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.


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 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


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 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 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.


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)


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.


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.


  • 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?  

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About the author
Jess Champion

Jess Champion

Originally hailing from Cornwall, Jess is a lover of words who once got called a ‘grammar pervert’ (and secretly liked it). After studying for a Post Graduate Diploma in PR, Jess worked in a local government press office and was glad to find that it...   read more