What do articles, query letters, pitch letters, press releases, brochures and basically every form of communication all have in common? They all have to “hook” an audience’s attention before imparting a message.
I’ve put together four principles along with lists of accompanying tactics that you can use to grab the attention of editors, reporters, prospects, clients, or associates.
General Principle #1: The Most Important Information Goes First
- State any relevant new and noteworthy developments or accomplishments.
- Begin with interesting facts and figures. Employ specific figures to build credibility.
- Present an attractive offer such as photo, video or audio opportunities.
- Relate a brief but relevant anecdote, preferably in about one to two short paragraphs.
General Principle #2: Start Communicating in Your Headlines and Subject Lines
(Note: Many of the tactics below can also be used as leads in pitch letters, releases, promotional materials, etc.)
- Announce news. This is the simplest, most straightforward method.
- State the greatest benefit of your product/service or promise to solve a problem.
- Announce a free gift, sale, special event, anniversary, etc. This can work for media outlets as long as you include a newsworthy aspect, e.g., a bakery creating a 120-foot jelly roll for Customer Appreciation Day.
- Ask a question. It can be provocative, point out a need or simply elicit a response that helps you segue into your message.
- Command action. You don’t always have to wait until the close to tell people what to do, especially if you know they have an investment in your topic. Commanding headlines and sub-heads have impact and drama. And it’s amazing how many people do as they’re told.
- Announce a list of benefits. Audiences are used to seeing or hearing “7 reasons…,” or “3 Easy Ways…,” and these formats are still very popular.
- Use a teaser. You hear these every day on TV or radio, e.g. “City schools are raising test scores. We’ll tell you how.” These are great for pitch letters, direct response formats, or as a delayed lead in releases.
- Quote a testimonial or a startling statement. If a recognized source validates you or confirms the issue you’re addressing, you are less like to be dismissed.
General Principle #3: Be Unique
- State your unique selling proposition (USP). If what you’re offering is truly one-of-a-kind, then you’ve got it made. Otherwise, you’ll have to create a difference in your product or service (for example, superior customer service, a great guarantee, or the adoption of a cause).
- Use controversy. In his book, Power Public Relations, PR practitioner Leonard Saffir says controversy can be used by practitioners to generate publicity and awareness. I should point out that this tactic has to be really, really well thought out to be effective.
- Tie products/services into current events. A sub and pizza shop in my neck of the woods used to promote itself with sandwiches named for current (or recent) U.S. presidents. Personally, I’ll never forget the “Big Bubba” or “the Big Dubyah.”
General Principle #4: Get Personal with your Audience
- If you’ve had dealings with the audience/recipient before, remind them. If they invested time and interest in you once, they’ll be more likely to do it again.
- Make people feel as if you know them. If you have the psychographic or demographic characteristics of your targeted groups, tailor your material so it appeals to each specific group.
All told, that’s four principles and a grand total of 17 attention-grabbing techniques. Use them well.