How to hit the headlines

Hailing from a traditional press office background (local government, Charity, Law), I’m often asked what specific PR tactics can be used to build links online. For a while I pondered this question as if it represented a separate challenge to the work of my previous roles in which, if I’m honest, Search just wasn’t in the forefront of my mind.

 “Maybe I’m missing something?” I thought, as I procrastinated on ways to engage audiences and build brand awareness and trust online.

It didn’t take long for me to find an answer though: PR is PR is PR. 

Let me explain

PR should not be viewed as something that can be ‘done’ to any old content, in order to get links. Links are symptomatic of good PR.

It’s a bit like Content Marketing really. Our industry is getting wise to the fact that creating awesome, relevant content wins the internet.

It’s the same in PR, except that us PR pros have to win the attention of the journalist first.

And, journalists don’t give a hoot about ‘content’.

What journalists care about is stories.

 

How to tell a story in the press

As described beautifully by Distilled’s Kyra Kuik in her post on branded content, the art of storytelling is evolving. Kuik says:

“Storytelling is  . . . a really powerful medium . . . a medium consumers want to see more. 

She says a recent survey found:

57% of consumers want to know about the history and quirky details of a brand, 54% feel it is very important that brands provide information about “why we should care about them,” and 45% are looking for interesting stories about the brand.

This is where it gets confusing.

While journalists care very much about telling stories, they do not care about telling your story. You need to find stories that work for them, and for their readers.

This isn’t always easy, but there are a few different criteria you can look for:

  • Timeliness
  • Impact
  • Prominence
  • Proximity
  • Bizarreness
  • Conflict
  • Uniqueness
  • Human Interest
     

Let’s explore each one in a bit more detail.

Timeliness

Is it the right time to pitch your story? Is it topical now?

Take this example of a great piece of content Distilled made for thetrainline.com. It got coverage because we released it at a time when festivals were already flavour of the month and Glastonbury had just sold out. Our tool helped people find alternatives at just the right moment.

(View full-size. via thetrainline.com).

Impact

Impact refers to the number of people a story speaks to. Be honest, how many people really care about your latest annual report? If your story doesn’t speak to either a lot of people, or to a specific niche, perhaps it’s not as newsworthy as you first thought.

Below is an example of coverage of the UK’s National Playday campaign, promoted by the charity Play England.

Playday gets coverage every year because it speaks to a lot of people; we were all kids once, after all.

Prominence

Prominence can refer to one of two things; either prominent issues, or prominent people.  Featuring a celebrity is a classic way of getting the media’s attention, their very involvement is newsworthy.

Consider this example. When the death of Margaret Thatcher hit the headlines, pop star Harry Stiles tweeted this RIP message:

His tweet received 43,995 retweets, was ‘favourited’ by 42,507 people and became the topic of many a news article in itself. When the BBC made the same announcement on Twitter it garnered 8,612 retweets and was ‘favourited’ 369 times.

Although this probably wasn’t a PR play, it certainly does demonstrate the impact a prominent spokesperson can have. 

Proximity

Proximity refers to where a story takes place. Your local fundraising event probably isn’t going to make National headlines, but don’t underestimate the value of local news sites. If your story has enough impact, it may grow from there.  There are some fantastic tips on getting local media coverage here.

This story’s a great example of good quality, local coverage.

Bizarre

A popular journalistic aphorism describes how, “It’s not news if a dog bites a man, but it is news if a man bites a dog.” Anything weird or ridiculous is likely to get tongues wagging. 

PR led stunts are a good way to create this kind of news, like this example from betting firm Coral. Some stunts can cost hundreds of thousands, but this simple enough prank got a lot of bang for its buck. Although much of the national coverage was sans link, it racked up a reported 50 pieces of coverage and is said to have reached 1.3 million people on Twitter in just one day. Now that can’t be bad, can it?

 

(Picture: @Coral/Twitter)

Conflict

Because it’s not a particularly positive word, the idea of basing a story on ‘conflict’ may see most clients break out in a cold sweat. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. Conflict doesn’t have to be negative at all. Let me explain.

A couple of years ago I was working for the Anti-Bullying Alliance when TV Presenter Eamonn Holmes dismissed bullied children as ‘just being wimps’. Not surprisingly, the Anti-Bullying Alliance disagreed. We issued a statement ‘conflicting’ what Eamonn had said, and our statement was included in a lot of the news coverage on the subject.

Unique

Uniqueness is another criterion that can be best served by PR stunts. A great example of a recent, unique stunt is the Blinkbox Dragon Skull – which was created to promote the fact that Blinkbox would screen the third series of Game of Thrones ahead of its competitors. The results of the stunt speak for themselves.

(Picture: Taylor Herring)

I appreciate that building a giant dragon skull may stretch the marketing budgets of us mere mortals.  But fear not. Unique can just mean you’re doing something first, last, biggest or best.

Human Interest

Finding a human interest story, or angle to a story, can be really powerful. If you want to highlight an issue or experience related to your business, find someone who can talk about it in real terms. Case studies really bring stories to life and invoke emotion in the reader.  

