Working in PR, I (of course!) spend a lot of time reading news articles where the agenda is driven by stories, whether they are real life events, trends, public announcements, finding product launches or prominent anniversaries.
But have you ever stopped to think about what headline stands out most when browsing news online or which image makes you stop to pick up a free paper? Ultimately, it comes down to the strength of that narrative.
It occurred to me that when it comes to ideation and content marketing often the concepts and themes are easily agreed without deciding on how this will translate into a story when being pitched to journalists. Adding a story element doesn’t have to dilute or distract from great content, so I’ve put together a few simple PR story elements to illustrate the principle.
Days of the year
Launching on a prominent day of the year is a prime example of how to build a story around your content. There are dozens of ‘days of the year’ resources out there covering everything from National Doughnut Day to FairTrade Fortnight. Sites like Awarenessdays.co.uk even allow you to export the dates to your own calendar so you don’t miss an opportunity.
Picking a relevant awareness day, anniversary or milestone to launch on creates urgency in your media pitch and makes it timely, which is really important to journalists. So launching on or around a specific day or time of the year will appeal to journalists who are already looking to cover specific calendar events. Tying your content or campaign into an already celebrated day or occasion can help to underpin the reason that you or your client has launched a campaign (to get links is NOT a valid reason).
A common pitfall, however, is forcing a semi-relevant or loosely related topic to your campaign, which will not only result in no coverage or links, but could also damage relationships with journalists, as they will see straight through a weak story.
When Distilled launched Great British Bakes of Instagram earlier this year, the press were very receptive in covering the content because season eight of The Great British Bake Off was about to air. We hinged our creation of the regional cake map on the timely start of the much-loved show.
If we had pitched it at any other time, journalists wouldn’t have been as interested in writing about British Bake Off related topics.
Common PR phrases like “In celebration of X” and “To mark the arrival of” will help you pin down the start of a pitch and give context to the journalist on the receiving end.
Timing is also key; you want to launch close enough to a specific date to ride the coverage wave. I find that two weeks before provides the optimal outreach time to deliver initial phone and email pitches, but here is a step-by-step breakdown.
14 days: Send your initial email pitch and press release to journalists. Once you are sure they have received your email (Software like Yesware can track this for you) wait at least a day before following up, the same goes for phone calls
10-12 days: You can follow up with a second email or phone call to gain feedback and thoughts from press
Journalists opening your email more than once is a positive sign that they are interested, so this can help you prioritise who to follow up with first
8-6 days: Use this time to confirm warm or dead leads. Three pitch emails without a response is a dead lead.
1-2 days: Be sure to check back in with all of your interest journalists and warm leads just before the launch
Be warned, following up is fine but pestering journalists who are not interested in a story will only damage your reputation and hinder pitching future campaigns.
Getting real people to do real things
A human interest angle is a very compelling hook for a journalist, so rather than just creating online content, consider if there is the potential to add a human element – otherwise known as a case study.
For example, Cosmopolitan.com even commissioned a journalist to live like Kylie Jenner for a week, so you know publications are looking for this kind of material.
We all know that imagery and more recently video is medium that is used in the press, especially where anyone with a smartphone can create quality visual and engaging content.
News and media outlets know that the same applies to real life case studies, they amplify a message and strengthen a story angle. This is why they are an important tool to keep in mind for promoting your onsite content and increasing the chances of getting coverage and links.
Worried about how to deliver all of these materials? A common mistake is to try and attach files or waiting for journalists to respond before sharing all of your assets. Best practice is to use a file management system like Dropbox, pop the link, in full (journalists are wary of hyperlinks with unknown destinations) to make their life really simple.
Below, is a prime example of this type of content in action. One guy decided to eat like The Rock and the results are pretty impressive. The media evidently thought so too, and The Rock diet and other fitness journeys have been covered on The Mirror, Unilad, and Buzzfeed.
Experts in the field
Every piece of content has a message or a point to make, and even when these pieces are based on legitimate data or findings there is something else you can add to make it even more appealing.
Specialists, trained professionals, and experts are all assets at your disposal when you launch a campaign and getting a quote or statement from them is easier than you think. Their opinion on your content is the perfect addition to your media assets and makes a launch slightly less self-serving. You can also pitch them out for interviews, or advice articles if they are of particular interest to a journalist in general.
Journalists like new findings and ‘proven’ theories which don’t have to be as watertight as you’d expect.
These don’t have to be external either, you might have a colleague or a client with the right expertise to provide you with a strong, newsworthy line or two. If there isn’t anyone on hand, experts are not as hard to find as you would think. In fact, most are happy to get free PR for themselves or their business in return for writing a quote.
A time saving hack is to contact someone who has already been quoted in the media before, they will already understand the style of quote or copy needed for a promotion campaign, which saves you time when briefing them.
When we launched a video campaign for Interflora last year, we worked with Dr Fieldman, a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, to be our campaign spokesperson on the act of giving.
Dr Fieldman featured in the campaign video, and provided the copy for the onsite page as well as a quote for the press release. Coverage highlights include The London Evening Standard and the Huffington Post.
So, while there are many tools, processes and theories on what makes a good idea, ensure that you get the basics right:
Seed a strong story to the core of an idea so that it will resonate with publications should also be on the checklist and use tools like days or the year, case studies or experts to strengthen your story.
And never forget: Journalists don’t cover ‘content’ – they are looking for stories!