Category Archives: writing

The Dip and Making Changes

A few years ago I read The Dip, by Seth Godin. He’s a bestselling author of marketing and motivational books, and I find his work interesting. For the most part, his ideas are common sense things we already know but periodically need to be reminded of by good writers.

“The Dip” is a “little book that teaches you when to quit and when to stick.” I bring this up not because I’m quitting this blog.

Goodness no.

I’m moving it to a new location. And merging it (mergers can be good, yes?) I’m making it part of my Adunate business blog in order to be more efficient with my time and make best use of a larger readership.

New Location

So check it out at adunate.com/blog/ under the Communicating Christ category. Bookmark the site. Read and comment often! And take time to check out the other categories as well.

God’s blessings!

Three Ways to Combat the 30-3-30 Rule

Recently I presented the workshop “Creating Newsletters People Actually Read” at the Church & Change Conference in Milwaukee. Apparently, this topic interests many because the turnout was great and we had interesting discussions.

One point I made is the “30-3-30 Rule.” This theory says there are three kinds of readers: 30-second readers, 3-minute readers and 30-minute readers. Unfortunately, 30-second readers make up 80 percent of the average newsletter audience.

Certainly this percentage necessitates greater efforts in good design and concise writing. But inventive editors have come up with other ideas, as well. I researched and found a few.

Write Creative Headlines
Advertising authority David Oglivy knew the importance of a good headline.
In his book Confessions of an Advertising Man, he offers four proven headline types; the How To, the Question, the Top 10 Reasons, and the Testimonial.

Challenge Readers
When I was a kid, I would scour issues of Highlights Magazine, searching for the hidden images. Some newsletters create the same challenge by “hiding” a member’s name (or other identifying information) in the text of the newsletter. The first member to spot it and call the office, wins a prize. What a fun way to hook young and old readers alike.

Feature New Members
People are naturally interested in other people. Particularly new people. Introduce new members in your newsletter, together with a nice snapshot. It immediately gets newcomers involved in the newsletter and also is a great way for members to get to know them.

Pass Along Ideas
What’s proven successful for your church newsletter?
Please share!


Shame on Google

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

photo credit Debbi Smirnoff

So it seems Google—that search engine magnate labeled the most powerful brand in the world—doesn’t feel the need to compensate its creative talent.

Last week, The New York Times wrote of Google’s invitation to prominent artists to contribute artwork for its new Google Chrome browser.

Compensation? None.

Understandably, many of these artists felt somewhat hung out to dry. And, admirably, as much as they’d love Google’s exposure, many rejected it with outspoken opinions.

How does that relate to us and our work of communicating Christ?

Certainly, it doesn’t, right? After all, our churches don’t have the multi-billion dollar income of Google’s. Nor do we share its wordly mission. The church is excluded from respecting the work of creatives because, after all, it’s for the Lord, right?

Wrong.

God blesses people with creative talents, of which many use  to earn a living. They study their craft and spend great time developing it. Their work, known as intellectual property, deserves respect. God also commands us to respect our nation’s laws and says,  “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men…” (1 Peter 2:13).

Here are a few things to keep in mind, as we show Christian respect to creatives and our laws.

  • Graphic design, illustrations, photography, music and written words are all exclusively owned by their creators, including those posted on the Internet. To use them without permission violates the U.S. Copyright Law. It’s stealing.
  • Fair Use, a section of the copyright law, offers a little leeway. However, it’s very ambiguous and contextual, and churches shouldn’t feel it offers complete exemption from the law. Church Marketing Sucks posted an interesting discussion on how it applies to religious organizations.
  • Professionals work hard to create their craft. Just as a church compensates a plumber or electrician, so should it compensate a professional artist.
  • Many professionals donate projects out of love for God and their church. Pro-bono, however, does not mean “no value, no time or no effort.” Creative work can command $50-150/hr., elsewhere. Respect this work. Respect the professional’s time, just as you would someone you were paying.

Press Release: They Don’t Call it Free Press for Nothing

O.K. I admit I’m a bit ambiguous in my use of “free press.”

Journalistically, the term “free press” refers to the uncensored freedom our constitution offers American media. For our church purposes, this term carries an additional reference: a wonderful opportunity to publicize our message of Christ.

For free. As in no cost.

A press release is free publicity

Direct selling expert Jeffrey Dobkin says a well-written press release is “the most valuable single page in all of marketing” (or, in our case, mission outreach). A press release is a document sent to media editors who, if they find it interesting, will publish it or decide to further report on it. For free.

You can send press releases to newspapers, magazines, radio, T.V. and now online publications. There are even online press release services that help distribute your news for you.

Of course, there’s a catch: You have to write it right

Editors receive a gazillion press releases each day. They have a ton of reading to do and not much time to do it. If you write your press release right, it will not only get read, it will also get published.

Match your media
Make sure there’s a connection between you and the media. If you’re publicizing your church’s elderly day care, send a release to your local newspaper or AARP Magazine. The Onion newspaper would not be a good choice.

Contact the editor
After selecting a media, contact its editor and ask how you should send your release. Hard copy? Email? Addressed to whom? This is a good time to put in a quick plug: “I’m Joe, from Trinity Ministries, and I’d like to send a press release on our exciting Hispanic outreach program. Who should I send it to and in what format?”

Remember, editors are busy people. Get straight to the point. And call after the media has been sent to publication, such as the afternoon if it’s a daily newspaper.

