October is training month!

Good communications helps your bottom line. With every client, we create an easy and effective communications plan, plot out our core key messages, discuss strategy and tactics. Then we simply follow it throughout the year. It’s October, and we said we would start communicating an upcoming event, so we look at the plan, review our messaging, write and send a few story pitches and news releases, and presto, the client gets the publicity they want.

Build your communications plan, then follow it when you have a story to tell or news to share with your audience. You have news to share, a story to tell, and so many ways to share it.

Join us for one these communications workshops this month to make your company’s communications clear, effective and engaging.

  • October 10: Communications Planning, 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm at Selkirk College
  • October 19: Communications for Small Business Success, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm, at College of the Rockies in Creston. Register now! 
  • October 22: Build Your Brand, Pitch Your Story, 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm at Selkirk College
  • October 31: Communications for Small Business Success, 9:00 am – 12:00 pm, at Community Futures in Nelson

Why You Need to Stick to Your Story

Who knows a line from Gone With the Wind? Or Casablanca? Or any other classic film?

Gone With the Wind started as a book, published in 1936. Then it was a movie in 1939. On film. Actual film.

Casablanca started as a stage play that was turned into a screenplay. The movie came out, on film, in 1942.

Eventually, these movies appeared on television. Then they became available on VHS tape, and probably Beta tape, as well. That was followed by the next big thing in home entertainment, the laser disc, if anyone remembers those 12 inch, high priced video discs.

DVD followed, then Blu-Ray, and now we can download the digital copy of these classic films. Or watch them on YouTube.

What has stayed consistent through all these different types of media? The story. We can remaster the images, add or delete colour, clean up scratches and enhance the audio files to make them look and sound better for today’s technology. Yet none of that affects the story or the storytelling.

Every business and organization has a story to tell. Sharing that story is about narrative, characters, emotion, and connecting with your audience. We need to focus on the basics of telling a story before we worry about what medium we will use to share it.

When Casablanca was made, they weren’t thinking about the special features for the DVD release. Twenty years ago we weren’t thinking about how to tell our stories online. Ten years ago we weren’t thinking about Instagram or Facebook to share our stories. And we don’t know what medium we will be using 10 years from now to help tell our stories.

Yet our stories won’t have changed. How you struggled in your first year of business; what gave you the inspiration to create your product; when you made the decision to expand. These are parts of your story that you can tell to connect and engage with your audience. That information doesn’t change.

Who you are and what you’re sharing doesn’t change other than finding the right format to fit the medium, and that’s just the mechanics of using a particular vehicle to share your story. Social media, just like any other media, are tools, tactics. Newspapers had their heyday. Television had its heyday. Facebook? Maybe it’s past its prime. Only time will tell.

Your story will grow, and new chapters will become part of the history of your enterprise. But if you don’t know what that story is, or don’t know how to tell it, how can you expect your audience to understand what you do? How do you expect to keep them engaged if they can’t understand your story?

Your story is more important than the medium you use to share it.

You are an expert at what you do. You have a story worth sharing. Focus on telling your story, and worry about the ever-changing media you will use to share it later. Tell your story effectively, and it too could become a classic.


A checklist for every time you send a news release

Have you ever sent a news release only to realize you forgot an important piece of information? Or forgot to attach the backgrounder you said was attached?

Once it is out there via email or on social media, it can be tough to get the correct information the same exposure as your first message.

It’s a bit embarrassing.

We’re only human, and I strongly believe communications has to have a human voice to be heard. Still, it helps to say it clearly and correctly the first time.

Use a checklist before you post your news to make sure everything is in order. The media will appreciate and come to rely on your accuracy and professionalism.

Some key things to include in your News Release Checklist:

  • Do you have a catchy headline? Use this in your subject line as well: it’s the first thing reporters and editors see and the best chance to get their attention.
  • Include the date and your location—you want media to know your story is relevant to them.
  • Do not include the words ‘For Immediate Release’; once you send it, it is released. If you’re embargoing it, make that clear in your email.
  • Include contact information (phone and email) of someone who will be available to talk to the media and is knowledgeable about the topic.
  • Include hyperlinks to your website and email in the text of the release.
  • Send the release from the email that you want media to respond to so they can just click reply to ask questions.
  • Provide a pronouncer for difficult-to-say names or words.
  • Do you have good quality, relevant photos or video that you can include?
  • Can you offer a photo opportunity with the release?
  • Double check your spelling, contact info and all links!

Whether you send news releases once or twice a week or once or twice a year, it is always a good idea to have a checklist so that each release is the best it can be.

I’d like to hear what you would add to this checklist.

