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Less is more when it comes to writing a Press Release, right? 

Yes — but there’s one detail you don’t want to leave out. 

(And this applies as much to a Briefing Paper for a client, or a Report to the Board, as it does to a Press Release.) 

A splash of colour. 

Of course, you want to keep things succinct. 

But even a short document can be transformed for the better by the deliberate addition — yes, addition — of a handful of apparently irrelevant facts.  

Journalists have a word for this.  “Colour”.   

Let me take you back to a damp Wednesday morning last week near the Sussex Downs.  I had prepared a workshop for a company that wanted me to show them how to spice up the briefing document they wrote for their own clients.   

They realised that journalists have to spot details in the dullest of subject matter, to bring those dull stories to life.   So they’d called me up for some help. 

As the rain splashed on the Edwardian window panes of the client’s offices, about ten minutes into my presentation, I shared this slide: 

A while later, just before the coffee break, flapjack on standby, we played a short game … ‘Spot the Colour’.   For this, I had recorded a couple of clips from recent radio and TV bulletins.

In the first clip, Josh Baker, an investigative reporter for BBC Panorama, described how he’d spotted a propaganda video by a terrorist organisation that had inspired his documentary. 

But he didn’t simply tell us how he came across it on his phone.  He told us that when he did, he’d been up a ladder, helping his dad, who owned a hair salon, do some interior decoration. 

In the other clip, Chris Mason, the BBC’s Political Editor, had described what would happen during the Select Committee hearing investigating whether Boris Johnson had lied to the Commons. 

But he didn’t just list the sequence of events.  Chris told us that at one point, a loud bell would sound, everyone would have to stand up, and walk several hundred yards down a corridor to vote in the Chamber. 

Chris Mason – good at colour

Josh Baker – makes difficult material engaging

These are examples of ‘colour’.  Details that aren’t necessary, but help paint a picture that I, ‘the audience’ can immediately understand and relate to — that keep me listening because they demand no concentration, lighten the tone, and might even be amusing. 

If you’ve read this far, you may have noticed that I did precisely that a few paragraphs up.  

Did you need to know that it was raining when I delivered my workshop?  Did it matter that the coffee was about to be served, with flapjack alongside?  

Of course not.   But (I hope) by stimulating your senses with details you could instantly picture, it added texture, caught your attention … and kept you reading. 

So — in a Press Release/Briefing Paper you could add colour by painting a vivid, eye-catching picture of the sort of person your news/research is going to focus on. 

And put it early on — in the first couple of paragraphs — rather than buried at the end.

Without the odd splash of colour, reports can just become a list of facts and data that need to be read, but that are hard to digest and require will-power to get through. 

Next time you’re sitting with your head in your hands, laptop staring at you, daunted by your boring subject matter — throw in the odd irrelevant detail.  

It may help your readers get to the end.   Just as you have! 

If you’d like some help bringing your internal or external comms to life, give me a call on 07850 188620.  I’ll always answer the phone – the screensaver is currently a lovely view of the Welsh mountains … 

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