One of the reasons people shy away from including PR in their marketing communications is the mistaken notion that a PR story has to have a complex structure and has to be subject to some rigorous rules. This is not the case at all. At its core, an effective PR story construct is simple.
Just tell people where you were, what happened and why you’re telling them the story. End of story.
There are four Ps associated with gaining successful media coverage — Prepare, Pitch, Perform, Persevere.
HOW TO PREPARE
Understand what makes news. Think about your business and your clients. Is there a good human interest story just waiting to be told?
Put yourself in the role of a reporter and ask yourself if one or more of those stories would be of interest to the readers of your local newspaper, viewers of your TV station or listeners of your radio program. Imagine you know nothing about your business at all. Focus on the elements of your story that would be of interest to customers and let that guide the development of your story.
People assume if they have an event such as a launch of a new facility, for example, that journalists will come and it’s guaranteed it will get covered. No matter how much French champagne there is at the event, nothing will replace a newsworthy story.
The key values to focus on include highlighting something that is new, emphasising the “big deal” factor from the media’s point of view by answering questions such as “How is this changing lives?” or “How much money will this save?”
Always offer a local angle or local case studies. This might take longer to sort out, but it will give your campaign a greater impact.
Tailor your story to the particular media audience or outlet. Many business owners make the mistake of simply buying media lists and sending out generic mass mail-outs about their business or service. Sending out a mass email approach that’s been blind cc-ed is lazy. You will fail to engage the reporter if you haven’t researched their topic of interest or what they’ve done in the past.
Business owners also need to be aware that the story they want to share may be suitable for only certain media outlets. Some people say, “I really want to be on Sunrise”, but potentially their story is not a TV story, there’s no imagery, there is nothing to engage the breakfast audience. It may be better off on ABC radio.
Always be conscious of where your story is best told
There’s a saying: “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”.
Similarly, it takes all the voices in your organisation to tell your story. Don’t be the only one who goes around telling the story of your company. Train everyone to tell the corporate story — turn them into storytelling evangelists. Storytelling is the antidote to complacency; get people excited about telling your company story.
Your story needs to have a message — a clear takeaway for your listeners, viewers or readers. It has to have a purpose and make a point. A story without a message is pointless in business. A business story should end with a sense of what the reader can do with the information they learned in the story.
PRUNE YOUR DETAILS
Because we fall in love with our own stories, we consequently end up including too many details. This will backfire as people start to tune you out and not understand where you’re going with your narrative.
Guard against this by crafting your story, then walking away from it for a few days. Revisit it with fresh eyes, and start editing. Ask yourself if all your story elements really help to bolster your point. If not, prune out all superfluous details. Give people enough detail to set the context and to help them experience the story and see what you see.
Giving too few details doesn’t work either, as it prevents people from envisaging your story, so aim for the right balance.
Make sure you include dialogue in your stories. That is, don’t tell a story in the third person. Repeat for your listeners and readers the actual words the person in your story said. For example, replace “He was surprised about the error I made” with “He said, ‘I can’t fathom how you could make such an error’.”
Dialogue personalises your story, makes it more vivid and brings it to life. Above all, dialogue causes additional brain regions in readers’ brains to light up. This means they’ll pay more attention to what you’re saying.
Master transmedia storytelling
Today, it’s important to tell a consistent story on multiple media platforms. This is currently referred to as transmedia storytelling. It means your story needs to be shared on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google + and other social media platforms.
By doing so, you amplify your voice and presence wherever your clients and stakeholders are situated.
Each medium will add a different depth to your story, with each piece enhancing the story while constantly feeding the conversation. Transmedia strategies create a strong emotional link with an audience. It generates buzz across all media and builds a sustainable audience around your brand.
HOW TO PITCH
Do Your Homework
Become familiar with the media outlets and reporters you want to target. Find out what they have covered in the past and who is their audience. Make sure your story isn’t a subject that was covered just a month or two ago. Call and find out their deadlines and lead times. This information also will help you plan when to make your pitches.
Know your audience
Tailor your story to specific reporters and media outlets. Many single elements of a story often have the potential to become a story in, and of, themselves. Look at different ways to approach the same story so that reporters can get a different spin.
Don’t be bashful
At the same time, think of “big picture” stories as a way of fitting yourself in. Is your business or service offering part of a larger trend? Is your approach novel? Reporters often like to show how the local community fits into a national perspective.
HOW TO PERFORM
Once you have phoned a reporter, pitched a story and positioned yourself as a resource, learn when and how to follow up. Find out the best time to phone the reporter again, and their deadlines.
Think of different ways to access a media outlet. There are many ways to think about a story and how it can be covered in a newspaper or on a radio or television program. Look at different or unusual ways to tell your story.
When you work with radio, audio elements are of major importance, while visuals are particularly important for television. Newspapers usually can cover issues in more depth and may use pictures or other graphics.
Develop supporting materials and keep them easily accessible. Consider creating a fact sheet containing important statistics and information relevant to your business or the issue you are promoting. Craft a FAQ or Q&A that explains issues clearly to reporters. Avoid technical language and try to write objectively rather than promotionally. And be sure to send the material to reporters.
HOW TO PERSEVERE
Be patient and realistic about the coverage you’ll get. Many business owners are disheartened when they are not inundated with responses from their media release.
You’ve got to start small. Like anything it’s a long-term investment
People usually want to go straight to the major national media outlets with their story, when it can be more fruitful to build a presence in other media first.
Local newspapers, bloggers, online business forums — from there you can start to build a profile when you are pitching. Sometimes journalists will gather information about a business from these sources — it’s never a wasted opportunity when you have a chance to speak to the media, even if it’s not on your dream list initially. ❐
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