How a story carries your message

The importance of a story in your news release struck home recently. I was working with a client, a nonprofit, who was looking for a quick turnaround on some key messages, social media posts and a news release to promote their latest fundraiser. I knew the client well, and we both knew what worked for them. The client was a humane society, and their social media usually lit up when they shared the stories of the animals that came to the shelter.

Nothing like a heart-wrenching story of a cat rescued from the bitter cold winter, needing immediate vet care, and still losing its ears, nose and tail to frostbite to make your audience want to read on. And open their wallets. This campaign was to generate sales of a new lottery fundraiser.

We shaped the news release and key messages around the high number of cats and dogs that the shelter rescues each year, the high cost of veterinary care to ensure all of the animals are healthy, and the ongoing care costs of this no-kill shelter.

The key messages revolved around the shelter’s belief that every animal has value, and they care for them until they are adopted, no matter how long that takes. The costs add up. So we pushed the new lottery fundraiser and where to buy tickets. We emphasized the size of the cash prize.

Yet something was missing. The hook of all those pets looking for homes was compelling, but it lacked that one story that would engage supporters on an individual level. Who hasn’t visited an animal shelter and wanted to take every pet home? But we can’t. We have to focus on one that we can connect with and open our heart to it. The story in your communications works the same way. Find the one that connects with people.

So we asked the shelter for a story about one of their recent cases, and they shared the story of Frosty, the young cat who came in from the cold. It made all the difference. It gave the key messages, news release, and most of all the social media posts, a story worth sharing.

Unfortunately, the shelter has too many similar stories to share. Often we have to search a little harder for the story that connects us to our news releases or campaign. The example of the humane society simply illustrates the importance of the story that connects our message to our audience.

Frosty’s story has a happy ending: she was adopted by someone committed to continuing the high cost of her veterinary care, someone who connected with her story.

Read about all the good work of the Moose Jaw Humane Society at their website and on Facebook.

Grab Their Attention! Tips for Effective News Releases

I once had to send a news release that a new play was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. The play was called The Invisible Girl. The title of the advisory seemed obvious: “The Invisible Girl will not be seen.” Every media outlet in the city ran the story, talked it up on the radio, and probably gave the cancelled play more coverage than the originally scheduled performance!

A news release can be an effective way to get your story out. Whether you’ve written many or none, these tips can help you get your best message in front of your audience.

  • Your first question needs to be, is it news?
    • (Clue: changing your menu isn’t news; hiring an exciting new chef is.)
  • Is it clear what the story is? Will it be clear to your audience?
    • Upgrading to a new software that allows you to collate inputs three times faster is not likely to make a clear story for your audience. That you’re now the only shop in town with same day service because you’ve invested in new technology, that’s a clear story that has relevance for your audience.
  • Answer the five journalist’s questions: who, what, where, when & why (and sometimes how).
    • Often answering some of these is easy, they’re obvious, and that’s why it is easy to miss an important piece of information because you missed one of the five (or six) questions.
  • Include a quote from someone involved that furthers the story. Please, please don’t use a quote that says, “We are very pleased to announce…”
    • Obviously, you’re pleased or you wouldn’t be sharing this news.
    • Instead, share your key messages in the quote. (Writing key messages is a whole topic of its own!)
    • The quote is a valuable part of the narrative, so make it worthwhile. (Writing good quotes is a whole topic of its own!)
  • Do you have a catchy headline? (See: “The Invisible Girl will not be seen.”)
    • Use this in your email subject line as well: it’s the first thing reporters and editors see, and if you want them to open your email, it needs to catch their eye.
  • Stay on topic: one newsworthy item per news release, please.

I’ve put these tips in a convenient infographic on the Writing Tips page. Have a look to download it.

There are many more tips for writing effective news releases. Please share your thoughts on what makes a good news release.

Communications isn’t about you

Crafting good communications is about… everything except you. It is about your audience.

It’s not about you. It’s not about your product or service or the information you have to share. It is about the person using your product or service or information. It is their story that unfolds. That is what you need to communicate. Help people tell their stories.

Which of these news releases catches your attention better?

“Company ABC is pleased to announce that they have donated 300 coats to kids this winter…”
“No child will go to school cold this winter. Every child who needs a coat now has one, thanks in part to Company ABC’s donation of 300 coats to kids this month…”

The first example is about the company only. It’s about an output (boring!). The second tells the story of the kids first—the outcome—as well as the company’s story (compelling!).

The donation of 300 coats is newsworthy. Is that why the company donated them, to get some PR? Or was it to ensure every child has a winter coat? Hopefully, it was the latter.

That’s the news you want to share. That’s the story that will get media attention because that’s the story that will resonate with their audience and with your audience.

Next time you start writing a news release, ask yourself, whose story am I telling here? And then remind yourself that it’s not about you.

Please share your examples of great opening lines for news releases that tell about outcomes rather than outputs.