As editor of a business journal, I’m in a unique position to observe the juxtaposition of two immutable circumstances. Most businesses have compelling stories to tell. Few businesses tell their stories well.
Allow me to state that a bit more precisely: Few businesses pitch their stories well in their efforts to publicize information through the media. Businesses have interesting stories worthy of publication and broadcast. But for one reason or another, something gets in the way.
So what’s the secret to bridging that gap? Common sense strategies increase the likelihood of getting stories in print and on the air. In the end, though, it boils down to making the work of editors, news directors and reporters a little easier. That might sound self-serving, and admittedly it is. But think about a key attribute of any successful relationship: everyone benefits. You receive publicity that promotes your business. The media prints and broadcasts information that informs and entertains readers, viewers and listeners. Win-win.
The initial — and I’d contend crucial — step in telling stories through the media is the news release. That’s the information you submit to a media outlet and usually constitutes your first point of contact.
In preparing a news release, keep in mind two objectives. The first objective is to communicate the basic facts at hand. Be sure to cover the old journalistic convention of the five Ws: who, what, when, where and why. The second objective is to arouse the interest of editors and news directors to make them want to pursue the story in a more in-depth fashion. Many of the cover stories that have appeared in the Business Times originated as short news releases. I didn’t want to just run the news release. I wanted to interview those involved, shoot photographs and provide a more thorough account.
Place yourself in the position of an editor or news director. They’re looking for information that interests readers, viewers and listeners because it’s important, unique or entertaining. If you aren’t sure a news release is actually newsworthy, ask yourself a question: Who cares? Would people not directly involved care enough to read, watch or listen to the story?
Offering a new product or service? Expanding operations? Announcing a great new hire? I’m anxious to share that information with readers. Running a seasonal sale or offering a discount? Not so much. You’re better off in that situation purchasing an advertisement.
Keep in mind, though: Things that might seem routine to you could fascinate others. It also helps to offer a compelling visual element. The best photographs and video depict people in action.
In pitching stories to the news media, it’s essential to become familiar with the media you’d like to publish or broadcast your stories. Find out the specific individuals to whom you should send news releases and the formats they prefer. E-mails work best for me and, I suspect, most others.
Find out the publication or broadcast schedules of media outlets, particularly newspapers that don’t print every day. It does little good to submit a news release or pitch a story idea promoting an event that occurs the next day if a newspaper doesn’t publish another issue until the following week. Websites allow for more immediate dissemination of information. But I face a difficult choice in devoting too much time and effort to stories that will only appear online when I’ve also got pages of newsprint to fill. I’ve long ago lost track of how many news releases I would’ve liked to run, but didn’t because they were submitted too late. Sooner is always preferable to later. If you’re uncertain about deadlines, ask. Most editors and news directors are eager to answer such questions.
Finally, find out what kinds of stories media outlets publish and broadcast and the readers, viewers and listeners they serve. I review hundreds of news releases a week, but publish only those related to businesses and business operations. That’s because of the readership the Business Times serves. But other media outlets would use the news releases because they offer information useful to their audiences.
It’s critical that news releases include contact information — both a telephone number and e-mail address. And when an editor, news director or reporter calls or sends you an e-mail, for heaven’s sake respond promptly and strive to accommodate their requests as soon as possible. News people are busy and quickly move on to other stories if they encounter too much difficulty. I’ve also lost count of the stories I wanted to write, but didn’t because someone wouldn’t return a phone call or e-mail. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
To reiterate: Make the hectic work of editors, news directors and reporters a little easier. In doing so, you’ll develop relationships that will benefit your business as well as the news outlets themselves.
You’ve got good stories to tell. Tell them well through the media.
Phil Castle is editor of the Business Times. Contact him — and send him timely news releases — at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 424-5133.