This blog post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.
It is play season in my daughters’ school.
I don’t mean that the kids are just playing all day now that SATS are done. Perish the thought.
And I don’t mean that the educational establishment has given up the long battle and finally agreed that Minecraft does in fact count as an exam subject and so can happily fill the school day.
No, it is time for the thespians to emerge; for speech to be enunciated in a slightly forced way as if speaking a new language for the very first time; for makeup and cross dressing to be brought firmly, fairly and non-judgementally into the mainstream.
It is the year 6 play.
We have had months of rehearsing, long evenings of line learning, and the CD on constant repeat so that the same songs rattle round my head as if a careless neurosurgeon had lost his iPad with the setting on “Disney songs”.
Finally, Aladdin was performed this week.
And very good it was too. The jokes were hardly Jimmy Carr (no bad thing) but generated a guffaw or two. The story was well known but still dramatic. The action was fast moving, and performed without a safety net. Everyone remembered their lines, and no one froze. Some songs were genuinely moving, and voices shockingly good. The crowds cheered and clapped and paid their £2.50 without a word of complaint.
A few of the parents got involved too spending happy hours setting up lighting, running long leads, plugging things in and shouting “one two” into mikes as if the whole experience had robbed us of the ability to count any higher.
What did I learn?
Well, the small parts are the ones that really make the play. The principles do a great job, but it is perhaps the actor with one line, or just one action to bring props in at the right moment that impress me. These are the things that make it all professional and slick.
Teachers do give up their time freely to direct, act, sew, paint, coach and support. Not a big surprise to many I guess, but in my day I’m pretty sure they were all down the pub by 4.
And much as I may mock, an ensemble piece of theatre does bring out the community spirit in us all.
What I didn’t learn is how in fact to find a genie. The lamps in our house are all suddenly well-polished, but no puff of smoke and no wish in sight. But I’ll keep trying: the show must go on.
This article first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.
I have recently acquired a new car. I can’t really say I bought it as it still belongs to the leasing company. But it feels like mine. We have christened him Albert.
As with all new cars, Albert assumes I am stupid. He automatically controls the lights and the wipers; sorts out my speed, tells me if I am too close to the car in front and actually brakes for me if he feels I am not taking his warnings seriously enough. He decides on my route, and beeps, very annoyed, if I get too close to anything that might hurt me. When I am foolish enough to try to reverse Albert immediately produces a screen giving a clear camera view of what is behind, with red lines on the screen that I mustn’t cross. What he seems to prefer is that I press a series of buttons so he can park without my intervention. It is quite scary to let go of the wheel and hand over control, but to be fair he does a far better job than me.
In a way this sums up many people’s parenting style. Our job is to keep the kids away from harm, to make sure they don’t get too close to danger; to plan out their route; make sure they can see clearly; not let them do anything stupid or too risky; to protect them from the elements and themselves and do as much for them as we can. Because to be blunt, we are better at it, having had far more practice. We’ve got the experience and a techy car; but our kids have no experience and the equivalent of an 8 year old Cortina
And so we very easily become the automated drivers of their lives.
But of course as they get older things change. Our children are now far better at many things than we are. They want to make their own decisions; take their own risks; try new things out; choose their own routes; sort out their own speed; park for themselves. This is tricky stuff and of course they will get some things wrong, but just as we did at their age, they will become better people as they learn from their mistakes.
The clincher is that I am not sure Albert trusts me: there will always be a bit of competition and irritation as he thinks he knows best, whereas I want to practice and become a better driver.
Hmm. I think I’ll turn the auto park off for a bit.
Now that we’ve covered introductions and the structure of a press release, breathing life into a story requires the human touch.
Quotes bring people into a story and, by definition, give it personality.
Adding at least two quotes – ideally from two different people – about a third of the way into the text and again, towards the end, allows you to introduce different perspectives on the idea at the heart of your story. (more…)
With introductions out of the way, (see below) we can move on to the second part of our look at what makes good press releases.
Like news stories, good press releases tend to adopt a standard journalistic structure, widely known as the ‘inverted pyramid’.
Essentially, this means thinking of what you’re writing as fitting into a triangle where the bigger, wider part is at the top and the point is at the bottom. (more…)
Most of the news we read, see or hear in the media every day, starts life as, or includes content from press releases in some shape or form.
Whether they inspire the story, provide a different perspective on it, give the right of reply, or add a position statement, they remain at the heart of the public relations toolbox.
Over the next three blog posts, I’ll cover some basic tips and advice on writing press releases, starting (appropriately enough) with introductions.
Every story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. The trick is getting all of them – or at least a flavour of all three – into one sentence.
