I’m often asked to pitch stories to media. Some are terrific and easy to promote; others are a stretch.
So, what makes a story worthy of media attention? It could be a number of factors — sometimes the topic is enough to draw reporters, other times you have to create news around it to gain coverage.
The biggest tip I offer is to be objective and look at the topic from a reader’s or viewer’s perspective. Just because you or I think the latest widget is extraordinary doesn’t mean the media or public will agree. Ask yourself: Will people find this information interesting?
Consider the impact
How many people are affected, positively or negatively, by your product or service? Cancer impacts more people — and more seriously — than hair loss, for example. A new procedure that offers hope for breast cancer patients is more newsworthy than a treatment for baldness.
An often overlooked impact is the number of jobs created by a new product, location, expansion, etc. So, if you’re opening a new gas station, talk about the jobs you’ll create, not the additives in your gasoline.
Cool is good
Apple has built a reputation — and loyal following — because of the wow factor of its products. Every new launch brings anticipation, creates buzz, and stirs lots of talk at the water cooler. You may not have the allure of Apple, but your product could be interesting to many. For example, selling a new type of shovel isn’t that exciting, but suppose you learned a local doctor recommended it to her patients with back problems.
Newsmakers make news
Well-known people are often good media draws. The list ranges from local Olympians and university presidents to the governor or mayor. If you can create an event and incorporate a celebrity presence, your odds of coverage increase.
Pictures tell stories
This is important. While you may be able to secure some coverage in newspapers without any visuals, good images are required when working with television news. In the manufacturing field, identify employees the camera crews can film making your product. If you’re a chiropractor, reporters will want to record you working with a client. Think of “action” shots that help tell your story.
Be nimble, be quick
Remember, the first three letters in news are N-E-W. Unlike the tortoise and hare, speed does matter. Be ready to act (or respond to calls) on a moment’s notice. Reporters generally call more than one contact, and the first one prepared to respond usually lands the interview. You’ll also build a reputation as being a reliable resource.
If a newspaper already reported on a new service offered by a competitor, you’ll need to come up with a different topic to pitch. It’s not enough that you do that service differently or better. The story is done. It’s old news.
What else is going on?
When thinking about the newsworthiness of your story, consider what other items are in the news. Late October and early November means elections, winter brings blizzards, etc. Are there legislative battles in your state, or a big court case that’s a priority for media? If you can tie coverage into these, great, but if not, you might face a much tougher pitch and may want to wait a bit.
Find a local angle
Let’s say a fire in Boston destroys a historic building. Media in Delaware might be interested in speaking with your fire department or an owner of a hardware store about checking smoke detectors, replacing batteries, etc.
If you own a bike shop in Ohio, and a bike helmet saved the life of a national personality in New York City, call your local media and offer to speak about bike safety.
Focus on people
Viewers like stories about people. For example, celebrating your antique store’s 20th year in business is certainly exciting to you, but would that be newsworthy? Probably not. But, if you had the same group of employees for all 20 years, and perhaps two of them married, and their twins girls now work at your store in the summer … that’s a good story.
Another good pitch would be a small-town woman who overcame cancer to sing the national anthem before a Red Sox game.
Know when to say when
Too often, I see people trying to force a story. Media relations is about building relationships, and that means accepting that one story doesn’t work, but keeping the door open to another. If you push a story idea too far and lose credibility with the media, your next pitch will be that much harder.
Your turn. What tips to you have for people who want to pitch stories?