When pitching your story to the press, there is something important to keep in mind: if you want to get the attention of the press, you have to think like the press.
In the 20+ years I’ve been in public relations, one of the most difficult elements of the game to teach clients is that the press is not a service organization whose sole purpose is to cover what PR people pitch them. Their business model is simple; they exist to inform and entertain their readers, so they can grow their subscriber base and sell advertising against those numbers.
So, if you want to participate in the “press game” it is vital to recognize what wins the press loyal readers and increases their circulation…and then help them to do it! Step one is to get together a power-packed pitch. According to the Associated Press Stylebook the preferred term for a press release is not press release; it’s NEWS release. After all, it’s not called a press-paper – it’s called a NEWSpaper. Like it or not, public relations people don’t get to determine what the news is. Only news professionals get to do that when they choose what to write, print or air.
So, just because your company opened a new store in Cincinnati, doesn’t make it NEWS. However, there may very well be a nugget of newsworthiness that you can offer up to the press in order to get them interested in the opening of your store.
Where do you find those nuggets? Here are a few suggestions to help you mine the news gold in all your announcements:
Read Your Local Newspapers ‘You can’t find a news hook until you know what the news of the day actually is. And, because it changes every day, you need to stay on top of the news (or hire an agency to perform that function for you, and trust their judgment when they advise you of potential news hooks).
Determine How Your Story is Relevant – This is the lowest hanging fruit in the news hook orchard. Look for anything in your business that is relevant to news taking place in your community or nationally. If you’re opening a new bicycle shop in Los Angeles, then do some news searches to see what reporters have been writing about the area.
Say you discover that the area is economically depressed, in which case you can pitch to the press the idea that a new retailer opening there is a boost to the local economy, and that you’re willing to take a chance on success in that community. Or you may discover that bicycle ridership has increased nationally by 10 percent over the previous year, with new riders indicating they have started because they are trying to get fit. Now you can pitch the local press on the angle that your new shop is aimed at capitalizing on this national trend.
This strategy is known as “localizing” a national story, which every newspaper and TV producer loves. Because it’s a national story, they are going to report it anyway, but they’d prefer to have a local hook so they can be more relevant to the local audience.
Develop Stories That Have a Beginning, Middle and End – Make sure you tell reporters a full story. Let’s use the bicycle shop as an example. Opening a bicycle shop may not be much of a story on its own, but what’s the story behind the story? Did the owners overcome any unusual obstacles in fulfilling the dream of opening their store? Was the owner ever a competitive bicyclist? Have the owners used their knowledge of the sport or inventory to help any children’s charities or causes? Are they active in their community? Identify the story behind the story, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to find a news hook that’s relevant.
Take Action – There is a reason why so many commercial enterprises and not-for-profit charities and community organizations partner up for special events – it’s a win-win situation for everyone. It’s important for every commercial enterprise to be a good citizen and use some of their resources to help others, and it also helps to make sometimes un-newsworthy events relevant. Opening a bicycle shop isn’t a big deal, but holding a grand opening event for a local children’s charity makes the opening more relevant. If the owners use the event to help raise money and donate excess inventory to needy children, it is both a worthy venture and a genuinely heartwarming feel-good story worthy of news coverage.
Helping people should be its own reward, of course, but that’s also why newspapers and charities love these events. It not only gives editors and TV crews something joyful and happy to report, but it also enables the charities to get their messages out to the community at large. Your business improves its public image, and deservedly so, as long as the help is genuine and comes not from the pocketbook, but from the heart.
At the end of the day, most of the time you can find news hooks in even the most mundane of news releases. The key thing to remember is that the focus of the release isn’t to sell, sell, sell – it’s to convince a reporter that you have news to report and that their readers would be informed or entertained by what you have to tell them.