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Are media releases still relevant?

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Are media releases still relevant?

The one thing non-communications professionals know about the world of public relations is that you write media releases. Those who are unfamiliar with how media coverage comes to pass, see the media release as the be all and end all. It is not. The media release is to media coverage what the Hallmark invitation is to the party – just the beginning.

Sadly your boss may not have a nuanced understanding of how stories are made.

Can you write a media release about our new program / campaign / product / milestone?” she asks / commands.

What she really means to say is: “Can you get me lots of media coverage through whatever means necessary?

Some media trainers still offer full day workshops in the art of media release writing. We kid you not. When Hootville delivers our Media Savvy workshops we devote about 30 minutes to the gentle art of media release writing. We minimise our time on this topic because the impact of the media release has been minimised in the digital age during which millions of words appear on screens competing for the attention of journalists’ hearts and minds.

A radio producer once told me that she receives around about 140 media releases a day. In an environment as crowded as that don’t be so arrogant as to think that your media release will make an impact. Far more impactful will be your telephone call which is why we devote time in our media savvy training to the art of the telephone pitch.

So why write a media release?

At some point in the journey from pitching a story to publication you will have to provide the journalist some information in writing. This may well be your media release or it may be a simple email giving more background and detail. Make sure you use this to influence the way the journalist understands your story and have it ready in advance of your first telephone contact.

Media release vs the telephone pitch

The phone is mightier than the media release. Why? Well no journalist has ever said that our story idea was dull, had been covered before, was two weeks too late and is irrelevant but that because the media release was so well written they decided to give the story a run anyway.

On the other hand most of the 1000 stories we’ve successfully got up for clients was initiated and essentially sold via a short telephone conversation.

The phone call has more impact with journalists and takes less time for the publicist. Talking to each other can also help develop a working relationship.

media release writing

Don’t waste time perfecting releases with no impact.

Your superiors like media releases because it gives them the opportunity to correct something. This is old school. The amount of time devoted to writing, then perfecting a media release is a wicked waste of time that could be spent on packaging a better story, finding more prospective media targets and working the phones.

By calling first and sending your written information later you don’t have to provide a word-perfect media release. Instead, you can supply an email. It will still have to be well written and full of interesting information but it doesn’t have to have the headline, the logo in just the right spot and the three quotes. This will save you time – maybe a few hours by the time approvals are factored in. If you do this 20 times across a year you’ve got the best part of an extra working week up your sleeve. Use the time sit by your company pool with the daiquiri of your choice.

media release writing

Mention them and they will be notified.

Other alternatives to the media release: Twitter. Along with politicians, journalists are the most passionate users of Twitter.

Consider using Twitter to gain attention of individuals in the media. A-list journalists will rarely be moved by a mention in a tweet but less well known journalists and producers may be. Certainly a Twitter mention will gain more attention that another email. Be sure to use an individual’s Twitter handle, not the media outlet as a whole.

How to improve your media releases.

You can improve your media release writing by concentrating on a few key factors:

An attention getting headline. Extra points if your headline is funny, punny or a witty play on words. The secondary headline, called the strap, has the job of more soberly explaining what your media release is all about. Get that right and  you’re 20 per cent of the way there.

are media releases relevant

Short but effective.

This example from the Property Council of Australia is straight to the point. When we wrote a release for a well-known Victorian charity facing financial ruin our headline was:

Elderly Victorian Icon $2 million in debt. We were happy with that because it created the thought that the icon was a famous person – few journalists could resist clicking to read who the debtor was.  

Next; the opening paragraph has to be all encompassing and continue to hold the interest of the journalist. Summarise the situation and explain why it’s important.

Are your quotes boring? Probably. If your quotes can be read and pretty much make sense without the quotation marks, your quotes are too similar to ordinary text. Quotes have to sound like a real person really spoke to a real journalist with real passion. Again the Property Council example is good and real.

Conclusion: So yes, media releases still belong in the PR world though their status is far diminished. Tell your boss.



