Do your magazine pages have a mission? How do you focus your headlines? Are you adding color with quotes?

Last month I helped judge South Carolina Living’s Co-op News contest. A dozen electric co-ops from across the Palmetto State competed on how well they help member and utility news shine on their local pages.

Some pages were great. Others showed promise, but need a few tweaks. Use the tips I shared in my contest comments to strengthen your own local pages.

1. Know Your Mission

One of the great parts of the contest was reading each co-op’s publication objective (75 words or less). Do you have one? An objective keeps your content on track, helping you know how to best approach each story.

These 3 missions are my favorites:

We focus on members, employees and businesses and what they do for the good of the communities we serve. Santee Electric Cooperative

It’s important for our members to know that providing great service means more than keeping the power on. It means a great consumer experience, a commitment to their communities, and a more personal engagement with them. Our communications promote our staff, our efforts to provide great service, and our vision for the future. Broad River Electric Cooperative

While the message is important, the way the story is told is also important. Emphasis is placed on the fact that we are your neighbors. When our member reads the CEO column, we want them to feel like they are sitting across the kitchen table, having a chat with a trusted friend. Every story reflects that the member is LREC’s top priority. Lynches River Electric Cooperative

2. Make Headlines Shine

Too often, writers focus on body copy more than the headline, which is the only part of the story most readers see.

“On average, 5 times as many people read the headline as read the body copy,” said advertising giant David Ogilvy.

Do not waste your most valuable space. Make sure each headline (with or without a subhead) tells a story. Examples:

  • One South Carolina utility column used the headline, “A Busy April…” After reading the column, I suggested a headline conveying content: “Million-Dollar Refund and Solar Program Shine in April.”
  • Avoid broad strokes. Add details to headlines. Instead of “Celebrating National Co-op Month,” highlight the theme or the impact co-ops make on the local community: “Co-ops Build Community, Jobs and Trust.”
  • Headlines should reflect how programs impact consumers, not what a utility does. “[UTILITY] provides community assistance” could be “Feeding Local Families in Need.”

3. Stick to Simple Words

Look for ways to make your writing easy to read. Some writers pack stories with big words. High-syllable words may sound smart, but they form roadblocks for many readers. Aim for a sixth-grade reading level to make content easier for readers to understand.

While reading contest entries, I found the following words: correspondingly, hasten, ample, strenuous, encounter, designating, strive, adhere. Scan your writing for complex words, then simplify them. The goal is easy-to-understand content, not to sound smarter than the reader.

4. Add Color with Quotes

Features are stronger with local voices. Some contest entry stories only had 1 or 2 quotes, often at the end of a story.

Quotes add color and voices to content. Showcase great quotes by putting them near the top of your story. When I wrote for a newspaper, I aimed for a quote in every other paragraph. It was my way to make sure the voice of the subject—not my own writing voice—was heard loud and clear.

Attribution was another common challenge. Be consistent. Use the subject’s full name and title on first mention. Ruralite’s style is to then use the subject’s first name throughout the rest of the story.

One caution on adding quotes to stories: Do not list information in quotes (i.e., a phone number or address). Quotes should add color, not facts.

5. Give Directions

Last, but not least, always include a way to get involved or learn more at the end of each story. Talking about a scholarship? Share how to apply. Highlighting a community group that got an Operation Round Up grant? Tell readers how to donate.

This goes for your social media channels, too. Almost every utility in the contest showed icons for social media channels, but only a handful provided website addresses for each channel.

Instead of saying, “Find Us,” give readers a reason to connect with you on social media. Do you provide outage updates? Energy efficiency tips? Rebate information? Share the value of following your posts.

More Examples

Ruralite Services’ members use the magazine as a vehicle to share local and regional news, too. Have tips of your own? Add them to the comments section below.