One thing that surprised me in jumping to PR from journalism was a general lack of understanding of what makes an interesting story. It’s human nature to think, “My story is interesting.” Don’t certain annoying parents blindly think, “My kid is the best”? Certainly it takes some doing to convince others, even if that story actually is interesting. (And yes, annoying parents, of course your kid is the best.)
For brand communicators pitching stories to journalists, a good tip is to think outside your sphere. It’s not enough to tell your brand’s story. You have to make it relatable to the masses. In this case, “the masses” means reporters and editors who get pitched dozens of stories weekly. Most of those stories are centered around “Me, me, me, me.” And oh yeah, “me.”
Good journalists and editors can smell when brands are looking for media coverage about how wonderful they are. By contrast, editors and journalists seek pitches that will touch their readers. They want stories about interesting problems. Issues or problems that large groups of people may be facing can make excellent stories. A pitch about one brand’s journey, told in its own words from start to finish, will not.
This feature [http://on.wsj.com/29l4Dil], by my former colleague and “estranged office wife” Rachel Feintzeig, about executives getting so bogged down by meetings and appointments that they have no time to get their work done, illustrates what it takes to get into a top-tier story.
Its concrete examples are what make it an effective story, such as the part about the manager whose workload forced him to skip all but the most important meetings.
While some brands and communicators need to make minor (or wholesale) changes to their thinking to get it into these features, understanding the points provided below might help.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that it’s the reporter’s story. It was Rachel’s idea. In reporting it, she talked to a ton of people. The best sources—that is, those she ended up using—were undoubtedly people who understood how to listen, and could identify what was most interesting about their stories.
Another tip: I remember from my journalism days several sources recommending other experts as resources. This is an indication that the sources weren’t interested only in getting their names in print. Rather, they looked beyond their agenda for the common goal of accurate reporting. They helped make my article better. Win-win.
With that, here are five things companies and brands should keep in mind if they want to be featured in features:
1. If data is used, it must identify a real trend.The sources Rachel used illustrate examples found in hard data. Quoting the article: “Cigna found that trouble starts when more than 40% of the connections in a network run through one person.”
2. Words can bring numbers to life.An executive from the data-gathering firm was able to say something that added to the data itself. Again, quoting the article: “Research and advisory firm CEB found that 35%-40% of managers ‘are so overloaded that it’s actually impossible for them to get work done effectively,’ said Brian Kropp, a CEB leader who works with chief HR officers.”
For the full article, visit here.