Press Release format
Google press release template and you’ll come up with hundreds of helpful guidelines. They’re basically all the same and I’ve posted one here. Of course, since you’ve already spoken with the editor, you’ll know if he or she has particular preferences. Customize your release to meet those preferences.

Use the Inverted Pyramid
Another journalism term here. But, hey, when in Rome…

Think of your document as an upside down triangle, with the wide base on top narrowing down to a point at the bottom. The broad base represents your opening paragraph and your most newsworthy information. The point at the bottom represents the last paragraph and the least newsworthy. In other words, if the newspaper needs to cut out the last paragraph for lack of space, make sure everything the public needs to know is in the first paragraph.

Note: This style of writing may be absolutely opposite what you learned in school, particularly if you’re a pastor. Remember, think journalism.

Absolutely NO passive voice!
The media is about action. Write in an active voice. Use strong action verbs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check this out.

Five W’s and an H
Who, where, what, when, why and how? These are journalistic questions you have to answer. Is your church sponsoring an overseas missionary? Tell who she is. Where is she going? When will she go? What mission work will she do? How will she do it? Why?

Why? Because of Jesus
The public media hardly seems a receptive tool for spreading the gospel of Christ. If you come on too preachy, you’ll likely never make it off the editor’s desk. Jesus was often subtle in his manner of teaching. We can be subtle too.

“Building a new school during tough economic times is a challenge,” says John Jones, principal of Abiding Word School. “However, we know God has a plan and we trust it will be a good one.”

Imagine how the Holy Spirit can use a quote as simple as this to work miracles in the hearts of thousands. Talk about free press!

Press Release: You Gotta Have a Format

Writing a press release? Follow this easy template.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Contact Person
Company Name
Voice Phone Number
FAX Number
Email Address
Website URL

Headline Announces News in Strong Active Voice,
Ideally Under 80 Characters

<City>, <State>, <Date> -The lead 1-2 sentences must contain your most important information in 25 words or less. Answer who, what, when, where, why and how.

Keep the following paragraphs short, with no more than 3-4 sentences. Some say the total word count for your release should be no more than 800 words. I think even that’s too long and prefer to keep it to 500-600 words. It must be written as factual, with no hype or salesmanship. Any information that is considered subjective, such as an opinion, should be expressed as a quote.

Use the last paragraph to inform the public of your church or organization. Follow up with: “For more information, call or email…”

– END –

Type “End” after the end of your story to let journalists know this is the end of your release. If your release goes onto a second page, type “MORE” at the bottom of the first page.

If relevant, include a quality, black and white photo image relating to your story.

Happy Epiphany

Epiphany…the twelfth and last day of Christmas. The day Magi visited the Holy Child. The day John baptized Jesus. Or, the day Jesus changed the water into wine.

Depending on the tradition, this ancient church holiday commemorates any one of these events. Above all, Epiphany (Greek for “manifest” or “to reveal”) celebrates God’s revelation of Jesus Christ as his own Son.

As a kid, I remember my parochial school teachers saying we shouldn’t take our Christmas tree down before Epiphany. Now, as an adult, I’ve grown beyond such ideas, not out of apathy towards a somewhat forgotten holiday but because our tree—which, by the way, we cut only three weeks ago from our own woods— had dried to a crisp and threatened to ignite the whole house.

Who cares about a tree?

Instead, let’s think of Epiphany as the celebration it is. A celebration of God’s love.

Being the mortal humans we are, there’s no way we can fully comprehend an immortal God. Yet, when God revealed himself as a man on earth— someone people could see, hear and touch—he gave us an opportunity to better know him, to more easily understand his saving grace.

Wow! God did all that for us!

Epiphany in those terms certainly outshines any effort we put forth in sharing our Savior’s message. In spite of that, we have our own God-given command to reveal his message and tools with which to do so—words, visuals and, oh, so much more. My goal this year is to use them to his glory.

Pausing for a Breath

I regularly read Penelope Trunk, a career-advice columnist with the Boston Globe and author of the Brazen Careerist. While her subject matter is sometimes off the wall and her manner of delivery is even more so, I still find her informative, educational and applicable.

PT, as she’s often referred to by her blog followers, recently wrote on the idea of the pause. She wrote in regards to public speaking and how a pause adds impact to the important things a speaker has to say.

Here’s an example:

You’re listening to a speaker fire away, non-stop, on, and on, and on. He doesn’t give you time to replenish oxygen let alone absorb what’s being said. In a more effective delivery, a speaker would briefly pause after specific points during his speech. He would give his audience opportunity to laugh at his jokes, feel the emphasis of what’s important, or collect their thoughts.

The same can be said for our writing
The long, drawn out paragraph is like the rambling, non-stop speaker. There’s a major difference, however. The speaker, at least, gets a start with his message before loosing his audience. The writer, on the other hand, loses his audience before his first words are ever read.

Why?

Because we, the audience, are automatically scared away by big blocks of written text. In today’s world of blogging, twittering and news articles, this is magnified all the more.

“I encourage people to pause in their writing,” wrote an instructor, who commented on PT’s blog. “I suggest that they write paragraphs of two or three sentences. This may not be what you learned in school, but it works. A paragraph break in a written document is like a pause in a conversation.”

Pay attention to the writing style of quality newspapers. Take note of well-written blogs. Learn what people are reading today and keep that form in mind as you write your message of Christ.