Copy of magic words of the week Rest 21

Controlling Idea

This week, I helped a client write a press release.* 

They showed up to our meeting with a draft, but it quickly became clear we were missing something: The Point.

Why were we bothering to make this announcement?

What was the ONE thing we wanted people to understand after reading it?

What bold claim or hypothesis were we up on our soapbox preaching about?

I posed those questions to the team leader.

“That a new company is launching,” he answered. “And that we have our first product for sale. And that it helps [X] people solve [Y] problem. And that it was built by a movement in service to [Z] mission.”

All good stuff. 

But that is definitely NOT a controlling idea. 

That’s a whole jungle of ideas. 

A controlling idea should be simple. 



Your audience should realistically be able to memorize it. 

You should be able to use it as a north star to figure out what belongs and what doesn’t.

Here’s a bold claim: All persuasive writing needs a controlling idea.**

It doesn’t matter what kind of content you’re creating: a speech. An article. A homepage. A press release.

Defining your controlling idea before you start writing will make your writing cleaner and tighter. 

And you’ll know what to repeat again and again so that your audience can memorize it. 

After some back and forth, my clients and I landed on a controlling idea that became the title of the press release: “[Company name] launches to transform how America [XYZ].” (I’m not sharing the specifics because it’s not public yet, sorry!)

Other controlling ideas I’ve created for clients in the past include: 

  • “The most successful leaders get help seeing their blindspots.”
  • “Subscriptions are still a fantastic vehicle for recurring revenue — if you do them right.”
  • “There’s a good and bad way to do translation.”
  • “Your dream job is waiting for you in Dubai — you just need the right help to find it.”
  • “Most financial advisors sell you products that help them, not you.”

Ready to try it? 

Next time you’re writing something, START by getting clear on your controlling idea.

It takes time up front, but the results are worth it.

PS – Not sure where to focus next in your marketing? Take the StoryBrand free marketing assessment report for some detailed advice. (Then we can chat about it!)

*Writing a press release isn’t something I normally do, but when you have me on retainer, my rules become very flexible.

** “All persuasive writing needs a controlling idea” is the controlling idea of this email about controlling ideas. #meta

This post was originally sent as an email to the Magic Words of the Week newsletter list. Every week, I share reflections on a word, quote, or phrase I think will help you thrive in your life’s work.

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