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Publicity Fine Points: Four Techniques for Increasing Your Believability 

by Marcia Yudkin 

Many years ago, I made the mistake of mentioning in an online forum frequented by PR specialists that it usually took me less than an hour to write a press release. My fellow professionals exploded with scorn. Most were sure, without ever having seen a sample of my work, that such releases couldn't possibly be any good. I learned my lesson: Reveal the truth about fast, good work only at the cost of losing credibility.

Certain claims, while true, do not pass the test of believability with journalistic gatekeepers, specialized audiences or the general public. Therefore they present a serious challenge for publicists. In some cases, supplementary information bolsters credibility. In other cases, it's best to tone down a statement or change it to make it more believable. 

Believability technique #1: Add an authoritative source for mind-stretching information. Naturally, I don't mean making anything up, but rather citing reputable organizations that have reported similar results or related facts. 

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For instance, suppose you're publicizing a cookbook of eggplant recipes, published in Princeton, New Jersey. Though most people don't know this, two-thirds of the world's eggplant is grown in New Jersey. If you were going to include this fact in your release, you'd do well to add, "According to the New Jersey State Agricultural Report..." 

Believability technique #2: Add a damaging admission. By inserting a negative fact or qualifying the statement slightly, you can make a claim more believable. Let's say that a lobbyist purports that he's never forgotten the name of anyone he's met. This is easier to believe with the caveat that it's only true for business contacts or only for those met since 1988, when he took a memory course.

Believability technique #3: Use specific numbers rather than round ones. My blood runs cold when my income tax return happens to show a round number for a deduction, such as $2,000 exactly. Internal Revenue Service auditors tend to suspect that round figures are estimates. This applies outside of accounting, too. A statistic of "98.76%" is more believable than "99 percent" or "close to 100%." Round numbers are fine in headlines, but use exact figures in the body of a release to earn more credibility.

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Believability technique #4: Tone down the claim. If a particular investment appreciated 500% in just six months, without any obvious explanation, seasoned readers may suspect a scam. Saying it more than doubled in value may be both true and more believable.

Remember that before your news gets to the general public, it has to pass the sniff test among journalists, who take skepticism and cynicism to a professional level. Don't let your press release get deleted because you're touting something that appears too good to be true. By carefully backing up what you've said, or backing off a bit from the incredible, you can earn people's trust - first among the media gatekeepers and later with their readers.

Copyright 2009 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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