Thursday, September 10, 2015

The best pyramid scheme

Nothing quite says 'hard work' like taking a peek at they pyramids in Egypt. There, in the middle of the desert, Pharaohs had either their impressed labor/religious devotees bust their behinds for decades to construct some of the world's most amazing structures. To this day, they remain engineering marvels.

"I'm pretty sure that stone goes over there..."
Of course, they did take a ton of work to build. But, what if I told you that using a pyramid could help make your job as a public information officer a whole lot easier? Would you believe me?

The Inverted Pyramid. Get to know it.
Sure it will, if you flip it up on its head. The Inverted Pyramid is a tool that journalists have used for a long time to guide their writing. And, if we want to succeed in pitching our information to the media, it only goes to follow that we should be providing our information in a manner which reporters are familiar with.

The basic premise of the Inverted Pyramid is this - you put all of the most important information up at the top of your news release. I know, there are some of us out there who want to be mystery novel writers who would love to keep our readers in suspense until the last minute, but that's not what's going to fly with reporters. Many of them are working hard to file a few stories each day, and they don't have the time to read through your release to get the big payoff. In fact, given the volume of news releases that cross an editor's desk in a day, your release may have an average of five seconds or less to grab his or her attention.

Not a lot of time for exposition.

Joe Friday just wants the facts
Just like Detective Joe Friday in the TV show Dragnet, just the facts, ma'am. That's what the reporter needs. But, it's so much more than that. When you write in the Inverted Pyramid, you help get the most important facts out to the public because of cutting.

Cut away the unnecessary stuff
I go back to my example of the incredible number of releases received by editors and reporters in a day. In many cases, your press release can serve as a stand-alone story in a newspaper or a reader in a broadcast. If the story is too long, the editors may simply cut from the bottom of your release. If you have all of your important news at the top, it makes their job much easier, and no one will miss the less important facts which you have placed at the bottom of your release.

Where does this get sideways? I'm glad you asked. I have taught many public information officers through the years, and one of the exercises we do is to have them write a sample press release based on a hypothetical event. The people who have the toughest time understanding this concept are law enforcement and fire rescue PIOs. Not because they can't understand the concept, but because just about everything else they write is done in a chronological format. If the first call to the station for help came in at 2 p.m., but the chlorine gas wasn't released until 4:30 p.m., no one is really going to care about the two and a half hours that led up to the potentially lethal event. A release should focus on the most important and critical piece of information before anything else is even mentioned.

Some truly inverted pyramids
Now that you know about the Inverted Pyramid, you might discover that the whole concept stands your view of the world on its head. That's a good thing, especially if it helps you get your message out to the public.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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