Compelling Copy Gets You Published

Rosanne Ullmanby Guest Poster Rosanne Ullman, contributing editor to Modern Salon, Salon Today, Renew, INOurSalon, FirstChair and firstchair.com.  Visit her website at betterwritinggroup.com.

Even before the current stream of layoffs, editors at newspapers, magazines and websites had little time to fix, plump up or pare down press releases in order to transform them into publishable articles.  And now, with skimpy skeleton staffs, more than ever editors select for publication those pieces that need minimum tweaking.  If you see the same people getting press over and over, that’s why.

How can your salon or spa join the list of PR sources that editors consistently count on to save them time?

  1. Always include visuals. Show the before-and-after photos for a dramatic make-over, include a pic of the finished style when you describe an innovative technique or send a head shot of the staffer who won a national competition.
  2. Choose a topic readers will find interesting.  In 2009, an announcement that your salon has gone green by switching light bulbs and installing recycling bins does not make for fascinating reading.  If you’re also composting hair cuttings and all of your electrical power is generated by the grease from the fried chicken joint next door, now you’ve got something.
  3. Write punch-packing copy … and as little of it as possible.  Every sentence-indeed, every word-must be necessary.  In print publishing, space is money; in web publishing, wordiness only motivates browsers to click elsewhere.  If your copy cannot grab the editors’ attention, they will never share it with their readers.

Speaking of Copy – Verbs Rule

For your first draft, write down everything you want to say.  Then go back and delete extra words, redundancies, and nonessential information. Editors don’t mind correcting comma and apostrophe usage or replacing a lame headline, but proofread your copy to free it of typos and awkward language.

Two broad and interrelated guidelines will help you to craft sophisticated sentence structure. Stick with me here, because if you get lost amid the grammatical terms you’ll still be able to pick up the idea through the examples.

  • Write more sentences in active voice than in passive voice. While you may have heard about the evils of passive voice, few people know how to identify and avoid it.  With active voice, the subject starts the sentence, and the verb helps it to drive the action.  With passive voice, the object starts the sentence, and the verb indicates what happens to that object.  The difference may sound subtle, but an entire paragraph of passive voice irritates the reader.

Passive voice: Earth tones are used in the decor throughout most of the understated salon, while a splash of color is supplied by a mural on the reception area wall. (The verb phrases are used and is supplied by indicate passive voice. The actual subject does not appear in the first part-who uses the earth tones?-while in the second part, the hidden subject is mural.)

Active voice: The designer uses earth tones throughout the understated salon decor, while a mural supplies a splash of color on the reception area wall. (The active voice’s simple verbs, uses and supplies, cause the subject to drive the action.)

Is passive voice ever okay?  Sure.  I’d argue that the first part of the above example works better in passive voice, because inserting the subject-the designer-adds extraneous information. But often you can craft an active voice sentence by switching out a weak verb like uses for a stronger, more precise verb.

Better active voice sentence: Earth tones define the understated salon decor, while a mural splashes color on the reception area wall. (Do you see how verbs like define and splashes freshen the sentence and smack the reader into paying attention?  This leads to the next guideline.)

  • Choose strong, dead-on verbs, which will help you to limit “be” verbs and prepositions. By using active voice, you’ll already eliminate many “be” verbs such as is, are, was, were, have been, has been, had been, could be, should have been and so forth. Aim higher yet for beefier verbs than catch-alls go/went, has/have, do/does, make and give.  Further simplify your sentences by avoiding unnecessary prepositions-those little words like in, on, of, by, for and to-and reworking any sentence that begins with There.

Weak: There are many opportunities for clients to become involved with our salon’s activities.

Stronger: Our salon offers many opportunities for clients to become involved.

Even stronger: Our salon involves clients in many activities.

Weak: This style has the same lines, although updated, as the ones that were popular in the 1940s and makes women look great no matter what their age.

Stronger: This style updates popular 1940s lines and flatters women of all ages.

Weak: The seminar that our staff went to was focused on the latest hair cuts that are being presented on fashion runways for the fall of 2009.

Stronger: Our staff attended a seminar that showcased hair cuts hot off the fall 2009 fashion runways.

Sorry to turn this into grammar class, but powerful verbs pave the path to developing compelling copy.  As an editor myself, I can confide that editors would much sooner toss a press release than spend hours on the revise. Provide succinct, captivating copy accompanied by professional-quality photographs, and you may find yourself or your salon in headlines all over the place.

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