New standalone Copy Savvy website

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copywriting courses in melbourne

Our new Copy Savvy site explains all.

Copy Savvy – our heralded copywriting workshop for the real world – has its own dedicated website. Enjoy.

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More great copywriting and speaking advice not from Brett

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copywriting courses in sydney

Small cuts yield big improvements.

Redundant and misused words can make a big difference to the clarity of your writing and the impression it makes on readers.

This simple, practical set of advice from Jennie Haskamp of The Daily Muse is superb and applies equally to writers and public speakers.

The words Jennie recommends deleting from your writing (and speaking) may not improve your standing with poor communicators but it won’t hurt.

These changes will however make a favourable impression on the 20% or so of readers who appreciate good writing.

Chop chop.

copywriting course in melbourne

Geddit? Scramble. Eggs. Half dozen.

Book yourself a place at our rare public Copy Savvy workshop to become a great writer. New date – Tuesday November 10. Pick your level of follow-up coaching, grab an earlybird discount and prepare for a fun, intense day.


Copywriting course announced, copywriting advice dispersed

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Is there something ironic about disseminating copywriting advice via video? Who cares? This short, sharp video contains five ways to improve your copywriting. Watch it.

If you really want to bolster your copywriting skills book a place at our Copy Savvy workshop.


Social media sharing: length, depth and looks matter

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Are you getting shared around enough? Probably not.

There are no “copywriters” anymore – just content creators. And those content creators are judged in large part by the degree to which their content is shared. Getting lots of shares and retweets (going viral) feels good and spreads your message. Not getting shared feels more akin to having a virus.

So how do we increase the chances of being shared on social media? Here are some advice based on a study by BuzzSumo of 100 million pieces of social media content.

1. Length matters: here’s a big important counter-intuitive fact – longer posts get shared more than shorter.

Yep – we all say we are overwhelmed with information. We all have too little time and too much to read but this data – based on people’s real behaviour not their answers to a survey question – is very revealing. It seems that when the right people are reading your content they want MORE information, not less. And the more content your provide in a single post or tweet, the more likely it is that the reader will share your work.

how long should a blog post be?
More words = more shares. Get thee to thy keyboard.

As BuzzSumo’s investigation of what gets shared via social media shows, the longer the content, the higher the chances of getting a share / retweet / link. Think 2000 words minimum. Yep – you read that correctly.

Why does this make sense? Well, when we are mildly interested in a topic a short sharp piece of content may suffice but for those readers with genuine interest in you or your issues, the longer, the better. Longer posts win by a country mile.

how to increase social media shares

This guy knew what he was talking about when he talked about talking.

Remember what Aristotle (left) said: good speakers establish their ethos (high moral standing and pure motivations) before delivering the logos (facts, figures and information) while remembering to create pathos (to stir emotions whether angry, sad, patriotic etc).

That’s hard to do with a 150-word post. Of course not all posts are conceived equal. Some pieces of content need nothing more than the usual pith – others though need planning, writing and enhancement. Go long on content that really matters.

This works for Hootville – our most shared and enduring content is always our longer and angrier pieces.


Thumbnails on Facebook creates more sharing.

A picture is worth 1000 shares. Use them.

2. Pictures help too. On both Twitter and Facebook content with pictures were shared much more frequently.

Finally: Content creation is hard work but if you want to create a bond with your reader you need to persuade them of your bona fides. Valuable, relevant, practical, freely available information goes a long way to securing that bond. And it also inspires people to share your work.

Read more about the sort of content that gets shared at BuzzSumo.

PS: this post include 460 or so words.

What is content marketing?

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Content marketing is so hot right now but what is it exactly? Answer: content marketing means that marketers are using content – eBooks, factsheets, whitepapers, blog posts, podcasts, videos – as a way to lure people. Usually that content is delivered online. You know the deal (see below).

what is content marketing

Sign-up, sign-up.

Once the customer is lured by the content, the marketer seeks to exchange the information for money or more commonly, freely for an email address. Once the email address is secured an eMarketing relationship is begun. The marketer’s goal may be to sell something or simply to inform and gain deeper support.  Content marketing is used by commercial enterprises and nonprofits.

