Good blog posts are effectively press releases.
One of the reasons I got into blogging in the first place was that I thought it would help me become a better copywriter. In the new year I’ll be a copywriter no longer, but, looking back, I think it really did help. Every post is a little exercise in a self-contained, focused, relevant and concise piece of writing. In fact, I’ve come to realise that it’s very like writing a good press release. Here’s why.
Firstly, the experience of seeing what you’ve written appear on an aggregator can be particularly revealing. In a list view, yours is just one of many headlines competing for eyeballs. You can’t promote yours to the top of the list, nor can you make it stand out with bigger fonts or colours (you could use capitals but that just makes you look mad, in every sense of the word).
So, you have to make it snappy, eye-catching and relevant. You have fewer than 100 characters – substantially fewer than a Twitter – to catch your readers, and you need to do this with a headline that is interesting and gives them a taste of the content coming up. This is, imho, identical to what you’re trying to do with a press release, when you need to catch the eye of a time-poor journalist or editor with space to fill.
Assuming you capture the interest and the reader actually clicks your post, you then have to maintain the interest. You have to adopt the ‘pyramid’ method of writing, that is, putting across the absolute nutshell of what you’re talking about in the first paragraph, then flesh it out through subsequent paras. This is the opposite of a lot of people’s conceptions about writing. They think the idea is to build up an argument towards a flourish of a conclusion at the end. Wrong. Without that context at the beginning, you lose the reader’s attention. Again, blog post=press release.
You also have to make sure that what you’re writing about is relevant to the audience. Whenever possible, I try to relate what I write about to PR. So, Google Trends is not only cool, it’s cool because it helps PR people get a taste of what people are looking for versus the amount of news generated. Google Reader is not just cool, it’s cool because it can help get a handle on what people are saying about your client’s product / service / brand.
Likewise, you can’t just write a press release saying your client’s latest offering is ‘way cool’. You have to say why. And to know why, you have to know your audience. OK, so you might not find a server particularly amazing but there could be a network admin somewhere who might just be prepared to have his socks blown off before ordering a bazillion of them for his company’s killer web app. Be that network admin when you’re writing the release. Show how it will help change the web as we know it.
Throughout, try and be concise and impactful. Avoid long sentences and paragraphs. You can use long words – it doesn’t all have to be ‘See Fluffy. See Fluffy chase the ball.’ – but don’t show off your vocabulary. Don’t use three long words when one short one will do. Sesquipedalianism is not an attractive trait.
And finally, the call to action. Hmmm. A press release should have one, in that you need to tell people – usually journalists or editors – where to find more information. Does your blog post need one? Well I guess you’re doing this implicitly when you add hyperlinks and tags. In so doing, you automatically build in references for further reading. And in a way that’s what the web is for!
True to form, I’m now going to say why this is relevant to PR. Of course, any advice on writing decent press releases will help. But I would also say that blogging is excellent practice for any PR person all-round. Not only do you familiarise yourself with new media, you tend to find new interesting content along the way too. Any post I make tends to involve looking up extra material, so in a half hour or so I come across several new facts I previously didn’t know. And one day, I know, these facts will be very useful to me within my PR environment. In fact, I know they have.
So, there you have it. I haven’t so much abandoned my grey hame of copywriting as obscured it with my social media coat of many colours. It’s entirely possible that I’ll still be called on to put together the odd (very) release from time to time, but simply by having blogged most days for the past year, I know the releases I write now are far better than the ones I put out then.
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