Marketing departments don’t always fully grasp the role of public relations departments. The PR team’s work is often reduced to “getting our company in the news.” While that may be a goal in PR, it takes strategy and a nose for news in order to get there. Brands are often anxious to send out press releases that don’t always tell a newsworthy story. The first task for any PR professional—well before we pen the first press release—is to find the client’s story. And we know the news when we see it.
Before a story makes it to the front page of the newspaper, the 10 p.m. news or a featured spot on the web, it must contain at least one of the elements of news. A good PR agency knows how to measure the newsworthiness of your company’s story. This ultimately increases your company’s ROI on PR efforts: when your PR agency spends more time pitching high-quality stories, you can expect more high-quality coverage.
Not sure whether your story is newsworthy? See if it has at least a few of these elements:
- Timeliness. Did something just happen? Better yet, is it happening in the future? You might have news on your hands. If it happened a week ago, or even a day ago, the newsworthiness of your story is diminished. Events are always more likely to be covered before they happen; reporters rarely write about events after the fact.
- Proximity. If you have an exciting story happening right in your hometown, perfect—reach out to the local news organizations. USA Today, however, probably isn’t interested (unless your story contains several other elements of news). Similarly, if you’re launching a new product nationally, local and regional news outlets may be less interested than national publications that have a wider audience
- Prominence. If your story involves a prominent figure on a local or national level (think politicians, athletes or any kind of celebrity), it automatically has news value.
- Oddity. Anyone that’s worked in journalism knows this old adage: If a dog bites a man, it’s not news. If a man bites a dog, you’ve got a story. The unusual is interesting, and often newsworthy.
- Emotion. A story that tugs at the audience’s heartstrings can be newsworthy; for example, a story about war veterans reunited with their long lost friends from the war after many years, or a story about a family that overcomes challenging circumstances. These stories may not always be timely, but they draw in the audience with their emotional appeal.
- Human interest. Is “human interest” just a euphemism for fluff? Maybe. But these stories have their place. They can be quirky or funny anecdotes that incorporate some of the other elements of news, like oddity or appeal to emotion. Examples would be a story about a pet competition at the county fair, or an article about extreme bargain hunters on Black Friday.
- Sex. It sells, as they say, and it also tends to increase the news value of a story.
- Conflict. You may not want to pitch a story that highlights your business in conflict, but stories involving a conflict between two or more parties are often newsworthy. Readers enjoy rivalries and watching conflict play out.
- Impact. Anything that impacts a great number of people is more newsworthy than something that only impacts a small subset of the population. Is your big company announcement going to impact the community at large, or is it only noteworthy to your employees? If the latter, it would be better suited for your internal newsletter than in a press release.
Remember these elements when sharing ideas with your PR team. They aren’t hard and fast rules, but by understanding what makes a story newsworthy, you’ll be better able to identify a great story from your own company when it arises.