Isn’t this what many of us have always done? Maybe. But probably not. 

Hootville has utilised content marketing since before the term was coined. We’ve given away free content (hopefully relevant, helpful, engaging) for 15 years.

Most professional service agencies do not do this. Their websites are little more than brochures with no free advice, comment or listings. Can you go to your accountant’s website for general information about superannuation changes? Can you visit your doctor’s websites and find answers to your frequently asked questions? Can you get a guide to planning your kitchen from the builder’s website? Usually not. They are all take, no give. In a world where there is so much free content, those that fail to provide valuable content are seen as unhelpful, out-dated and mean-spirited.

Nonprofits and community groups are often generous with their content but they fail to be true content marketers and reap the rewards. Too few NFPs blog engagingly with conviction on current news, too few peaks provide comprehensive listings of  jobs, events or resources. Too few stocktake their content and repackage or update it to make it more alluring. Few really push their content to readers and far too many simply give away their content without gaining even a humble email address. This is a fail for both marketers and those they target.

Why does content marketing work for both them and you:

  • it immediately provides value to the reader;
  • it creates an opportunity to exchange your content for an email address;
  • it asserts – and demonstrates – authority and expertise;
  • it quickly sets you apart from those that do not provide such value;
  • it increases appreciation in the reader – thus there’s more chance they will use / support you;
  • you can stay in touch longer;
  • it keeps people on your site / in your world longer;
  • creating content is usually cheaper than marketing alternatives such as direct mail or advertising;
  • it’s a positive cycle – the more people download your content, the more emails you have to promote the next piece of content and so on;
  • good content will keep luring readers years after it is created.

So what do we mean by “content”?

Content goes beyond words on paper: sure a short email is content. How about a series of automated short emails a month apart? How about an eBook? A factsheet? A series of videos? A slideshow? Infographics? Podcasts? Blog posts? Q&As? All of this is content. Use whatever works for you and your audience.

So where do I find all this content of which you speak?

Mine your current content – fact sheets, videos, Q&As, transcripts, blog posts, brochures and see what you already have that can be relaunched or refashioned. Eg: can you combine six blog posts about what to expect after diagnosis into one eBook? Create something useful than can be easily understood and consumed.

Beyond your existing content, draw up a list of content to create. This is more labour-intensive but allows you to start from scratch and create series of content that can be sent over an extended period. What are your FAQs, big issues, myths in need of busting? Create content around these.

The value proposition: a carbohydrate-based example

content marketing advice

You were powerless to resist their doughy charms.

Have you ever bought six bread rolls that were bagged together when you really only needed four? Why?

  • Well you were already there for bread anyway so why not buy a little more than planned?
  • They looked fresh and good.
  • They were keenly priced.
  • They were prominently displayed on a table in front of the counter.
  • The process was quick – no waiting in a 10-minute queue.
  • The bread was available for you to take home and consume immediately.

Do you see what we’re saying?

You have to package, promote and facilitate the exchange for it to work well.

Example: take six blog posts about one topic, bundle then into the form of an attractive eBook, prominently display it on your homepage and make the process frictionless and you’ll have success. Or you could wait for the reader to find and read those six blog posts themselves. Good luck with that.

Rules for content providers:

The attitude: growing databases of email addresses are a hugely valuable asset – content marketing helps grow your database in a way that makes everyone feel good. Reader receives valuable content, we receive an email address. From there we build a relationship to whatever end suits us. This is how we do business.

No more giving it all away for nothing. Your readers happily give over their email address to all sorts of organisations for far more mundane purposes. Your content is valuable. Lock under the nearest stairs anyone who says: “we can’t expect people to give us an email address for our free information.”

Content must be valuable. Not just informative – be helpful, practical, urgent, specific.

You have to give until it hurts. Only then can you ask for support or a purchase.

podcasting as content marketing

Consider creating a podcast. They are back in vogue.

