I’ve told some PR people to think of that first line like a tweet.Give me everything I need to know in a sentence, then elaborate on the details.”So that means we can say goodbye to email pitches that begin with “hope this email finds you well” and instead focus on the first one to 200 words that make up the average paragraph, with a special emphasis on the first sentence – which should likely be between eight to 14 words long. According to research by the American Press Institute, “Readers’ Degree of Understanding,” we are better at comprehending shorter sentences than longer ones.
“You could tell by then if they were relevant.”Since working at the Wall Street Journal, Lawton has moved to public relations as the senior communications manager and head of communications of North America at HERE.
The experience of being both the recipient and now the sender of pitches has given him perspective. I usually start them by introducing myself, and I tend to keep it very short and reference something that I saw that they wrote and try to expand on it in a way that they didn’t do in their first article.”Ken Miguel, the special projects producer of ABC 7 News in San Francisco, says PR people need to remember that journalists are focused on reporting new stories, so beginning a pitch with “XYZ has been in the news lately” is likely to get rejected.
“If it’s in my area I generally know what’s going on. I look for the meaning and tone.”Christopher Lawton, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, echoed Gage’s sentiments.
“I really didn’t go that far beyond the first paragraph,” he said.
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“That immediately tells me it’s already been out there and gives me no reason to want to cover it.
It isn’t ‘new’ anymore.”Miguel added, “The first line is your pitch; if you don’t sell me in the first line, I won’t keep going to the second.
Ann Wylie summarized the findings for the Public Relations Society of America, noting, “When the average sentence length in a piece was fewer than eight words long, readers understood 100 percent of the story.
Even at 14 words, they could comprehend more than 90 percent of the information.
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