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Looking for dinosaurs
06-23-2006
by Randall C. Willis  |  Email the author
SHARING OPTIONS:

I don't care who you are—man or woman, adult or child—everyone is intrigued by dinosaurs. Flip through television channels or pages of a magazine and I can practically guarantee you will stop at the page with the illustration of a dinosaur. Heck, if the font is large enough, you might even stop when your eye catches the word "dinosaur".
 
So allow me to let you in on a little secret. Editors love dinosaurs because we know that our readers love dinosaurs. For the same reason, editorials also like ancient Egypt and the vastness of space. So, I challenge all you product and marketing managers out there:

Why aren't you telling me about your company's dinosaurs, pyramids, and space ships?
 
Like many of my colleagues at Drug Discovery News and elsewhere, I've read more than my fair share of press releases and product announcements. And as a former communications manager for a bioinformatics group, I have also had the opportunity to write several. What I've discovered is that way too often these announcements are either filled with superlatives or detailed statements about the capabilities of the new product or service.
 
The superlatives option tells me that the company really hasn't added anything to the "art" of the technology—it hasn't really advanced the science. The capabilities option earns a bit more scrutiny on my part, but it still fails to draw the eye in a crowd of similar releases. Fundamentally, I don't want you to tell me why you think something is important, I want you to tell me why I (or more importantly, my readers) think it is important.
 
That's where the dinosaurs come in.
 
If you want a big audience for your announcements, you have to make your message as broad but interesting as possible. By lapsing into the details, you fall victim to "geek chic", which will get you some attention, but not much. You will effectively be preaching to the converted.
 
For example, tell me which part of the following statement is more interesting: "Like standing on the moon and trying to identify a specific person walking in downtown Shanghai, our screening system allows the user to detect a single protein molecule in any tissue sample." One of these statements is mildly interesting, the other is cool.
 
I'm not saying that you shouldn't include the latter part of the statement, but you've got to catch the editor's eye and you've got to stir his or her creative juices.
 
At the same time, I understand that only a subset of announcements lends itself to this type of treatment. Nor should it be practiced with all press releases for fear of fatigue (on your part or the editors'). The fact that your company now offers a drug in a weekly dosage form or its microcentrifuge tubes now come in blue and yellow hardly makes the heart stir. And no poetic allusions to sands of an hourglass will change this. But in cases where you really do have a story to tell, make sure I pick it up. Give me something upon which to hang my editorial hat.
 
Show me the dinosaur.
 
NOTE ADDED AS PROOF: I personally used an Egyptian hieroglyphs analogy to explain a new pictographic language—OntoGlyphs—developed by scientists at The Blueprint Initiative to explain the visualization of protein structural and functional characteristics in a database. The otherwise esoteric announcement received coverage in the trade media as well as the lay press.

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