When I want to learn about a company — maybe a friend works there, someone suggests a possible client, I’m intrigued by a news story — one of the first things I seek out is its boilerplate. A “boilerplate” in the marketing, public relations and journalism world refers to an organization’s standard description that is used repeatedly without change. I usually can count on finding it on a website’s “About” page or at the end of a news release. It’s often tacked to white papers, company brochures, case studies and sales sheets, as well.
I’m always amazed at how little attention some companies pay to the content of their boilerplates. This one paragraph (sometimes two or three, unfortunately) is likely the single piece of company writing that receives the broadest exposure across an organization’s many publics.
Who sees your boilerplate?
Always keep in mind that your boilerplate has the potential to be seen by some or all of the following groups:
- Journalists and bloggers who tend to borrow a line or two, or maybe the entire thing, when they write about you.
- Potential customers who want to quickly determine whether or not your company seems credible and provides the services or products they need.
- Potential investors who analyze every word looking for clues about the company’s future.
- Job seekers who need to prepare an answer for the standard interview question: So, what do you know about our company?
- Employees who need to explain to family and friends in what sort of business they work.
- Nosy people like me.
What’s a poorly written boilerplate look like?
I promise you it won’t take long to find examples of hideous boilerplates. Some of the worst offenders come from the world of technology. Just look at the following:
At the end of an Orbotech press release:
“Orbotech is principally engaged in the design, development, manufacture, marketing and service of yield-enhancing and production solutions for specialized applications in the supply chain of the electronics industry. The Company’s products include automated optical inspection (AOI), production and process control systems for printed circuit boards (PCBs) and AOI, test and repair systems for flat panel displays (FPDs). The Company also markets computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and engineering solutions for PCB production. In addition, through its subsidiary, Orbograph Ltd., the Company develops and markets character recognition solutions to banks and other financial institutions, and has developed a proprietary technology for use, among other things, in web-based, location-independent data entry for check and forms processing; and, through its subsidiaries, Orbotech Medical Denmark A/S and Orbotech Medical Solutions Ltd., is engaged in the research and development, manufacture and sale of specialized products for application in medical nuclear imaging. Of Orbotech’s employees, more than one quarter are scientists and engineers, who integrate their multi-disciplinary knowledge, talents and skills to develop and provide sophisticated solutions and technologies designed to meet customers’ long-term needs. Orbotech maintains its corporate headquarters, executive and registered offices and principal research and development, engineering and manufacturing facilities in Israel. The Company’s extensive network of marketing, sales and customer support teams, located in over 35 offices throughout North America, Europe, the Pacific Rim, China and Japan, delivers its knowledge and expertise directly to customers the world over. For more information visit www.orbotech.com.”
Scary. Seriously, if I don’t get it the first time, I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. I’m just going to quit paying attention.
How should you write a boilerplate?
When it’s time to write or rewrite your organization’s boilerplate, keep the following tips in mind:
- Briefly, concisely and factually describe what your company does and for whom you provide services and/or products.
- Describe your strengths but avoid exaggerated, unprovable claims (e.g., fastest, largest, most successful). People see through puffery.
- Eliminate jargon and corporate-speak. Remember that your readers will include individuals who may not be familiar with your industry’s language. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to be too general (e.g. XX Company sells software); you want potential customers to be able to figure out if you have something that they might want.
- Include your organization’s tagline or catchphrase.
- Don’t forget to use appropriate keywords and optimize for search engines. Most press releases end up online today.
- Keep the overall boilerplate under 100 words. Three reasons: 1) You’re forced to pare down the writing to the essential information, 2) You’re more likely to keep your reader’s attention with a shorter piece of writing, and 3) You save money when your news release distribution service charges by the word.
- If your numbers are impressive when compared to competitors or they clearly illustrate market penetration, consider including specific metrics (e.g., number of customers served, number of countries where you do business, number of products sold).
- If your product or service has been recognized publicly, you may want to use words that position you against competitors, words like “award winning” or “best-in-class.” Including specific information and attribution rather than vague platitudes will be more effective.
- Include a link to your website. If space is available, you might want to consider including links to select social media sites (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).
- Don’t forget to add stock symbols if your company is publicly traded on any stock exchange (e.g., NYSE, NASDAQ, FTSE).
What’s a good boilerplate look like?
See if you can match the guidelines above to the boilerplate examples below. In my opinion, these pretty much hit the mark.
At the end of a BASF press release:
“BASF is the world’s leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. Its portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics and performance products to agricultural products, fine chemicals as well as oil and gas. As a reliable partner BASF creates chemistry to help its customers in virtually all industries to be more successful. With its high-value products and intelligent solutions, BASF plays an important role in finding answers to global challenges such as climate protection, energy efficiency, nutrition and mobility. BASF posted sales of more than €50 billion in 2009 and had approximately 105,000 employees as of the end of the year. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA) and Zurich (AN). Further information on BASF is available on the Internet at www.basf.com.”
At the end of a Tervis Tumber press release:
“Headquartered in North Venice, Florida, Tervis Tumbler Company manufactures crystal-clear, insulated drinkware that is guaranteed for life. Since 1946, the unique, double-walled tumblers have kept cold drinks colder and hot drinks hotter longer. They are sold in 6,000-plus retail outlets nationwide. The company is dedicated to upholding the same high standards of quality craftsmanship and customer relations today as it has for decades. For additional information about Tervis Tumbler, call 941.441.2310, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.tervis.com.”
At the end of a Starbucks press release:
“Since 1971, Starbucks Coffee Company has been committed to ethically sourcing and roasting the highest quality arabicacoffee in the world. Today, with stores around the globe, the company is the premier roaster and retailer of specialty coffee in the world. Through our unwavering commitment to excellence and our guiding principles, we bring the uniqueStarbucks Experience to life for every customer through every cup. To share in the experience, please visit us in our stores or online at starbucks.com.”
At the end of a Cisco press release:
“Cisco, (NASDAQ: CSCO), the worldwide leader in networking that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, this year celebrates 25 years of technology innovation, operational excellence and corporate social responsibility. Information about Cisco can be found at http://www.cisco.com. For ongoing news, please go to http://newsroom.cisco.com.”
At the end of a Siemens press release:
“Siemens Industry, Inc. (SII) is the U.S. affiliate of Siemens’ global Industry Sector business—the world’s leading supplier of production, transportation and building technology solutions. The company’s integrated hardware and software technologies enable comprehensive industry-specific solutions for industrial and infrastructure providers to increase their productivity, sustainability and profitability. The Industry Sector includes six divisions: Building Technologies, Industry Automation, Industry Solutions, Mobility, Drive Technologies and OSRAM SYLVANIA. With nearly 222,000 Siemens Industry Sector employees worldwide, the Industry Sector posted a worldwide profit of $2.7 billion on revenues of $47.7 billion in fiscal 2009. www.usa.siemens.com/Industry”