VALUE: This article will show you how to write a business story for submission to news agencies.
By Benjamin J. Gohs
Press releases are great for upcoming entertainment events and fundraisers.
But, when it comes to your business PR, you want two things: a compelling narrative and control over your message.
Story is king
Modern readers won’t just be unsatisfied with the old boilerplate style of corporate news release—they flat-out won’t read it.
More and more, everyone from public relations to advertising firms and even mom-and-pop shops are finding that creating stories around your products and services are the most effective means of connecting with potential customers.
Taking the time to write a feature-style business story, or having one created for you, will also help ensure you have more control over what editors place in print and digital products, and on their airwaves.
It’s a submitter’s market
The dirtiest little secret in the media industry is that most companies—even large ones—operate on skeleton crews. And they are starved for content!
Gone are the days of dedicated in-house fact-checkers, proofreaders, and copy editors.
Nowadays, the editor of a small to mid-size publication is most likely also in charge of writing stories, proofreading, laying out pages, posting content to websites and social media, and a dozen other duties nobody even realizes exist.
In a lot of ways, this is sad. In one big way, this is very good for you.
Short-staffed publications don’t have time to turn poorly written press releases into much more than poorly written abridgments.
However, if you send a newspaper, magazine, website, TV or radio station a highly polished article that’s as informative as it is entertaining, chances are they will publish it as-is.
Your business biography
No matter who ultimately crafts your business story, you will need to write a history of your company.
Don’t let the word “history” scare you. You’re not creating a textbook.
What you, or a business partner, or a freelance writer will need to do is sketch a few pages of notes.
Granted, some of the information may not be used. But the more you include, the more robust the final product can be.
Use this checklist to help you draft a business biography
- What inspired you to start your company?
- When was your company founded?
- What challenges did you face prior to opening?
- Talk about some of your successes. (People love to be inspired)
- Talk about some of your struggles after opening—and how did you overcome those challenges? (People like to know they aren’t alone in the battle to run a business)
- What are some of your favorite/best products and services?
- Where do you see your company in 5, 10, 15 years?
- How do you say motivated?
- How do you balance work as an entrepreneur with home-life?
- What advice would you give someone thinking about starting their own business?
- What’s the best piece of business advice you ever received?
- Add anything else you would like people to know about your company.
Don’t sell, serenade
People love origin stories.
They hate being sold to.
Forget the laundry list of products and services.
Instead, craft a compelling narrative about how and why your company came to be, and how readers will benefit from doing business with you.
Once the reader cares about your journey, you can sprinkle mentions of products and services onto the meat of the story.
Writing your story
Now that you have a page or three of background information to draw from, you can begin to craft your business story.
1. Write a for-now headline
You will most certainly be editing this later. But it always helps to have some sort of a starting point.
Remember, a good headline should be pithy and avoid cliché.
2. Time for the lede
The lede or introductory sentence of your story should do three things: grab the reader’s attention, tell them why this story matters to them, and compel them to keep reading.
Keep your lede to no more than 35 words.
It may not sound like much, but you can fit an awful lot of information into that space. (This sentence was only 19 words.)
3. Second paragraph
Here’s where you really get into your story.
The paragraph following your lede can be as many as two to three sentences long.
You still want to be concise but feel free to expand on what your headline promised, and what your lede set up.
4. You can quote me on that
Now it’s time for the story’s frosting—the quotes!
Well-intentioned business owners too often send press releases, which contain zero quotes, to news agencies.
“That’s really a shame because people just love to read quotes,” said Freelance Writer Benjamin J. Gohs. “Quoting an expert in a particular business field—in this case you, Mary J. Businessowner—not only enhances and humanizes a story, it also helps build trust.”
He added, “The best business story quotes include humorous occurrences, motivational quips, cautionary tales, and helpful advice.”
You’ll want to layer your quotes among the declarative sentences which make up the bones of your story.
Just be sure to keep your quotes interesting.
Three to five quotes in a 500-word story is a good target.
Now that you’ve grabbed the reader’s attention, introduced yourself, and hopefully built rapport, it’s time to give back.
So far, the reader has given you their precious time.
What they want, what they really need from you, is to tell them how you’re going to improve their life.
Whether you bake the world’s best bread, manufacture the universe’s softest toilet paper, or figured out how to keep crumbs from accumulating between the sofa cushions, your product has to be beneficial to your customer.
Otherwise, why are they buying?
In plain, honest language, tell folks why they should do business with you.
And, please, save your mission statement for your website.
6. Call to action
It gets repeated so often it’s become a cliché.
But clichés generally become cliché because they are true.
Always end your articles, press releases, and blog posts with a call to action.
Offer a special and don’t forget to include your website, social media handle, email, phone number, and physical address.
Reread and revise
You’ve sculpted your chunks of syntax into something resembling an actual factual story.
Now it’s time to go back to the beginning so you can reread and revise.
Does your headline still seem appropriate?
After all you’ve done you can probably think of five better headlines right off.
Write them down, choose the best one, and move on.
How’s your lede looking?
Is it still punchy, interesting, and informative?
Now that you know what the rest of your story looks like, you’ll have better insight into making your good lede great.
Why do I care?
Does your second paragraph still cover the who, what, why, where, and how of the story?
It has to if you want your reader to care.
Are your quotes concise, informative, and entertaining?
Have you set the appropriate tone?
This is your big chance to tell your unique story.
While you don’t want to overburden the reader with superfluous information, you also don’t want to omit any important details.
Take your time when rereading the story, because you only get one chance to make that first impression.
Check for spelling and grammatical errors and be certain all your dates and contact information are correct.
Your carefully crafted business story will now rank among the best submissions an editor receives, thus improving your chances of publication.
Don’t want the hassle of trying to compose compelling copy? Ben is ready to discuss your project. Help is just an email away at: firstname.lastname@example.org