to make that happen. What can you do to get past that pesky writer’s block?

Consider these tips the next time you find yourself at a blank.

  • Go for a walk — A study conducted by Stanford researchers, found that walking indoors or outdoors boosts creative inspiration.[i] So get up and move. Get the blood flowing, breathe in some fresh air. Just a short five-minute walk can give you a blast of energy and reinvigorate those creative juices.
  • Freewrite — This is an effective exercise to just get past not having anything written at all. Just type anything that comes to mind. You can do this with or without a topic in mind, but the goal is to start writing. You may be surprised by how much, and what, you write about even on days you think you have nothing to write about.
  • Brainstorm ideas in bullet points — Maybe you are having a difficult time writing out the entire news release or article all at once. You have an idea of what you want to write about, but you’re unsure of how to make it flow. You need to put those ideas in a bulleted list. They don’t even need to be in the order you plan to write about them, just get them down. Once you have the list you can re-order them to best suit the flow of the article, and start to expand on each bulleted point.
  • Listen to music — Some writers need absolute silence, but others, and I fall into this category, love to have music playing in our ears while writing. It helps me focus and gives me inspiration during the writing process. But even if you fall into the “I need silence” category, still just take a break and listen to some of your favorite tunes. It might be the inspiration you need.
  • Change your environment — Listen, we all have been there. Sitting in a cubicle or office all day can be mentally draining. And now you need to hit the switch in your brain and activate your creativity mode for a client’s news release. Well, these grey walls are just not cutting it, so change it up a little. If it’s nice outside, take a laptop and go outside to write. Go into an empty conference room, sure it’s boring too, but it’s different, and that is what you need right now. Just change it up and see what happens.

The next time you find yourself staring at that blank computer screen try these tips and you can hurdle that writer’s block with ease.

[i] http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/xlm-a0036577.pdf

Impact of a Shrinking Media Pool

We’ve all seen how the emergence of digital news has put a strain on print. We witness it when we see newspaper consolidations or restructuring, and we often contribute to it simply by checking our favorite news apps and websites each day. But when it comes to PR and communications for your business, the shrinking media pool has a more direct effect.

Reduced budgets and ad buys have left many papers and magazines running on minimal staff. From a pitching perspective, there are fewer reporters to go to and those who remain are busier with more deadlines and covering more topics than ever before.

What that means

  • Reporters often are playing catch up with a backlist of existing story ideas, sometimes working weeks or months behind, and unable to focus on your new and latest pitch.
  • Even if you maintain the best reporter relationships in the world, you may not be able to generate a story. At least, not on your preferred timing. The backlog and demand is just too great.

How to give your story the best shot

  • Tie it to breaking news. Newspapers are on alert for and will make room for breaking news. If your story relates to immediate, daily news for your industry, it’ll give you a leg up.
  • Consider bylines, editorials or op-eds if your typical reporter contacts are busy. These types of article formats allow you to produce the content vs. the publication’s staff. It’s one way to help control the timing of your placement.
  • Work well in advance. You might need to plan your yearly features in Q1, with a plan to see them published by Q4.
  • Buy an ad. Earned media (public relations) carries more credibility than paid advertising, but if you have a message you need to get out immediately, ads are a good way to do it. Not only do you avoid reporter bottlenecks, you contribute to the publication’s bottom line – helping those reporters you do know and love to remain on staff and, perhaps, even to get a few extra hands.