Lead with your strongest statement

Sometimes people think that they should write pitches, web content or press releases the way they tell ghost stories. They try to build anticipation and save the big reveal for the end.

Sorry folks, that works around the camp fire when you have the rapt attention of your audience but on the page, and even in a speech or presentation you can’t assume you have that. You need to give people the best you’ve got off the top. If it catches their attention, you might be able to hold onto it to the end. But if you make people work for something, without so much as a promise of payoff, you lose them pretty fast.

Here’s a great example of a strong lead for a press release. The Federal Liberals are playing with us here. The headline suggests Ignatieff is calling for a fall election. Anxiously, the reader then scans the entire release looking for the word. Instead, we see language that suggests he’s getting ready for an election (like we didn’t know that). There’s not really anything new or newsworthy in this release but the headline is so strong we think we might just have something. So he’s got us hanging on his words again…

Ignatieff: “The Liberal Party of Canada cannot support this government any further.”

September 1, 2009 – SUDBURY ONT , Canada

For Immediate Release
SUDBURY – In a speech to Liberal caucus, Michael Ignatieff declared that Canada can lead in a changing world, but only if we dare to act – by holding the Harper government to account and opposing it in Parliament.

“We can do better,” said the Liberal Leader. “We can be the smartest, healthiest, greenest, hardest-working, most open-minded country there is – but only if we choose to be.”
Echoing caucus concerns about Stephen Harper’s record, including the worst unemployment in two decades and the worst deficit in history, Mr. Ignatieff also cited the government’s failure to meet four benchmarks he set in June as factoring into his decision.

“Mr. Harper, you have failed all four tests,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “You’ve failed to protect the most vulnerable. You’ve failed to create jobs. You’ve failed to defend our health care. You’ve failed to produce a plan to restore our public finances.”

The Liberal Leader invited Canadians to choose a big Canada, generous and open, that leads the world by example and makes us all proud – as opposed to the diminished, mean and petty version of the country put forward by Stephen Harper.

“Stephen Harper doesn’t get it,” said Mr. Ignatieff. “He doesn’t get that Canada’s in a race – that we’ve got to position our country to compete in the 21st century. We’ve got to make Canada a world leader again – and we’ve got to do it now.”
As part of his vision for rebuilding the Canadian economy, Mr. Ignatieff announced his plan to visit both China and India as part of an effort to open new markets for Canadian exports, and called for an expansion of the G8 to a G20 with a permanent secretariat hosted in Canada.

Committing to bring forward legislation to protect Canadians abroad, Mr. Ignatieff also said he would stand by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and make it illegal for the government to pick and choose which citizens it protects.
“Stephen Harper leads a government that doesn’t care. We can do better and we will do better.”

– 30 –


Press Office
Office of the Leader of the Opposition

Interestingly, the press release is quoting from a speech Ignatieff gave to the Liberal Caucus this morning. In the speech he actually did use the word “election”.  After what would have been about 20 minutes of building anticipation in his speech he said,

Mr Harper, your time is up.

The Liberal Party cannot support this government any further.

We will hold it to account. We will oppose it in Parliament.

And if elections are called, we will be ready to offer a better future for our country.

So he has made an announcement and hedged an announcement at the same time. The person writing the press release cleverly left out the ambiguity of this final thought, and that omission of course draws those who want to know what was actually said (like me) to read the whole speech. Nicely done. You got me, and in the getting I still don’t have any more information than I had yesterday.

By the way, this post isn’t intended to advocate teasing the public, nor is it intended to advocate for the Liberal Party for that matter, but the way the press release was constructed has some valuable lessons for grabbing people’s attention. That’s the real take away here.

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