Peter Campbell, Public Information Officer

Peter Campbell, Public Information Officer. Image Credit: AMC/Lionsgate

Well, I never thought I’d be quoting Pete Campbell on anything, let alone in a panel on science communications.

I am, of course, referring to one Peter Campbell, the whiny rat of a character on the television show Mad Men on AMC, played by actor Vincent Kartheiser. Pete is the smarmy, hotshot account executive of the show’s fictional advertising agency, and to be fair, the character is growing (painfully).

In the episode “At the Codfish Ball” the other week, Pete found himself having to explain his job to a doubting academic. The exchange*, at a black tie dinner, went like this:

Pete:  “… so I manage those accounts.”

Dr. Calvet: “But I don’t understand. What do you do everyday.”

Pete: “Well what do you do? You’re a scholar and an intellectual, right?”

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Writing a Press Release: Death by Six-Shooter

Hit’em hard.

I was helping one of my researchers today to edit a press release draft that he had written. When I was writing out the standard formula for a press release in an email explanation, I kept wanting to gesticulate and say that a good press release should deliver the facts quickly and succinctly — essentially six quick bullet points that form a story. Then, a particular idea suddenly struck me:

(Please let me know if this already has been used/suggested by someone else… I plead innocence through shared creativity! I also plead guilty to muddled and morbid analogies/examples, if so judged…)

Death by Six-Shooter:  A press release should knock your reader over like six quick shots that deliver the facts and importance of your story. Humor the following example:

  1. The lede:  What’s the news?  I got shot! 
  2. The nutgraph:  Where/when/tell me more!  I got shot in the gut when I was in line to buy a caramel decaf mocha at the 15th and J Starbucks!
  3. The pithy quote:  The news and its importance, in your own words:  “It really hurts, and this has significant implications for my lifespan.”
  4. The detailed description:  Paint me a picture of the story:  There’s now blood everywhere and that might be the duodenum peeking out. No one got a look at the shooter, who was last seen with a venti Americano before fleeing the scene.
  5. The background and signficance:  Here’s what else you need to know: I’ve always hypothesized that I’d bite it from a coronary from eating too much KFC. Most people have a 0.01 percent chance of dying from a gunshot at Starbucks versus a 0.09 percent chance from KFC cardiac episodes. But surprisingly, I got shot instead – making this a most unusual finding.
  6. The last word:  A pithy statement/quote to sum it up, once more, with feeling:  “Getting shot was unexpected and a hell of a way to go. But this gives us more clues as to whether getting shot while ordering coffee is a new trend for kicking the bucket.”

Feel free to improve upon this… post your versions in the comments!