Experiment with different formats – from eBooks, to single page factsheets, to video or podcasts. Venture beyond written words.

Recognise that content is only part of your challenge. Content must be presented well, marketed aggressively and be accessed in a seamless, elegant way.

Page design of the page on which people provide their details (AKA the “squeeze page”) is hugely influential. This is the squeeze page for our free PDF eBook Event Savvy. We’ve kept it short and simple. We’ll explain more about this soon.

More appealing content gets more readers: there was a time when newspapers were black and white, image-free, densely filled with words and yet people read them. Today that would not work.  Today, a newspaper website will have a mix of full colour articles, slideshows, video, Q&As, infographics, listings, clearly demarcated sections and cartoons. All of this makes their content more appealing. Do likewise.

Monitor your results. And boast about them to superiors. What is the metric by which you will judge success? Total the costs involved and divide by the amount your content has been downloaded / subscribed to. For our Event Savvy eBook we want to build our brand, gain new email addresses and secure speaking or emcee gigs for Brett.  On day one our eBook Event Savvy was downloaded 89 times at a cost of $3.14 per download including design costs and some Facebook promotion. With no ongoing design costs that cost per download goes down with every single download. How low will it go? We’ll keep you updated. Suffice to say the economics will work out a treat.

Serious fundraisers know how much they are willing to pay to acquire a donor based the average lifetime return per donor. Have you got something similar for an email acqusition?

Series of content are better than one-offs because they keep you in front of readers over a longer period of time. Don’t write one massive eBook. Consider a series of six documents each one or two pages in length. This may be more enticing to the reader. Don’t do one video – do a series.

So if content marketing is so smart, why do so few do it ?

  1. Content marketing is hard. It’s hard to conceive and create content.
  2. Quality writers with genuine news sense are rare. Writers are being kept busy on the obligatory stuff – newsletters, annual reports and the like. We guarantee that creating a series of suitable content will yield better results than your next annual report.
  3. Writers are yet to see themselves or be seen as content creators. They are still stuck in the idea that words on paper are king. Contemporary writers need to transcend this which is why we tackle content creation in our writing workshop Copy Savvy 101.
  4. Skills. If it’s easy it gets done; if not… How easily, quickly and affordably can you conceive, write, design a document, infographic or podcast? Can you shoot and edit simple videos in the office? Learn the skills and outsource the rest.
  5. Too few marketing departments really take pride in building email addresses. Too few really analyse what options deliver the best ROI. Printing and mailing costs will usually cost more than online content marketing.
  6. Coming up with content – especially on an ongoing basis – is intimidating.
  7. Very few marketers are rewarded for coming up with a fresh idea – such as content marketing – and pursuing it
  8. Creators are too busy with their next post or Tweet.
  9. The technology required is baffling. Just how do you automatically send a document in exchange for an email address? More on this soon.

 Help I’m stuck for ideas:

content marketing training

Ideas most often occur in the brain region.

Consider simple, short, list-based documents which we’ve listed before such as:

12 ways to…
7 mistakes to avoid when…
How to…
So you’ve just been diagnosed with…
Subject X – the facts.
An introduction to…
Meet 9 people just like you.
The combined wisdom of last year’s class.

We’ll be adding to this in coming weeks. Meanwhile – please share it.

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Tone deaf multinationals should know better

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One of the things we teach in Hootville’s copywriting course Copy Savvy 101 is that tone matters. By tone, we mean the vibe, the manner, the impression you create with your words.

One golden rule: choose a tone. Never let your default tone become your tone. Consider what will work for you in relation to your key audiences audiences. And for Pete’s sake – stand out.

How formal will you be? How sophisticated will your language be? How specific or obtuse will your references be? Will you sound jaded, knowing, ironic? Will you be angry, friendly, outraged, caring, urgent?

Will you presume that your reader has some insider knowledge or that they are a newcomer to your issue?

Do you engage the reader with direct questions? Do you write more words or fewer? Do you tell stories and use humour? Did you notice that we’re using this tone as we speak?

