When a co-networker asked me why she couldn’t gain coverage for her business Visit Peaks (which offers delightful holiday cottages in the Peak District) into a glossy Hertfordshire magazine which is read by her target customers, we talked about ‘what’s in her story for the magazine’ and how she was packaging her offering to make it highly relevant to the glossy. Wendy quickly realised what it takes to make a story sell-able to an editor of a regional magazine that is outside the location of her cottages. She suggested that I help other businesses by tackling the topic – creating news – in a blog; so here it is!
If you’re not a FTSE company or a major brand that attracts media headlines because of your impact on society or the economy, you will need to work harder to generate news. Your starting point is to understand that media content (whether in print, broadcast or online) is about the audience; it’s about what they find stimulating and interesting. It’s not about giving free publicity to your business; that’s the role of advertising. Every good public relations consultant will tell you that generating editorial coverage is about telling great stories, not self-promotion.
Here are steps to help you create a strong news story:
Make sure you understand the media you’re targeting. The best way of doing this is to read the media (print and online) and watch or listen to the programmes you’re targeting. Do this regularly, rather than as a one-off exercise. For example, if you’re looking at magazines, read the key titles (subscribe if possible); familiarise yourself with their editorial styles, the news and features articles and assess where your stories could fit. This way you can tailor stories to the magazine’s style.
Once you have established that your story has currency, that it is significant and has impact for external audiences, write the story focusing on one central theme. Bring the key information to the forefront: the ‘who, what, when, why and how’ questions should be answered upfront, and the story expanded. You may need to write the same story more than once to ensure that the right angle is targeted to different media outlets (e.g. national, trade, broadcast and online).
Hooks and Angles
A key discipline of PR is creating news angles where none exists innately. Earlier this week, several national newspapers ran Cuprinol’s Shed of the Year story which featured photographs of the weird and wonderful garden shed creations by finalists in the competition. Cuprinol’s quirky competition relates to its products and received brand mentions in newspapers and consumer media without the company banging on about garden wood care products, which would be dull in the extreme. Having devised quite a few competitions in my time, I hazard a guess that a creative and witty PR team developed Shed of the Year to promote the brand.
Your story should be new to the target audience. Aim for something with a wow factor that will surprise your audience. Or something novel, that is happening for the first time ever. A brilliant example is the recent announcement of the birth of the first giant panda born in captivity at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington. Not all organisations have such a gem of a story to hand, but it can be done as illustrated by Cuprinol.
Consider whether your story has the potential to stimulate debate around an event, issue or cause. If the answer is positive, bring that out in the story. Look at the news agenda in wider society or within your industry sector and think how your business fits into the bigger picture. Do you have a contribution (e.g. research) to add to a controversial topic; or does your standpoint come into conflict with accepted wisdom?
Dig deep for the human interest elements of your story, the aspects that centre on people’s experiences and emotions. If you examine media stories, you will see that most are about people – even the most business-oriented story tends to be shaped by an individual’s experience, such as a CEO being forced from a board. If, for example, your company is expanding, focus on what’s important to the outside world – job creation, not the bricks and mortar expansion (though that is part of the story). And such stories don’t all have to be serious – good light-hearted human interest stories have mass appeal.
Give your business the greatest chance of gaining coverage by pitching the story when it’s fresh and happening. If you have a big ‘first’ but wait a year to release the information, it will have lost its newsworthiness. And never pass off material you have published on your website or elsewhere as a news story; you will be caught out and lose the trust of journalists.
Finally, keep your story short and simple (1.5 to 2 pages), no foreign phrases or mysterious acronyms. Use a straightforward headline that explains the story – don’t waste time crafting a pearl of a headline as it will not be published. You’ll never outwit a sub-editor, so leave the sharp headlines to the experts!
Good luck with your story development.
You may also be interested in Top Ten Public Relations Tips.