When I was in college studying for an Advertising degree, one of the first pre-requisites was a course called Newswriting 101 - a basics in Journalism course where we had to practice writing news stories. I had a great teacher who pounded into us the importance of “nailing the lead” – or getting the entire essence of the piece in the first paragraph. Like Mr. Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid, we had to practice over and over cramming the who, what, when, where, how and why into the opening... being thorough yet brief and intriguing.
Why? Because in the news business, you often don’t get space for more than the lead… or worse yet - with today’s scan-the-news consumers - if you don’t give the most important points FIRST and in a CAPTIVATING WAY, you may lose them forever.
With the average person seeing an average of 5000 messages a day – 10 times the amount we used to see in the 70’s - they’re quickly bolting to the next topic unless it absolutely intrigues them.
I wondered all during college, and even after, why it was compulsory for an Advertising major to take this newswriting course. Sure, for writing press releases was one reason. But why else?
And then after a few years in my first real Advertising job as a copywriter, the light bulb went on. Because with everything we do in advertising and marketing, PR and networking, we’re STORYTELLING. We’re not just pushing a product or a service. We have to be able to “cut to the chase” and “get to the point” quickly with our relate-it-to-me ad messages. Or the prospect is gone.
And not just the WHAT – or product info. No, the WHO. The target audience. Who am I speaking to?
As Travel Marketer Meredith Hill says, “When you speak to everyone, you speak to no one.” You have to know your audience to target them properly.
Then there’s WHEN. The in-hands date, when the promotion launches. WHERE do they need it? HOW will this product be used, distributed? HOW will the promotion work?
And then the most important one… the WHY. The reason for the entire story. WHY are you doing this? What’s the purpose? What’s the goal? If you don’t know the why, how can you even begin to tell the story of why someone would want to buy?
(Which is why it drives me absolutely crazy when help-seekers post, “Need gift ideas for a bar giveaway… $5 price point.” That’s IT? That’s all you give us? How about… what is the message you’re delivering for the client? Who are they targeting? And most important… what results are you trying to achieve for the bar opener? What is the purpose of the promotion? I am astounded that sometimes people reply that they don’t know or can’t get this info from the client. IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE FUNDAMENTALS, THEN HOW CAN YOU BUILD A SUCCESSFUL, MEASURABLE PROMOTION?)
So now, as I dive into creating a new promotion for one of my clients, and started with the discovery process of attaining the “who, what, when, where, how and why” of their new campaign, do I thank my lucky stars that I began my career all those years ago with Newswriting 101.
Long live the fundamentals!
Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.