Tone is created by more than words. Headlines, images and captions go a long way to establishing your tone. People who will never be paid to write for a living can detect a tone within a paragraph or two.

Of course your choice of what to write about and the priority each issue receives is a key way to convey your personality. Do you focus on changes to legislation and regulation – or focus on a client’s story? Are you deeply detailed or short and sweet?

There’s no one right tone. Just the one that works best for you in relation to your key audiences for the medium that you are using at the time.

copywriting advice

Oh puh-lease!

When organisations get their tone wrong it hurts them. You’ve all heard of airbnb, the website allowing people to rent out their spare rooms in exchange for money. Well airbnb is in hot water. Owners corporations don’t like strangers in their apartments and more importantly tax-hungry state governments in America want to tax airbnb’s users the way they tax hotel.

(Commonly referred to as bed taxes, each hotel night booked attracts a few dollars tax for government. So far airbnb has just ignored this.)

This is a threat to the airbnb juggernaught, so its hired lobbyists, rebranded and started a campaign to persuade lawmakers of airbnb’s deep worthiness.

The 5 year old company may be valued at $ 18 billion but it claims that deep down it’s a community. (If it were a community not a business this place would be free.)

Like so many US businesses they act as if their corporate success is in fact some social movement – the “sharing economy”.  What do you think of the tone? Is it simply too, too much? We think so.

copy writing course

Cringe-worthy copy from people with money to burn and writers on tap.

airbnb is far from alone in making this error. Facebook is a regular sinner.

Little did we know that by using Facebook to stalk our exes we were supporting Facebook’s “journey”. We hate that word.

We don’t mind some poetic waxing but as soon as you’ve overplayed your hand, as soon as you’ve overstated your case, as soon as the reader knows that you’re trying one on – you’ve lost them. Then you have no chance to win them over.

This is as off-tone as Mark Zuckberg’s speech on the day Facebook listed on the stock exchange. (Kicks in about at 50 seconds or so.)

great copywriting

This copy is mo, mo good. (No that is not Ms Hamam pictured.)

But how about a positive (and local) example you ask? Sure. Friend of Hootville and leading academic Natalie Hamam recently thought that it’d be interesting to spend the month of November wearing a fake moustache whenever she was in public to show her support for Movember. She emailed Movember HQ outlining her idea. Here’s their response:

Hey Natalie,

Thanks for getting in touch and supporting Movember. We love hearing the different ways Mo Bros and Mo Sistas plan to get involved each year!

We do however appreciate the stubble trouble that Mo Bros must endure while growing a Mo that for the whole month of Movember sparks conversations, not to mention admiration, from all who lay eyes on it.

A fake moustache doesn’t have the same effect. By allowing fake moustaches we take away from the efforts of those Mo Bros who are growing pitiful Mo’s, so we steer away from them as much as possible.

We still encourage all Mo Bros and Mo Sistas to sign up whether you’re able to grow a Mo or not. Awareness, education and support are equally important to the cause. Mo Sistas can still get involved in a number of ways such as by holding events and pushing the Mo Bros through those uncomfortable times.

We hope this doesn’t put a dampener on your Movember plans and that you continue to support the cause as a valuable Mo Sista!

If you have any more ideas or questions that we can help with please don’t hesitate to yell out.

Mo-ver and out

It simply doesn’t get more “on-brand” than that. Kudos Movember. And no Natalie, did not wear the ‘tache.

How to improve any piece of copywriting

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copywriting workshop for marketing

One day to boost your skills & expand your thinking.

Brett recently delivered our copywriting workshop, Copy Savvy to a posse from the Brotherhood of St Laurence. Few were formally trained in copywriting or communications but all wanted to be better writers as they write as part of their job for audiences internal and external.

copywriting tips

Cosmo writes good copy and utilises the first-guinea pig style.

At one point Brett excitedly declared: “You see – it’s not hard to dramatically improve your copywriting. Not hard.” Let’s see – here’s some of his advice for anyone wanting to simply improve their copywriting;

copywriting course


You don’t need to be a crack writer to implement any of these points so go forth and write good copy. If you think this can help anyone, please share it. Now go book yourself a place at Copy Savvy or book one for your whole team – anywhere, anytime.

