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Twenty-two Words

By Thomas Lecoq

Twenty-two words, that’s all you’ve got to catch your reader’s attention before they move on to another story.

For 50 years, I’ve followed that 22-word rule. And if you want to get the word out about VT, I suggest you do too. Whether in print, electronic, television, social media, short and to the point in your first paragraph is critical. Limiting the length of your initial paragraph encourages you to say something compelling.

I’m a journalist by training. Spent a decade in newsrooms as writer, photographer and editor. All before discovering my calling to help VT ODs serve more patients. I’ve done public relations and even advertising, and short and compelling works.

Press releases are a really good vehicle for getting the word about VT out while also providing an office to contact. It is a great way to promote seminars, workshops. And it is a basic tool for generating TV and radio publicity.

But wordy releases, especially if it includes technical language, get no consideration and are immediately tossed. How do I know this? Because that’s what I did with such releases. To use it would require taking time to rewrite it, to make it conform to Associated Press style, or worse, to have to make a call to clarify something.

Surprise, it is often the cover letter that “sells” your story to the editor, or assignment editor for TV or radio. It needs to be very short, and just the facts about the content. A pithy cover letter can easily get a reporter assigned to come interview you, If you offer to provide a patient for a photograph—or have a great photo you can attach to your letter, that becomes irresistible.

As a print editor, a tightly written, fact-filled release that had an appropriate and well composed picture, meant I would use it, especially if it had a date-certain public seminar or workshop.

Back to the lead paragraph, (the lead in journalistic parlance). What’s the point. If you attended a CE course, what did you learn and as specifically as possible, what kind of patient signs or symptoms are present in such patients? There’s the lead.


“ 'Children with slow, h e s i t a n t reading, who fail to recognize a word they struggled to sound out one sentence before, often have vision issues.'

According to Dr. Smith, a vision specialist who helps such children, the problem is found in one out of five young students. Dr. Smith, back from a post-doctoral course on vision and learning, explained that new studies found that the problem is very common among children who are constantly using phones, tablets and other small screens held close to their face.”

As you read this, you’ll notice that both paragraphs describe the behavior and performance of children with learning-related vision problems. After 40 years, I find the most important element of stories that produce patients is that they list observable signs (for children) and symptoms (for adult patients) It is all about triggering recognition in the reader that their Johnny or Jill does that, and it gets their interest.

Add an offer of a workshop where they can learn to identify such problems using some simple home tests or demonstrations, or a phone number, website or social media page to call, text or visit, and the reader has a course of action.

Once published or covered by TV or Radio news or talk shows, you can use the coverage to post on social media, or use in a podcast, YouTube channel, or other media. This is a parlay, and I’ll address it in a future blog.

The biggest problem for most offices is finding someone to write a press release that follows the rules editors use. There are a few ways around this. Take or have a committed staffer take a journalism class or hire a writer with experience and train them. These are much more challenging than they sound. Notice I am not recommending a public relations service. There is a reason for that based on my many experiences with agencies over the years. If an agency insists you start with a press package, try another agency.

Most press releases are 250 to 300 words (2 to 2.5 pages double spaced), which is about all you can expect to get published from a press release. I will also suggest picture ideas, based on my photojournalism experiences. All local and regional papers give strong preference for copy with tightly composed pictures. Any cell phone takes adequate pictures for this purpose.

Like print copy, a picture always benefits from trimming and editing. Copy should

concentrate on the main theme of the release and pictures should show faces of patients (or models) actively engaged in doing a visual activity. Pictures that illustrate observable signs are the best of all.

If you do this, you will want to post the material and pictures on social media. And if you are posting videos, showing someone manifesting the problem, such as hesitant reading, is invaluable and powerful.

The beauty of press releases are they are so versatile. While you hope they will run in local papers as is, they are also the tool of choice to get all kinds of coverage. For example, a doctor not far from Long Beach, CA, got a release printed in the city news daily. It was picked up by a regional TV station’s beach area producer, who then sent a crew out to interview him. That video became a staple of his workshops, but even better, that triggered recognition by a principal of the school that coordinated all home schooler activity, someone you would probably never reach ordinarily.

Another client’s release was picked up by a local Christian radio station, which sponsored all kinds of services for home schoolers. They did a Q&A session that filled the call-in lines, so she became a regular on that show. Today, her videos on social media have generated a steady flow of referrals from all over the region.

These are examples of the true value of press releases, and hopefully, convince you to start using them as a tool to generate patients, referrals, and contacts with educators and professionals in your area who are in a position to refer.

Just remember the 22 word rule. It will focus your thinking and sharpen your message.

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