Traditionally, the beginning of a news story (and that’s essentially what a press release is) has to cover the five W’s:
So, that single sentence of 20-30 words (ideally) has a lot of heavy lifting to do, in covering the essential facts, as well as being engaging and lively copy.
This also illustrates why a press release has to have an angle – a single idea that provides a hook and gives the narrative shape.
Imagine trying to sum up the entire plot of a complicated movie like one of my favourites, The Third Man, with all its twists, turns, character points and themes in just one line (try this synopsis for starters: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Man#Plot).
But key events from the plot or elements of it can be encapsulated in a sentence covering all five W’s. For example:
Writer Holly Martins began a personal investigation into the mysterious death of his childhood friend, Harry Lime, in Vienna, today.
Not exactly Graham Greene but you get the idea: 20 words long and, at 132 characters, just the right size for a Tweet, too.
Keep an eye out for part 2.
The rule of three is a powerful one.
Whether it’s in speech, in print, or online, the fact is that emphasising three points in a sentence works.
Deploying the technique carefully can make you seem clear, knowledgeable and authoritative, which is why a lot of politicians pepper their speeches with moments like that.
But there are other ways in which you can make three words work for you.
At the centre of great brands and great marketing are great ideas. Many of the most memorable company slogans are key messages condensed into three words, for example:
Just do it
Every little helps
Vorsprung durch technik
Beanz meanz Heinz
In any business, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of branding. Everyday concerns like managing people, dealing with customers and balancing the books leave very little time to focus on the heart of what makes you stand out from the crowd.
And if you don’t have a strong grip on your brand, you’re probably just treading water.
Or you could be sinking.
Branding is about more than successful PR, marketing, websites, events, graphic design etc… Underpinning all that ‘fun stuff’ is a lot of hard work on making sure that every aspect of an organisation relates to a powerful central idea.
To see how three little words can start to make a big difference, try this exercise:
If you’d like to put more energy into getting to the heart of your brand and making it work harder for you, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
All successful brands have a set of guidelines that underpin every aspect of the way they communicate – from marketing and advertising, through to key messages and PR.
I thought it might be helpful to summarise the main elements:
What’s in a name? Pretty much everything. The word, or words in themselves can’t convey too much in the way of ideas but whether a name is descriptive (Mark Wall Communications), associative (Vodafone), or abstract (Orange), its job is to become loaded with meaning… and it helps if it doesn’t mean something rude in another language.
Sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words and having a recognisable symbol, badge or insignia attached to your brand opens up a whole world of visuals, including…
From the style of your logo (whether it includes, or sits alongside your business’s name) to the choice of font your emails are composed in, using a distinctive form of typography (definitely not ‘Comic Sans’) creates and reinforces brand recognition.
Another key part of your logo and your overall style is consistency in the way you use colour. Think of Barclays, for example and it’s hard not to recall the particular shade of blue that’s used in everything from their signage to the edges of their credit cards. Or take the main supermarket chains: green (Asda), orange (Sainsbury’s), blue (Tesco) and yellow (Morrison’s). Colour is all about creating a sense impression and brands increasingly think about things like sound, texture and taste in the same way.
Tone of voice
What you say is important but not so much as how you say it and making sure that both things are consistent. Do you want your brand to sound calm and authoritative, or maybe your style is cheeky and anarchic? Getting your tone of voice right is vital – and it has to match your visuals.
For help with branding and making sure your business gets the recognition it deserves, drop me a line: email@example.com
‘Hope for the best but plan for the worst’ is a useful saying in any walk of life.
In my experience, most businesses – certainly the successful ones – tend to be run by optimists.
Enterprising, adventurous risk-takers tend not to wonder whether their glasses are half full or half empty. Instead, they see an opportunity to fill the glass… then sell more glasses and more drinks to fill them.
Most of the time, PR is about telling people the good news that their glasses are more than half full, or that they could be.
But sometimes things go wrong and (to stretch the metaphor) people can see the glass is half empty, because it’s cracked or broken and making a mess.
Tough times like these call for ‘crisis management’, which is often the point where people realise they never planned for the worst.
And this is where the first rule of dealing with a crisis comes in:
The second rule (unless you’re happy to see all your hard work wasted) is to get help – particularly with your communications and public relations.
I’ve worked in PR long enough to have seen businesses and organisations through some very serious difficulties – everything from making people redundant, to being accused of killing someone.
Ask for my professional help and what you tell me might surprise me but nothing you can say will faze me and none of it will go any further.
I can’t make the media go away but I can help you manage your crisis communications; then help you rebuild your reputation once the rest of the world has moved on.
So, whether you’d like help preparing for the worst, or it’s already happening, give me a call on 01823 271508, or drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org