Copywriting advice: the devil is in the detail

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Some copywriting advice for scribes everywhere: the devil is in the detail.

copywriting advice

The magazine needs to place itself in our shoes.

Squiggle brought to our notice the advertisement for New Scientist magazine on the left. He was half way through renewing his subscription when he noted something missing. It’s a fairly important detail for a prospective purchaser, canine or human: the number of issues one receives in exchange for one’s money. Is it monthly or weekly; meaning 12 or 52 editions a year? Thus the cost per edition could range 400% or so – not conducive to sealing deals and very off-putting. Confusion creates friction and friction kills conversion.

Unfortunately nonprofits perform far worse than corporates in this regard. We are constantly flabbergasted at how few nonprofits provide sufficient detail for prospective clients, customers, volunteers et al.

copywriting advice

New Scientist has chronicled Squiggle's search for the elusive Higgs Boneson particle for years. It's often referred to as the "Dog particle".

Here’s something you can do right now to assess your copywriting performance: look at the program / services pages of your website and see if readers told about:

Cost? (We constantly note that free services fail to mention that they are free!) How can I pay – upfront, installments? What about discounts?


Timings and structure of services. (Six 90m meetings with a maximum of 12 people over 10 weeks etc). We often see start times without a stated end time – this can be vital for those with other responsibilities or needing to arrange a lift. Simple concerns can be addressed via straightforward details.

Application process (do I need to be referred from my GP or do I just turn up?) How am I informed that I can attend / participate?

Who the service is designed for? (Is this something for unemployed men aged over 50 like me or is it for people I hate?)

The telephone number I need for more details?

Parking & transport details – how do I get there?

What exactly happens at the service? Will I be taken aside for a long induction process? Will I be introduced to anyone? How does this work? NEVER underestimate how introverted people are. We don’t put ourselves in strange situations willingly. Make your situation less strange via lot of detail.

copywriting workshops in melbourne

One day to boost your skills and expand your horizons.

Fill in these details and you’re on your way to a better website, better SEO and fewer grumpy, confused readers. Imagine how much better your copy could be if you attended Copy Savvy 101 June 17?

Find out how a guinea pig embodies good copywriting.


The Critic’s Oath

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Dealing with feedback and criticism is part of a copywriter’s lot. That said, it can be soul-destroying.  It makes copywriters conservative.

copywriting feedback
Everyone’s a critic. Like these two proto trolls.

Nobody helps you with the first draft but after you’ve toiled away everyone’s a critic. We hate that so we’ve written a Critic’s Oath which may turn the tide of feedback from subjective to constructive.

It also shows that you take your writing seriously. You may want to pin this on the noticeboard in the office kitchen or read it aloud over the intercom on the hour, every hour.

Hootville’s Critic’s Oath

Writing is a lonely and often thankless task. Scribes toil away isolated and ignored, only to have strangers and colleagues throw in their two cents worth by the dollar, just as the presses are set to roll. We humbly offer this oath as a way to ensure your criticism falls on the side of constructive not destructive.

Please cast aside your News Limited tabloid, be upstanding, hand on heart as you forget what they taught you about writing in school and recite the following:

I promise to be a good critic. This doesn’t mean I shall praise everything put before me but it does mean that I:

  • will sit down to read the words wearing the shoes of the intended audience – not my own – as good writing is all about the audience;
  • find ways to reduce length, never add;
  • endeavour to add interest, humanity and excitement;
  • value “effective” over “nice” understanding that being direct, quirky or challenging is more important than being pleasant;
  • clarify and correct factual errors and clear up confusion;
  • understand that changing: “Reserve your place today.” to “Call today to reserve a seat.” improves nothing;
  • will refer to and respect the original brief which specifies the purpose of the communication and the approach of the writer;
  • respond quickly and with certainty as deadlines wait for no one.

Thankyou. You are now a better critic and a better person.