A striking example of this in action is the recent Batkid story. While this campaign was most likely dreamt up by the Make A Wish Foundation press team, consider the motivation behind the campaign. It’s unlikely that this was purely for the sake of publicity.

And this reiterates the value of PR in driving your core business strategy. In this case it’s likely that the campaign helped raise awareness, and encouraged donations to the cause too.

This is a perfect example of links being symptomatic of good PR.

 

(Picture: Mashable)

A lot of the real life stories we see in the press are PR driven. Next time you come across one, see if you can identify the brand behind it.

And finally . . .

Let’s recap. The criteria to look for when digging around for news stories are:

  • Timeliness
  • Impact
  • Prominence
  • Proximity
  • Bizarreness
  • Conflict
  • Uniqueness
  • Human Interest

There are a couple of other factors that can come into play too:

  • Do you have additional assets, like pictures or video content? Sometimes the picture maketh the story.
  • Do you have someone who can act as a media spokesperson/interviewee? Radio and TV coverage, in particular, will heavily depend on whether you have someone credible who can discuss the story in human terms.

Obligatory cat picture. This was picked up by the Daily Mail.

The more of these elements you can incorporate into your story, the more traction it’s likely to get. And remember, if you tie your goals into your business strategy, the benefits of getting PR coverage will likely be much more apparent.

If you’re still confused about what makes something newsworthy, just ask yourself this simple question:

Would I tell my friends about it in the pub?

If the answer is yes, you’re probably onto a winner. If you suspect they would roll their eyes or make a hasty retreat, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Remember

  • Links are symptomatic of good PR

  • Audiences love a good story
  • But the stories you tell journalists need to be different from the stories you tell your customers
  • Don’t underestimate local coverage
  • Don’t be afraid of conflict, it doesn’t mean negativity will surround your brand
  • Make use of assets like pictures, reports and video content
  •  Use the ‘pub test’

Hopefully now you’ll have a good idea of what journalists look for in news stories. What’s been your experience in the past? Have you had successes that fall under any of these criteria?  

Jess Champion

Jess Champion

Originally hailing from Cornwall, Jess spent 7 years ‘up north’ where she learnt the meaning of the words “t’int in tin”. A lover of words, she once got called a ‘grammar pervert’ (and secretly liked it). After studying for a Post Graduate Diploma...   read more

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9 Comments

  1. Jess,

    I spent several years as a business reporter, during which time I met and worked with some awesome PR folks. I learned a lot. I find myself saying "PR folks should be leading the charge in social," if only because the good ones know how, when and why to spin a good yarn that engages the audience.

    As you assert, links will follow if good PR tactics are employed.

    RS

    reply >
    • Jess Champion

      Hi Ronell,

      I absolutely agree - thanks for taking the time to comment on my post.

      Jess

  2. Hi Jess,
    Great post!
    The story criteria checklist is a fantastic resource, and I'll certainly be using it next time I'm looking to fill my content planes with news worthy information.
    You're right that it is crazy some of the stuff that gets piucked up on the web though, I've found that celebrities and cats share far too much pulling power when it comes to drawing internet traffic. Celerebrity cats are even worse grumpy cat is grumpy... we get it).
    Ha Sorrry for the mini rant,
    Thanks again for the great read though.

    reply >
  3. Great article Jess.

    Stats / Data is another great way to get PR, especially if you've come to some conclusions like "Facebook users are x% more likely to purchase from your website if they are a fan" :)

    reply >
  4. Hi, Yeah – thanks for your insightful input! If the headlines is original and newsworthy, and has the potential to generate high viewer-listener-online interest, it may also be carried by TV networks, radio stations and the internet.

    reply >
  5. Jess your story came around right when it should've. For my time at least.
    I have a client who has received a huge amount of press exposure based on a item that will not be sold as commonly as their normal items however it is something that is selling quite well.

    I'm a distiled.net/u beta member is there a method in which I can contact you and pay in order to get your advice on how to capitalize on showing up on good morning America as well as Fox and friends this weekend? I know the time is tight and I would fix be extremely appreciative and compensate you fairly for your time.

    I want my client to get as much as possible out of this and seeing your background I think any information that you can give me the on this would be outstanding.
    Sincerely,
    Thomas

    reply >
  6. Phenomenal post, thank you for putting this together. It's weird, I've been in love with SEO for so long but lately I've been fascinated at the power of PR. I feel like a well maneuvered PR strategy can be so much more influential and powerful than months of SEO work.

    I am very humbled whenever I get to work with people who are even entry level at a PR agency, because I learn so much from them each and every time.



    That is going in my signature somewhere for sure!

    reply >
    • The more I read, the more I am starting to sway to your way of thinking to, Patrick. Not that I see PR as any kind of 'easy' road, but it just seems more direct and honest than SEO. I wonder where this is going to take me...
      Regards,
      Perry

  7. Excellent distinction between plain website content, and the type of content that draws the attention of journalists. BRAVA!

    reply >

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