I still remember the first day of my first university journalism class. My professor, a stoic newsman who wrote Sherlock Holmes novels in his spare time, began with a warning:
“And to all of the English majors and creative writers in this class: you have your work cut out for you. Journalism is different. There is no fluff. You start with the facts. You begin with the news. You lead with the end.”
Lead with the end? I panicked. As a lifelong creative writer AND English major, I felt doomed to fail at this crazy, fact-based, backward writing. Why would you lead with the ending? Why would you give away the best stuff up front?
I soon learned why — and it changed my writing, and my career, forever.
Why? Because journalism gave me the tools I needed to stand out in this content-crowded online world we live, work and play within.
And one of the most important tools in that toolbox was learning how to hook people. How to engage readers. How to keep them reading.
How to lede people in.
And I believe it’s something ALL school marketers should know.
Lede (or lead) is a journalism term that refers to the introduction of a news story, article, essay or book chapter. This opening paragraph, or paragraphs, is used to engage readers and give them the main idea or takeaway of the article.
In journalism, the lede introduces or answers the questions of who, what, where, when, why and how. (Ever hear the phrase “Don’t bury the lede!”? This is in reference to news articles that fail to offer the most important information up front.)
In essays, ledes summarize the parts of an argument and introduce the conclusion. In feature and magazine articles, ledes are often creative and flexible, a mix between the journalistic and the essay style. They aim to grab reader attention and hook them with a story or premise. (Ahem, like this little article you’re reading right now.)
So ledes can hook readers in various ways, depending on the content they are introducing. But what do ledes look like in school marketing?
When writing a school website page, stick to the journalistic style. Because reader attention is so fleeting (only 20% of the words on an average web page are actually read!), you want to make it easy for your readers to take away your key message.
Your website page lede should make it clear to the reader that this page is meant for them and will somehow address their questions or concerns on the topic. Think back to those 5 W’s (and the H!). Answer:
Not all questions will be relevant to every page lede, but this will give you a good starting point to ensure you’re giving your readers enough information. Then, if this page is relevant to their needs, they will continue to read on for details.
Here’s an example from my good friends at The Quaker School at Horsham:
This introduction answers:
Blog posts are an interesting animal. Some can be journalistic and simply “report” on a topic, and some can be more like feature magazine stories (again, like this one). So it’s okay to use the type of lede that works best with the story you’re telling.
Here’s my personal take on it:
We dive deeper into this topic in the post: When Should You Use Storytelling in School Communications? So if you haven’t already, I would give that a read!
Here’s an example of a school blog article that mixes the two. In 5 Ways to Get Noticed by College Coaches, Cheshire Academy’s Cody Barbierri begins by putting himself in the reader’s shoes, and then promises the reader what he or she will get by reading the article:
Wait, what? Emails need ledes? Aren’t they just broadcasts of information?
Aha, my friends. It may be time to rethink your email communications. Because when it comes to email marketing, it’s just as — if not more — important to hook readers with your content introduction. If you don’t, that broadcast will be sent straight to the trash.
There are a variety of ways to hook a reader in your email content:
If you want to see these email styles in action, sign up to get one weekly tip you can act on to tell a stronger school story. We mix news with lessons and stories and more.
And if you’re looking for even more website copywriting support and suggestions, explore Write Your School Site, our online course on creating top-performing school website content: