How You Can Help Actuaries Make Headlines

By Andrew Melvin

There are well over 1,000 opportunities for actuaries keen to promote the profession in Canada, and thousands of journalists waiting to hear from CIA members.

The country has 118 daily papers, read by one in five adults—one of the highest readership ratios in the world. Canada also has 1,000-plus community papers, read by 73 percent of people in non-urban centres. Most of these outlets also operate online news services as well.

Each of them could represent a way for actuaries to raise the profile of the profession, via letters pages, op-ed pieces, and other writing. In an age of dwindling newsgathering resources, a letter from an actuary or an opinionated e-mail about an issue of the day might be ideal for newspaper staff looking for one more headline.

However, thanks to the pace and scale of today’s electronic communications, editors can be swamped with press releases, texts, tweets, and other messages. Here are some ways in which you can help make yours stand out:

  1. Consider your audience. When faced with a flood of contributions, the primary question for any journalist or news editor will be: "Which of these will appeal to the largest section of our readers?"

    Like any business, a newsdesk wants to target the widest consumer base, so it will seek stories that concern the majority of its readers. If you want to offer an opinion about, for example, changes to pension laws, consider what impact those changes might have on consumers (i.e., readers), not on pension providers and/or actuaries. A letter that begins, "These new pension laws will force everybody to pay higher premiums", will attract more interest than one concerned about the resultant effect on the profits or practices of a giant pension consulting firm.

    Before you start writing, try to imagine the response of the average person to your subject. Or, as one U.S. Government department puts it, "write for your reader". If a journalist thinks your message will concern, interest, or inform a reasonable number of them, it has a chance of being published.

  2. Start strongly. Under-pressure newsdesks do not have the time they once had to wade through lengthy pieces looking for potential headlines. If you do not grab their attention in the first paragraph, or even the first sentence, they may turn to the next submission.

    It is essential that the key message you wish to convey is prominent and rapidly understood. It is the hook that catches the reader. Everything else you write could be irrelevant if the recipients’ interest is not piqued immediately.

  3. Be clear and concise. Readers’ time is short—even on media websites, their attention span can be measured in seconds—so anything sent for publication should be easily digested. A few paragraphs should be enough. If the reader cannot understand the points you are making and, more importantly, what they might mean for them and their family, friends, or business, they will stop reading long before the end.

  4. Be topical. At a time when stories can be updated in seconds, actuaries must remain at the forefront of breaking news if they want to gain visibility. If you come across an issue today that you think might offer a chance to promote actuarial science while interesting a large number of readers from outside the profession, you should write about it today. With every hour that passes, unless you plan to send it to a weekly newspaper or a magazine—which can afford to take a longer view—it becomes less likely to be published.

  5. Sign off in style. The last sentence of your message may be all the reader remembers. Make a few brief points and finish with a sentence that has an impact, whether it reiterates your key point, calls for action from an organization, or encourages your audience to consider something. The showbusiness tactic "Always leave them wanting more" has become a cliché for a reason: it works.

    Most employers are not interested in having their name identified in these stories. Also, using a CIA title such as Chair of the CIA’s News Story Committee is not appropriate unless the story is meant to come from that body. Using your professional designation or saying that you are a Fellow or Associate of the Canadian Institute of Actuaries is fine, as is saying that you are an actuary.
Andrew Melvin is the English editor at the CIA, and a former newspaper journalist and editor.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires